|WordPress is a powerful and free system for building a custom website. Ready-made themes will get you up and running quickly.|
For photographers who want to earn money with their craft, a presence on the web isn’t really optional anymore. Whether you’re photographing neighbors and friends for extra income or making a serious push to go pro with stock licensing and such, a website of your own should be considered an absolute necessity.
GET YOUR DOMAIN
Registering your personal domain is the best money you can invest in your web presence. A personal domain is important for a few reasons. First, it makes you look legit—sending someone to a Flickr account just doesn’t leave the same professional impression. Secondly, it will be easier for potential customers to remember and share, and will look better on business cards or other marketing material.
Registration fees are typically less than $20 per year, and once you have your domain, you can either build a website hosted at that domain or use the domain to forward visitors to another service (more on this later). Note that hosting costs are in addition to domain registration fees.
The obvious choice is to register your name or the name of your studio as the domain. If you’re lucky, your name will still be available. If not, you can add something like "photography" to the end, e.g., susansmithphotography.com.
FREE (OR ALMOST FREE) SOLUTIONS
There are a gazillion ways to stake out your corner of the web. Here are a few that I’m likely to recommend if a friend asks me.
Facebook. Facebook Pages have become popular lately for promoting local businesses. You can create one in just a few clicks at facebook.com/pages/create. This is something I would recommend doing, even if you plan to build a full-featured website, because it has the social-sharing aspect built in. This is a place where you can post outtakes from a recent shoot, with the possibility that your clients and fans will share the post with their friends—essentially, free advertising. If you do nothing else on the web, at least do this. If you registered a personal domain, you can work with your domain registrar to automatically redirect visitors from your domain to your Facebook Page.
Tumblr. This popular microblogging platform was recently acquired by Yahoo. It presents content in an endless scrolling stream, making it very suitable for displaying your photo archive. Like Facebook, users are able to follow you and share what you post, which helps you build an audience. One really nice aspect of Tumblr is that you can use your personal domain (instead of your-user-name.tumblr.com). Some pro photographers we know have done just that. It takes a little tinkering with your domain settings, which you can do yourself or through a support request with your registrar. Learn more about the setup process at tumblr.com/docs/en/custom_domains. Another nice feature of Tumblr is that you can customize the look of your blog with free themes.
WordPress. My personal favorite platform, WordPress is really easy to use for beginners, but has evolved into a rather powerful CMS (content management system) that can run a very robust website. There are two ways you can go with WordPress: Install it yourself on your own hosting service or use their hosting service at wordpress.com. Both are free. If you want to upgrade your wordpress.com website, for $99 a year you can use a custom domain and eliminate any advertising from the site. This is the easiest way to go, but I’d prefer you install your own site.
If you aren’t intimidated by hosting services, and acronyms like FTP roll off your tongue, then the WordPress "Famous 5-minute Installation" really is quite painless: wordpress.org/download. Even easier, many hosts make it possible to automatically install WordPress for you. (I use Media Temple, but they’re not alone in this ability.)
WordPress is notoriously easy to use, and tons of developers make themes and plug-ins that let you customize the look of your site and add powerful capabilities, including ecommerce. Many of these themes and plug-ins are also free. I recently built a basic portfolio site for a friend in about three hours, start to finish. After WordPress is installed and configured, adding new photos and blog posts is as easy as using a typical word processor. If you can send an email with a photo attached, you can create a post on your WordPress site.
HOSTING FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS
liveBooks | livebooks.com
PhotoBiz | photobiz.com
PhotoShelter | photoshelter.com
SmugMug | smugmug.com
Zenfolio | zenfolio.com
If you’re not inclined to build a website yourself or if you’re looking to do a substantial amount of your business online through print sales or stock licenses, there are services that, for a monthly or annual fee, will deploy and host your website for you. PhotoShelter is a good example, with plans starting at $9 per month for a basic hosted site that includes 10 GB of storage and built-in ecommerce. Step up to $29 per month, and you can use your own domain (rather than your-name.photoshelter.com), and your storage is increased to 60 GB. The Pro plan at $49 per month bumps up storage to 1000 GB for photographers who have large libraries. Annual plans are available that give you a discount off the monthly rate. The Basic and Pro plans also give you access to their slick new Beam templates, which seamlessly incorporate social networking, video and Instagram feeds.
The advantage of a service like this is that it’s turnkey. Need to deliver files to a client? No problem. You can create a lightbox for their review, then send files via FTP or password-protected links. You don’t need to know anything about ecommerce to start selling prints or licensing stock today. There’s image security and watermarking capabilities out of the box, and social-networking functionality, too. Plus, your image library is backed up safely in the cloud. SERIOUSLY, DO SOMETHING
No matter what service you choose, I can’t overstate the importance of having a home on the web. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, and you can improve it over time, but if you want to be taken seriously enough to earn money as a photographer, this is one marketing asset you can’t afford to neglect.
|TIPS FOR AN AWESOME WEBSITE|
|No matter what platform you choose, here are a few considerations that will make your website more effective.
1 | Your images are the star of the show, so don’t crowd them out with a loud or busy design. Keep the look of your site restrained and clean so your photos take center stage.