Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Photography Website Best Practices

Hi! I'm Lara Swanson, and I'm a couple of things:
These three hats have brought me to an interesting place: I've seen a lot of wedding photographers' portfolios, and I know how to make them better. :)

The Typical Photographer Portfolio
The average wedding/portrait photographer excels at developing an online presence and actively promoting their site across the web.
  • s/he typically has a BluDomain site and a ProPhoto Theme on her blog.
  • s/he connects with her clients by posting personal (often quirky) information in her bio.
  • s/he tweets and incorporates her Twitter feed into her site.
  • s/he owns a rockstar-branded camera or lens bag.
  • s/he has some sense of how many website visitors she gets per month.
  • s/he semi-regularly reads other photography blogs, particularly those who are in her area.
  • s/he has been reviewed on a wedding website (The Knot, WeddingWire, etc.).
  • s/he is working on SEO for her online presence.
  • s/he has a set dozen images that are her absolute favorite images, and posts them across social media sites.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am nearly all of those things. :) And, having seen those things everywhere else, I've decided to combine my web design knowledge and how tired I am of looking at them into some best practices for you!

The Process
As cofounder of a wedding resource for same-sex couples, I look at a lot of wedding vendor portfolios to review them to be on our site. I've inspected three dozen of them in March alone. Interestingly, we have more photographers on our list than all of the other categories combined.

As a web developer, I've studied the user experience, information architecture, SEO, and generally how people use websites. There are a ton of interesting articles to read (like how web users scan websites, they don't read them) but I'll focus on our portfolios for now.

Your online portfolio is something that should get clients excited and inspired, and help them connect to you on a personal level. I've been taking notes of what I've seen - both good and bad - and wanted to share with the community some best practices to follow when building your site that will help you achieve these goals.

The Key
Most of these best practices fall into the same category: don't do something for the user that they didn't choose on their own. Did they ask to play that music? Did they ask to have their window resized? Did they ask for a list of every single city that you work in? If the answer is no, well, read on:
The Best Practices
  1. Organize your images by category. Your portfolio should make it clear to the potential client what kind of work you do; having multiple galleries with a spectrum of work in each will just be confusing. They want to see your aesthetic, and they want to see it based on the type of photography (weddings, portraits, commercial, etc.). If you just do weddings - just have one gallery. Think like the user will think - do they want a maternity session? A session for their dog? Wedding photography? Organize your galleries by what your web visitor is looking for.
  2. Do not resize their screen or force the portfolio to open in a new window. It may seem like a good idea to force the user's window to be as big as it can be, but this is incredibly annoying for the user. Often users really like to be in control of their window sizes, what opens in new tabs, etc. See The Key above.
  3. Do not play music automatically. Turning on music automatically will annoy the vast majority of users, since it's not something they chose, and it's often difficult for them to figure out how to turn it off quickly. If you really want to have music playing, make sure that the on/off button is visible on the page, and the user won't have to click multiple times to get there.
  4. Be succinct on your About page. Well I guess we should start with: you should HAVE an About page. On it should be some brief sentences on who you are and why you do what you love. It should also help you stand out from the crowd - why do people want to work with you? What makes you different? But this page should be no more than two paragraphs long, and definitely shouldn't scroll.

    Quirky here is fine - it's what engages you with your prospective client. But don't put things that others put in their bios - look around at your competitors to see what they said. Empty phrases like "I love what I do!" don't help; give concrete information ("I am also an EMT", "I love grasshopper pie").
  5. Make sure the Contact page is clickable from any other page. You want people to be able to get in touch with you. I also recommend that you include your email address and phone number directly on that page, and don't force users to always submit a form to get in touch. This breaks too often, and it's good to provide a backup in case one of your current clients has lost your contact information.
  6. Make sure a link to the homepage is clickable from any other page. This is one of the most basic pieces of usability - people are trained to click a logo in the top-left corner of a website to return home. Make sure it's there, or they'll exit.
  7. Your navigation should be easy to use. This is a more subjective guideline, which you can test by asking a few people to check out your site on their own and giving them goals. How difficult is it for them to get to your second gallery of images? How difficult is it for them to find information about you or your prices? Do the colors of your links blend in with the background once they've been clicked? (I've seen three this month that become unreadable!)
  8. Use gender-inclusive language. What if a groom is perusing your site, and finds language about how this is the bride's day, how you make bride's dreams come true, and you request the bride's name on the contact form? There are many grooms out there whose responsibility it is to find their wedding photographer. Similarly, same-sex couples may value the effort in inclusive language. Use "clients" or "couples" - they flow just as nicely as "my bride and groom".
  9. If you don't include your entire pricing information, mention where your pricing starts. This is an item that's up for much debate, but potential clients will value having at least an estimate of what your price range is. I've heard from a lot of couples that they won't contact a vendor who doesn't give any information just because it makes them work for it. (When thinking about usability, remember "Don't Make Me Think"!)
  10. Don't write obviously-for-SEO language. If you start getting keywordy, you start looking spammy. Plus, search engines will notice anyway (in a bad way) - they value content that is obviously written for your user to read. This means listing out every state you've photographed a person in, using the phrase "destination" everywhere, etc. I've written other articles on good SEO for photography portfolios if you're not sure where this leaves you.
Those ten best practices will yield a usable portfolio and a very positive experience for your prospective client. Be sure to also track the number of people who contact you after you implement them, as well as the visit length and depth (number of pages per visit) so you can make informed decisions about how to make your portfolio the best it can be!


  1. Wow!

    I have actually passed the majority of those. If anything I need to work on targeted keywording more as I tend to just ramble!

  2. This is such an awesome collection of best practices for photographer websites. I, myself, am not a photography but a website designer - my husband is the photographer.

    I designed his website with true website standards of information architecture, usability, and NO FLASH AND NO MUSIC!!

    I also never heard of the enGAYgement site which I think is awesome and am going to sign up now.

    I would be happy if you took a look at our site and gave some feedback on it. We even created our own photog. selling e-commerce store for our site.

  3. @smudge chris - Excellent!

    @bsc photo - I can't wait to see your portfolio when you apply for So You're EnGAYged! :)

  4. Love love love these! I hate when music automatically starts as I prefer to have silence when working. Great post Lara!!!

  5. We just added our site..

    We haven't done a same sex wedding yet, but we have two scheduled for 2010 and 2011. It is actually a hard industry to get into because many of the couples would like to see that you have done a same sex wedding before but when you start in the wedding industry as a whole, where do you start? A website like this where people screen the vendors is such a great service because you are providing the vendors a way to reach out and the clients a way to connect with people without any worry

    Anyways, we added our profile so look forward to using the site! Its a great design and a wonderful concept

  6. Great info, I totally agree about the music. It's so annoying and I instantly switch it off or leave the site when I come across it!

  7. HI Lara,
    Great article! I'd add two more points.
    1. Make sure your branding carries from website/portfolio to blog and vise versa.
    2. If you can't afford a custom website, branch out from pre-canned designs by having a designer customize your template site.

  8. I've followed this blog for awhile now and I just have to tell you how much I LOVE your posts!! It always comes at the perfect time and gives me lots to think about in my business! So thank you!! :)

  9. I am not a wedding photographer but found your site very valuable when it comes to SEO. Sometimes it is like trying to drain a lake with a small spoon.

  10. I totally agree about the whole music thing. I hate when all the sudden I click on a portfolio and have some song playing that i didn't want to play.

  11. Thanks for pointing me to your post Lara! Great information on contact forms


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