A general critique of photographer’s websites
Your website is most likely the first contact that others have with your work as a photographer. With that in mind, your website is of huge importance in marketing yourself and establishing yourself and your brand. With an ever-proliferating number of websites competing for the attention of any potential visitor, you have a very small opportunity to make an impression and make someone linger a few seconds longer.
Looking at the websites of other photographers (and I am even asked sometimes to do that!), I regularly notice specific problems or areas which can easily be improved. Of course, this is just my opinion. So you might disagree on some of these. But I could still be right.
The general look of the website
1. Don’t design your own website.
This is the irony – as much as photographers want to think they are visual people, and have a handle on design and what looks good, (eg, balance and composition), it rarely works out that way. Don’t design your own website. Get someone professional to do it for you. Or at least get a template site. Have a proper website, and not a website service like PBase or such. A proper website, preferably with your own unique domain. You may as well start immediately with a domain name of your own, rather than building up on a website service.
In a sense I think no website will ever be finished. Web technology and capability keeps changing, and it is necessary to constantly move forward. There are ways to continually improve a website’s content, look and navigation.
2. Website navigation should be obvious.
It may be obvious to *you* because you can read your own mind, but get others to check your website for you. Allow them to be brutal.
Make sure the navigation of your images don’t jump around as the images change in size, or go from horizontal to vertical. It’s annoying to your website’s visitors when they keep on having to find where the forward arrow is now, and move the cursor around.
3. “This page is still under construction”
This should never appear anywhere on your site. Never. Just spend 10 minutes and write something! If you are busy building up a series of pages, keep them out of view on a dev site before half-assedly showing them on your site.
4. Don’t plagiarize!
You will get caught. There are a number of websites dedicated to calling out photo thieves. That is but one of them. I’ve even had my own entire website ripped off. (And yes, it is always the web designer’s doing.)
You are creative. Figure your own stuff out. You are an idiot if you copy someone else’s text and photos. Again, you will be found out!
- To check whether your text has been copied, use Copyscape. My most plagiarized page? My bio! I even mention it in my bio. Seems that some photographers just regarded my old bio as a template. Idiots.
- To find any of your images which have been stolen, use Tineye.
5. Images that are too small or too pixelated.
Screens are getting bigger, and resolution is getting better. Your images need to be large to have impact.
The counterpoint to this is to be sure your images and website scale properly for different sized browsers and mobile devices.
6. Style of photographic post-processing should not be dated.
Stay away from vignetting. Stay away from selective coloring. Don’t get caught up in trendy new looks. They will look dated in a few years.
A general rule – the more you have to tinker with an image in Photoshop to make it look better, the greater the probability it wasn’t particularly good in the first place.
Never post images which are sub-par. You are not doing yourself any favors. Rather post fewer images.
7. Simple clean design wins every time over a cluttered site.
It’s difficult to balance having a website with all the info you need to give to your audience, but still keep it visually appealing and easy to navigate.
Don’t use so much SEO targeting that your website looks ugly. Clients might find you on Google, but they will be repelled by the sheer ugliness of a site that has been over-optimized with keywords.
8. Get rid of Flash elements on your website.
Ever since the iPad became the fastest selling consumer device in history, using Flash on your website makes no sense at all. Get rid of all Flash on your website.
9. Mention clearly where you are located.
State clearly what areas / regions you cover, even if you’re a destination wedding photographer or a photographer that travels. A surprising number of photographers don’t mention specifically where they are located! How do you expect to get clients?
10. Lose the cheese-ball music.
People live their lives to their own soundtrack, or they are at work and don’t want sound blaring suddenly from their computers. Certainly not a diva belting out, “Unforgettaaaaable”. And you may well argue that I am not your potential client, but think about it this way – you won’t lose a potential client because you don’t have music. But you will lose all those potential clients that close the tab with your site when the music starts up.
If you do have music on your site, make it very obvious where the music player’s navigation is. Preferably make the music be an option to switched on, rather than auto-play.
Really, if people truly crave the ambience you provide with music on your site, allow them to select it. They might very well have been surfing the web silently or listening to Pandora or Spotify. Sure, canvas your clients if they like the music on your website. You’ll get people saying they like it. Perhaps because they don’t want to insult you. But there are other reasons why the replies would be skewed – you’re not canvasing the potential clients you had lost.
Your bio on your website
11. “A passion for photography”
Nobody cares that you have a passion for photography. It is assumed that you like what you’re doing and that you have an interest in what you’re doing. So why would your clients care that you have a passion for photography. Rather, find a new and interesting way to describe what you do and who you are. The same goes for “being in love with love”.
12. “I was born with a camera in my hand”
Okay, I’m exaggerating. But it seems there is a competition between photographers to be the youngest kid ever to have had a camera. No one cares whether you had a camera at the age of five … unless there is a cute photo of you as a young child with a camera. Then it counts. But don’t labor the point. To impress people, rather show them your current portfolio.
13. “Internationally renowned award-winning photographer”
This might be the second biggest cliche after having oodles of “passion”. Show your portfolio of kick-ass images instead.
14. Do add a photograph of yourself
Let people know what you look like. Sure, it is all about your art, and therefore your looks shouldn’t matter. Except, it does. Clients want to see who they are dealing with, or at least have an idea of who they are going to meet at the consultation. So, no photograph of a landscape or a photograph of your pug. Just a photo of yourself. That’ll do.
Don’t come across as illiterate because you refuse to distinguish between their / they’re / there. The same goes for your / you’re. Similarly, there is a difference between an isle and an aisle. Take the time to proof-read your site. Even bribe friends to proof-read your site thoroughly. Seriously, this stuff is important.
This started out as a general article regarding photographers’ websites … but it seems to have spiraled into a mini-rant. Oh well. And if anything here aggravated you, it might just mean you have to consider changing a few things up on your website. Ask the opinions of others.
Are there any things that I missed out on? Let’s hear some ideas and opinions.
37 Comments, Add Your Own
1Gene Hales says
Very good points Neil. My style has changed a little recently and this reminds me I need to update my portfolio. Thanks.
Thanks for the great tips, especially for the bio. Would it be OK if we cite you as an influence? :) I’m half kidding, but sometimes I think of the martial arts practitioners who pay respect to their teachers and how they fit into the lineage of that discipline. The work of the individual should still speak for itself, but it might be interesting to know what / who inspires them.
3Neil vN says
Great points and I especially agree with not using music or flash. There’s nothing worse than waiting for a slow flash slide show to load and then being blasted out of my seat with a Cold Play song.
I love point 11, it made me laugh as I see it all the time…
6Kurt Alderman says
I absolutely love this article! I got a good laugh out of it, and the advice is awesome. It’s especially good that the advice you gave helped someone out, a feather in your cap!
7tom needham says
8Jesse Kaufman says
As a web designer professionally (and photographer semi-professionally), I cannot thank you for item #1 enough … I get SOOOOOOOO tired of people “designing their own website” … as if my profession is something that can be learned in 24 hours! If you’ve never designed a website and you don’t know HTML at all, your site is going to look like crap. Plain and simple. Hire a professional. They’re there for a reason! :)
THANK YOU for suggesting that music be removed. I usually have music playing while browsing and I hate when a track from a website auto clicks on.
Agree with all, especially the music and bios ;) And currently working on getting a new non-flash site. What about those photographers that use Facebook as their website being added to the list?
11Neil vN says
Shelley, that’s actually a scary idea – handing that much control and power over your “site” to an anonymous and unapproachable large group like Facebook.
It just takes one or two complaints about boudoir or burlesque images for them to shut it down, or at the very least, remove your images.
What I like about having my own website on my own domain .. *I* have multiple backups, online and off-line.
With Facebook as your “site”, you have no recourse.
Amen. If I go to a site and see ‘loading …%’ I don’t even wait around any more. Too annoying. Give it to me now.
#11 – Yes, yes, yes!!! A few years ago when I was recruiting photographers for my portrait studio, this damn “passion for photography” phrase was appearing in almost very resume. I pretty much decided that I wouldn’t hire anybody who was irritating enough to put this trite crap in their application. It’s a bit like the TV talent show bleat of “I might not be able to sing a note but I REALLY REALLY want to be a star so please pick me!”
14Jon Meier says
Finally…someone that gets it and isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said ;-)
The #1 thing that annoyed me when searching for a photographer for my wedding and then for my newborn’s photos was not having prices clearly listed on the site. I quickly excluded 80 or 90% of photographers who did not show prices, though I had a generous budget. Take note! Also, calling the fee page “investment” makes me roll my eyes.
I second the items about flash and music. Especially music. Most people who can afford a good photographer work and will probably start scouting you out at work. Music is a big no-no.
I love your article. I was kind of hoping you would rant about the Blogsite craze. First it was flash, then it was HTML5 (which I agree with), now it’s having a blogsite… I think I’d rather spend my time networking than chasing the latest website fads.
17Neil vN says
Personally, I think a blog-site is the way to go over a static website. Google loves new content. It helps *you* get ahead if you nourish your blog.
With that in mind, a blogsite isn’t just a fad, but a natural progression of where web technology is leading us.
When I got rid of the Flash elements, I went completely to WordPress, and this site consists of 4 different WordPress installations. Much more versatile a platform than anything else I’ve seen.
I have found far more stolen images using Google Image search that Tineye.
My pet peeve with photographers is when they show shots of their gear, or talk about it. Do chefs talk about their ovens?
I especially agree with your point about spelling. The irony is that in point 14 you spell “dealing” as “deailing”.
I know I’m being a complete nudge, but there it is…
BTW, I am a total fan of your site. I can’t tell you how helpful you have been to developing my own photography.
20Neil vN says
Yup, that’s exactly the problem with being the only proof-reader – you read over certain mistakes, especially those you tend to make often.
You forgot one HUGE point. Sites that load too slow.
LOTS of photographers think their site is fast (because they hit it all the time, their images are in their cache and thus the site loads quickly) when it is not.
Who cares if your site is fast the 2nd time you hit it? What matters is the speed the 1st time you hit it.
Innumerable times I have checked out a photographers site, and then clicked away out of impatience before seeing a single image. If I am doing this, so are prospective clients!
22Erik Halberstadt says
“Nobody gives a shit that you have a passion for photography.”
That might be a bit too blunt. It’s a good point, though: if we weren’t passionate about the craft, we wouldn’t be doing it, yes?
If I may expand on the thought at bit — don’t belabor the obvious. I shoot Canon, but very few of my clients care about the specifics; those that do, ask.
Use images instead of words where possible: I’m a generalist (not a wise business decision, but it makes me happy) — so (when I actually get around to it) my folio shows the range of work I do. My clients want to see what I do, not read about me talking about how great I am it.
If five images are great, fifty is not Greater.
Simplify and amplify — or as my brother quotes: “speak with your own, clear voice.” For photographers, that’s perhaps the greatest challenge: what can we portray that someone else doesn’t do better?
Gawd, I can’t stand to hear “I’ve always had a passion for photography.” Thanks for telling the world, Neil, because if I hear that crap one more time I’m going to poke someone’s eyeballs out!
my favorite part of this article was the ‘lose the cheese-ball music’
I have exited many websites and not looked at the photographers work because the music was awful and way too loud and there wasnt a visible button to lower or turn off the music
AMEN! Typos are bad enough, but general misspellings your / you’re make me crazy. And how about those don’t capitalize a doggone thing. Hard to read and not cute. Or text color that is close in color to the background. I totally agree with Jo (comment #12) on the flash loading time–if it takes a bit, I leave the page. I have better things to do (and other websites to see!) Thanks for the frank post. :)
Great article. It’s nice to know I’m not entirely alone in these ideas…. even though I am the photographer with a passion (will be rewriting….) who is also illiterate and then tried to design her own website with music… (which is how I came to the conclusion that I should NOT do all of the above). :) (my website is “still under construction”… therefore non existent….) Any template suggestions anyone? :)
28Neil vN says
Steph, my recommendation would be the ProPhoto blog template. It offers a website and galleries and blog, all rolled into one. Easy to set up, and customizable.
Good article. You hit on most of my pet peeves about photography websites. #9 (State clearly where you are located) is a common oversight that I rarely see in articles like this. I’m constantly shocked by how many photographers don’t indicate or make you hunt to find out what market they service. What part of World Wide Web don’t they get?
At one point or another, I’ve probably done most of the listed items. I still design my own website though, I just can’t handle not being in full control of the code functionality. I still struggle with wordpress and getting it to the look and feel I want.
What I REALLY don’t like is bio’s that read like being written in “third person” style… like “Joe Q Photog was born in (insert exotic location here). His passion for art developed early …” and so on. To add the cherry on the top of the old cheddar cheese this bios usually end with a quote from the photog himself “Creating everlasting moments is my credo and…” God, it sound so pretentious and fake and self-important, it peels the skin on my teeth.
I like vignetting though… guilty as charged! :-)
32Neil vN says
Oh yes! Neil forgot about the 3rd person bio. Neil thinks it sounds pretentious … and a little deranged.
I recently look up the top UK and USA wedding websites.
I did not even open half of them as they use music, have black click here splash screen, and then take a ages to load some fancy transition slide show.
there are selected for the web design I suspect by web designers rather than photographers or customers.
They represent more of a ego trip than what they do.
Okay, I’ve been planning to do a website, but I have to say I’m totally intimidated by designing my own or finding a good web designer (I’ve heard horror stories and been told how much photogs were charged, only to be unhappy with the end results). You’ll probably scream when I say I’ve been considering Zenfolio mainly because I don’t take credit cards yet and I need a way for distant customers to access their images & pay for & order them. I meet with portrait customers in person throughout the process, but I also take team photos and action/game shots that people from out of the area want to be able to purchase or people like to be able to tell distant relatives they can view & purchase prints or products from a website. Am I a lost cause?
You have a great way of wording important points!
I was wondering what you stand is on the matter of full screen images.
A legacy of (HTML) web design is that it’s usually fixed width. You’ll have to look at bit before finding HTML / WordPress templates that stretch the image fully across the browser.
It’s pretty much a fact (in my eyes), the bigger a picture, the more impressive it becomes. To achieve this, you can stretch an image full screen, on the visible part of the browser AND you can make sure the browser is as large as possible (as a photographer & web designer I’ve been amazed at how small some people’s screen estate is).
What are your thoughts on full screen images & on opening a new browser window (for the gallery only!), maxed out on size?
This is one nice thing about Flash though, it’s possible to go full screen when a user requests it.
The downside is of course slower load times (but that can be optimized with prefetching and progressively loading larger images)
36Neil vN says
I hate websites which pop open to a new window.
The future of website design will be responsive websites which resize for large screens and for mobile devices. So large images will be part of that.
Thanks Neil, great article! I’m going through some of your older gems. :D