How to choose your portfolio hosting website

I have often been asked by my photography friends “where should I host my photography portfolio?”. There are number of online photography portfolio hosting websites like Smugmug, Viewbook, Squarespace, Pixpa and many others, and I can understand it can sometimes be difficult to choose. What we will discuss here will be the principles on which you can make your decision and not discuss any specific portfolio hosting provider.

This will be a long and detailed post and I would love to hear you thoughts and glad to answer any question you might have. Use the comment section below to ask your question or share your thought.

So lets get started. First let us look at the areas to consider to make a decision.

Identify your requirement
I would recommend that first you think through why would you like to host your photography portfolio. Would you like to showcase your body of work to your prospective clients, let them proof-read after a photo shoot, sell photographs or maybe just share the photos with your friends and family. Your need will drive what hosting provider will be most suitable for you.

Budget
How much would you like to spend for hosting your portfolio? Are you looking to host it for free? Once you have identified your requirement, this is the second most important thing. It all boils down to a cost benefit analysis and the trade off of features that would be available at various price points.

Technical Ability
While discussing on this topic with many photographers and photography enthusiasts I realised that knowing how to setup the portfolio online and how to approach that itself is a challenge. You would know how comfortable you would be to Do It Yourself (DIY) or would you like to ask someone to set it up for you. Keep in consideration that, if you would like to create a very unique portfolio site that no one else has, or have a very high level of customisation, it would need you to play around with quite a bit of coding.

Once you are ready with your requirement, budget and approach you can start evaluating the various options that are available. We will look at the principles of evaluating the hosting provider to meet your requirement.

In this article my focus would be on DIY. If you decide to ask someone to build a custom portfolio site for you, the evaluation would be different and would need a separate discussion topic.

So lets deep dive into the evaluation criteria:

Cost
Now that you have made up your mind on how much you would like to spend in an year, it will be easier to eliminate the portfolio hosting providers who does not fit your budget. When you look at the hosting plans from the providers you would also realise that most of them provide different plans with different features at certain price points. We will deep dive into the features in the next few paragraphs, but the price will give you a fair idea on which are the hosting providers you would like to focus on.

Incase you wish to host it for free, you would run into few feature limitations. But thats ok, as you have in the first place identified your needs and you might like to prioritise between the budget and the features. Also, the free sites might be photo sharing sites rather than a portfolio hosting site. Would that impact your branding? If you are in the photography business you may not choose to do that. However, if you would like to share your vacation and family photographs or showcase your photography skills, these sites might be good enough to meet your purpose. Even a Facebook page showcasing your photography might serve the purpose. There are many other photography sites like 500px and Flickr to name a few which would let you showcase your photographs online.

Since we touched upon these sites, let me tell you that these sites have their own advantages when it comes to marketing your photography. However, that would need a different post for discussion.

Branding
How would you like to brand your photography business or your Art? If you are a professional photographer this would be one aspect that will need a lot of thought. Two very important aspects to consider would be:

Domain Name – I would recommend that you should have your own domain name either your business.com, yourname.com or a very intelligently crafted yourlocalcityphotography.com. Choice of a domain name in itself is a very important topic and I would discuss that in a future post.

Template – This determines how your portfolio would look. Look around various example sites that are available on the hosting sites. Extend your search to also look at portfolio of people who have used the hosting service to create their own portfolios. Analyse the amount of customisation that you can make and how much effort it might take. Create your trial accounts on the sites and try to design the site exactly the way you would like to customise it. This is where your DIY technical hat would be required. Remember certain providers allow you to significantly give your site an unique look and would need you to do a bit of coding work, generally using HTML and CSS. At this stage you might also realise you might need additional technical help to craft the look and feel to your satisfaction.

Speed
When you have a visitor on your website, you would not like him waiting for your site to load. Especially if the visitor has come in to your site following a link or google search there is a likelihood he will not wait beyond a few seconds for your site to load, and move on to other sites. So it is extremely important that your site loads very fast. Photographs take a little bit more time to load than text content, so this needs specific attention. Create a trial website on the hosting provider and see how fast it loads. Check out the sites of others hosted on the provider and evaluate the speed. Often the sites may be hosted on servers which might have a high latency from the place you are accessing. Give the highest priority to where your customers or visitors are located.

Backend interface
All the portfolio hosting websites have a learning curve, but most of them would be simple enough to let you publish your first set of photographs in matter of hours. Some might have a slightly steeper learning curve than others. Take your time to review and learn. Do not just choose a site on the basis that it has a simple backend. All sites focus on the User Experience, so if you spend a little bit of time playing around you might find a right balance with rest of the criteria you are evaluating.

Community
There are two aspects to community.

Technical Support – There are forum and community support available to help you customise and solve any customisation issues. Evaluate the community support available. These forums are extremely helpful and huge time savers when you are looking for something and you are not sure how to solve. Apart from this your hosting plan may also come with priority customer support, which might be through phone and chat.

Photographer’s Community – Art thrives on appreciation and there are sites which allows you to showcase, share, critique your work with fellow members. Evaluate how useful that might be for your goals.

Image Protection
Whatever you put on the internet can be downloaded, stolen or hacked. Yet there should be basic protection or deterrent to prevent downloading the photographs from the site. Check out if the right click on your photographs is disabled and does not allow to download and save the photographs. Please also note though that this feature is just a deterrent and does not necessarily protect your photograph. If you are a bit technical savvy try to do view source to check out if you can locate file paths to the photographs and use them to download. Incase you can, check out if its a high resolution image or a low resolution image that can be downloaded.

Sell
If you want to sell your photographs through the website check out the pricing. Can you define your own pricing? What is the commission charged. Do they print and ship to your customers? Which labs print the photographs. Have you seen the quality they produce?

These points give you a guideline on what you would consider while choosing your portfolio hosting provider. What other considerations have you made? Look forward to hear from you. Please share your thoughts and experiences.

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