David Brabyn wears two hats: he's a working photojournalist based…
In addition to fantastic photos, what features are found in successful online photo portfolios? What are the most important things to consider when presenting your best work? What elements will help you turn page views into photo assignments?
I made a list of 10 important “secrets” to successful portfolios. Does your photography portfolio hit each of these points? If not, why not?
Also be sure to check out our free guide: 10 Secrets of Successful Photography Websites to get specific tips on how to build a great website for your business. Whether you already have a photography website or you’re just starting out, this guide will coach you to create a robust website that supports your photography business online.
1) Keep things simple, clean, uncluttered.
If people are constantly praising the design of your portfolio website, then you are probably doing something wrong. Your photos are supposed to be the star of the show, so don’t clutter it up with useless design elements. If people notice the design of a site over the photography it contains, that’s a problem.
When it comes to image sizes, make sure they’re not too small, or too large. In our photo buyer survey, people indicated that the sweet spot when it comes to image sizes is between 700 and 900 pixels wide. People want to see the images at a comfortable size on their monitor (and monitor sizes vary). Not having to lean in closer to the monitor because its too small, or scroll up and down and left and right because it’s too large.
And while we’re talking about keeping things uncluttered, let’s talk about the one thing that can totally destroy a your portfolio — watermarks. Personally, I am not a fan of extreme watermarks because I like the image to be what people notice first, not any anti-theft measures that may be embedded into the photo. If you’re going to add watermarks, do it with a subtle touch. Overly aggressive watermarks are a turn off and a distraction for your viewers.
Solas Wedding Photography has a clean portfolio with images that aren’t too small, or too big.
Zagal Wedding Photography places a small watermark containing their logo and URL in the lower left corner of their portfolio images, not large and in the center where it would distract a user and compete with the image.
2) Make sure everything is easy to understand.
Don’t turn your portfolio into a game of mystery. Make sure that categories, sections, labels, and navigation makes sense to everyone. Getting clever with these things might seem like a fun idea, and a way to be different, but it creates a frustrating experience for your viewers. When it comes to portfolio category names, stick to the most obvious words that describe exactly what’s on the other side of that link. You should understand what words your viewers are typically looking for, and use these to help name your various portfolios.
3) Make sure everything is easy to link to.
Every image on your website should have it’s own link (url, or “page”.) When viewers come to your website, you want to make it easy for them to share your work with others – which means you’re going to need links for them to pass around. There’s nothing more frustrating than a portfolio that requires instructions like, “Go to this link, then click on the left arrow 13 times, then scroll down, to near the bottom, and look for the picture of the girl with the red dress.”
If your portfolio isn’t easy to link to, then most people will just move on rather than invest the time and effort needed.
Tim Snow has a portfolio that’s easy to link to, even if that means linking to a photo in the middle of a sequence. All PhotoShelter portfolios automatically work this way.
4) Edit the right way – the tight way.
The old saying is true: “Your portfolio is only as good as your worst image.” Make sure there are no weak images in your portfolio. Edit tightly, ask someone else to help you. Get multiple opinions. Accept the fact that you probably aren’t totally objective about your own images. It’s better to have a smaller portfolio containing only amazing images than a larger one with some borderline keepers.
5) Put your contact info on every page.
If the goal of your portfolio is to land you assignments, then make sure a client knows how to contact you so you can actually get one. The easiest way is to include your contact details on every page in your website — including your portfolio. I’m not suggesting that you make this big and bold so that it distracts viewers from your images. Include something small and subtle at the bottom of the screen that doesn’t take attention away from the images, but is there when a client decides to pick up the phone. (At the very least, you should include a “contact” link on every page.)
Digitalpict Photography has contact information at the bottom of every page in their portfolio.
6) Make any/all specialties obvious.
If you specialize in anything in particular, you should make this very clear. Consider placing prominent links to portfolios dedicated to each specialty, using obvious keywords as titles and links in your website’s navigation. Also consider linking to your specialty portfolios from your “About” page. Help to point a viewer to your portfolios by including links throughout your website, in addition to the site navigation.
7) Don’t forget the keyboard!
Professional editors are used to the controls found in their editing software and tend to use their keyboard to scroll through images. Your portfolio website should also have this function built into it. In addition to placing “previous” and “next” arrows or buttons, you should also allow viewers to flip through your images by using the left and right keys on their keyboard.
Use the left and right keyboard arrows to scroll through the pages of Tracey Tomtene’s PhotoShelter-powered portfolio.
8) Let people know where they are.
As people advance through your portfolios, it’s good practice to let them know where they are at all times. For example, if a portfolio contains 20 images, let them know what image they’re on, and how many more they have left to go, and place this information near the forward/back portfolio navigation (“Image 12 of 20.”)
The portfolio of Todd Bigelow titled “Documentary Work” contains 50 images. In the lower right corner, below each image, is a counter to let people know where they are in the sequence
9) Make captions available when needed.
Although you may think that a truly good photograph needs no caption at all, I think that all photos can use a little text-based info. Some viewers will want to learn more about the image, and it’s a good idea to have it waiting for them should they ever need it. (Caption, date created, how it was created, etc.) To prevent this from becoming a distraction, you can make this information invisible by default, and allow them to view it if they click or roll over a “more info” button.
Photographer Steve MacAulay makes additional information available for each image in his portfolio. Hovering your mouse over the “More Info” link will reveal the info — otherwise, it remains hidden.
10) Be a speed freak.
Your online photo portfolio needs to be fast and smooth. Pre-load the images in the background so when a viewer advances to the next image it happens immediately. The appearance of speed is critical because it keeps people from giving up mid-way through a portfolio. If a web-based image portfolio is fast and snappy, a viewer is much more likely to make it all the way through it.
Any of the links listed above pre-load portfolio images in the background, making the viewing process as fast as possible for each user. This is standard for all PhotoShelter portfolios.
Have you spotted any great photographer portfolios that are truly inspirational? If so, please help contribute to this story by leaving a comment below.