Photographer Websites: The Basics

Photographer Websites: The Basics

What are the important elements of a photographer’s website? What should each website contain, and what do your customers want? These are important questions to answer before you settle on any website design.

This article outlines the most important elements of what makes an individual photographer’s website effective, much of which we heard straight from top photo buyers in our 2009 What Buyers Want survey. You should be sure that your website can accommodate as many of the items from the below list as possible.

An ideal photographer website possesses the following traits:

1. Contains HTML that search engines can index.

This may be the most important element of all. Search engines are such a significant traffic source that you can’t really succeed without them. The foundation of HTML is text, and search engines love text. Give search engines what they love, and they’ll return the love in the form of a nice steady stream of traffic.

Putting your entire website in Flash, or including captions and keywords in the image itself instead of as text below the image, is not advised if you expect search engine traffic.

2. Is simple and clean. It showcases the photography, not the design of the site.

When a visitor comes to your website, the first thing thought across his or her mind should be about your images, not about your website itself. If a visitor is distracted by the design, annoyed because it is busy or slow, or consumed with navigation that may seem cool but is confusing to newcomers –that’s attention away from your images.

Your website should be as simple as possible. The reason art museums have simple white walls is to showcase the art.

3. Has contact information available on every page.

Contact information that is difficult to find is the single biggest pet peeve of photo editors. Make sure your website contains your contact information – or at least a link to it – on every single page. A good practice is to include your phone, and email address on the bottom of every single page of the site.

Yes, that’s right… every single page. If you want your phone to ring, then don’t make it difficult for people to find your contact information.

4. Provides a searchable database or archive of the available images.

Many photographers think that a searchable archive is only useful if they’re selling stock images. This is not the case.

Our survey of photo buyers reveals that many photo editors prefer to search through a photographer’s image archive instead of being restricted to looking through galleries that have been pre-edited and sequenced. They are the editors, and they want to be in control.

For example, art directors often browse through photographer websites when looking to book assignments. If a director is planning a shoot that uses sports and action, he or she may want to just search for “sports” or “action” to see whether you have any work that fits what they’re looking for. This is a lot easier than clicking around to see whether you might have a gallery called “Sports”.

You should consider search as another way to navigate through your site, in addition to galleries.

5. Is easy to update.

A website should be updated often, so your website should make that process quick and easy. The easier it is, the more you’ll update it.

6. Has either a white or black background. Not colored, not textured, not gradient.

According to our survey of photo editors and buyers, your website background should be either black or white. All other shades of gray, colors, and patterns got a big thumbs-down.

White or black are neutral colors, and they don’t take attention away from your images. Instead, the viewer’s eye is trained to ignore these background colors entirely, which is exactly what you want. Colored or textured backgrounds call too much attention to themselves and divert a viewers focus away from the images. (See #2 from this list for more on this.)

7. If Flash, has an HTML mirror site that is search engine-friendly.

If you absolutely must have a website done entirely in Flash, be sure that there is an HTML mirror site in the background that search engines can see. If your website doesn’t have this, then search engines will not be able to index the content of your site. Yes, it’s true that Google is now learning to “see” Flash, but it’s restricted to text only. This means it has no way of “seeing” an image and matching it to caption text located within the Flash file. Furthermore, Flash has no notion of the ALT attribute (specific to HTML), which provides descriptive text for images.

Turning off Javascript in your web browser’s preference window (if you don’t  know how to do this, a quick Google search should help you out) and reloading the page is one easy way to check and see if the site has an HTML version. If you don’t see anything on the page after you reload, then chances are that there is no HTML version available.

If your website has already been indexed by Google, you can see what Google sees by viewing the “cached” version of the page instead of the actual site. This is the version of the page that Google has saved on the servers – essentially a snapshot of your website that was taken the last time they visited it. The link to the cached page is available next to the entry on Google’s results page:


There is a link to see a “Text-only version” on that page. Click this and you’ll see exactly what Google sees.

This is how Google sees the PhotoShelter Blog:


There should be useful keywords and text about you and your services.

If you only see a message that says “You need the Flash player to view this page”, then there is no text-only version.

8. Navigation is obvious and clear, with easy-to-understand section names.

When a visitor arrives at your website, they should already know how to use it, and where everything is. Your navigation should be obvious and simple to understand. If your site’s navigation is difficult to find or see, or if the labels you’ve chosen are vague and a challenge to decode, you will end up with frustrated users.

Just like the design of your site, the navigation shouldn’t get in the way and become another element that draws attention away from your photographs. If someone has to stop and think about your navigation, it is taking away from your photography.

9. Provides a thumbnail option and doesn’t require image-by-image viewing.

Our survey revealed that photo editors prefer websites where they feel some degree of control over the images they browse, as well as how they do their browsing. An overwhelming majority of them said they preferred to view images as thumbnails, with the option of viewing a larger size if they wanted.

Photo editors and art directors are often in a rush, so presenting them with many thumbnails on a page allows them to scan through images quickly – meaning they’ll be able to see more of your images in a shorter period of time. This will increase the potential that they’ll find the image they are looking for.

Similarly, these types of visitors don’t like being forced to look through large single image one after the other. It takes too long and they have no control over the experience.

10. Ability to purchase prints, products, and/or digital downloads on site.

It’s important to make the most of every visitor. Because you’ll never know just what any given visitor is looking for, your website should be able to cover all the bases. Someone may be looking for a print to hang in their living room, another might be a person looking for a new mousepad with a soothing picture on it, and another might be looking for an image that they can use as their computer’s desktop wallpaper.

If your website has the ecommerce capability to handle all of these opportunities, you’ll increase the potential to generate revenue on your site.

Your website doesn’t have to be just a portfolio of images. It can, and should, be more.

11. Allows for direct linking to images.

At some point, a viewer will want to share one of your images with another person, and they’ll want to send a link to that person, usually via email. If your images are contained inside of a Flash file, or if you have a frames-based HTML website, this may be a problem.

If you are considering a Flash-based website, make sure it has support for “deep linking”. Put simply – every image on your site should have its own dedicated URL (link).

12. Has the ability for someone to download an image for comping purposes.

Very often, a photo editor or art director will need to download a low-res image from your website so they can use it for proofing purposes. There are usually other images in consideration in addition to yours, so it is important that a photo editor can bring a copy of your image into a meeting. If you make it too difficult to get an image from your website, your pictures may be missing many of these meetings.

Make sure there is a way to download a low-resolution version of the image that’s just big enough to make it look as good, if not better, than the other images you are competing with. (However, too big can take too long for the editor to download.)

Also make sure that your contact information is either on the image itself or saved within the metadata of the image file. Once you’ve beat out the competition, they’ll want to connect with you (or your website) to get a high-resolution file. Make sure they know where to go when that time comes!

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This article was written by

PhotoShelter co-founder and GM

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