10 Secrets to Successful Online Photo Portfolios

10 Secrets to Successful Online Photo Portfolios

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.

Great examples:

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.

Great example:

Ricky Rhodes has portfolio names that are simple and obvious, including “still life“, “product“, “spaces“, and “people“.

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.

Great example:

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.)

Great example:

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.

Great example:

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.”)

Great example:

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.

Great example:

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.

Great examples:

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.

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This article was written by

PhotoShelter co-founder and GM

There are 29 comments for this article
  1. Yann at 3:41 am

    Great article! You made me realize the importance of using the keyboard to scroll through pictures. I agree, keep it simple and clean. I think my portfolio passes the test, except I have no captions. Do you believe it is a big problem? All the best!

  2. Hagai Nativ at 2:13 pm

    Great article! Thanks. I use this feature from day1 of it but never menaged to create a list of portfolioes… I use WP GPP Modularity tamplate for my blog wich works with PS Please give me a solution… I tryed to add 3 galleries to my portfolio but they do not appear on site navigation and only the first gallery on the list appears.. Thanks. Hagai

  3. Jason St. Petersburg Photographer at 2:41 pm

    Very good tips for online portfolios. When visiting other photographers’ I often get frustrated by the things you mention, like the simple fact of not putting the portfolio front and center on the site making it extremely easy to find. I like when navigational controls are included. The tips for allowing captions is a good one which I will look into for my own online portfolios. I know my various portfolios are too large….any feedback on which photos to eliminate would be appreciated: http://jasoncollinphotography.com I would offer the same constructive feedback to anyone in return.

  4. cococello.myopenid.com at 7:22 pm

    Great collection of tips Grover. Keeping things clutter free has been a big thing for me lately. The whole “magazine” formats have gone a bit hog wild forcing content into spaces “just because”. I think well-written copy is also a must. If you’re a photographer with a clear list of services, landing pages are a must.

  5. Alex Orrow at 5:50 am

    Very useful and important advice, thank you! It would be great now if PS would allow the watermarking of portfolio images to be separate from gallery images. Currently if you watermark images, all images in both portfolio and galleries will be watermarked. Which probably dilutes the impact of the portfolio. But if your selling images especially event images it makes sense to have the watermark option enabled!! I hope this will be implemented in the future?

  6. Ilona at 1:12 pm

    Great article with very useful advice on many fronts! The only drawback with Photoshelter is the URL [CNAME] issue, not having a fully functional mask where my custom domain stays in tact throughout the entire PS browsing process. For example, you mention “3) Make sure everything is easy to link to.” – easy, yes, but share a gallery or a particular photo and it’s name.photoshelter.com, not my domain. For sharing, SEO, etc, it’s always the Photoshelter domain that gets shared/indexed.

  7. Erin - Kansas City Photographers at 5:58 pm

    I have this need to be different. I agree with all of the tips but I want to find away to use them where my site is a different experience for the view and potential client. It is hard to keep thinks functioning and the site to seem simple while it is very complex. I am still working on our about us section but I am happy with our site, in fact I am ecstatic. With the tips I am going to go back through and refine. Thank you If anyone wants to look at my new site feel free at http://www.photosedge.com. Thanks Erin

  8. Tule at 9:12 pm

    I actually think this is one of the more obnoxious watermarks I’ve seen. It is too large, too colorful, and completely distracting. “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.”

  9. Tony Bynum at 2:42 pm

    Great work photoshelter team. The last webinair was great! I am curious to see what you have to say about this portfolio of images from Glacier National Park, Montana. http://tonybynum.photoshelter.com/portfolio/G0000_YLNLRNgoaI . I know the my logo is too large according to the comments made in a recent webinair but for now I think it’s okay. I also noticed that in that same webinair, black was discouraged and yet on your homepage and in this article, black is the background color of choice. I moved from black to white about 6 months ago and could not be happier! I have my own personal domain, but have yet to move it to photoshelter from my other site for fear of loosing my google juice . . . I wander if you might address that issue too? I know the sooner I move if from my current site to my photoshelter site the better, but right now i get really good traffic . . . what do, when, and how. . . Thanks for the taking the time to look over my home page and this portfolio http://tonybynum.photoshelter.com/portfolio/G0000_YLNLRNgoaI Tony Bynum Finalshot Photography

  10. Elen at 2:40 pm

    While many of these tips are useful to any photographer’s portfolio, there is one phrase that simply doesn’t turn my crank: ‘If people are constantly praising the design of your portfolio website, then you are probably doing something wrong.” I disagree whole-heartedly with this sort of comment. If you can create a unique and eye catching website, then it is more likely that your viewers will be interested in what else you can produce, i.e. your images. Of course I agree with keeping your site clean and organized, but unfortunately people tend to take this to a level which I can only describe as boring. Don’t you want to be unique? Whats to help your potential client from deciding between that helvetica site with a white background and wedding photography from that other helvetica site with a white background and more wedding photography? Instead of conforming to the photography design standards, take yourself out of the box and show your clientele what you are capable of on a grander scale and that you are not just a one trick pony. Defining yourself does not have to be just through your images, the surrounding design will also say a lot about the photographer.

  11. Derek at 1:43 am

    Good advice, well-written. But on point #3, there seems to be a mistake. The writer seems to say that with a photoshelter site you can not only link to specific portfolios but to exact photos within that portfolio (“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.”

    I did not find this to be the case. Using the Tony Snow portfolio given in the example, I tried to link to a specific photo in the sequence of one of the galleries and it did not work. The link always took me to the beginning of the gallery/portfolio.

  12. Chris Owyoung at 2:32 pm

    Hey Derek,

    I just tried linking to specific photos in Tony’s music portfolio and it worked just fine. As long as you see the url changing as you move through the photos on any website, you can copy that unique URL and link to that image specifically.

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  16. Eric Peterson at 10:13 pm

    It is especially difficult to get an objective opinion. We all tend to ask our friends, family, etc.. in other words, people who like us and do not want to hurt our feelings. Finding outside opinions and critiques can be very difficult. That being said if anyone would like to visit my site http://epetersonphotography.com and let me know what you think i would appreciate it greatly and would be happy to do the same in return!

  17. Jaap Feitsma at 8:51 am

    Hi guys, very nice article! Enjoyed reading it and it was pleasantly useful! However.. It dates back till around 2011. And I’m just wandering about the image sizes.. are portfolio’s still acceptable with images between 700-900px? It seems a bit too small to me, nowadays. I’m currently working on my new world photography portfolio and I’m kind of stuck in choosing a good.. no great! image size for my photographs 🙂 Any tips?

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