These days, if you are a photographer, you need to have a website. It’s expected. Not only that, it needs to look professional, while making it easy for potential clients, employers, and casual photography aficionados to see your portfolio and figure out quickly who you are and what you are about. If you are just getting started in the industry, you probably don’t have the money to pay for a professionally made website. You need a free or very cheap option that will help you show off your work and start to build an online presence. Depending on your needs, you have a few options.
For the technophobic
You hate computers and technology. You shoot exclusively on film and think RAW is what your friends use to describe their diet, not a file name. You need a free solution that will hold your hand through the setup and give you the basic tools to get your images and your voice out there. You need Blogger or Wordpress.com.
Blogger is a free and easy-to-use blogging platform that can get you up and running in fifteen minutes or less. It’s run by Google, which means that you get built-in, great search-engine optimization (that’s what makes your website findable in Google, Bing or other search engines), a built-in platform for making money on ads (Google Adsense), and integration with Picasa (Google’s excellent online photo-sharing site). There are plenty of themes to choose from to make your blog look and act as anything from a photoblog to a full blown website. It’s not the prettiest platform in the world but it is simple, easy to use and dynamic. It is also packed with features. It supports drag-and-drop template editing, which means that you can change the way your blog/website looks by moving around blocks of pictures, posts, sidebars, and other parts of your website without knowing how to code. It supports multiple writers so should your one-man operation explode into a studio collective, your website can support it.
Wordpress.com is the free, developer-hosted version of Wordpress. It is the most used free blogging platform for a reason. It is easy to use, versatile and powerful enough to make full-blown websites. It is also something of a starter edition for the more complicated and extensive self-hosted Wordpress.org blogging software that you might want to end up switching to eventually. It has a strong community of users, both techies and non-techies, who can answer any of your questions and it has great support from Wordpress. The free version includes anti-spam filters (a must if you want commenting on your website), built-in web traffic analytics, and literally, thousands of plug-ins (some free, some not) that can make your website do just about anything. There are also tens of thousands of themes—though the more unique and feature-laden the theme, the more likelihood you’re going to have to pay a premium for it.
For the power user
You’ve got a keyboard mapped with all of your Lightroom hot-keys. You’ve got a RAID back-up system to rival a corporate office. You’ve got three digital cameras and you’re salivating over one day being able to afford a tethered digital-back for a medium format camera. You’re going to read this but you already know the answer. You need Wordpress.org.
Wordpress.org is the self-hosted version of Wordpress. It’s very similar to the free version except you need to purchase your own domain-name and hosting service such as GoDaddy or Bluehost. Wordpress is the most fully featured website building software outside of Adobe Dreamweaver. The Wordpress software itself is free and all of its code is available to you at any time. You can change literally anything under the hood. You can write your own custom themes (or purchase ones) and, like the hosted-version, there are tons of plugins. If you are a savvy web designer (or you hire one), you can make your Wordpress website look like just about anything. The back-end of the site, where you update posts or pages, is visual and user friendly.
The main dig against Wordpress.org is that not a whole lot comes built in. Sure, Wordpress brags about their 5 minute installation (and it lives up to that), but once you have that, it can be hard to bring your website to the next level if you don’t know what you are doing. Using Wordpress.org is like being handed the foundation to the Death Star. If you don’t know what to do with the plans, you won’t be able to make it into the most fearsome battle-station in the galaxy. However, it is intuitive and user friendly so if you are a tech savvy person and you’re willing to delve into the Wordpress forums and start reading how-to’s, its not too hard to become a pro. If you need to have a fully-featured website or blog and are willing to pay a little and spend some time learning the ropes, there’s no better option than Wordpress.org.
For the social photo-sharer
We get it. You are a photographer. You’ve got a Flickr photostream that won’t stop updating. Your Instagram already has a thousand followers and you’ve got so many albums on Facebook that people asked you to stop tagging them. Your website or blog is going to be photo heavy. You are going to let your work speak for itself. You need Tumblr.
Tumblr is often called a cross between Wordpress and Twitter. That’s probably an accurate description but I think it misses the point. The beauty of Tumblr is that it allows you to instantly lock in to a built in network of highly active blog readers and users. Once you have your website set up and you start posting, you will almost instantly start gaining followers. Also, it notifies users when someone follows them (like Twitter) so if you start following people, they will often start following you back. While it doesn’t have a built-in commenting platform, it is extremely easy to install Disqus. The website-building tool is easy to use and surprisingly open; it’s easy to get behind the code to tweak a theme. The social elements of Tumblr make a lot of people wary of using Tumblr as your main blog or website (especially if you plan on posting a lot of text) but I can tell you from experience that it is just as word-friendly as it is photo-friendly. In fact, if your main goal is to start sharing your content to build an audience (as opposed to building a website that you will direct clients to), Tumblr is the best option. So many people on Tumblr are simply re-blogging other people’s content that if you are a content creator, you naturally stand out. It’s the quickest way out of getting lost in the digital sea of blogs and websites.
Follow the link to see my Tumblr.
For the pro willing to pay a little
You are a professional photographer. You’ve got some shoots lined up in your calendar. You’ve got business cards. You’ve upgraded to renting our studio spaces and you’ve got a client list that maybe isn’t there yet, but it’s getting there. You are hustling and bustling in the city. You don’t have a lot of time but you need a professional website that is clean, shows off your work, and is easy to find. You need SquareSpace.
Squarespace is a paid blogging platform (basic is $8/month, premium is $15/month). The pricing is determinant on the amount of storage you need, not features. Many have called it the “Apple” of blogging because of its clean elegant design and its easy to use website building. It has a variety of customizable themes that are aimed at photographers and visual professionals. In addition, if you know CSS, you can create your own. The beauty of Squarespace is that its website building tool is completely visual. You can drag boxes around to where you want them to go and pages come out looking like you saw in the editor. Adding a blog to your website is as simple as clicking add a new page. When you open a new account, you are gifted a free domain name (or you can transfer one that you already own). It’s got built-in analytics (though it does support Google Analytics) and the hosting is fast. The Squarespace servers are designed to adjust to your traffic, so if one day, you post an incredible photo that gets 10,000 visitors, the site won’t go down. It’s basically an all-in-one solution. I’ll be honest. I’m biased. I have a Squarespace website. But I wouldn’t be hawking it if it wasn’t that good.