Editor's note: My Lightroom Classic articles have moved to my new website Mastering Lightroom. Visit the store and get 20% off any ebook or ebook bundle with the code ml20 (valid until midnight October 21). Thanks for reading, Andrew.
The thought of creating or commissioning a photography website can be daunting if you don’t know much about web design. But before you even begin to think about how, the important question to answer is why. It’s so easy for anybody to have an account on Tumblr, 500px or Flickr that you may be wondering exactly why a photographer would need their own website or blog. So let’s dive in and take a look at some of the benefits a good quality website will bring you.
1. Photography websites make you look professional
500px is great for sharing photos and connecting with other photographers. But having your own website or photo blog looks a whole lot more professional and impressive. Whether it’s just for fun, or a serious effort at self-promotion, even a simple website with a photo gallery and an about/contact page can be extremely effective and fairly straightforward to put together.
It’s also about control. You get to decide what your website looks like, which photos to add, how to organize them and what links (if any) to other websites to include. When somebody comes to look at your website they stay until they decide to leave – there are no thumbnails or links encouraging them to look at another photographer’s work.
For example, I have a simple portfolio website set up at www.andrewsgibson.com.
Photographer Jason Bell’s website is typical of what you would expect from a pro photographer who needs a quality website to display to clients.
Many photographers have both a portfolio website, for the benefits it brings, plus an account or one or more photo sharing websites, like 500px or, more likely these days, Instagram.
2. You can share your love of photography
You might not have a commercial motive (although it’s always nice to make money) but what if you truly love photography and writing and want to create a website based around these passions? It’s possible, and you don’t have to be a professional photographer to do so. If your website is good enough (and popular enough) it’s possible to leverage traffic into commercial opportunities such as advertising and affiliate promotions.
3. You can learn how to make a photography website
Learning to make your own website is a great skill to have that may one day lead to a part or full time career. Be aware though, that there’s a LOT to learn – it’s not just a simple matter of buying a book or two on HTML.
At the very least you’ll need to learn CSS, PHP, graphic design, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and how to run a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress.
My WordPress knowledge came in useful when I worked for EOS magazine. We never used WordPress for anything, but the owner valued that he could ask me questions about it.
I would think that for anybody working in publishing, or indeed for any company that has an online presence, the ability to set up, maintain, trouble-shoot or improve a WordPress based website would be an invaluable skill that will help you in your career.
You’ll also pick up useful related skills along the way, such as building Facebook pages, setting up company Instagram accounts and creating email newsletter campaigns.
WordPress is the pre-eminent website platform of today, used by most major photography websites. Part of its appeal is that you can set up a WordPress based website with a bare minimum knowledge of the technicalities. The days of hand coding websites are gone – this is the skill you’ll need to learn for your knowledge to have an impact.
WPBeginner is a great place to learn how to use WordPress.
4. You can promote your offline photography business with a website
Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer based in Mallorca, Spain. Now imagine that a potential customer Googles ‘wedding photographers Mallorca’. I think you can see where I’m going with this – a professional website that appears on the first page of Google’s search results will definitely win you more business.
It’s not quite as simple as setting up a website and waiting for the search traffic to come in. It will take work to compete with other photographers chasing the same keywords.
Jeff Ascough’s website is a great example for wedding photographers.
5. You can promote your photo related products that somebody else sells
Do you sell prints on a fine art website? Stock photography through an agency like Alamy or Getty? Ebooks for a publisher like Craft & Vision? Video courses for an online academy like Udemy? Then having your own website or blog is a great way to promote yourself and bring your photos and products to the attention of the world.
With over 500 photography courses for buyers to choose from on Udemy, for example, you need every bit of help you can get! The idea is that you can generate interest in your work and build a reputation as a professional photographer or educator through your website, and direct visitors through to the websites that sell your work.
It’s all about hustle. Big companies that sell products on your behalf rarely do much promotion for you (small companies like Craft & Vision are an exception), instead concentrating on their star contributors. If you are not one of them, you’ll need to do most of the promotional activity yourself. A website (combined with email newsletter) is one of the best ways to do that.
6. You can promote your photography workshops
Photography workshops are popular and there are a lot to choose from. A good website helps you build your reputation and attract customers.
Tewfic El-Sawy is a travel photographer who runs photo expeditions to remote locations like Bhutan and Kashmir. Advertising is expensive – but on the internet you can advertise for free if you don’t mind putting the work in.
Tewfic runs an excellent travel photography blog, which he updates regularly with links to the work of photojournalists and travel photographers. The result is an informative website that’s a great resource for anyone interested in travel photography. He provides a service and promotes his business at the same time.
Best of all – the blog is hosted on Blogger and is 100% free. There are plenty of good reasons why you should spend some money and have your own website and unique domain name. There are lots of good reasons why you shouldn’t use Blogger. But if money is tight, then it’s good to know that a free service such as Blogger is available and (just as importantly) works for other photographers.
7. You can raise cash to fund other photography projects
Photojournalist Zoriah photographs some of the world’s most dangerous hot spots and war zones, such as Palestine and Iraq. He’s a man driven by a desire to bring these stories to the world’s attention. The only thing is, this type of photojournalism doesn’t pay well. So he uses his websites to raise funding for his photo stories, and to promote his workshops.
In this sense your website can help you create a sustainable business by bringing in the revenue you need to make a living doing something that drives you but doesn’t necessarily have large financial rewards.
8. You can sell your stock photos or prints on your website
Maybe you would like to sell prints or stock photos. This can also be done through your own website. It will take hard work to get established, especially if you want to sell stock photos, but it’s certainly possible to set up a part or full time business this way.
There are two photographers who do this brilliantly.
Gavin Gough’s website introduces the photographer, displays his best photos, and keeps readers updated with the latest news. Gavin uses the website to establish his professional credentials, build a brand and sell stock photos and photography courses.
Martin Bailey is an incredibly productive photographer. He has a photography podcast (with over 500 episodes!), a photography blog, he runs photography workshops, sells prints, writes photography ebooks and sells stock photos. His website is the hub of all this commercial activity.
9. You can earn advertising or affiliate revenue
Yes, you can actually make money from a website or blog by selling advertising space or displaying Google ads. You can also earn money by acting as an affiliate – promoting other people’s products and being paid a commission when you do so. You are far more likely to make decent money as an affiliate than you are through advertising.
Does this sound a little too good to be true? In some ways it is. To earn a decent amount of revenue you need a LOT of visitors, but it can be done. You should also know that successful affiliate marketing is mainly done through email newsletters, rather than the website itself.
You need to spend time building your reputation and becoming somebody that people trust. Integrity is important and you don’t want to lose it through supporting dodgy products or untrustworthy people.
Your website will need to be top quality to succeed. Be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort. There’s a lot to learn (Search Engine Optimization, social networking etc). If you’re going to succeed you should be prepared to work hard at building content and promoting your website for a year or two before seeing any substantial revenues.
Please don’t expect to earn anything other than pocket money (and maybe not even that) unless you’re willing to put in the time and hard work required to create a good quality website with decent traffic.
PictureCorrect is a good example of a website that earns money through advertising and affiliate promotions.
10. You can sell photography ebooks or courses
If you an educator then you may want write photography ebooks and sell them to your readers. Video courses are also popular.
Most of my income comes from either selling ebooks that I have written or promoting other people’s products through affiliate promotions. It is possible to earn a living doing this if you work hard enough at it.
You should be aware though that the standard in the photography education sector is high. There is some excellent material out there created by some talented and experienced photographers.
In my case I have the advantage of working for EOS magazine for nearly two years, starting as a technical writer and progressing to technical editor. This gives me a background in writing high quality photography related content, and in magazine design and production. These are good skills to have if you intend to write photography ebooks.
Similarly, if you’d like to create video courses it helps if you have a good speaking voice and are comfortable presenting and teaching.
11. You can start an email newsletter
You know all those pop-ups that websites have promising you a gift (such as a free ebook) if you sign up to their newsletter? They’re there for a reason. Email newsletters are the single most effective tool you have for promoting your photography website or business.
Email newsletters take time to build. You need to attract people to your website and encourage them to sign up. Once they have done so you need to regularly send useful and interesting newsletters. This is all part of building trust and establishing your reputation.
Then, when the time comes, you can use your email newsletter to promote your business.
Sign up for my email newsletter here.
Does creating your own photography website sound like a lot of work? In some ways it is, and the next lessons in the series will explore some of the options you have when it comes to creating websites. For example, I’ve mentioned WordPress several times during this article, but there are other services you can use (like Squarespace) that make the design process easier and don’t require as much technical knowledge.