What Photographers Look for in a Portfolio Website

I built my portfolio site with Squarespace.

I built my portfolio site with Squarespace. This is neither a sponsored post nor an endorsement. Well, it’s kind of an endorsement.

We talk about portfolios quite a bit here on The Phoblographer. You can check those posts here, here and here. Oh, and here.

It’s an important step for any new photographer looking to establish a presence online beyond various social media sites. Your portfolio a concentrated dose of who you are as a photographer. It needs to work well on a computer, but more importantly, it needs to work well on mobile. These are not our musings. This post isn’t about our musings. We reached out to Photoshelter and Squarespace, two of the more popular choices for photographers, about their approach to design.

But we also reached out to some photographers, too, to see what they use.

The Purpose of Your Portfolio Website

If you’ve used any variation or derivative of the word photography in Google searches or Facebook, chances are you’ve been the recipient of tailored ads about various platforms to showcase your stuff. Whether it’s Photoshelter, Squarespace, Wix or any number of other sites, you’re at least familiar with the names, and if you don’t yet have a portfolio website, these are viable options.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic 20mm f1.7 II first impressions images (3 of 22)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 3.5

Portfolios serve two very important purposes: displaying your work and selling your work. Both are predicated on good design to make everything look pretty and a bevy of tools to make selling possible.

“As a whole, PhotoShelter is built with that philosophy in mind – beyond simply displaying content in elegant ways, our service is dedicated to helping serious photographers build a business,” Photoshelter’s CEO Andrew Fingerman wrote to us in an email.

For better or for worse, photography isn’t just about making pictures. As with any other profession, it’s a business, and given how crowded the space is, you need to be able to distinguish yourself both in what you sell and what you display.

Though Squarespace has built-in e-commerce tools – the landing page has a tab dedicated to building a store – team members spoke almost exclusively about design.

“More and more photographers are realizing how important it is to have a well designed, beautiful website containing their whole online identity. Keeping the profile, portfolio and blog all under one roof allows photographers to grow their business and attract new clients,” Squarespace said in an email.

Squarespace is, based on personal experience, a solid service for building a portfolio. It has those “simple drag and drop tools” you hear about in every sponsored message, that is if you listen to podcasts. I was initially turned to the service when a friend posted about its sizable discount for students. Most of my friends and colleagues bought into their platforms thanks to student discounts.

The Photographer’s Needs

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For Alex Wroblewski, an Istanbul-based photojournalist, Virb was the service of choice.

“It’s cheap (originally through a school discount) but most of all I like the layout (the photos are full size) and it’s the type that you can scroll down,” Wroblewski wrote in a message about his site.

With the rising tide of bigger screens across devices, we’ve got pixels in our pockets, our backpacks, on our wrists and elsewhere. For photographers, more so than anyone else, it’s paramount that images get as much of the screen as possible, that they’re not buried in tchotchke flash gimmicks and neat graphics.

Fortunately, nearly all companies provide the necessary tools to make building a portfolio a breeze. Click a button, drag a thing, drop that thing, and the service does all the necessary coding behind the scenes to make it work. There is, however, the DIY approach, which is exactly what New York-based street photographer Salim Hasbini did with his site.

“Maintaining the site on my own serves as the best training ground for that. Despite the learning curve, I learned more this way than by using the tools provided by third party platforms,” Hasbini said.

He teamed up with a web designer friend of his to build his site from scratch, eschewing commonly used services in favor of really learning how to build a website. Hasbini’s site is largely minimal in its design with only some text. The images take center stage.

Any company providing services for photographers should put photographs front and center, or along margins depending on what you want. This is what New York-based photographer David Carol wanted when he was building his website, though he didn’t use Squarespace.

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“It doesn’t get in the way of the photos,” Carol said of why he uses WordPress.

Carol handed the reigns of his WordPress site over to a web designer who made sure the photographs had most of the real estate. Beyond displaying his work, coverage and books, Carol’s website works well on mobile, which is often the test of how well a website will do.

It’s All About the Mobile Experience

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony QX10 QX100 for mobile phones (8 of 15)ISO 12501-40 sec at f - 4.0

“One of the biggest trends that has affected our growth is the rise of mobile web browsing. All Squarespace templates are built responsive so the sites display beautifully on a very wide range of different devices,” Squarespace said of how the rise in mobile has affected their approach to design.

Websites live and die by how they look on your phone. Chances are you browse the web on your phone. If someone messages you to say, “Hey, check this website out,” you’re going to click the link on your phone, which’ll open your browser app of choice. If that website is an absolute mess on your phone, it’s highly likely you’ll switch to something else.

“We see photographers and their clients moving to an increasingly mobile workflow (in both content discovery and image access), so our cascade of new tools and product improvements will continue to play into that trend,” wrote Fingerman in an email about what Photoshelter’s doing to build on the rising tide of mobile.

Phones have become conduits for business. If you walk into a clothing store that’s up on current technology, chances are you can get your purchase fast-tracked with an employee who’s got a card reader affixed to your iPhone. You probably have that friend who has that second business phone. There’s even a news organization that abandoned the internet for an app. The organization’s landing page points you to their social accounts and app store listing.

Photographers have to be mindful of this, too, when creating a portfolio. You never know who might come across your portfolio, and you certainly can’t anticipate which device they’ll be using. Yet, your portfolio should be ready with your best images and a good degree of flexibility, so that a phone, a tablet and a computer provide the same experience.

If you’re at this point in the article and you don’t yet have a portfolio, go make one.