If you’d like our thoughts on the best websites and WordPress themes for photographers, hosted systems such as Good Gallery, SquareSpace, etc, read more below. Updated Feb 2017.
Websites are important for photographers and most small businesses – along with referrals they’re how many get a lot of their business. Having a fast, attractive website which shows off your photos well is especially important for photographers, who typically have a lot of large images to show. Many photographers also do proofing and image or print sales from their website.
There are a few main approaches to websites:
- Hire a website designer to create you a custom made website. This can give you a unique look, but it generally the most expensive option with the least support. Think thousands of dollars.
- Use an outsourced website design and hosting service, such as Good Gallery , SquareSpace, Zenfolio, or PixieSet. Note that PixieSet is for client photo galleries, Good Gallery doesn’t do image sales, and the others do both.
- Host your own website on a content management system such as WordPress, choosing your theme from the massive variety available.
There are upside and downsides to each option:
- Custom made websites can give you a unique look, but this is generally the most expensive option with the least support. Think thousands to get the website made, plus likely costs for maintenance and upgrades. You have to choose a reliable service, it’s not uncommon for web designers to move or shut up shop and stop supporting their work.
- Outsourced web design and hosting services can be a good idea. You generally pay a monthly fee, which could be $10 to $50, they provide tools to help you design your site, and they maintain and run the websites. This takes away the need to monitor it yourself, upgrade it, fix it when it breaks, etc. The downside is you could end up with a website that looks a lot like everyone else.
- Websites on a CMS such as the very popular WordPress system are often a good compromise. There are many theme to choose from, so your website doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. You can hire a designer to make you a custom WordPress website, or to tweak one you found that’s not quite what you want. There are a few downsides though. You have to set it up yourself, or have someone set it up for you. You need to keep an eye on it, running the upgrades to WordPress and plugins when they’re available. You also need to choose your theme carefully, to make sure it’s mobile friendly and fast, doing well in the various Google tests, ensure it’s actively maintained and to ensure support will be available. WordPress is constantly evolving, so the theme needs to evolve with it.
We haven’t worked with a lot of the website services (we’ll update this article as we do), but here are our thoughts on the ones we have used:
- Good Gallery is a website content management system founded by a professional photographer and engineer, we have a fair bit of experience with it. It seems to aim to provide clean, simple websites for photographers, concentrating on the images, but with good support for text and information pages, and a contact form system. You can create a range of looks using the system, though most Good Gallery websites look somewhat similar. It runs on the Amazon Cloud, and uses their content distribution network CloudFront, making one of the fastest websites we’ve ever seen. It has excellent support for SEO and probably the best support for mobile websites we’ve seen, scoring very highly on the Google tests. They offer a migration service for a reasonable fee that helps you get up and running quickly and easily – I recommend that all my customers use this service if they move to Good Gallery. The GG content management system is good, and they keep backups, but there’s no customer access to backups if you change or delete something by mistake – I was quoted $800 to recover one page. Good Gallery runs WordPress alongside the website, but it’s unsupported and separate from Good Gallery – different usernames, different look and feel (it looks different from your main website), with no integration. You can of course hyperlink between the two systems. WordPress support is not included by GG, though is available at their standard rates. Their WordPress system is backed up, but they recommend you keep your own backups using a recommended plugin. It’s not a generic hosting system, you can’t host PDF files, slide shows, shopping carts, or images at specific URLs, and you can’t edit your WordPress configuration directly – though WordPress plugins can do many of the things you can do by editing config files – but that’s the price you pay for a clean, simple, secure, fast website. Many WordPress plugins aren’t allowed on Good Gallery, primarily plugins that have some potential to consume excessive resources, including many popular caching and security plugins. Support turnaround time is typically quick and is usually helpful, though is often a little brief. Good Gallery is good option for photographers, especially for people less technical or who don’t want to bother with technical details. It’s also good for photographers that appreciate clean, simple, fast websites that help you do great SEO, so long as you can live with the limitations mentioned above.
- SquareSpace is an interesting one. It can create some quite pretty websites relatively easily and is quite cheap if you need something basic – but the prices go up quickly. You have quite a few options regarding layout, but like most hosted services it’s a bit constrained in what you can do. Performance wise it runs quite quickly, but the Google performance tools rate it as reasonably poor, which will impact your search engine rankings somewhat. It gives you the ability to do some decent enough SEO. You can have your website on your own domain name. I think SquareSpace will be a bit limiting for most photographers.
- Zenfolio is more known as a place to store and sell photos, but they do regular websites as well. They have a good range of templates available, so you can select the one you like and change it around if you want to later. They claim to be good for SEO, performance, and mobile websites, but after having a look I’m not so sure. The client websites I looked at didn’t work very well on mobiles and looked really poor, and Google rated their performance as below average – some of the website wouldn’t even fully load for me – when they did they were quite slow. It may be possible to build decent websites with Zenfolio, but it may take some work to make them fast and effective, and their mobile story isn’t great. All in all I think there are much better options around.
- Pixieset is purely for client galleries, not running a website. It’s very popular among the trendy women photographers. We’ve heard good things about it.
We have a lot more experience with WordPress websites, both for photographers and for other small businesses. Here are some comments on the themes we’ve used:
- ProPhoto is the “big kahuna” in wordpress websites for Photographers, and was especially popular a few years back. It supports both the “blogsite” idea, where your home page is a blog, and the more traditional website look. ProPhoto is quite powerful, allowing web designers to really customise it to get a unique look. This is also a downside – some designers have used it to create websites that are really difficult to change or maintain. ProPhoto has its own rather comprehensive control panel inside the Wordpress control panel, and in some ways goes against the standards and principles of WordPress, making things difficult for people who are used to the way WordPress usually works. Mobile sites are maintained separately inside their control panel, including the mobile contact form, and different pages are delivered to different devices. This a rather tedious task compared with the modern approach of “responsive design”, where the same page is delivered to every user but is styled different according to the screen size, and makes caching on a CDN more difficult. This may be changing in ProPhoto 6 in mid 2016. Overall I find ProPhoto a difficult theme to work with, problematic and confusing at times, and I don’t recommend it to my customers, though I do support it if customers have it already. Support is excellent, friendly and helpful, quick to respond within business hours, with dedicated support staff. 2017 update: ProPhoto is now responsive, but we haven’t looked into this in detail yet.
- Photocrati is the theme I use for my own photography website. It’s actively maintained, and support is very good, though you have to pay a annual fee for access to support. Photocrati provides a couple of dozen different looks or sub-themes which it adds to occasionally, many of them quite different, meaning you can quite easily change your website look without losing your content or much effort. It has a basic photo sales module built in, but I haven’t tested it. It’s performance and SEO is pretty average – it uses a lot of js and css resources, meaning it’s a bit slower to load and to display than the best websites, but it’s better than most WordPress themes. I don’t use the built in galleries much, as that would prevent me moving to different themes if I had to, plus I find the performance of their gallery system to be a bit poor and difficult to optimise to be really fast. Overall I do recommend this theme for photographers as one of my primary picks. 2017 update: Photocrati have released an updated “Photocrati Pro” theme, which may have improved things.
- Infinity Grid is a theme that’s popular with photographers hosting on Good Gallery. It really is a blog theme, not a website theme, the main idea is it creates a grid of blog posts showing your favorite images from each post, so it’s excellent for Photographers. It’s easy to use and has pretty good configuration options. It doesn’t 100% work, in that it offers configuration for some parts of the theme that have no effect – fonts for example. It does have the problem that it asks for extra plugins to be added, but even if you add them it still wants you to add them, which suggests the developer might not be keeping the plugin up to date. Overall it’s a good theme and should be considered mostly for the blog part of Good Gallery themes, though I do suggest looking at other options.
- Not all our work is for photographers, we do some work for various small businesses. Theme Horse have a couple of themes that are simple, clean, and elegant. Photographers Tech Support runs on the free version of their Interface theme, and we recently set up a website for Panacea Health (Wellington Osteopath) that uses the free version of their Attitude Theme. The themes are modern, clean, and really easy to work with. They’re great for SEO and for performance, without too much guff under the hood to slow things down. They’re not the right theme for photographers, but for a simple websites they’re a really good option.
- Limitless is an interesting theme. It’s relatively complex and takes a bit of time to understand, but once you get past that it’s a really powerful theme that lets you create custom websites reasonably quickly. You really need to be a bit technical to use it, or have a web designer doing the work for you. We had a little bit of a problem upgrading from an old version, it lost some of the formatting, and it was having problems doing an auto upgrade, but with the help of the helpful developer we got it sorted out. There’s also a strange interaction with Contact Form 7, a very popular contact form plugin, which prevents CF7’s date selection mechanism working properly, but this could be an interaction with another one of the plugins. If you’re looking for a theme that makes custom websites much easier than designing from scratch this theme is definitely worth a look.
That’s most of the themes and website we’ve worked with for now. We’re constantly finding new themes and websites, we’ll try to keep this review up to date.