There are a million reasons why you might want to create your own photography website. Maybe you’re looking beyond Facebook, Flickr, and 500px for ways to showcase your photography to friends and family. Perhaps you want to attract new clients for your photography business. Or maybe you need a professional online gallery to gain more fans and potential advertisers.
Whatever your reasons, owning your own photography website is a great opportunity to share your photos in a way that is uniquely your own. With this post, I’ll show you the no-nonsense basics of setting up a website of your own.
Before You Begin: Time, Money, and Difficulty
The average computer literate person can get a website fully up and running within a day. Costs vary but plan on startup costs of less than $100, with recurring costs of $10-15 per month to start. The difficulty is moderate – it should be easy but I’ve never had a setup that went 100% smoothly.
1. Buy your website
You’ll need to buy two things: a domain name and a host. Think of the domain name (e.g., www.edgrahamphoto.com) as a restaurant and the host as the kitchen. The restaurant is where everybody goes to eat, but all the work happens behind the scenes in the kitchen.
You can search for “web hosting reviews” to find a provider that’s right for you. For the easiest time getting started, buy your domain name and web hosting from the same company and look for one click installs of WordPress.
I buy my domain names from DreamHost; I buy my Polar Route hosting from Media Temple and I buy Ed Graham Photo’s hosting from DreamHost. DreamHost and Media Temple each offer one click installs of WordPress, which is why I use them. They also have generally good reviews, and other bloggers and photographers who I respect use them too.
2. Set up WordPress
WordPress is what everybody uses these days to maintain a personal website. It’s free and it’s easy, it looks great, and there are tons of customization options.
WordPress starts off with the default theme of Twenty Fourteen (because at the time of this writing it’s, well, 2014), but you’ll want to find a theme that works for you. A theme determines how your site appears to your visitors. Finding one you like is vital because everything about the site will be affected – the style, the presentation, even the fonts all depend on your theme.
Some themes are free, but most of the better ones cost money (around $50). Each theme comes with directions for installation, and setup is usually pretty easy. You can search for “top photography wordpress themes” to find your own, or just use one of the two I use if you like them: For The Polar Route I use the Nexus Theme, and for Ed Graham Photo I use Kameron.
3. Post your best photos and be your harshest critic
Now that your site is up and running, resist the temptation to post every shot you’ve ever taken. Find the stunners in your collection that really show what you can do as a photographer. It’s far better to post too few good pictures than too many bad ones.
For ways to take your best shots when traveling, see The Difference Between Snapshots and Photographs.
4. You need to write
Unfortunately (and as far as I know), search engines don’t yet have any way of “seeing” your images. Instead, they look at the surrounding text. This means that if you want to rank highly in search engine results you’ll need to write articles in addition to posting pictures. Sharing tips, travel reports, and photo shoot experiences are all great ways of doing that. The more useful the article, the more people will want to read it, and the faster your site’s traffic will grow.
5. Run the kind of site you’d want to visit
People want a relaxed experience without constantly feeling like they’re being sold something. So be useful and be helpful for others, and if you’re going to sell something make sure the selling portion is separate from your content portion. If you have a mailing list at all, make sure it’s of high quality. Remember that the entire rest of the internet is always just a click away for your visitors (a cat in a shark costume chasing a duck while riding a roomba, anyone?) Strive to set yourself apart, and not just in the generic sense. Know what it is that sets you apart.
Personally, I do this by offering free, high quality tutorials that can’t be found anywhere else. My 7 part Shooting and Editing Photos series and my new and ongoing Visual Guide to Travel Photography (hopefully) give people a reason to stick around.
6. Monitor your site’s health from time to time
Use Google Analytics to monitor your site’s traffic, Google Webmaster Tools to check for internal problems with your site, Alexa.com to get an idea of your site’s traffic relative to others’, and use Google Page Rank for a ridiculously arbitrary way of measuring your site’s importance.
Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools require you to verify that your site is your own by pasting code into your website. The easiest way to do that is to download a plugin in WordPress: I use the free “Google Analytics” and “Verify Google Webmaster Tools” plugins.
Don’t get too caught up in the numbers, especially early on. If you’re passionate about what you do, and if you stick with it, the traffic will be there. Your site may never be #1, but there’s more than enough internet to go around for everybody.