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Getting a photography business off the ground can be exhausting and expensive. Most professional photographers have both a website and a portal that allows clients to view photos, make prints, buy albums and more. So how do you get all these goodies, and how much is it going to cost you?
Below we'll answer these questions and more as we take a look at five sites that can fill your need for either or both of the services mentioned above (basic website or powerful online store). We'll introduce you to each service, describe their basic features and how they compare to the other options and give you a look at their pricing plans so you can decide which is best for you. First up is one of my favorites: SmugMug.
SmugMug seeks to be an all-in-one solution for professional and hobby photographers. They're both quite flexible and affordable in their offering. You can either setup a full blown website or a few simple galleries.
Though you definitely have more freedom over your design if you're familiar with HTML and CSS, for the most part you don't need any web development experience or knowledge to get up and running with a great looking site.
Plans and Features:
SmugMug has three plans to choose from: Basic, Power and Pro. All three plans allow unlimited full-resolution photo uploads (24MB/photo max) and provide you with 50 design themes to choose from. Though there are a few ugly selections in the bunch, most of the themes are quite simple and attractive.
All of the plans also offer super easy methods for creating galleries, HTML emails, prints, photobooks, calendars etc. The Power and Pro plans both allow for 10min HD video uploading, custom designs via HTML/CSS or a built-in Easy Customizer, and your own URL.
The benefits of the Pro plan really lie in the commerce category. Any plan will allow your users to purchase printed photo products but only the Pro plan lets you set your own prices and make a profit. You can also create coupons and promotions, sell digital downloads and create different packages just like a full-blown photography studio.
For each of the three plans, SmugMug lets you choose between a monthly or yearly payment option. The Basic plan is $5/month or $40/year, the Power plan is $8/month or $60/year and the Pro plan is $20/month or $150/year.
You can start a free two week trial on any of the plans to see how you like the service and when you sign up for one of the cheaper plans you can easily upgrade at any time if you want the extra features.
Pictage is definitely aimed more towards photographers looking to sell products online and make profit. All of the plans discussed below revolve around setting up online stores and they describe themselves primarily as a "platform for marketing, selling and fulfilling professional photo products online."
Plans and Features:
Just as with SmugMug, Pictage has three plans to choose from: Starter, Premium and Pro. All three accounts give you unlimited image uploads and galleries, an online shopping cart and catalog, monthly royalty checks for online sales, access to some powerful online marketing tools and tons of options for albums and other printed products.
With the Premium and Pro accounts, you can have online slideshows (2 per event and 10 per event respectively), public listings in their Photographer directory and free album design service and the Pro account also gives you the ability to setup sub-accounts for multiple shooters.
The biggest difference in Pictage's three plans lies in the commission setup. Whereas with SmugMug, only the highest plan offered the ability to set your own pricing and make a profit, Pictage allows this with all three of their plans. They then collect a commission on everything that you sell. On the Starter plan, Pictage collects 20% of your sales, on the Premium plan they collect 15% and on the Pro account they collect 12%. So the more you elect to pay up front, the less they take from you per sale.
The Pictage plans start around where the Smug Mug plans end. The cheapest plan is $19 per month, the Premium plan is $49 per month and the Pro plan is $99 per month.
Pictage currently has a promotion that allows you to get your first two months free for the Starter plan.
Zenfolio is very similar in concept and structure to SmugMug (Pictage is conceptually a bit set apart from these two options). From what I can tell, the organization system, presentation tools and feature set is very competitive with that of SmugMug and their pricing structure comes in a bit cheaper (though I do like SmugMug's themes a little better).
Plans and Features:
The ever popular three tiered pricing plan appears here as well, this time with the labels Basic, Unlimited and Premium. The Unlimited and Premium plans offer you unlimited online storage space while the Basic plan gives you 2GB plus an additional 1GB for every year that you sign up. Both the Basic and Unlimited plans max out your individual file sizes at 12MB while the Premium plan allows you to go up to 24MB.
All three accounts give you a nice homepage, full-screen slideshows, 25 design themes, easy no-code customization, music players, an unlimited number of galleries and albums, online stores with shopping carts, and profit-free sales.
Only the Unlimited and Premium plans allow to use your own domain and only the Premium plan allows you to replace the Zenfolio branding with your own, apply custom watermarks, make a profit selling printed and online products, charge sales tax, accept multiple currencies, create coupons and discounts, setup custom pricing lists, and receive filterable sales reports.
Zenfolio is definitely the cheapest option yet, starting at just $25 per year for the Basic plan. The Unlimited plan is $50 per year and the Premium plan is $100 per year.
As with the other sites, you can start off with the cheapest plan to see how you like it and upgrade to a better plan when you reach your limit or need some extra features. There's also a free 14-day trial so you can test out the service before you buy.
The sites above are all geared primarily towards client relations: they allow you to upload all your photos, create galleries, give clients custom logins, set up stores and sell products. These definitely aren't the only options in this category, there are plenty other sites out there offering near-identical feature sets.
However, instead of giving you more of the same, I wanted to provide a couple of options for any photographers that primarily need a beautiful and functional website design without all the sales tools. Instead of owning a store, you just want to show off your work and provide a way for people to contact you.
This is where APhotoFolio comes in. In their own words, APhotoFolio is "dedicated to building big, clean, feature rich websites for Professional Photographers, Architects, Designers, Retouchers, Filmmakers and anyone else who wants to display pictures or videos in a web portfolio." They're basically a full-service template shop that will get you up and running with a site that you can use as your primary online presence.
When you sign up with APhotoFolio, you get a customizable Flash website based on any of their eight themes. You can have as many pages and photo galleries as you like and get "virtually unlimited" storage with 50 email addresses, a blog, video integration, and alternative HTML, iPad, and iPhone mirror sites.
The themes are beautiful and easily changeable through a series of visual controls (no coding necessary). They basically set you up with a content management system so you can run most aspects of the site yourself.
Since APhotoFolio is more of a web design service than an e-store, their pricing structure is dramatically different. There is a one-time setup fee of $1,000 and a monthly hosting fee of $17.
If you want to get a good sense of what your site would look like, check out their live client sites section.
APhotoFolio may be exactly what many of you were looking for right up until the pricing section. If you're an amateur photographer or even a professional just getting your business off the ground, shelling out $1,000 isn't the easiest thing in the world.
Wix provides non-developers with a free and easy way to build a rich flash-powered site. The WYSIWYG editing is super easy: most tasks can be accomplished in only a few clicks.
The catch? They stick ads at the top of your site, make you use their domain and limit the number of pages that you can have. However, they do have premium plans that may be a better fit for your small business.
Plans and Pricing
There are four Premium Wix plans to choose from: My Domain, Combo, Unlimited and eCommerce. All of the plans allow you to use a custom domain and they range in storage from 500MB to 2.5GB.
Only the top three options have the Wix ads and branding removed and only the top choice allows you to have an e-commerce shopping cart.
As you can see in image above, their prices are quite affordable but their structure is a little weird. You choose between a monthly and yearly agreement but they quote you the monthly rates for both so you can compare easier. Prices range from just under $5 per month all the way up to almost $20.
Are There Photography Themes?
Though Wix wasn't built exclusively for photographers, they do have a number of templates that are perfect for photography websites.
The information above should save you tons of research, googling and site hopping to compare prices, features and basic concepts for different photography services. If you're looking for a way to share photos online with your clients after a shoot and allow them to purchase photos online, go for one of the first three options. I personally use SmugMug and couldn't be happier with the service.
Alternatively, if you just want a basic website to send potential customers to, check out APhotoFolio and Wix. Both options save you the years of education that it takes to become a web developer while allowing you an impressive degree of freedom and customization on an ongoing basis.
Leave a comment below and let us know what online photography services you have used and what you thought of them. Have you used any of the services above? Do you of any better alternatives? We want to know!