Having a strong, appealing portfolio is a great way to illustrate your work to potential clients. It can help establish your brand, convey personality, and showcase the absolute best of your photography. Knocking together a basic portfolio can take an hour or so, but it's unlikely to show you in the best light.
These hints, tips and pointers will assist with creating a really impressive portfolio website - one that you're proud to show potential clients.
Where to Begin
Broadly speaking, you have two options when embarking on creating your portfolio: (1) do it yourself, or (2) hire a designer. Each option has it's own pros and cons, and don't be too quick to decide on which route to take.
The DIY Approach
Putting your own portfolio site together is very cost effective. If you're just starting out as a freelance photographer, looking for any ways in which to save costs can be important. Using a pre-designed template or a software package to aid you in piecing a portfolio together is likely to be considerably cheaper than hiring a designer.
Taking the time to understand the basics of how a website is designed and updated can be a useful skill to know in the future, so you're able to make basic changes to your website.
Finally, a DIY approach can often be fairly quick. It should only take a day or two to have an acceptable portfolio online, rather than the couple of weeks it could take for a professional designer to put something together for you.
We'll cover a few tips and resources for helping you with designing your own portfolio site in a moment.
Hiring the Pros
The other option is to hire a design agency or freelancer to create a unique website design for you. This could cost between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, depending upon the level of expertise you're looking for.
The main advantage to this route is that you'll have a unique, customized website that fits in with the personality you're trying to project. Designers are likely to understand how to optimise your site for search engine positioning, and incorporate accessibility for readers without good eyesight - both important aspects to consider.
You'll also have a designer on board long-term to continue updating your website for you with new photos and information (or a simple "content management system" for you to do this yourself). With an easy-to-update site, you're more likely to add new content and keep it fresh.
Creating Your Own Portfolio Site
If you go down the route of creating your own portfolio, here is a useful selection of links and resources to help you:
Buying a Website Address & Hosting
The first step you'll likely need to take is to purchase a website address. This is usually either your company name, or personal name, depending upon who you're trading as. Always aim to secure a .com domain name, as these are the most "prestigious". Failing that .net is another option, or you could go for a regional domain name such as .co.uk. A great tool for checking availability is Instant Domain Search.
Prices are generally fairly inexpensive, and you shouldn't need to pay more than a few dollars per year. A few good "registrars" to consider are:
You'll also need somewhere to host your website (a storage area that your website address points to). You may find that hosting is included with your domain name, or you may like to go elsewhere. MediaTemple has a good reputation, and a plan starting from $20 per month.
The first decision to make when designing your site is which design software to use. If you're on Windows, something such as Frontpage or Dreamweaver could be suitable. On a Mac, software such as RapidWeaver is great for putting together a good looking portfolio, or you could opt to use iWeb that comes bundled with OS X for free.
Another solution would be to use an "online website building" system, such as one of the following:
Regardless of which you choose, you may also like to purchase a template for your website (so that it looks a little different to the standard "default" of the desktop or online software). Hundreds of different template sites exist online, but I would strongly recommend taking a look at ThemeForest, one of Envato's marketplaces.
You'll want to ensure that it's easy to regularly update your website and keep it fresh with new images. This can be fairly straight forward if you've created the website yourself, and will probably be a case of updating files from your desktop, or logging into an online website building tool and making changes.
Another option is to use a content management system such as WordPress for updating your site - a widely popular blogging tool that has a variety of different themes available.
It's important to know where visitors are coming to your portfolio from, and how well you are doing at converting visitors into leads. Various tools are available for tracking website traffic, but by far the most popular solution is the freely available Google Analytics. If you'd prefer something different, Mint is a good alternative.
Key Points to Bear in Mind
Here are a few important points and reminders to consider when embarking on the process of designing a portfolio site:
1. Show Your Best Work, and Keep It Concise
A potential client doesn't want to look through every photo you have ever taken. They're interested in seeing a good range of your skills, and understanding your personal style. Select images that are the absolute pinnacle of your portfolio, and only display 10-20 of each category (e.g. 10 wedding shots, 10 portraits, 10 landscape images). If the visitor likes what they see, make it easy for them to contact you for additional examples.
2. Navigation Is Key
As with any website, being able to navigate around is incredibly important. Ensure that your navigation links are prominently placed, and it's obvious which page the visitor is currently viewing. Keep the total number of pages to a minimum, for instance: Home, About, Portfolio, Contact.
3. Don't Hide Your Contact Details
The aim of any portfolio website is to have clients contact you. To this end, make your personal information readily available. An email link, contact form, or telephone number should be displayed on every page. Be clear on your geographical location, as people may often be looking for someone relatively local.
Don't ignore the rise of social media online, and start using mediums such as Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook to connect with others and showcase your photography. Links to these social networks should be displayed on your portfolio site (though ensure the links are "designed" to fit in - don't just place a bright Flickr logo on a subtly designed page).
5. Offer Free Advice
If you're just starting out, make it clear that you're happy to chat with a potential client with no obligation. Show that you're happy to offer advice, regardless of whether they choose to hire you or not.
6. Regularly Update
Your portfolio site should be regularly updated. Aim to change the main images in your portfolio every 3-6 months, as it achieves two things. Firstly, it shows that you're an active and popular photographer and prevents the site becoming "stale". Secondly, as you shoot more, your style and standard will no doubt improve - this needs to be reflected on the site.
7. Convey Personality
Your website needn't be a simple white background with a slideshow of images. Use it to convey your personality and style to new clients. If you photograph expensive weddings, go for a contemporary and stylish look. If you're a band/music photographer, aim for something a little more dynamic with impact.
8. Cater to Clients
More and more photographers are using their portfolio website as a means for clients to log in and view the images of their event. This is a great service to offer, and ties in well with your portfolio presence online. That said, there's no need to display a large "Client Login" box on every page - just send a private link to your client, rather than requiring they login to your portfolio.
10 Examples of Stunning Portfolios
These ten examples showcase some really impressive portfolio sites. You might not be aiming for quite this standard at first, but it's a good way to know what's possible for the future: