Whether you’re just starting out or as experienced as they come, you’re going to need a visually stunning way to showcase your work.
There’s a couple of choices you’ll have to make right from the start.
Hosted or self-hosted?
First off, you’re going to have to decide if you want to go for a hosted solution or do everything yourself.
In terms of pricing, it’s not going to matter all that much.
Your standard webhost will charge you at least as much as most of the specialized portfolio services and you probably won’t even get close to the performance you’d want for a website that’s going to be VERY image-heavy.
In addition to that, these portfolio websites tend to provide a selection of well-coded templates that are perfectly mobile responsive and are very intuitive to adjust without any coding knowledge.
So why would you go through the trouble of doing everything on your own?
Flexibility would be the primary reason. Portfolio templates can get repetitive quick. They may not be optimized for conversions or SEO and lack focus on certain aspects that you’d like to highlight.
It’s generally a good idea to start out with a hosted solution (unless you have some web design skills, then definitely consider doing it yourself). As soon as you’ve built up a bit of a portfolio and a reputation, invest in a customized website that does everything you want it to do.
Several hosted solutions offer a free pack with limited options but it’s a great way to start out and get your first few clients without any investment but your own time:
It’s worth mentioning though that these free packs are really meant to get you to become a paying customer in the long-term. It’s a business plan like any other, you get a free sample just like when you’re cruising your local market … only a bit more annoying.
Chances are you’ll get too frustrated with the limits (allowing only certain resolutions, certain colors, certain pages) and give up halfway through the setup. Not saying the above services are set-up that way, I haven’t experimented with them in detail so definitely go check it out if you like the way they look.
Just keep in mind that they’re still a business looking to make money, not to provide free solutions to starting photographers.
Are there also any real, completely free alternatives?
You may have heard of a little website called Behance?
Even if you’ve got your own amazing website, a Behance profile never hurts. It’s the LinkedIn of the creative industry.
They’re so big, they don’t really need the noodle money of starving artists. Their gigantic user base is much more valuable to them.
Behance was bought out by Adobe for $150 MILLION which seems like an incredible amount of money, but in consideration looks like an extremely logical acquisition.
They’re looking to weave the portfolio platform in with Adobe’s Creative Cloud as much as possible, and have even given free access to Behance’s ProSites for customized online portfolios.
As far as completely free alternatives go, there’s Shown’d and several other smaller sites who may or may not last. If you’re an angsty teen, you could always consider Deviant Art but these days it really seems to focus more on NSFW content and fan fiction.
Some things to keep in mind when creating your portfolio website
In many cases you’ll want to pop up in the Google search results for queries like “photographer New York” (ok bad example, you won’t pop up there unless you’ve got a really good SEO partner).
To do that, you need text on your website. I bet you were hoping to have your projects do the talking but you thought wrong. Google still relies heavily on website text and even though there’s various ways to optimize your images, text content is still king.
If you want to learn more about SEO (and you should!), it’s probably the most written about topic on the internet. Be careful who you trust when it comes to SEO, there’s a lot of snake oil salesmen out there.
In general it’s safe to trust any content originating from the Moz website and other larger organizations.
Here’s some reading material for you to catch up on:
Conversions. Conversions, conversion, conversions.
Your website isn’t just sitting there to fill up the internet and suck up bandwidth. It doesn’t even matter whether you’ve invested any actual money or not, you want people that visit your website to become so enthralled that they want to contact you.
You don’t do this by just CTRL-A’ing your pictures folder and hitting upload.
Try to look at it from a client’s perspective. They may have no idea about composition, colors, depth or other skills that came into play to create that specific great picture.
They probably won’t care about that stuff either.
Clients want to know how you’re going to make them money. This doesn’t only apply to product photography, though it may seem so at first glance. This applies to advertising campaigns, model photography, real estate and basically everything else. Even portrait photography has a very specific end goal of eliciting a certain emotion.
Your portfolio needs to show visitors that you know more than how to use a camera. You need to prove you understand a client’s specific needs and how to apply your skills on a case by case basis.
That’s why you should try to describe the project briefing, process and end result as much as possible.
Don’t lose sight of the offline world
There’s more to finding clients than having a great online portfolio.
Go to networking events, be active in your local trade societies and volunteer as a photographer for local community activities.
If you’re out in public, make sure everyone knows what you do. It doesn’t even have to look stupid.
Our laptop stickers were designed for exactly this reason. We all get so lost in trying to keep up with the latest online trends that we forget that we’re literally surrounded by potential clients.
Show everyone what you do and it has a bigger effect than just advertise your skills. It shows people that you don’t just do photography, but that you eat, sleep and breathe it.
Everyone has to know that with you, their photographs are in safe hands.