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Expert Advice: Website Dos and Don’ts

Tuesday November 23rd, 2010

by Paul Stanek

Here at Wonderful Machine we tend to spend a lot of time looking at photographers’ portfolio websites. So much, in fact, that we decided to come up with a comprehensive list of website dos and don’ts, broken down into different categories.

If this article inspires you to make some changes but you’re lacking in know-how and/or funds, there are a wide variety of available portfolio templates out there (there are several listed on our resources page). Or perhaps you’re a web-savvy photographer building your own website. Wherever you’re coming from, there are some underlying principles that remain consistently important. The edit, design and navigation of a website can make a world of difference when it comes to impressing and keeping the attention of a potential client. The blunt truth these days is that on the Internet, the work does not always speak for itself. As our designer Peter says:

Having great pictures is certainly a good start. But presenting those pictures in the right way shows clients that not only do know what you’re doing, but that you understand their sensibilities, too.

The nature of the digital medium makes displaying an art portfolio online less labor-intensive; but as a result, creating one is prone to being a less thoughtful process. Treat your jpegs or Flash files with the same respect you would fine art pieces that are precisely hung in a simple yet elegant gallery: time and patience are put into making sure every last detail is just so. Make your visitor feel a bit more intellectual just for being at your website.

Personally, I’ve gathered a few reoccurring thoughts from my time traveling through online portfolios:

  • Two words that most frequently bring a mild smile to my face are “succinct” and “minimal.”
  • There’s a huge difference between “Flash for Flash’s Sake” and “Flash for Photography’s Sake.”
  • Monitors are growing… and so should your image size.
  • Side scrolling galleries are splendiferous.
  • A photographer is rarely his or her own best editor… fear not the second pair of eyes.
  • Less is more. Wait, that one is Robert Browning, circa 1855. Still valid.
  • Just say “no” to intro animations—that’s so early 2000’s. Okay, that one is Amanda’s.

Our photographer liaison Amanda Hanley has the first set of eyes on every website that comes through our inboxes. I’ll let her share her thoughts on the evaluation process:

When I’m looking at prospective photographers’ sites, it’s about much more than simply the images. I’m checking the ease of use, the overall “look” of their brand and aesthetic, whether they’re showing their specialties or just everything they’re capable of, and whether they bring something different and distinctive to the table.

I won’t go into great detail about each item I’m going to list. I will, however, mention that functionality is Number One for a reason. A glitch or oversight in functionality is the quickest way to lose a visitor.

In the spirit of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, I’ve posed all points as questions. Without further ado:


  1. Is the navigation intuitive, consistent, streamlined, easy to use?
  2. Are the pictures a comfortable size and palatable number? Too many images tire the eyes and attention span.
  3. Are there any spelling or grammar problems? Triple check.
  4. Do all of the links work properly?
  5. Have you linked to your social networking pages?
  6. Is it clear where you’re based?
  7. Is there sufficient and easily noticeable contact info?
  8. Do the pictures take too long to load?
  9. Can you drag pictures off of the web site? If you can, do they contain your name?
  10. Does the site open up too many new windows?
  11. Is the current gallery highlighted?
  12. Do I have to move my mouse around to browse the galleries?
  13. Are your thumbnails large enough to be useful? A thumbnail that expands upon rollover is a nice touch.
  14. Is there music? Let your images do the singing.
  15. Are you using transitions? Are they noticeable? They shouldn’t be (unless they’re star wipes, naturally).

Graphic Identity

  1. Does the website have the photographer’s name clearly visible on every page?
  2. Is the URL consistent with the branding?
  3. Does the email address use the same URL? Does it say “info@”? It shouldn’t. Try “yourname@.” “Info” is a bit impersonal.
  4. Are the type and colors cohesive and consistent?
  5. Do any graphical elements interfere/clash with the images?

Photographic Identity

  1. Do the pictures speak in a consistent and coherent style?
  2. Are the pictures separated into useful categories?
  3. Are there too many galleries with too many images, or are they showing their best work?
  4. If there are multiple specialties, do they clash with one another?
  5. Are the pictures marketable?
  6. Do any of the pictures look dated?
  7. Do you have a copyright date? Does it still say 2009?

If you’re happy with your website, that’s fantastic! There’s a fair chance that your site kicks ass. However, be wary of growing complacent. Even if your site design remains a constant, the work you display on it should evolve as much as you want your career to. As our Director of Photography Sean Stone puts it:

Your online portfolio should be more than just a “best of” from your years as a photographer. You create this site to meet the needs of clients, not to show off your favorite shots. If, during the editing process, you’re not excluding shots you find painfully difficult to part with, you’re probably not working towards those clients’ needs.

Visit your own website frequently. Try from different computers and browsers. Travel to every last nook and cranny, make sure everything’s right as rain. Try to see it with fresh eyes each time… improvements will gradually and naturally become apparent.

If you want to stay competitive, visit other photographers’ websites frequently. Keep your finger on the pulse of online portfolio design. You don’t have to reinvent your online identity every time there’s a new trend, but keep in mind: you can never stand in the same stream twice.

If you’re looking for help designing your website or blog, contact us through our consulting page.

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