There are many options to build a site. It is important to consider what you want from the site now and in the future. It is also important that you avoid being taken for a ride by the many people trying to make a buck off the Internet one way or the other.

It is not enough to rely on social sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

You need to control the sizes that your photos are displayed in and display your portfolio in the best light. Also you don’t want it too hard to update your galleries. Depending on how you setup your site it can also act as a backup and archive for your images.

You can go to a domain registrar and register the name separately from where your site is. There are some advantages of this and some disadvantages.

Or you can go to a web provider and usually for about $7 a month get a site with one free domain name.

One thing to keep in mind is if you have your own domain name you really should also have email going to that domain. It is not very professional looking to have a domain name like bestphotosintheworld.com and then your email address is fuzzycat2007@gmail.com.

If you are after a simple gallery site with a bio you shouldn’t spend much money on it as it should be simple to setup.

Domain Name

These days a domain is good to have, but most people find you via Google or social networks.

Finally before doing the site, logically organize the plans for it. Look online at other sites. Don’t obviously copy them as that is stealing but use them for ideas.

Sharing

There are social media and sharing sites which can be used for your photos including Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Flickr, Instagram or 500px.

Be aware of the licensing rules of the above sites. When you post photos, you give many of your rights to the site depending on their terms of service.

You can check the details on what rights they take at Terms of Service Didn’t Read.. Another thing to keep in mind is that some sites once setup will not let you cancel the service according to their Terms of Service. See Account Killer for details.

Features

The following features are required by professional photographers or serious amateurs.

  1. Effective and attractive portfolio
  2. Upload and organize photos
  3. Control access to your photos
  4. Sell prints and other products
  5. Provide an off-site photo archive
  6. Share and sell videos
  7. Open and modern technology. HTML 5 and CSS not Flash.

Plan

How far do you want to go with the site?
It is you. It is the base for your business.

You can use a dedicated photo site. Some of these sites also handle videos. They can all be used with your own domain name. Popular sites are.

Note this article is not intended to be an exhaustive review of these sites. Most have charts of their different plans and features. If possible do a free trial with a few images and galleries without committing your domain name to it.

  1. Zenfolio
  2. Photoshelter
  3. Smugmug
  4. Photobucket
  5. Shutterfly
  6. Pbase very basic
  7. 500px

In general beware of a free lunch. Whatever website you sign up for needs a business model. For example new services such as 500px start up and then after some time start charging more and more money for what they provide. In the long term you are probably better having your own control of your site. No ads and the cost is limited – particularly once the site is setup how you like it.

The first six sites listed above do much more than displaying your photos. They have portfolio templates and are very good at managing your photos. Some even handle RAW images and video files. They can also be an option for archiving and backing up your files. That is, you can upload full-size images, and the sites will handle all resizing images. And on some, you can upload 16-bit TIFF Files, and the system will handle the conversion to all other sizes and JPEG format. They also are proud to state that they never touch the original file that you upload which is reassuring. Most of them now also support video and even have options to sell your video files as downloads. The features are quite competitive for these sites. Look at their features listings and the different cost plans that they have.

You can use WordPress with plugins to sell photos but this is not as full featured or easy to setup as the first six above.

Personally I used to use Zenfolio. I don’t use Zenfolio any more as I am not maintaining an active photo site. I was satisfied with their service but didn’t want to pay any more.

If you don’t go this route, the site will be more hands on. The roll your own main disadvantage is the managing of the image files.

Site Reliability and Lifespan

How important is your site and will you be spending a lot of time customizing it? If you spend a lot of time customizing can use this expertise elsewhere? Can you export your site to another service?

If you make your own site you have full control and do not rely on another company which could go out of business or be bought up. If you make your own site it will be more complex and unless you are very technical will need outside help to build and maintain. Having said this, many of the services listed above are very stable and will be around for a long time.

Making you own site

WordPress

WordPress is very popular – it’s more than a blog. You can go to WordPress.com and they will host the site for you even using your own domain name or you can host yourself on your own service provider. I previously used Bluehost. But now I run my own Virtual Server to host my sites.

Think of it as two pieces the engine and the look of the site.

The WordPress software manages The base functionality of the site. It also manages working on the site, editing posts, uploading etc. WordPress has an editor and has gallery functionality built-in. But the real functionality comes in when you use templates and some plug-ins.

You will need a host for your WordPress site. You can use WordPress.com or use an internet host like Bluehost who I recommend. I strongly don’t recommend Godaddy. Their service is very confusing and at every opportunity they try to upsell you little by little. If you use them don’t say I didn’t warn you.

WordPress Templates

The look of the site is set by templates.

There are thousands of templates on the market, free and paid. There are also emerging services and plugins to do drag and drop site design.

I used to use Woothemes but there are others. Now I’m using Studiopress Genesis which I bought a long time ago and doesn’t require any recurring fees or I just use the standard WordPress themes.
Generally once you select a theme you have to customize it. This is where a professional theme is better.

Note that even once you get a template (theme) you will have some work to do customizing the site. This can be a lot of work.

WordPress plug-ins

There are thousands and thousands of WordPress plug-ins. Some if not many are free others you need to pay for. They provide many additional features to the site but it can get very complicated. And the quality of plug-ins can very plus the compatibility with the different versions of Word press as some plug-ins get abandoned or become obsolete.

Security

This is an extremely important topic. Almost daily you read and see issues with websites being compromised or hacked. There are two main issues one is the security of the site itself the other is the security of the actual images that you uploaded are they safe where they are stored.

This is where it is an advantage to use a commercial photo site because they are always updating in line with all the security risks. However if you use WordPress, you must make sure that you are constantly updating it to keep the site safe as different security vulnerabilities are discovered and fixed. This also applies to any plug-ins that you may have added to your WordPress site they can cause security vulnerabilities.

The positive point of WordPress is that it is very popular and very well supported and comes up with updates very quickly. But you need to monitor your site or use a plug-in that will advise you when updates are available.

Other platforms

Squarespace

One established and leading provider is Squarespace
They have a more friendly interface to setting up your look and feel of the site. They have a free trial with no credit card required if you want to give it a spin. But still there is some work required to set up a site if you don’t use exactly one of their templates. I have tried it and though they claim you don’t need to know the Internet that is CSS HTML if you start to customize your site much you will need a basic understanding.

Wix

Another new service is Wix who provides customizable templates to make sites./p>

Blogging and Social Media

Most of these options I’ve given here support sharing and integration with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Analytics

One more thing to consider is statistics. Who, what and when are your visitors coming to your site. All the above have reasonably simple ways to do this. Generally you use a Google Analytics account attached to your Gmail account and configure the site to use the Google account. This is a free service from Google but does take a bit of understanding on how to make it work.


Below is a simple comparison of the general types of sites that can be setup.

General Comparison
FeaturePhoto Sharing SiteWordPress, SquarespaceCustom Web Site
Site Setup
CostLow to HighMediumLowest
Technical Ability RequiredEasyMediumComplex
Use your domain nameYesYesYes
Max file size of photosDepends on planLimitedLimited
TIFF, 16 bit filesYesNoNo
Support for RAW filesSomeNoNo
Uploading
Ease of Uploading Photos, Making Galleries, Groups, CollectionsVery GoodFairFully Manual
Upload original size files and system handles resizingYesPartialNo
Batch uploading easeYesPartialNo
Sharing
Ease of sharing, slideshows, embeddingEasyFairHard
File protection, watermarking, limiting sharingYesLimitedManual
Ease to customize, themes etc.EasyMediumManual
BloggingEasyFairHard
Sharing photos
Client Galleries (password protection etc.)EasyFairHard
Video supportDepends on planMediumMedium
Selling
Selling directly from site automatically, prints, digital downloads, Accept major credit cards and PayPal as payment methodsYesNoNo
Selling videosDepends on planNoNo
Marketing Tools
Site statistics (Google Analytics etc.)FairFairManual
Customer SupportYes, level depends on planWordPress no, Squarespace someNone
Platform StabilityEasyWordPress variable, Squarespace very stableHard

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