Putting Photography Online, Part II: Choosing the Right Site

You  understand the Terms of Services issues, and you’re ready to put your photographs up where everyone can see them. Given the wealth of options available, it’s likely that choosing a site will prove more difficult than you thought. Before settling on a website, make sure you check out pricing, customizability, design, and monetization options – all important elements for photographers to consider.


When it comes to putting photos up online, you really do get what you pay for. If you elect to use a free service, be it Twitter, Flickr or Instagram, keep in mind that you are, in a way, paying for usage.

“There’s nothing free, really, because they’re going to get something out of you,” says photographer Ramin Talaie. Free services may gather your data, claim a license to your images, or advertise to both you and other users checking out your images. If that doesn’t sound appealing, most portfolio website services will offer greater privacy and a more professional presentation for a monthly or yearly fee.

Prices range greatly: Viewbook plans range from $19/month to $190/year, but students and teachers can pay half price. NeonSky also has a student price; $20/month versus their normal $35 – $45. PhotoShelter plans range from $9.99 to $49.99/month; Zenfolio, from $30 to $250 a year; SmugMug, $40 to $300 a year. There are many similar services, but these are some of the major players.

For freelance photographer Kirsten Luce, affordability is a major consideration. “I’m looking for something that’s cost effective, because I don’t want to have a lot of overhead as a freelancer,” she says. She finds a price range of between $10 and $30 a month reasonable for a simple template site, and tries to stay away from setup fees wherever possible. “I think they trap you into using a site for a long time,” she says.

Higher-priced premium packages typically allow you more freedom to do things like use your own domain, remove the service’s name from the site and use your own logo, and increase your upload speed or storage space. Rather than get caught up in the details, first figure out your budget and which services you absolutely require. Afterwards, a little research will help you find a good fit.

Responsive Design

A relatively recent concern for journalists is making sure their portfolio displays well across all devices, be they laptops, tablets, or cellphones. Kirsten Luce says she is currently shopping around for a new portfolio website, given that her current one can’t be viewed on certain tablets and iPhones.

“Everyone is using their phones for everything,” notes Luce. “So if [an editor] is sitting around browsing and they receive an email from me with a link to my website, and they go to check it out, that may have been my only opportunity.”

She isn’t willing to risk losing those chances. “It’s foolish to have a site that doesn’t work on all phones,” she says. “If an editor is going to take the time to look at your site, you only have their attention for couple of minutes, so it better work!”

If being able to view your site on multiple devices is a priority, shop around for sites that offer responsive portfolio designs. Make sure to test the finished product out on several types of phones and tablets to make sure there aren’t any glitches.


There isn’t much more you can do to customize a Twitter or Instagram account except upload a profile picture, and maybe select theme colors. But just as a beautiful frame can enhance a print, a professional-looking layout and theme can make your photos stand out and enhance the user experience for a potential client browsing through your work.

Portfolio sites vary in the degrees of customization they offer, with some offering a handful of themes and others hundreds; some even allow you to create custom themes using HTML and CSS. If you are handy with design, this is another chance to highlight your creativity. Consider the type of photography you do and how you want to brand yourself when deciding on your theme, fonts, and colors.

Don’t get caught up in an overwrought design, however, or feel the need to add bells and whistles. The most important thing is to have your content clearly displayed and easily accessible.

“For a journalism portfolio site, all it needs to be is clean, direct and to the point, and updateable,” says Luce. A simple template design that you can tweak yourself will be affordable, clear, and suit the purposes of most visual journalists. If you’re interested in a more complex site or design, keep in mind there will likely be a corresponding price increase.

Shopping Carts & Prints

Many sites, particularly portfolio ones, offer printing services and built-in shopping carts. Whether or not you need this feature largely depends on the type of photography you do.

“If you shoot documentary, and for newspapers and magazine, they are your clients 90% of the time,” says Ramin Talaie, who works on assignment and sells individual prints only rarely. “My clients come to my site to learn about me and then call me up and hire me to go somewhere and shoot something for them.”

Other types of photographers, such as studio, wedding, or school photographers, have different needs because their clientele is largely composed of people rather than publications. They will want features like shopping cart, credit card verification and secure connection, and PayPal. Websites that cater to this sort of user often include a host of printing services, from individual prints to albums, wall art, mugs and calendars.

Consider whether you’ll be working for a news service or with individual clients. For the former, you may simply want a portfolio to showcase your best work; for the latter, you’ll want galleries of browsable images that clients can order as prints or digital copies.


The most important thing you can do when putting your work online is resist the impulse to upload everything you’ve ever shot.

“One thing editors don’t want to see is 50-60 pictures for a story,” says Nina Berman, Associate Professor at the Columbia Journalism School and member of NOOR. “They want to see a website that’s expertly edited.” A curated selection of your best pieces will make a better impression than a large volume of images.

Also consider whether the project you’re putting online has already been published and you are promoting it to generate buzz, or if you are actively trying to sell it. In the latter case, putting it online may actually lessen its value for certain publications.

“The risk is that publications that might want to purchase your work might decide it has already been published,” says Berman. If you are aiming to sell your work to a major publication, take into account that they might want to be the first to publish – online or otherwise.

“This new generation doesn’t think so much about being the first to publish. People still want exclusivity,” Berman says. A better approach, she suggests, is “not to publish many pictures, but a picture as a teaser to a greater body of work.” Your other pictures can still be on your site, but locked behind a password that you provide to clients.

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