9 Must-Haves for a Successful Photography Website

These days, everyone has a website and we think they’re great. But how do you know exactly what your friends, family and fans are really thinking when they see it? And if you’re a pro making money from your craft: Are you sure that your site is doing everything it can to get you clients and seal the deal? How much business are you losing from silly mistakes?

After browsing tons of sites and hearing the advice from our marvelous team of Support Heroes, we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you get the best, most effective and appealing website you  possibly can.


1) Your Contact Information

Hot tute tip! Hook up SmugMug’s contact form to your navbar.

Omitting or hiding ways for people to reach you is a grave mistake, one that you may not even know you’re making. Think it through: If someone finds your site and wants to talk with you, how would they do it? If you forget to include your contact information (or hide it several clicks deep), would you expect them to spend more than 5 minutes hunting for it before they give up? Chances are you don’t even have that long before they move on.

It’s true that putting your email address or phone number out in public can be risky. But there are plenty of great ways to let your fans reach out to you without throwing the door open to everyone that walks by.

What you should do: First and foremost, have a way to contact you either at the top, bottom, or in the navigation bar of your website. With SmugMug it’s easy to add a link using the Easy Customizer, plus we highly recommend that SmugMug Portfolio and Business users fill out the Customer Email info in their Account Settings. This way, anyone clicking the “Contact” link in your footer will get a safe, handy pop-up box where they can send you a direct message. You can even customize the text and place that link in your navbar.

2) Personality

Ivan Makarov‘s About page is a candid look at what drives his passion.

The great thing is that everyone has a website these days, including you. But the downside is… everyone has a website these days. How will you stand out? The answer is: Be yourself! You have a personality and it’s completely unique. Use your witty language, goofy selfies or whatever it takes to show the world that you’re way more than just another link on the web. Talk about what drives you and why you’re so passionate about your work. They’ll absolutely love meeting  you in your studio or your next gallery show.

What you should do: It’s hard to talk about yourself and it’s even harder to weed out what strangers want to hear (vs what’s TMI), but don’t be afraid to browse through some of your favorite websites and see what sticks in your mind about their bios. And what doesn’t.

3) Punctuality, Punctuation, Competence

Don’t do this!

Nothing looks more sloppy than a super-slow website with broken images and dead links. Even if you aren’t looking to make money through your website, you still want to look poised, polished, and perfect as any pro. Right? So do a regular audit of your site, click those links and update them regularly to make sure they work the first time, every time. When you’re logged out of your site and viewing like a guest, what do you see?

What you should do: On SmugMug, we already give you warp-speed page loads and unlimited traffic and sharing. So become as famous as you want. We can take it. Our Share button will generate handy share and embed links for all your photos, so you can be sure those images look beautiful every single time.

4) Simplicity

Ivan Makarov‘s beautifully simple (and organized) portfolio.

Your gorgeous photos may speak for themselves, but if your site’s a mess the message will still get lost. K.I.S.S. When you have house guests you clean up, so extend the same courtesy to your online space. No one needs to see (or trip and fall into) the photographic equivalent of your laundry pile.

What you should do: Curate a few examples of your very best work and make it easy to find via a slideshow, featured gallery at the top of your homepage, or a straightofrward link in your navigation bar. Similarly, create a clearly-labeled About page and a way for them to contact you. Love to archive? That’s OK. Just keep the rest of your photos neatly organized, too, so leisurely browsers can find their way around.

5) Your Brand

JeZa Photography‘s simple font and color choices are the hallmarks of their brand.

Panic not, weekend warriors. Even if you’re not a working professional, it’s important – but easy! – to give your viewers a unified look and feel that translates to a cohesive experience. Yes it sounds markety, but simply using the same colors and font size from page to page can keep your fans feeling grounded and sure that you’ve got your stuff together. And you do, right?

If you’re a pro, having your company’s name, logo and a simple set of colors can be all you need to say, “Yeah, I got it.”

What you should do: Customization on the new SmugMug is as easy as drag-and-drop. You can add your own logo to the top of your site, pick your own colors and even create your own Themes that match your brand. It’s easiest to just try it, but you can get an idea of how it’s done by browsing the articles on our help pages.

What you should do (for Legacy SmugMug): The Easy Customizer makes it easy for Power Users, Portfolio and Business SmugMuggers to add a custom logo graphic to the top of every page. Choose matching colors using the tools under the Background, Text, Boxes and Photos bars and you’re all set to go. Read more about our customization options here, and, pros, don’t forget about Order Branding, too.

6) Your Services

Be clear about what services you offer, like Alastair Jolly does here.

The key to making great sales is to do the thinking for potential customers so they don’t have to. The most basic way to do this is to be crystal-spanking-clear about what your specialities are and which services you offer. Whether you shoot BMX, babies or brides, making it obvious in your brand and portfolio is the best (and most efficient) way to make sure that the right customers are finding you. After all, if you’re a commercial fashion photographer, do you want to be fielding questions from the local high school sports team?

What you should do: Create a specific page on your site that lists out what services that you do offer, and give your fans a phone number, email address or other way to get in touch with you. If you just want a guestbook for comments, we recommend uploading at least one photo and turning on comments so folks can say hi. Check out FAQ 29 and 30 to see how to do this if you’re using Legacy SmugMug. Here’s a tutorial that shows you how to create a custom page in the all-new SmugMug.

7) Your Best Work

Scott Jarvie shows off the best of his best.

People are looking to see just what you’re made of, so this is your chance to sum it up and show it off. Curate a gallery that contains the best examples of what you do and keep it updated with fresh new photos as you take them. Choose images that really show that you love what you do, and show the full breadth of your abilities: Lighting, posing, serendipity, emotion… this is what people love to see! As an added bonus, you’re choosing the clients and fans who resonate the most with what you do.

What you should do: Take a swing through the photos that you remember best and that you think represent yourself. It can be hard, but you can always use Collect Photo to add a virtual copy to one gallery, then easily remove the ones that you don’t think make the cut.

8) Your Location

Downriver Photography gets smart about their services.

The web is a wonderful thing and brings people near and far to your doorstep, but this can be a setback, too. For example, it’s obvious to you that your town of Springfield is in New Jersey, but potential Googlers in Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon and Missouri may not be so sympathetic. Be specific about the areas that you serve so that you’ll score top search results by clients looking to hire locals like you.

What you should do: If you talk about your location in your homepage or About page, be specific about the state or country where you’re willing to work. You can also add those terms and keywords in your Account Settings > Discovery > Search section so that Google and other search engines pick you up ASAP.

9) Good Grammar

Need we say anything about this, really? Your website is a representation of you, right down to the words you’ll use. Please be sure you make sense, you’ve put in the effort to have it proofread by someone else, and that everything looks as clean and polished as you are.

What you should do: Write, edit, then get a second (or third, or fourth) opinion. Read the copy on your site out loud. Check your spelling. Sleep on it, then read it again. All the usual tricks of the trade will help you step back and get as much perspective as possible. The best part is that any- and everything is easily changed on your SmugMug site at any moment… so edit as much as you like!

We hope that these 9 tips come in handy the next time you’re spring cleaning your website. Got more great ideas for getting fans finding you? Please share!

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I'm a freelance documentary photographer who loves travel, rangefinders, medium format film photography, and everything in-between.

22 thoughts on “9 Must-Haves for a Successful Photography Website”

  1. Hi – I have a “Power” account. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how to add my contact information using the “Easy Customizer”. Can you please provide more details?

  2. “Nothing looks more sloppy than a super-slow website with broken images and dead links”

    I actually like your services but have you ever looked at a embedded show off slideshow from a mobile or tablet? You should warn people before they embed this into a website!!!

  3. I believe a website should show just what you do. If you do weddings and portraits then don’t show a few shots in areas that you don’t do often and as a major part of your business. If you don’t really do commercial and construction, product etc., then don’t mix it in with what you do most. When you have enough work in a new area(s) then add that to your site or redo your site to your new area of interest. My website shows just what I do. I don’t do it all. I could, but I want my client to respect what I do best and that it what I show. Maybe two websites if you are doing consumer (wedding, seniors, etc.) and one for commercial. You client should have a clear understanding of what you want them to know about you.

  4. we’ve had smug-mug for years now and have found that customizing our website is EXTREMELY cumbersome, even with the Heroes support (which while appreciated, is very cumbersome and disjointed). our question is: can we hire a smug-mug pro to deck out our smug-mug site with all (or some) of the bells and whistles??? would be willing to pay, at this point…

    1. Aaron, I used JR Customization a few months ago and they were great, quick and reasonably priced. The customizations are fairly easy to modify and i got exactly what I wanted. I’m at http://www.lumineerphotography.com if you want to take a look. Important to note, however, that I had the logo done separately by a great artist but it actually cost me a bit more for that than it did for my entire site design. I know that JR Customization offers logo design as well but I didn’t look at their work in that area.

      1. @Lumineer Photography, your site looks fantastic! I am new to smugmug & just getting mine set up. I get a little lost in all the codes & such.

        1. Thank you Deborah. I used the easy customizer for about 18 months and it worked well but I wanted to do more from a customization perspective. I discovered that you can create galleries that are nothing more than an html page but that didn’t meet all my needs either. I don’t know how to write css pages and didn’t have an interest in taking the time to learn so I went with the full customization.

  5. I am a longtime Smugmugger and absolutely love the site and recommend it to others. I am strictly amateur but your blog above gave me a few ideas to look into after the big upcoming weekend. Your personnel that deal with us are always helpful and patient and cheerful. You understand that without the customer there is not business and I understand that without your business I would be at a loss for a really good way to display my photois. And – the upload has gotten so quick! Thanks!

  6. No. I’m not willing to pay to do simple customizations, and the instructions (as noted by Marcel, above) are cumbersome. I’ve been a Smugmugger for a loooong time, and the act of adding just a simple “contact me” bit of code is baffling. I’d love to customize my account, but every time I try, I end up in a whirlwind of ~~~{}||(&%$@ type of code… When my account is up, I guess it’s time to sever the ties. I love that this is a family-run and grass-roots service, but every time I try to customize, I end up humiliated.

  7. Aaron and Lisa and SmugMug, I have experience the same customization frustrations. I would love to have an about me page with links to current exhibits I am in and media I have been published in. I have also tried on numerous occasions to customize menu buttons. I gues I just do not have the mental capacity to follow the code instructions. uugh!

  8. I’m a Basic user and I can’t find any way to display any contact information in my homepage. Perhaps is this feature outside the Basic range?

    1. Hi Ramundsen, our default page layout lets you display and move around different boxes right on your homepage. One of them is a Bio box, where you can upload a bio pic and enter any text you want into the space next to it. This is where folks usually put a welcome message, phone number or email address. Hope this helps!

  9. I have been a Smugmugger for a long time and I agree with Aaron, Lisa, Denise and Ramundsen. It’s been a few years since I designed my page, but there was NOTHING easy about it. The “Easy Customizer” was an improvement, but I think it’s buggy. Making additonal pages, including a “contact me” page required a lot of searching around on forums and/or talking to a “hero” when I did it. The “heros” are super nice, but it’s really a lot of work for the money.

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