A while ago, I heard an interesting fact from the former managing editor of dPS. According to their reader survey, less than 18% of dPS readers own photography websites/blogs. So, I assume that the rest of them are posting photos on places like Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, etc.
Rented Land (Social Media) or Permanent Home (Your Website)
There’s nothing inherently wrong with social media, but it’s a little concerning not having a ‘permanent home’ for your photos. Instagram is probably the king of social media today (especially for us photographers), but we don’t know how long the popularity will last. The top places today may be deserted if a better platform comes along (do you remember MySpace!?). You’ll end up having to re-build your online presence all over again.
So, rather than having your photography home on ‘rented land,’ why not set up a website/blog as your ‘permanent home’ to stand the test of time? In this post, I’ll talk about three options to set up your own photography home.
Free Blogging Platform
A free blogging platform is the easiest and cheapest (free) way. There are more than a handful of platforms, namely WordPress.com (free plan), Tumblr, Google Blogger, Weebly (free plan) to name but a few. If you’ve ever set up your social media account, you shouldn’t have any trouble starting with these platforms, either.
Unlike social media platforms (that give you no control over how your page looks), these platforms have quite a few themes (design templates) available. You should be able to find one that you like.
- Free of charge and easy to set up.
- Comes with social networking features (e.g., follow others on the same platform) that get you noticed faster.
- Possible to outlive you (As long as the service exists, even if you die, your free blog remains hosted).
- Very little scalability (cannot do much besides blogging).
- Their insert their branded ads (e.g., Powered by Weebly). To remove these, you need to upgrade to a paid plan (where applicable).
- You have no control over the direction of the blogging platform (it may suddenly decide to compress uploaded photos, and you have no say in their decision).
- Themes are not always fully customizable (depending on platforms).
- Your default web address includes their brand name (e.g., your-chosen-name.wordpress.com). To remove their brand from the URL, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan (where applicable) or buy a custom domain that costs USD$10-15 a year.
If your primary purpose is just photo blogging, these free blogging platforms should be sufficient. If you’re planning to scale up beyond photo blogging (e.g., selling photography prints on your website), I’d recommend one of the next two options.
Self-hosting is how I host my photography website, and probably the case with many of fellow dPS contributors. If you’re aiming to scale up and do much more than photo blogging (e.g., selling eBooks, starting a tutorial site like dPS, running workshops and letting participants book and pay online), a self-hosted website is your go-to platform. I’m using WordPress (.org) which powers 31% of the web today.
Don’t get WordPress.org mixed up with the WordPress.com as mentioned above which is a free blogging platform (I know this always confuses people). Self-hosted WordPress is a content management system that you install on a web server by purchasing a web hosting plan (USD$100 or less a year including a domain name) with a hosting company like Bluehost. It’s a little more complicated to set it up, but you don’t have to be very techy to manage a self-hosted WordPress website. Many web hosting companies offer one-click installation with no coding skill required to run the site.
- You have the freedom to add any functionalities (gallery, contact form, sliders, forum, etc.) by installing plugins. The design is fully customizable by tweaking the code.
- As the website is ‘self-hosted,’ you don’t need to rely on anyone to run it, unlike free blogging platforms that may be discontinued anytime.
- Being such a popular platform, a ton of resources are available.
- You’re responsible for your website’s security and maintenance. Although, you can utilize a few plugins and seek help from a hosting company’s support team.
- Compared to free blogging platforms with built-in social networking features, it typically takes longer to get noticed and build an audience.
- E-commerce doesn’t come equipped. There are very few options available if you want to sell prints directly on your website (try Fotomoto plugin if going this route).
If selling photography prints on your website is the main criteria, or you’re doing client work (e.g., for event or wedding photography), services like SmugMug and Zenfolio are a good option. They are paid, but they let you host a website with a built-in print and digital download store. It also handles printing and shipping for you.
Their strength lies in the fact that the platform is made solely for photographers and understands their needs very well. Most importantly, it lets you focus on what matters most to photographers: taking photos. You can leave the rest for them to handle.
- Selling made easy with a built-in shopping cart plus payment processing. One of several professional labs automatically fulfills print orders.
- Equipped with robust tools like client proofing, boutique packaging, custom coupons for promotions, etc.
- Excellent customer support and a thriving community forum.
- Running cost is higher than a self-hosted website.
- Themes are not fully customizable.
Hopefully, this post helps you set up ‘permanent home’ for your photos. What platform to go with is totally up to you and your needs, but I’m sure that your fun will be doubled (photography + your own website). Lastly, let me end this post with a quote by Derek Sivers —
“When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world”.
Replace ‘company’ with ‘website.’ That’s what you get when you have your own website!
If you have any questions or info to share, feel free to do so in the comments below.