We see a lot of photo websites as we bring you dvafoto, and looking at work online is often a frustrating process. Here are a few things that I think every photo website needs. Each one of these is something that has prevented us from easily linking to work online, and if it’s made the process difficult for us, you can be sure an art buyer or photo editor won’t put up with it. Search engine optimization has a role, but this list is mostly intended for photographers looking to improve the user experience for people who want to see their portfolio. Read the comments on this discussion about a photographer’s work at metafilter to get an idea of what many people think about photo websites; at least 35 of the 40 comments complain about the website interfering with or completely impeding their viewing of the photographer’s work. Your viewers should be paying attention to your photos instead of fighting with your website.
While some of these are more important than others, these are things that your photo website absolutely needs:
1. A website. This should be a no-brainer. Flickr, blogspot, lightstalkers galleries, and other free solutions make viewing pictures a pain. Each of these tools have their time and place, but their function is not to be the best showcase of your work.
2. Your photos. This, also, should be a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how often I’ve had to search for pictures on a photographer’s website. Sometimes, the whole website is hidden behind a page that says “enter” or something similar. Sometimes, the photos are hidden behind words that don’t mean anything to me, such as “people,” “places,” and “things.” With that, I might expect portraits behind the “people” link, but what about “places” and “things”? The casual viewer of your website should not be confused about how to see the types of photos they want to see.
Minimize the number of clicks it takes to get to photos, while you’re at it. I’ve seen some websites where it takes 4 or 5 clicks to see even a single photo. Most people will just give up. Loading time for the website or individual photos is also a concern. Many flash websites take forever to load, while others take forever to move from picture to picture. Often I can only stand to sit through the wait of 2 or 3 pictures in a gallery before I give up.
3. Contact information. If your goal for having pictures online is to have people contact you for work and other opportunities, they need to be able to contact you and know where you are. That means a phone number and an email address clearly visible on your site and easily copy/paste-able, at the least. Better still if this contact information is visible on every site of your page. Put it right next to your name. Don’t make editors and art buyers hunt around for how to contact you. A few months back a magazine contacted me asking for some help locating photographers in a sort of out of the way location; I had a few websites to pass along, but all but one of those websites had an email address or phone number for the photographer. Guess who got the job?
4. Information about your photos. This might mean captions or it might mean a story summary or it might mean an artist statement or it might mean something else. Different types of photos have different uses for explanatory text, but a little information goes a long way. Viewers need to know what the photos are, why you’ve made them, and why they’re important. I can’t count the number of websites people have submitted to us that have a bunch of photos collected under a cryptic title with no more information. If the photos are intended to be some form of communication (and, admittedly, that’s not always the goal), then make sure that there’s no ambiguity about what these photos are communicating. A symphony can’t explain a spoon.
5. Plain text. This cannot be underestimated. Google can’t search photos, so the algorithm uses text to decide if your portfolio website is worth listing in search results. Yes, I know that there’s now a framework for Google to index flash websites, but are you confident that your flash developer is doing everything the right way. Remember, also, that you’re interested in Google finding your website with searches other than your name. You want to show up in searches for something like “China photographer” or “images of China.” Your website needs as much plain text that is relevant to your photos as you can manage. If your site fulfills number 4 above, you’re already covered pretty well, as long as Google can read the text. Make sure, also, that the images on your website have sufficient and relevant alt-text and titles in the code. This text, which only shows up when you hover your mouse over an image, is useful for search engine optimization. Many content management systems (such as wordpress, which runs this site and my own portfolio) handle this automatically, but many site designers, amateur and professional, don’t pay attention to this aspect of design.
6. Recent work. If you want someone to hire you, they need to see the type of photos you are currently making. This might not have a place in your portfolio, but your portfolio should have a link to a place where you show some recent work. Showing recent work does a few things: it shows your location, it shows your current style, and it shows that you’re still working. Your old work has a place, but your new work shows that you’ve still got the chops.
7. A way to link to your work. Each story, and hopefully each photo, on your website should have a unique url so it can easily be linked to in an email or on other websites. This is hard to do with flash websites, but many of the big flash portfolio providers have this functionality. There’s nothing worse than sending an email or making a link on a blog that says “go to example.com, click on stories, click on dreamscapes, click on next page, and then count to the 12th picture from the top.”
There are many other things that your site could have–a blog, social media integration, music, video, multimedia, animations between photos, slideshows, licensing/purchasing capability, image search, a full image archive, a contact form, your poetry, etc.–but they aren’t necessary for your portfolio and often depend on exactly what you want your photos to do. Each of these extras have their place, but the list of necessities above should apply to most genres and applications of photography. In short, what you need is: a website that clearly shows your photography and provides an easy way for people to get in touch with you.
(and for an in-depth view of some particulars in web design, also be sure to check out Photoshelter’s survey of photo buyers.)