Photography websites can be something as simple as using an automated Lightroom gallery and a $5/month GoDaddy account, all the way up to a $5000+ custom website. Over the last 7 years I’ve gone from do it yourself, to a $50 template, to a $429 template, and now I’m ready for the next tier. While the up front costs of the solutions I’ve been reviewing vary, a comparison of the total cost of ownership over 3-4 years was actually really close. The bottom line is that the options I’m considering work out to be $32-38/month — a small price to pay in order to market your work effectively.
I’ve been using Evrium’s Fluid Galleries for my main website for a few years. The Fluid Galleries site is easy to update, but has some serious limitations that have left me wanting to upgrade my site. Before diving in to the feature requirements for a new photography website, here’s a look at the 4 year cost of using Fluid Galleries:
- Upfront Cost: $429
- Referral Program: I referred 4 other photographers to Evrium at $50 each. (The referral program is no longer available.)
- Hosting (on my own web host): $11/month ($11/month, $132/year)
- Total First Year Cost: $361 ($30/month)
- Total Cost Over 2 Years: $493 ($247/year, $21/month)
- Total Cost Over 3 Years: $625 ($208/year, $17/month)
- Total Cost Over 4 Years: $757 ($189/year, $16/month)
Essential Features for a Photography Website Template
- Big Images: Fluid Galleries has a maximum image height of 500 pixels — this makes vertical images look small. I’d like to be able to go 700 pixels high.
- HTML Mirror Site: 85% of my web traffic goes to my blog. A lot of this traffic is from Google searches. The Fluid Galleries site is in Flash, which essentially makes my main website almost invisible to Google. The more expensive template sites use an automatic HTML mirror site for better search engine optimization (SEO), and for users that don’t have Flash. Better SEO means more overall web traffic. My blog can continue to drive traffic, but will be positioned as more of an adjunct to the main website.
- Mobile Phone Compatibility: You can’t view Flash based websites on an iPhone. The better template sites will detect a mobile device and serve a mobile version of the site. This feature is becoming more and more important.
- Flexible Image Management: With Fluid Galleries you upload a photo to a specific gallery, but can’t move images between galleries. You also can’t do sub-galleries. The template sites I’m considering all use a more flexible image management system that allows you to store images in your account, move them in and out of galleries, and also between galleries.
- Marketing Tools: A customizable contact form and “email this photo” feature are both de rigeur. Static image URLs are also nice for sending someone a direct link to a specific image.
Upside: Design 3 is my favorite template out of everything I’ve reviewed, and APF meets all the requirements above.
Downside: One free template change but $100 for additional changes, new company
Verdict: Best looking templates and meets all of the requirements above — looks like the winner.
- Upfront Cost: $1000
- Hosting (on their servers): $17/month ($204/year)
- Total First Year Cost: $1204 ($100/month)
- Total Cost Over 2 Years: $1408 ($704/year, $59/month)
- Total Cost Over 3 Years: $1612 ($537/year, $45/month)
- Total Cost Over 4 Years: $1816 ($454/year, $38/month)
- Total Coast Over 5 Years: $2020 ($404/year, $34/month)
- Total Coast Over 6 Years: $2224 ($370/year, $31/month)
2014 Update: A Photo Folio is now DesignX. The pricing above still applies, or go with the new $34/month plan with no startup fee.
Upside: Lowest upfront and 4 year cost, no charge for changing your design, meets all of the requirements above [full feature list]
Downside: Not fond of most of the templates, 200 image limit
Verdict: Doesn’t matter if the upfront and overall cost are cheaper if you don’t like the templates.
- Upfront Cost: $600 ($250 setup + $350/year)
- Hosting (on their servers): $350/year
- Total First Year Cost: $600 ($50/month)
- Total Cost Over 2 Years: $950 ($425/yr, $36/mo)
- Total Cost Over 3 Years: $1200 ($400/yr, $33/mo)
- Total Cost Over 4 Years: $1550 ($388/yr $32/mo)
Upside: Very clean design, excellent Lightbox feature, no charge for changing your design, static image URLs [full feature list]
Downside: Highest upfront cost, most expensive over 4 years, 536×804 image size limit, limited number of portfolios
Verdict: Higher cost and image size limit are dealbreakers
- Upfront Cost: $1699 (can pay in 2 installments over 6 months)
- Hosting (on their servers): $99/year
- Total First Year Cost: $1799 ($150/month)
- Total Cost Over 2 Years: $1898 ($949/yr, $79/mo)
- Total Cost Over 3 Years: $1997 ($666/yr, $56/mo)
- Total Cost Over 4 Years: $2096 ($524/yr $44/mo)
If you know of other options that fit all of the requirements above please let me know. Robert Benson has a longer list of photographer templates here. Livebooks is too expensive for the features I want. If you’re currently using one of the options above, definitely let me know how you like it — thanks!
Update 7/2009: I have moved my site from Fluid Galleries to A Photo Folio, and couldn’t be happier. Have a look at the new www.joereifer.com
Update 3/2010: Fluid Galleries now has new templates that include an HTML mirror site for SEO, iPhone compatibility, Lightboxes, and Google Analytics. Pricing for the Pro service is pay-as-you-go for $45 per month. No upfront cost, but more expensive than the options above over a 4 year period.