Photography Website Templates: Features and Cost

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:

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

A Photo Folio

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.

FolioLink

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)

Clickbooq

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.

11 thoughts on “Photography Website Templates: Features and Cost

  1. This is great, and very useful. I spend about 50% of my time at work on web app development and I’ve been debating the next course I want to take with my own site. Being at Google has drilled speed optimization into my head, so I have some serious doubts about Flash.

    Do these templates allow for easy shopping cart integration? Is that even a wise thing to attempt to do?

  2. As usual, this is really helpful information, even though I am still at the very first step of the series.

  3. Cody, if your website doesn’t offer the shopping cart you can add one into your blog (then link together).

    Great job on the breakdown and comparison Joe.

    I agree that APF looks like a winner. My site cost nearly the same as your price breakdown. Although I was able to get a more custom design, I missed out on some of the features of APF. These can be added in and something I am working toward. If you can get what you want now in an easy serve format like a template with a good design – it is a no brainer.

    Flash based sites.
    Last fall Google and Adobe started working together on making Flash content more SEO friendly. They are not there yet, but I am sure it will only be a matter of time. There is a semi workaround to this in the meantime. A decent web programmer can help greatly in this department. Apple needs to open up the iPhone to Flash. Just ask Vimeo users.

  4. Cody – the best looking template sites I’ve seen use Flash, but I’m certainly not adverse to HTML options for speed and SEO. FolioLink supports Paypal integration, but the sites I’ve seen were not elegantly implemented. For image licensing and print sales, you might consider PhotoShelter, but that’s not really the right option for fine art photography. At a lower price point perhaps shopping cart integration may be useful — most folks that are spending more money on fine art photography would likely prefer a personal touch.

    Neo – thanks!

    Jay – thanks! Flash SEO seems more imminent than Flash on the iPhone.

  5. I use Visual Server for mine and have liked it. Have not considered any kind of shopping cart thing but I get a couple emails a month coming through the site asking to buy prints and/or use the photos, and sell about 6-7 year. I do zero marketing.

  6. Richard – great to hear from you. Visual Server looks fine for the price. The template looks a bit old school Photoshop, but I’m sure it’s easier to update, which is the important thing. And really it’s the content that counts!

  7. It’s the work that matters, not the whizbang site.

    I’m about to launch a new LostAmerica.com site done with a $50 simpleviewer interface. It’ll be a vast improvement over the old html site. Plus people won’t be able to just drag images off the page to their HD.

    Shopping carts? Paypal is cheap and easy to use.

    I don’t really care about iPhone compatibility. Anyone who’s seriously looking at photography to spend $ on it won’t be doing it from an iPhone anyway. I plan on simply linking out of the site to flickr sets for those not using a flash reading browser.

    I find flickr to be fine for google searches. My image “Behind the Green Door” on flickr has had almost 1000 hits since Marilyn Chambers died. It’s an image I’d never have bothered to put on the lostamerica.com site, but there it is pulling in more people off the street . . . to not buy anything.

  8. Joe,

    Have you thought about hosting your regular website/galleries on another blog? Using a suitable gallery-oriented template, that you might further modify getting into the CSS for tweaks for size, color, etc

    Galleries can be set on static pages, Paypall shopping/commerce can be set up, etc. It really doesn’t have to look like a blog with daily updating etc.

    I haven’t updated my website in 3 years cuz it’s a PITA to make changes. Will someday move the galleries over (after a ton of editing) to my blog as static pages; and then kill the website – don’t see the point…

    Hosting costs me $3 or so a month…

  9. Troy – My site was done with Simpleviewer awhile back, but entering the caption info was a pain and I never updated the site. Hopefully the tools have improved. The Simpleviewer WordPress plugin I use for the blog galleries is easy to use but a little bit buggy. What do you want for free though?

    Brad – Blog vs. Website totally depends on why your work is online and the audience you want to reach. I want to go after galleries and curators — this requires an excellent website that ties in to print portfolios, and email/print marketing materials. Horses for courses as they say!

  10. I use Dreamweaver to edit the .xml files and write captions. It is very similar to how BBedit used to work with its color-coded text/code blocks.

  11. Easy enough. The WordPress Simpleviewer plugin has a really nice GUI interface for all of the layout options including caption info — screenshots here. Unfortunately the function that allows you to go back and edit captions once the gallery is published isn’t working right now.

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