We’ve hit the key points in building your foundation as a professional photographer in the last two articles, so, I’m assuming you’re now on top of your game. You should be starting a pattern of serious networking with conventions, workshops, SmugMug meet-ups… anything and everything you can get yourself to for the purpose of expanding your skill set and your network. The next challenge in going pro is your website. It’s a critical component of building your brand, but few photographers really think through the challenges.
If you were building the studio of your dreams you’d pay attention to every detail. You’d know exactly where you wanted the windows, how high the ceilings were going to be, what color you were painting the walls, even where each socket and switch would be in every room… Then why, when your website is even more important and accessible to hundreds of thousands of people, does everybody take short cuts? Most photographers build their website with virtually no forethought. They just find some space and stuff it full of pictures. (Notice I called them pictures—that’s because in most cases many aren’t good enough to be called images or photographs!)
Your website is your storefront and more. So, take a look at that little piece of cyber space you call home and think about the following suggestions:
• You don’t need an “enter site” landing page. Too many sites put a viewer through one unnecessary click by sending them to a landing page that has absolutely no purpose.
• Your “bait” to get clients into your site is in your About section and Galleries. Lead off with these two tabs and call them just what they are. I have mixed feelings about whether your Gallery tab or About tab should go first, so go with either one. Just don’t let anything else get in the way. If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then your images should tell more about you than anything else you could write.
• Every image in your gallery has to be a “wow” print. Use the same criteria I talked about last time in regards to your portfolio. Ask yourself, “If this was the only image I could show, would I hire me?” If the answer is “No,” then it doesn’t belong on your site.
• You don’t need a lot of images, just 10 to 20 in each category, and limit the categories to easily understood names, e.g. Portrait, Weddings, Children, Families, Still Life, etc.
• When writing your About section, remember that people don’t hire you because of what you provide, but rather why you provide it. A bride wants to know she can trust you to see the world through her eyes. She wants to know you understand how much she loves her fiancé and her family. She wants to know you’ll capture the images she’ll treasure the most. A mother has the same expectations, and even a commercial client needs to know that you understand their products and how important it is for the images to appear a certain way. This is your first big step to establishing trust.
• Your About section is not about how you got started in photography. Your clients don’t care what gear you shoot with or how many awards you’ve won. At this point they don’t care how many 8×10’s you’re going to give them or how many pages you’ll put in their album! This information belongs elsewhere in your site—pricing, packages, information… whatever you choose to call it. A well-written, effective About section is going to show how you open your heart. This is where you share with clients why you love photography. Take the time to watch the video in JustinMarantz.com’s About section. It ends with Mary talking about why she and Justin are wedding photographers—they can photograph love, “because we believe in love.” I’m not saying you have to have a video, but just pay attention to the sincerity in Mary’s comment and remember her target audience is brides.
• If you shoot a variety of subjects, you may want to have different sites if your specialties are too far apart from each other. For example, if you’re a family photographer but you’re also doing some great table-top commercial work, the two categories shouldn’t go together as they have completely different buyers. An ad agency looking for still life isn’t going to dig through your family work. In the same respect, a mother looking for somebody to do the next family portrait will be turned off if she goes into your gallery and is looking at auto-parts, even if it’s the greatest table-top work on the planet.
• When you build your Contact page, give people a way to call you! It’s idiotic to not have a phone number on your Contact page. Think about how you feel when you’re trying to get help online. Doesn’t it drive you nuts when you can’t talk to a live person? I understand if you’re a part-time photographer and you work out of your home, you’re not going to want to show your address—but it’s still important to give people a way to contact you via phone. And if you’re including an email template, it will accomplish nothing if you don’t promptly answer each email. The speed of your response will reflect how sincere you are about your work.
• As you design your site, remember that women make 98% of the purchase decisions when hiring a professional photographer in the portrait/social categories. Remember your target audience when you’re choosing colors and design elements. If you work with wedding, children, and family clients, then make it a point to have a more feminine feel—a Guns & Ammo look won’t be appreciated!
Just one last reminder and it relates to everything you do with your website. Check it every single day at least twice! Just because you think it’s working doesn’t mean it is. Check it on at least two different browsers. My own blog was recently down and I hadn’t seriously checked it in some time. Had a reader not been kind enough to let me know, it would have gone most of the day closed! Taking the risk of your website not working the way it should is the equivalent of not opening the door to the “store” in the morning and then wondering why it was such a slow day!
A great website has one exclusive purpose: it’s your storefront, your calling card, and your vehicle to get people interested in hiring you. It deserves the very best images, copy that’s easy to read, and a general aesthetic feeling of professionalism and quality. Websites that maintain the focus on the client are just like the department stores you love to shop in. Think about the difference between a store you love versus one at the bottom of your list. There’s a difference in the style, the way inventory is laid out, the way the sales staff are more or less helpful. A great website becomes habit-forming and exceed client expectations.
Build it right and you’ll have clients sharing your images with other potential clients; make it difficult to navigate and fill it with images no better than “Uncle Harry’s” and you’ve just wasted your most prime piece of real estate!
About the author: Author of six books on photography, including “Going Pro,” which this article series is based on, Skip Cohen has been a fixture in the photographic industry for his entire adult life. He’s served as President of Hasselblad, Rangefinder/WPPI, and in 2009 founded Marketing Essentials International. His exciting new venture is SkipCohenUniversity.com, with a faculty that represents the “Who’s Who” in photographic education.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Resource, which is available online here.