Alexandra Tremaine’s online portfolio, created with PhotoShelter.
There was a time in the photography world when portfolio websites were custom-built, Flash-based monstrosities. Splash pages looked gaudy, load times were insufferable, and auto-play music streamed all too often. The few portfolio-hosting companies that provided design templates offered very few choices and bare-bones capabilities. Thankfully, that landscape has changed due to the rise of pre-fab portfolio services with a mix of standardized, simplified templates and slick designs.
“Five years ago, to get many of the features that are now standard on a website you had to have a site custom built,” says Rob Haggart, creator of the professional portfolio service A Photo Folio. As a former director of photography for magazines such as Men’s Journal and Outside, and as the guiding voice for the popular website A Photo Editor (aphotoeditor.com), Haggart has a privileged view of the industry. “I knew many of the top commercial and editorial photographers from my work as a photo editor, and I partnered with them to put the features they wanted in a template.”
A Photo Folio has joined in a field increasingly crowded with online portfolio service providers taking aim at every segment of the photography market. Listing them individually could fill pages, and there are more launching nearly every month. While a custom site could easily cost $5,000 to $10,000 to design and build, most of these new services cost less than $300 per year, and some land in the $10-per-month territory.
Lately some of the bigger names in the photo-sharing industry have made serious entries into the fray. PhotoShelter recently launched its Beam program in beta, offering a handful of templates, while SmugMug has dived in headlong with more than two dozen looks. Other image-hosting companies—including 500PX, Squarespace, 4ormat, and Zenfolio—are offering portfolio services and battling it out for business.
As a result, photographers now face a glut of affordable, attractive options. Commercial photographer Zack Arias (zackarias.com) recently made the switch to a template service, choosing PhotoShelter’s Beam after weighing his options. “It was a really hard decision to make because there are so many great platforms out there now,” he says. One of the main things that draws Arias and other pros to the template format is customer service. “I can’t even spell CSS, let alone work with it,” Arias says. “If something went wrong with my site before, I’d have to get the designer to get in under the hood and fix things or maintain it. At the end of the day it was a pain.” Now a simple e-mail to PhotoShelter’s service department can often have things fixed in minutes.