[tweetmeme]Online portfolios can be an important tool for photographers wanting to share portions of their work with an audience. When done right, they portray your work in a highly professional and concise manner. When done wrong, you just look like a hack. I wrote about this topic some time ago, but I’d like to cover it again.

I should also state right up front that I don’t have a dedicated online photography portfolio in the traditional sense. Perhaps one of these days when I take some decent photos I’ll put one together. But I’ve had to look through many other portfolios and I’ve seen a fair amount in passing.

What I can say from those I’ve seen is that some of the same mistakes and nuisances are common to a good number of them. Now, it’s rare to find a portfolio site that exhibits all 10 offenses listed below, but it’s also rare to find one that exhibits none. (also keep in mind that some of these things are only my personal preferences and opinions)

If you have an online photography portfolio (or, more likely, a collection of portfolios housed under one website), here are a few things worth paying attention to if you want the user experience to be a good one.

Red crown
Creative Commons License photo credit: sunnyUK

1. SPLASH PAGE

Do you really need a whole page dedicated to your name or the word “Enter”? I probably know your name if I’m visiting the home page, and you ought to have your name present somewhere on every other page in your portfolio. Don’t force me to find your frilly little entrance link on the splash page, just get straight to the point.

2. MUSIC

I don’t encounter this one much anymore, but it’s still out there. Seriously people, don’t put music on your photography portfolio. It’s not adding to the mood or ambiance, it’s just annoying. I usually have music going on my computer and nothing pisses me off more than some website with music or audio ads messing with my tunes.

map
Creative Commons License photo credit: robpurdie

3. DIFFICULT TO NAVIGATE

A photography portfolio should be quick and easy for the viewer. Navigation is a key component here — make it as simple as possible for me to see your photos. If I spend too much time digging for the images, I’ll just leave.

4. PHOTO SIZE

Most photographers are pretty good about sizing their photos appropriately, but I do see some extremes from time to time. Images that are too small (< 600px) don't show enough detail to be interesting to the viewer. Images that are too big (> 1200px) won’t fit on some screens and you lose a lot of impact when you have to scroll. I find that somewhere in the neighborhood of 800-900px on the long edge is a good compromise: large enough to be viewed, small enough to load quickly.

too many dices
Creative Commons License photo credit: BovenX

5. PHOTO QUANTITY

A portfolio isn’t a dumping ground for every photo you’ve taken in the last 10 years — it’s supposed to be a small collection of your best work that represents you as a photographer. Each portfolio should contain 10-20 images on a specific topic or subject (maybe 30 or 40 depending on the subject and how they’re presented). Any more and I’m bored. Any less and I’m unimpressed.

6. PHOTO DIVERSITY

While photos in a specific portfolio should be on topic, they should also show differences in subjects, locations, styles, etc. If your portfolio for “fashion photography” has images from only one studio session, it just looks like you have almost zero experience. Show some diversity, and show that you’ve done this more than once.

7. PHOTO ORGANIZATION

How you organize your photos and portfolios is totally up to you — the important thing is that they’re organized. Unless you shoot only one specific subject/topic, you shouldn’t be presenting every photo on your site in the same place. Break it up and make it easier for your viewers to understand what they’re looking at. Even if it’s something as simple as “Landscapes”, “Plants”, “Animals”, “Waterfalls”, “Portraits”, “Weddings”, etc. Portfolios should be topical and concise.

8. ALL FLASH, NO INFO

Flash sites don’t bother me and I’m not going to start a flame war on the subject. But if you use Flash for your entire site, have the decency to also place a title or image number on the same screen as the photo (since most flash sites don’t have a separate url for each image). It’s so frustrating to contact somebody and say “I’m interested in that image of the staircase. If you click on the menu item that says “patterns”, then click on the other menu items that says “3″, then click the right arrow 14 times. That’s the one I want.” It’s a lot easier to grab a url from a non-flash site or just state the title of the image.

cookie cutters
Creative Commons License photo credit: danmachold

9. STANDARD TEMPLATE

This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s something to think about if you have some spare time. For sites that use templates or standard designs, a little customization goes a long way. The cookie-cutter design can sometimes send the message that you’re not serious about your work.

10. NO NAME, NO EMAIL

Similar to #8… if you don’t want people to contact you, then don’t put your name or email on the website. Contact forms are usually fine too, but some people prefer to send an email so they have some record of what they’re inquiring about. This is not a joke, I’ve actually seen portfolios that had no way to contact the photographer.

ANYTHING ELSE?

What other things with online portfolios bother you? What really gets under your skin from a viewer perspective? Any good examples of portfolios done right?

19 responses


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Dude. Doooooode. Can I tell you how much I agree with #2? I don’t think I can. At least not in public. :) I actually have been running into this more lately – though not as much as in the 90s.

And I personally don’t care _what_ kind of website you have, NO MUSIC! Even if you’re a musician and it’s your band’s homepage. NO FRACKING MUSIC played automatically. You want a sidebar that says something along the lines of, “Hey, listen to our sweet music – click Play” – that’s fine. (though I wouldn’t actually word it that way :) ) But just bombarding me with music? No.

It is the number 1 reason I never paid any attention to MySpace.

And don’t even get me started on the web-page (some photo lab, nations photo lab?) that has some woman walking around the screen talking to me about how to navigate, what they offer, etc. I immediately said, “Won’t be using them” and clicked X.

July 6, 2010 9:53 am

Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.

(though, I wouldn’t be as forgiving as you are on flash sites. Hate those.)

July 6, 2010 10:35 am

Photo size is a tricky one since there are so many different screen sizes. I had to go 450px tall on my site to make it look good on an iPad and not have to scroll the page on a laptop. I’d gladly go much larger if everybody had a 24″ screen and used small buttons in Firefox. But no luck.

July 6, 2010 11:03 am

Yeah, totally agree with pretty much all these. Music is my biggest pet peeve for sure!

July 6, 2010 11:50 am

Can’t disagree with any of those. I’ve seen a lot of sites that someone has obviously put a lot of work into, but that nobody in their right mind would visit more than once. As “Duluk” pointed out, some of the sites on MySpace are horrendous!

Personally, I’m guilty of No. 5 – too few photos – but hopefully that’s ‘cos my site is so new. Having said that, it’s a personal photo-blog rather than a professional portfolio, so hopefully I can be forgiven…

July 6, 2010 12:15 pm

Great post, I completely agree with all of your points, particularly ‘Portfolios should be topical and concise.’. Photographers need to carefully consider their target audience and think hard about what work they want to show. Be wary of showing too many types of work because if your intention is to book jobs and/or sell your art, your viewers and potential buyers/clients may feel you’re spreading yourself too thin. For example, if you want to book weddings, don’t show photos of landscapes or commercial work! Brides will want to feel confident that you specialise in what you do.

Show what you want to sell. If you want to shoot more fashion, go collaborate with some make-up artists and up and coming designers on an unpaid shoot. Post up those photos and promote them – you will be amazed at how quickly that type of work will come your way.

July 6, 2010 2:37 pm

It’s hard to disaggree with many of these – many apply to *all* websites (please stop that music! And flash! And intro pages! Gah!). Photo size, quantity, and diversity, though: I’m sorta torn on those subjects. I suppose it depends on your intended audience – it’s easy to be *too* diverse, or have too many photos. I’ve seen far too many sites with repetitive, redundant images.

I suppose that’s more of an observation that it’s hard to setup a good portfolio in any environment, though. Take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

Thinking about quality & quantity, though: it brings to mind Michael Johnson’s proposal for the Tenset. I’m leaning very much in favor of his line of thought these days…

July 6, 2010 9:06 pm

Well, I’m happy that my portfolio respects substantially all the reccomendations! It’s a good thing dicover that you haven’t to rebuild your work. Of course I agree with the author findings :-) !!!

July 7, 2010 1:37 am

I hate watermarks across the entire photo!

July 7, 2010 5:05 am


Sites that resize my screen are bothersome. I have a pretty big monitor and do not need to see any sites at max size.

July 7, 2010 1:43 pm

Hey Brian.
I’ve edited a LOT of portfolios over the years. The biggest mistake people make when showing a portfolio, whether in person or online, is not knowing how to differentiate between their great images and their VERY AVERAGE images. In other words, they show too many photos. If you keep average photos in with your better/good ones, it calls into question your entire portfolio: can’t you tell which ones don’t belong there?
You’re always, always, always better off showing 10 great images, than 10 great images mixed in with five more very mediocre ones.
This is the most common mistake shooters make!
Andrew
The Discerning Photographer

July 8, 2010 7:23 pm

Agree with pretty much all of these especially number 2! Damn I hate it so much when music starts playing and I have no idea where it’s coming from…

I don’t have a problem with someone using flash however due to the iPhone and iPad not everyone may be able to view your site – you couldn’t show off you site to someone who had an iPhone out in town but they’d have to wait to get home and then they may have forgotten about it. For this reason I tried to stay away from flash as much as possible

Good list!

July 11, 2010 2:43 am

Great article Brian. I have to say that many wedding photogs are guilty of having music on their sites. In an ideal world, we would all love the bells and whistles but I read on another site recently that most brides do their wedding planning while at work so having music is a major turn-off.

I’ll also add to #10 that even if they have contact info, some photographers do not have a bio. You have to put something down even if it’s a Hi, this is what I am aiming to do.

July 11, 2010 10:21 pm

Oh, come on – do people still use music on their sites? I’m glad I haven’t come across them ;)

Actually building a new portfolio for myself at the moment, I’m happy to say I agree with all of these point on your list :)

July 25, 2010 10:02 am


2, 3, and 10 are the biggies for me. It’s why I avoid all flash sites. Not for the fact it’s all flash (which I’m personally not a fan of) but because I expect to get bombarded with “inspirational” music. 3 and 10 go together. The site should be easily navigable and be one click away from contacting you. A good test is to post on one of the many photography forums or flickr groups you frequent to review your portfolio. Any good review should comment on how easy it is navigate (although typically if they don’t complain that means it’s good). for contact info it’s as simple as having a “contact” link at the top or bottom (two main places people look). I don’t splash pages if it has a purpose. For example I’ve seen sites where they have a splash page that’s basically “click here for weddings, senior portraits, [other things i got paid to shoot] and click here for other cool stuff I’ve taken for the heck of it”.

August 2, 2010 1:19 pm

One other thing that’s annoying. Extreme watermarks. The ones that have “John Doe” in bold text at maybe 50% transparency repeating and covering the entire image. If you are that worried about someone using the image than don’t post it online.

August 2, 2010 1:24 pm

very well said. wholeheartedly agree with #2 especially. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one. For a while I thought it was one of those stupid standards that idiots buy into because some other idiot told them that’s how to ‘look professional’ and all. it’s the internet equivalent of elevator music for websites that tend to have as much originality as a podiatrist’s waiting room. Honestly, I do not want to hear what you think is innocuous enough to please everyone & not offend anyone.
I toyed with having Motorhead on mine but the copyright issue coupled with a rare bout of restraint & common sense prevailed.
Numbers 1 and 3 are a close… second? That makes sense. Read it again.

I seem much crankier than I really am.

Peace out.
-Trout

August 20, 2010 12:19 am

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