On building your online portfolio
Your website and online presence is a constant work-in-progress. It'll evolve and change and grow as you do.
I’ve recently found myself asked for website feedback from several friends and peers, so I thought I’d put this together since, thanks to the mostly slower pace of life that lockdown has brought, many of us are able to spend time updating our websites and online portfolios - or build one for the first time.
It’s a bit of admin a lot of us avoid. Either we put it off for the longest time and before you know it, a whole decade has passed and since when are website jingles and animated mouse pointers not in fashion anymore?
Or, if you’re like me, one day when you’re supposed to be working quite urgently on something, you’ll change one little thing and suddenly it’s two days later and you’ve changed hosts, bought a new domain and designed an entirely new website which looks incredibly similar to the last one, and you look like this:
On “who” and “why”
If you haven’t done this already, take time to fully consider who your audience is and what your goal is. Knowing these things will affect the decisions you make in everything from the design process to the work you showcase, and the smaller details.
Why do you need this online presence? Who do you want to visit your website and why? Is it just to showcase your personal projects? Are you going to sell prints? Or are you going to sell a service, hoping to get jobs and clients through it?
If you find that you have multiple, very different goals or audiences, keep them separate. For example, many commercial photographers will keep their commercial work separate from their personal work. Some photographers will showcase their commercial or personal work only, keeping other work completely private or on a separate website.
My own website is primarily personal projects with a separate tab for commissioned work - and I’m very picky with what I show there. The work I do that pays the bills - covering events, product, still-life work and professional portraits - is on a separate, private page. I chose not to build a separate website for now to keep things affordable and manageable.
Time is essential. Our attention spans are ever decreasing and new visitors, especially potential clients, often want to see what you’re about very quickly.
Consider including an overview of your work, one page that showcases your “greatest hits”. Include your strongest photographs only.
When it comes to the amount of work to show, think minimally. Less is more. Too many photographs will be overwhelming. If you have lots of “leftovers” that you’d like to show somewhere, consider a blog or using a social media platform like Instagram as a way to show these instead. Think about musicians who often place demos, b-sides, alternative versions etc. separately from the main songs in an album.
Editing our own work can be a challenge for the best of us. I often invite friends/peers/anyone and everyone, personally or via social media, to take a look at my website and give me feedback. I always make sure to ask a mixed audience, and I especially like to ask people who are not creatives in any sense and this often reveals some interesting things.
Don’t feel the need to put every single piece of work on your website. If you’re at the beginning of your journey, start with what you have and don’t worry about having “enough” work. Again, less is more.
Don’t over-complicate it. Think simple and minimal; create a website that emphasises your photography and is easy to navigate. Make it match your work and personality - if you’re not great with building websites, this could be as simple as adding in your favourite colours and choosing a certain font.
Unless your thing is design, you don’t need a really really really ridiculously good-looking design. Over time, you’ll likely find that you’ll change bits here and there, become more comfortable with it and find out what works and what doesn’t.
If you haven’t got a clue where to start, research what other photographers are doing and note down your favourite things, as well as things you absolutely don’t like.
It’s always a work-in-progress; it will evolve and change and grow as you do and as your practice does. Chase improvement, not perfection.
On words and context
I’m a big advocate for providing context. I don’t necessarily want to see a whole essay, but information is important - when, where, who?
This is also incredibly important and part of our responsibility as photographers when we involve other people and cultures - more so if we are coming from a place of privilege.
A note on biographies. Unless someone else has written it for you, don’t write your bio in third person. Your portfolio is a reflection of yourself, so show some of your personality in your words - if you’re struggling, share with people who know you well and ask for feedback.
On the small but important details
Is there something you want your visitors to do? Are you offering prints or other products for sale? Do you have a newsletter you want people to sign up to? Do you want them to follow you on social media? Make it CLEAR. You’d be surprised at how many websites I’ve come across that are selling prints, yet there’s no clear indication or easy way to get there.
In jargon-y terms, I’m talking about a “call to action”. Use clear wording and features like buttons to direct your visitors where you want them to go. Be more obvious about it than you think you should.
The same goes for contact information - make sure there’s a way you can be contacted. Ideally an email address and/or a phone number, and don’t forget to include the social media you’re active on.
Big yourself up. Have you worked with a brand, publication, company, person etc. you’re really proud of? Name drop the shit out of them.
List your successes: exhibitions, publications, workshops, talks etc. However, don’t overwhelm the page. A nice way I’ve seen this done is a list of “highlights” and a separate link to a fuller, chronological biography.
A final note
Archive old work, upload new work, refresh your bio when needed. Maintain your website.
From this week:
Rafia Zakaria writes so eloquently and points out several incredibly important and frustrating truths. In one paragraph she writes about how, during lockdown and without the usual pressures, she can now “simply be a writer rather than engage in the performance of being a writer…” As a photographer who has grown up in and lives in London, this really hit me. There are numerous privileges and benefits to being able to be here, but a lot of the time it does feel like a performance.
This is a “Potato Travelogue”. Yes, you read me correctly. A beautifully put-together piece that’ll inspire your mind and your tastebuds, do not miss this.
“I think about walking a lot and I have tried to work out why it is the only way that I can clearly visualize myself.”
“Don’t forget to go outside and soak up the sun”
Hey! I’m a freelance portraiture, documentary and adventure photographer working in London. Community and culture are the cornerstones of my work, and I also run of the land & us, an online journal for photographers exploring our relationship with the natural world.
‘Notes on Freelancing’ is my attempt to make becoming a freelance creative a bit less scary.
If you like what you read and would like to donate a strong cup of tea, you can. This twitchy-eyed creative will thank you for the support and the caffeine.