Looking for the best website builder for photographers? We're not surprised. 2020 has been a tough year for the profession, and the need to promote your services properly online has become more urgent than ever. In this article, we bring together the five best services that will help you do just that.
All these website builders with enable you to create your own site without any coding skills whatsoever. Each service utilises a drag and drop interface, which makes it easy to use: you can simply take a photography-themed template and add in your own images and text. The result will be a website you can use to share your portfolio and spread your contact details. If you choose, you can add a blog and sell things on your site, too.
These great website builders all come highly recommended, so it's really just a case of choosing the one that's right for you. We'll point to the small points of difference between them, to help you pick the perfect website builder for your photography business. Don't need it specifically for photos? Also see our round-up of the best website builder for multi-purpose use.
The best website builder for photographers
There are a lot of web builders aimed specifically at photographers, including Format, Smugmug, Pixpa, Photoshelter and Zenfolio. So you may be surprised that number one on our list is Squarespace, a non-specific website builder aimed at creatives in general. But though it's not exclusively targeted at photographers, we still feel it's the best website builder for photographers overall.
Why? Mainly because it has the most beautiful and professional looking templates of all the web building services available today. Expertly crafted by top-class designers, they’re clean, orderly and elegantly minimal. This ensures that your work truly shines online, whether your site is viewed on a desktop computer, tablet or phone screen. And we can think of nothing more important than that.
Squarespace offers a selection of specific photography templates, but these aren’t the only ones that you can consider using. In fact, the general bias in Squarespace templates is towards showcasing big, high-quality images, so it’s well worth giving them all a look.
It’s also pretty easy to create your site using the drag and drop interface, which produces pop-up prompts every time you hover over an area. It isn’t quite as intuitive as some web builders, to be honest, so there is a bit of a learning curve. But it's nothing to worry about, and you certainly won’t need any prior experience of building websites, or to know anything about code.
Should you want to add a blog or an online store to sell your prints and photobooks, you’ll find all those features are pretty easy to use too. And if you get stuck, there’s 24/7 support via email, with good response times, and live chat from Monday-Friday, 4am-8pm EDT. Overall, Squarespace may be more expensive than many of its rivals, but we feel the extra cost is well deserved.
Format is similar to Squarespace, but is purely focused on the creation of photography portfolios. And that laser-focus means that it has a lot of useful features for the busy working photographer.
The most useful of these is the client-proofing system. This allows you to collate private, password-protected album for your client on your website, with watermarked images if you choose. For anyone sharing dozens, or even hundreds of images on an average shoot, this system is a great time saver compared to messing about with email, Dropbox or WeTransfer, and much more user-friendly for the client too.
Another great time-saver is being able to add images to your website directly from Lightroom or Capture One. Plus, if you’re worried about copyright theft, you can disable right-click on the images in your portfolio to stop visitors downloading them without permission.
Added to that, Format’s templates are beautifully minimal, sleek and modern and show your work off to great effect. You can manage your portfolio on the go with the iOS app, and you can generate extra income from photobooks, prints, Lightroom presets and the like by adding an online store. It’s also cheaper than Squarespace.
So why isn’t Format number one on our list? Quite honestly, it comes down to the fundamentals. We feel that Squarespace still edges Format in terms of both the design quality of its templates, and the ease of use of its interface. The business and ecommerce features that Squarespace offers are also much more extensive. That said, it’s a close run thing, and if specific features like client proofing and disabling right-click are something that excite you, then Format may be the better choice for you overall.
We’ll get to other photography-specific web builders in a moment. But if you’re short on cash and looking for a cheaper alternative to Squarespace to build your photography website, then our recommendation would be another mass-market website builder, Wix.
Wix’s prices are very competitive indeed, and it even offers a ‘free forever’ plan. That free site will be covered with ads, and pretty restricted in terms of storage, so it would be no good for a full portfolio. But if you just wanted a simple ‘calling card’ site with your contact details, it could still be an option.
Pay a little more, though, and you’d be able to build a more fully featured photography site for as little as £3 per month. Wix is also even easier to use than Format and Squarespace, and offers phone support (via callback) along with other methods. These are some of the reasons Wix tops our list of the best website builders overall.
Wix offers a good selection of photography templates, created for everyone from wedding photographers to photojournalists. Those templates aren’t quite as slick and good-looking as Squarespace’s or Format's, although there’s more options to customise them using third-party apps.
At the opposite end of the scale, if you really are technically changed, Wix offers a mega-easy way to create a website, in the form of Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence). This just asks you a few questions about what you want your website to do, then uses your social media info to generate a fully working website for you. So if you don’t care what your site looks like, and just want one with the minimum of fuss, this is a great option.
Smugmug offers a very similar service to Format’s. Similarly focused on photography portfolios, it also features password-protected galleries, watermarking of photos, the ability to suspend right-click on images, and a Lightroom plugin. There are good ecommerce options for making some extra income. And its lovingly crafted, fully responsive templates look very smart and professional.
So far, so professionally useful. On the whole, though, we’ve found that Smugmug’s interface is a little trickier to use than Format's. We’re also disappointed to see that, unlike most web builders, you only get access to the full range of templates on the pricier plans.
On the plus side, unlike Format, Smugmug offers an app for Android as well as iOS. So if you’re not an Apple user, you’ll be able to manage your site and upload new images while you’re out on a shoot. And that may in itself be enough to opt for this service.
Pixpa lies somewhere between Squarespace and Format/Smugmug, being aimed primarily at photographers, but also other creatives, such as designers, artists and architects. While we've found its interface is a little clunky to use in practice, it's still pretty straightforward once you get used to it. But beyond that, what really makes Pixpa stand out is the ability to create personalised mobile gallery apps for your clients.
In a world where we’re all spending more time on our phones and less on our desktop computers, that’s a smart feature that could really help you lure in more commissions. You might even charge for it as an extra, in the case for example of wedding customers. You can see an example gallery here.
Beyond that, Pixpa offers some excellent integrations with other apps, including Google Analytics, MailChimp and Spotify, and some nice ecommerce features, including the ability to generate discount codes. You also pay zero payment processing fees to Pixpa in your online store compared with, say, 3 per cent to Squarespace. Also note that Pixpa doesn’t just offer a 15-day free trial but a 30-day money-back guarantee. Plus, if you’re a student you’ll get a whopping 50 per cent off.