As a former full-time website developer, photographers often ask me for advice on creating a website. There are a variety of options for building portfolio sites including popular choices like Smugmug, PhotoShelter, Squarespace and WordPress. With all these options it can be hard to know which platform to choose. Recently, another option, Koken, has become available. In this article, I’ll compare this new alternative with the others to help you decide whether it might be the right choice for you.
One advantage of Koken is that has been “built for photography.” As such, it provides a platform designed for creating an attractive portfolio site while requiring minimal knowledge of web design. Like the other options, Koken creates responsive websites which means that your site will work well on mobile devices.
The core Koken software is free, but you need your own web hosting service to use it (typically $50 – 100/yr.). Unless you are familiar with web servers and MySQL databases, you will also need a webmaster to set up the software for you. But, once installed, it’s relatively easy for a non-technical user to build and maintain a portfolio website.
Koken comes with a free basic theme, but seven others are also available of which four are free and the others are $60 each. A website using the default Elementary theme contains the following pages:
- A home page which shows your featured content
- A timeline page which shows your photostream
- An albums page
- An essays page which is similar to a blog
I found that the free themes produce attractive, basic websites, but the designs don’t feel very distinctive. If you want your site to stand out from the crowd, you may want to purchase one of the upgrade themes. Or, if you know some CSS, you can customize your site.
Plugins, but No E-commerce Option
There’s a handful of plugins to do things like add Google Analytics, import images from Instagram and import video from Vimeo. You can even embed music from Spotify.
I’ve built a lot of sites using WordPress and one of the things I love about it is all the plugins that are available to extend and enhance it. So, it’s nice to see that Koken has been designed with a plugin architecture, too. Even so, the limited number of plugins currently available suggests that you should think carefully about whether the software can do everything you need. For example, Koken is lacking in e-commerce features including:
- The ability to create private galleries for specific clients
- The ability to sell prints online
Publishing from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
One of the available plugins allows you to upload photos to your website from Lightroom. I think this free plugin is one of the most compelling features of Koken. It allows you to publish photos from a familiar app where you probably already spend a significant amount of time. Metadata is also exported including titles, captions and keywords. And if, after uploading a photo, you decide to make any further edits, you can then easily upload the modified version of the image from within Lightroom.
You can create albums in the plugin and when you click Publish and those albums are automatically created on your website. Similarly, you can create collection sets in the plugin and publish those. Unfortunately, you can’t drag and drop existing Lightroom collections into the Koken plugin.
The user interface, which you access from your web browser, is very attractive and looks a lot like Lightroom’s UI. That’s great because, again, it will feel familiar to most photographers. For most operations, I found it convenient and easy to use.
But occasionally, I found myself stymied while trying to do something seemingly simple. For example, while editing an album, I decided that I wanted to remove a photo that I had previously added. I clicked on the photo and a bright orange rectangle appeared around it to indicate that it was selected. But then I couldn’t figure out how to delete it. There was no delete button. Pressing the Delete key did nothing. Right-clicking on the photo simply brought up the standard popup menu your web browser normally displays when clicking on an image. Eventually, I figured out that I could drag the unwanted photo to the trash can. In retrospect, it might seem obvious, but the photo was at the top of the screen and the trash can was way at the bottom. I had to search the entire screen to find out how to do something so simple. It would be nice to simply have a delete button appear next to a photo when it’s selected.
Is Koken the Right Website Platform for You?
Koken has an advantage for photographers in that it has been designed from the ground up for building portfolio sites. The basic software is free so the only cost is web hosting if you also go with one of the free themes (but you may need technical help with the initial setup). If you prefer a different look, additional themes are available and web designers can adapt themes if you want a customized appearance.
However, the lack of e-commerce capabilities will make it a non-starter for some photographers. The other options mentioned above provide better support for a photography business. Also, the Koken software is relatively new and this may be a cause for concern because you’re relying on a relatively small company for ongoing support and development. With an alternative like WordPress, you have a huge user community with hundreds of plugins and themes available for nearly any purpose. And, if you really want to get down and dirty with the WordPress source code, it’s freely available.
Koken seems best suited to the individual photographer who is looking for a quick and inexpensive way of building an attractive website. As long as a basic portfolio site will suit your needs, it can be a good choice.