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Inspiration

The Best Portfolio Builders For Photographers According To Photographers

By Kishore Sawh on October 31st 2016

If you’re going to try to make your way and your mark as a photographer, people are going to need to know you exist. Period. Your work is going to have to be displayed, in some manner of portfolio, and that presence is going to have to be good. It’s like dating, in a way. Sure, you’re being judged on what you have to say, but dirty nails and a shirt that isn’t pressed can tell far more about the state of your affairs than maybe anything that could come out of your mouth. Likewise, when your work is being viewed it’s not only the quality of the imagery that’s being assessed, but you’re being judged on the peripherals; on the design choices and sensibility of your portfolio site.

Choosing a good company with which to host your portfolio and display it is obviously going to be of some significance when it comes to this, but in addition to the aesthetic and viewer functionality, a good portfolio site should be good from the artist’s perspective as well. You’ve got to consider things like reliability, ease of use, future proofing, price, feature-set, and even customer service. But with so many to choose from, and with such a commitment required to put your portfolio together, how do you know which to choose?

[RELATED: An Inside Look Into A Portfolio Review]

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Beautiful work of Derren Versoza

 

Wisebuyer.com has recently conducted a large survey of hundreds of users from each of the main players in the arena, and some you may not be acquainted with – 13, in fact, from Zenfolio, to Format, to Smugmug, and more. Each was ranked in terms of overall customer satisfaction, taking into consideration all the primary things about each service that were found worthy of applause and critique. Things like

  • Customer Support
  • Level of complication
  • Storage capacity
  • Printing & E-commerce
  • Ease of use
  • Templates
  • Price
  • Video Support
  • Blog Options
  • Proofing & Client Galleries
  • Uniqueness
    and more…

Who came out on top? Format.com, and to those in our community who aren’t strictly wedding shooters, this may not come as that big of a surprise. The Ontario-based company has been a favorite for fashion and portrait photographers for years (myself included), well known for its flexibility, clean layouts that are customizable, auto-generated mobile and tablet site versions, decent support, and all for a relatively low price. Here’s what Wisebuyer’s sources had to say:

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  • Easy to Use — “Simple and easy all around”, “I find Format very clean and user friendly”, “It’s really easy to edit the captions and the alt text on photos”, ”Easy to learn and use”, “Easy to use interface”, “It’s really simple to use”, “I love it, simple, easy to use and navigate when putting together.”, “I know Squarespace always advertises how easy it is to use, but compared to Squarespace, Format is idiot proof.”, “Format provides a super clean, modern, easy to navigate site.”, “The editing interface is pretty self explanatory”
  • Price — “At a great price too.. I pay $6.99”, “I forgot what I’m paying for Format but as you can imagine, if you can forget the cost, it is pretty nominal!”, “The price is actually really good for the service and build that you get”, “It’s quite simple to use and doesn’t cost too much”
  • Templates — “Also customizing the design is quite easy”, “They have a good few design templates you can choose from”, “It’s really good on iPad and mobile”, “I tried out other website builders but Format was the only … where my website is exactly how I want it to look.”, “The layouts are nice and simple.”, “I’ve tried several other platforms, and this one is the best design and quality”, “They also add new layouts regularly”, “The designs / templates are nice and sleek and compliment whatever work you have.”, “They have so many layout options that are specially formatted for still and motion portfolios that it was very well suited for what I was looking for even before I did any customization.”, “would definitely recommend to anyone looking to create an online portfolio that is sleek and modern”

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Next up was 22 Slides, then Smugmug, AllYou, with Photoshelter, Zenfolio, and Adobe Portfolio further down. There was, however, one glaring omission from the pack, and one I was compelled to inquire about, and that was SqaureSpace. SquareSpace is everywhere these days, and probably for good reason, given their beautiful contemporary designs, and competitive pricing, and more, so why weren’t they part of this list? I was told because it was considered, “more of an all-purpose “website builder” rather than a portfolio builder.” To that end, it was included in a different guide for ‘Website Builders’, and admittedly scored resoundingly high. This sort of makes sense, as you can certainly do a lot more with Sqaurespace than Format in terms of business operability, but there’s no denying that the two should be faced off head-to-head given the proclivity of photographers to use either.

You can check out the Portfolio results in full here, and the Website Builder results here. Also, we’d love to know what company you use to host your portfolio or business site, so let us know in the comments.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. jeff wolfram

    I realize this is an old post, seeing that it still ranks high on google I am going to post my minor criticism to reviews such as this:  I’ve tried all these web builders and am using two of them.  What reviewers always fail to mention is how much inline css needs to be written by the photographer just to get a half way usable site.  How can anyone say they’ve truly tested these sites if they’re not even addressing how much extra inline css they have personally found needed in order to have a nice looking yet realistic site.  

    Sure all  templates look stylish until you are actually making a site for real world use – oh yeh you’ll need to figure out the html code and then decipher how it won’t make their secret system break.  Want the body text to appear different on your gallery pages verses your About page – that’s right you need to figure out how to code that and have it work with their system

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  2. Heike Martin

    The reports don’t list information on integration with printing labs so clients can easily get their prints done at a lab that ensures quality products. Also things like booking directly on the site….to offer an all-around client friendly experience. Any tips or experience with any of those sites listed?

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  3. Eric Mazzone

    I was on SquareSpace, I switched to TheGrid when they when to Beta because I already paid for a year of the grid, but it is IMHO completely worthless, nothing more than an overpriced glorified tumblr. A ‘page’ doesn’t count as a gallery until you put 20 images in it, it’s uncontrollable for settings and stuff, I pretty much hate it.

    The ONLY saving grace is I have 7 different sites I can create with my ‘founders’ account, sadly it’s 7 completely useless sites.

    The WORST part is they made a change a month ago that took my site offline only to claim that I made the change and had to reapply my DNS settings on GoDaddy, yet my settings there matched what I had on the grid. The solution was to delete the customer URL in the grid and reapply it. BUT the ONLY reason why I found out my site was down was because I got a call from someone looking for my site whom I had given my card to a couple of weeks before at an event I was shooting.

    Needless to say, thegrid can kiss my butt, I’m done with them. From going to beta more than 7 months late, not delivering what they promised, ending beta well before anything was ready for live (I believe they did that so they can start the clocks on users and get us to pay again), to a serious lack of communication by promising weekly updates about the status and only delivering once every few months. Screw them.

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  4. Bing Putney

    I use Format too, and am very happy with it. It was an absolute game changer when they added the proofing galleries. I was able to get rid of my separate proofing site, which was geared much more towards selling prints. Now I have everything together on my website, and when clients share their proofs with friends, etc., the navigation panel for my site is on the gallery page, so that they can click over to my portfolio or contact page, and book me themselves! Well done, Format.

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  5. Hagos Rush

    Now this may seem a foolish question but I currently have a website and would like to look at something such as format to build my portfolio and gain some exposure, is it wise to have both a website (I use square space) AND format or one or the other?

    I am looking for the best option. Photography is currently a side gig and as such the both option is the least of my favorite.

    I love the proof options and being able to select their favorites. That would have saved me a ton of time on a past shoot (shrugs).

    Thoughts

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    • Bing Putney

      Format does offer more than just a good looking portfolio. The templates for informational pages aren’t quite as refined or customizable as some of the other full-featured website builders like squarespace, but if you’re just looking to have a menu, and about/contact pages, format has that functionality.

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