This was originally published at PhotographySpark.com
I’m often asked where to start when looking for a photography website design. The answer is complicated and very personal when you think about it. But I try to give the best advice I can.
In this article, I am going to go over this question, in detail. But before we get going, you should know that I will only be discussing WordPress. The reason is I believe WordPress it the only platform for which photographers should be using to run their websites.
WordPress is open source and completely free, but it’s the most flexible content management system available. It also has the largest community around it, so there is always a place to get an answer to a question about the software.
WordPress powers more than 25% of the Internet, and it’s growing tremendously every year. That means 1 out of every four photographers uses WordPress to run their websites. That’s an amazing thing!
The software is naturally favored by search engines, which means websites which run on WordPress are more likely to rank better than competing sites which do not. The software does not rename your images like other services do. It also does not hide source code like other services do.
But WordPress can be intimidating to those who are not very technical. Its user interface is familiar to other software, but also confusing to some. Fortunately, there are fantastic free tutorials all over the Internet. And the community mentioned just above can always be quite helpful when someone is stuck.
Where To Find WordPress Photography Themes
So where do you find templates?
There are many places where you can find WordPress themes (templates) for your photography website. Places like individual developer theme shops, like at Imagely. Or WordPress.org, where you can find thousands of free WordPress themes. There are even theme shops, like ThemeForest, MojoMarketplace, and MyThemeShop, which sell products from many developers.
I recommend either buying a theme from an individual theme developer or if you cannot afford it, using a free theme from WordPress.org/themes that suits your needs and has good reviews and support.
Here is why.
Individual theme developers pour their heart and soul into their products. They’re usually thoroughly tested, come with features that will benefit your business and include professional grade one-on-one support.
But not everyone can afford one-time or annual prices for themes. Sometimes photographers just starting out have little to no budget for their website. That’s where free themes at WordPress.org/themes come into the picture.
Why Photographers Should Consider Using Genesis Themes
I have been using WordPress for a very long time, over ten years. I started using it when WordPress was just a blogging platform, although it could still run complete websites at the time. Having used WordPress for so long, I have tried countless plugins, many themes, and eventually fell in love with a theme that I continue to use to this day.
Genesis is more than just a theme. It’s a theme framework. In plain language, that means Genesis is a parent theme built for developers to create child themes, and it’s developed in such a way that is easily extendible.
A parent theme is a theme that is installed on a website, but not active. A child theme is a theme which is active on a website and references the parent theme for its core functions. Then adds its functions and styling on top of it. Extending a theme framework means that developers can add more functionality, specific to a genre like photography. Or developers can create plugins which use the same structure and code quality of the theme framework and require the theme framework to be used.
I use Genesis and recommend it for photographers because of its quality. Genesis is coded to be simple, fast, reliable, search engine optimized and secure. The fact that it’s easily extendible is a bonus for its users. All Imagely themes are developed as Genesis child themes. That means they live up to the same standards that come with Genesis but are styled and have functions specific to photographers.
Photographers should use Genesis because it has the potential of making website creation and management painless. In fact, we say that with Imagely themes, photographers can spend less time fussing with their websites and more time making beautiful photographs. Isn’t that what photographers want, anyway?
Photographers like communities, and with Genesis there are three distinct communities for people to get assistance no matter the Genesis theme. The Genesis community is large (the largest of all WordPress communities), friendly and willing to help. There is an official Genesis forum for Genesis Framework customers, a Genesis Facebook group as well as a Slack group.
But let’s talk SEO, now. That’s always a hot topic, and one often discussed here on Photography Spark. Genesis is developed in HTML5, which is a modern code style which is referenced by search engines. Additionally, Genesis uses Schema markup which helps sites rank well based on newer algorithms and search types. That winning combination is one of the many things that sets Genesis apart from other themes.
There is a part of Genesis, which some people concern themselves over even though they shouldn’t. Any photographers coming from themes like the Photocrati Theme (affiliate, made by the Imagely team as well), ProPhoto, X-Theme or similar, are used to bells and whistles and knobs and dials for every little thing. Themes like those mentioned can be adjusted in so many configurations. They make creating a website simple in some ways because photographers don’t need to know how to code PHP, HTML or CSS. However, they can also add complexity to a website when it’s not necessary. They can force a photographer to spend more time configuring their website and spending less time doing what they want to do for their art, or need to do for their business.
Having a website with your preferred style is important. I completely agree. Having a website that’s branded to your company is essential. But spending hours upon hours customizing every nook and cranny of your site is not something I recommend photographers doing. Where does the camera come in for that scenario?
By using a Genesis theme, you’re committing to a particular set of customization. That might be color and images only, or maybe a few font choices. But it doesn’t end there with Genesis. Previously I mentioned the extendibility of the Genesis Framework. There are many plugins that add functionality to a website, even if the theme itself doesn’t offer it. I will talk more about that when I get to the plugins section of this article.
How To Pick A Photography Theme
This is the part that gets very personal. Because photographers are visual people, by nature we want our websites to be visual and pleasing to the eye. And every photographer has his/her taste in design.
But with that aside, there are a few core items that I strongly recommend all photographers consider when choosing a WordPress theme.
Responsive design is when a website adjusts for smaller screens automatically. There are various forms of responsive design, so without getting into technical details, I’ll say that Genesis is 100% responsive and will look beautifully on all devices.
To see if your website is responsive, either view your site on a mobile device or shrink your browser window to one direction, to a width that a tablet or phone would be. If your site adjusts to the smaller screen size, then it’s responsive. If it does not then, it is not responsive. You can also use Google’s free site responsiveness test as well.
Having a responsive design has numerous benefits. One significant advantage is branding and cohesive look of your site across all devices. Another is that Google now includes mobile friendliness in their search engine optimization algorithms. That means they are giving more preference to websites that look and work fantastic on mobile.
You’re a photographer, right? So images are significant to your business. That means you will most likely want images to be dominant in your site design. Not all themes focus attention on images. Some do not even display images on a site until you place one on a page.
I recommend finding a WordPress theme that has just the right amount of attention to images as you want. That might mean a background slideshow for the homepage or an image in the header area. Or it might mean integration with beautiful gallery displays. The list could go on longer, but think about what you want and write it down. That way you can reference your list of hopeful design features in theme.
Earlier I mentioned that typically Genesis child themes come with very little customization. Usually, it’s the essentials, like basic color choices, images for backgrounds, logos for headers and maybe a couple of others here and there. I’ve also explained the purpose for this; to make it easy and fast.
But Genesis themes aren’t limited, in any way, to the basic customizations. There are numerous ways to customize a Genesis theme beyond its standard controls.
- If you know how to modify and implement custom CSS, you can do that within the child theme files or by installing a custom CSS plugin.
- You can install a plugin which adds more customization control over page design, fonts, colors, widgets and more. I’ll get to that when I discuss plugins.
If that makes you nervous and you prefer a lot of customization control built into the theme, then look for a theme that does that. I mentioned a few popular ones earlier in the article.
Support is something essential to any product you use. This goes for gear you use, the software you process photos with and even your website.
Without support, you can find yourself feeling stuck or lost. So whatever direction you go with your photography website, be sure that the company you’re paying, or the free product you’re using, offers some support.
Typically themes in the WordPress theme directory use the free support forum available to them. Do not go into it expecting best in class support, though, as developers will not always provide the best support when they’re not being paid for it. That doesn’t mean you won’t get support. But it also does not guarantee it. Many developers offering free themes also offer paid support, so look into that if it’s available to you.
If the theme you’re considering is a paid one, be sure to check if they offer support with the theme. Typically paid themes come with support. Some companies offer support via a forum, and some offer it through a ticketing system. At Imagely, our support is done via a ticketing system and customers receive personal replies from our support team.
There Is A Plugin For That
Just like apps for your phone, there are plugins for nearly every task you would want to your website.
Design Pallet Pro is the first I want to mention. It’s a customization plugin for Genesis themes. It allows you to control the look and feel of nearly every part of your photography website. And it does it without you needing to know any code. This is the plugin I recommend for Imagely customers to use, as it adds the immense amount of customizations they might want which are not built into the themes. The plugin is lightweight and has a nice interface for previewing the customization changes.
Next are two plugins created by the same people who make the Genesis framework. Simple Social Share is a plugin that allows you to have lightweight and customizable sharing icons above and/or below your post and page content. They include only the most popular social networks, for simplicity.
Simple Social Icons is a plugin which allows you to place social follow icons in any widget area on your site. It’s also lightweight and only includes the most popular social networks.
CoSchedule is one of my personal favorite organization and time-saving plugins for content creation and social sharing. The plugin is a paid service but is well worth it for busy photographers. CoSchedule offers a drag-and-drop editorial calendar for blog content. The plugin offers more than that, though. CoSchedule offers the ability to check your headline for effectiveness as well as schedule new content to be sent out to your social networks at specified times and days.
WP Rocket Cache is a fantastic caching plugin which I recommend over all others. It’s a paid plugin, but quite affordable. The plugin is simpler than most other caching plugins and has a reputation of playing well with others. Its image Lazy Loading feature will help speed up load times by not loading images until a user scrolls to the point where an image is displayed. There are more speed- worthy features in the plugin, so visit their website for more on it.
Some photographers enjoy page builders, where you can drag and drop content for endless design possibilities. There are many options out there for the job, but one that works nicely is Beaver Builder. If you decide to use a page builder (any of them) with a Genesis theme, be sure to install a free plugin called Genesis Dambuster. It’s designed to make Beaver Builder and Genesis themes work well together, but as it turns out, it makes most page builders work well with Genesis themes.
The last plugins I want to mention are ones we make at Imagely. NextGEN Gallery is the most popular gallery plugin for WordPress. It goes beyond what the standard WordPress gallery system offers, and is designed for heavy image users. NextGEN Gallery is meant to handle large volumes of images within its gallery management system. It also displays your galleries and albums nicely on any post or page. NextGEN Pro adds more gallery styles to the options as well as adds e-commerce for prints and digital downloads and proofing to your galleries. It’s one tool to help photographers to condense their multiple website platforms into one self-owned WordPress site. NextGEN Gallery and NextGEN Pro offer much more than that, so I encourage you to visit the website to learn more.
Where Should I Host My Photography Website?
The last piece I want to mention is hosting, as it is one of the two backbones of your photography website. (The other being the WordPress software, which we’ve already discussed.) When it comes to hosting a photography website, there are many types of platforms. The most common, and least expensive, is called shared hosting. This is where your photography website lives on a server with hundreds, if not thousands, of other websites. The downside to this comes when a site on that server is hacked or uses a lot of resources. If one site is hacked, all sites on that server run a risk of being hacked as well. If one site uses too many resources, other sites can slow down.
Better types of hosting platforms are cloud servers, virtual private servers, and dedicated servers. Cloud servers live in a cluster of servers in multiple locations. They serve the website from multiple locations at once, keeping a site fast. They’re also safer than shared hosting because sites are compartmentalized. So no sites are on the same server.
Virtual Private Servers are like shared hosting, but the server is using software to keep the websites separated from others. Dedicated hosting is when you have your own server, running only your website and using only its resources. Dedicated hosting is commonly the most expensive option.
When it comes to hosting a WordPress site, not all hosts are equal. Even when comparing shared to shared or VPS to VPS or cloud to cloud. Here’s a hypothetical situation.
You have a website hosted at ABC on a shared server. Your website runs WordPress and something happened during an update. You have Random Theme installed and then 23 plugins doing different things. Who do you contact to get help? There are 25 places you can go for help; your host, the theme company or the 23 plugins.
That’s why I recommend using managed hosting service, specific to WordPress sites. Managed hosts use that phrase because they do multiple forms of management for you. Here are some of the common ones:
- Daily/nightly backups
- Guaranteed uptime
- WordPress core updates
- Security protection
There’s an additional bonus to managed hosting over others, though. Typically managed hosting providers will offer end to end support, as much as they can, for whatever theme or plugins you’re using. That means if you run into an issue, the hosting support team will help you identify and potentially fix the issue. Even if it’s not of their own platform.
This is what we do at Imagely, in our managed photography WordPress hosting system (affiliate). Our customers have the safety of knowing our WordPress experts have their back.
Combine all of that with the speed of Amazon’s servers, server caching and the rest of our world-class hosting features, photographers can make photographs while knowing their websites are working to get them business.
Summing It All Up
You need to feel comfortable with your website. You need to know it’s working for you and not the other way around. To do so, consider the following:
- Use WordPress because there is no better choice.
- Don’t just use any theme from any developer. You need quality.
- Find a theme that suits your specific needs, but doesn’t keep you fussing with the site.
- Use Genesis, because it is designed for optimization.
- Make sure your site works across all devices.
- Find a theme with just enough customizations, or the ability to extend it with customizations.
- Make sure that theme displays your photographs in a way that makes you happy.
- Be sure that the theme offers quality support for those moments when you’re unsure of what to do.
- Choose plugins that help your website, and adds functionality that improves your business.
- Host your website with someone reliable, understands your business and has your back.
Now I challenge you to spend less time on your website. Find a solution that works in your favor.