The [Straight] Truth About Photography Website Design

Just because you’re an outstanding photographer, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a talented graphic designer.

Nonetheless, many photographers take it upon themselves to create their own website. In doing so, they overlook fundamental design & usability issues.

Because there’s no marketing tool more crucial than our websites, we’ve got to get it right.

As you develop or revamp your photography website, watch out for these 7 common design mistakes.

1. Background Music

Seems like everyone has it. Just don’t do it.

A lot of photographers believe music adds emotion to their photos. But they neglect to consider all the users who don’t want to hear the music on their site.

Consider the following scenarios:

There I am listening to iTunes, with the sweet sound of Bono and U2 ringing out over my speakers. It’s cranked up. I’m singing along happily, even if it’s way off key.

Then I load your photography website in my browser and strange music starts blaring.

“Where is that teenage pop song coming from? Turn it off! How do I do that?”

I’m so frustrated that I click my browser tab’s “X” to close your site and get rid of the music.

Odds are, this annoyance will prevent me from ever visiting your site again.

A newborn baby girl finally stops crying and goes to sleep in her crib.

Her mother sits down at the computer for a precious few minutes of quiet time.

She pulls up your photography website and a loud country song begins to play with your slideshow.

Her baby is startled awake and begins to wail. Mom frantically closes her browser to silence the music and attend to her little girl.

Think she’s ever going back to your site?

Users want control and the ability to browse the Internet as they please. Don’t take that away from them.

Focus on the Photos

Let your portfolio photos speak for themselves — without music.

If you must use music, save it for a dedicated movie rather than putting it in the background of every page.

2. Separate Portfolio & Blog Websites

Many photographers have a portfolio site with their best work and a separate blog site for posting more frequent updates.

This presents several difficulties and reasons for moving to a uniform design.

Fragmented Visitor Experience

I place a great deal of importance on the user experience. This is the primary reason I believe separate photography websites are a bad idea.

Just as a visitor gets used to the layout, navigation, and feel of your portfolio website, you kick them over to your blog. Once there, they encounter a different setup and must relearn everything.

Google, Amazon, or any other top site wouldn’t do this to its users. It’s too confusing.

Take a cue from the best websites and provide a uniform, consistent online experience for your visitors. They’ll thank you for it and be more likely to return.

Split SEO

Maintaining two separate sites means your search engine rankings are split.

All the work you put into updating your blog does little to improve your portfolio site’s ranking and vice versa.

Because blogs are so well-optimized for search engines, they often rank higher than a portfolio-only photography website. Users may discover your blog first on Google and overlook your best portfolio work that resides on another website.

Twice the Work

Maintaining two separate photography websites means learning and staying up-to-date on two systems rather than one. It also requires twice the design effort or hiring a designer for two projects.

Unify with WordPress

To bring everything under one photography website, move everything to the WordPress platform. It’s far more than just blogging. It’s an entire content management system, blogging platform, and more, all for free.

You benefit because your site ranks higher, users are happier, and you have only one site to update — all good things.

3. Confusing Navigation

Navigation is overlooked on many photography websites because emphasis is placed on creativity and not usability.

Unique navigation methods only confuse visitors and encourage them to give up on your site.

Simple, easy to use navigation (although it may not seem sexy) will keep users around longer and encourage them to explore.

Make it Predictable

People are used to a certain webpage layout. Give it to them.

Place your logo in the upper left hand corner and link it to the homepage. The navigation menu should appear in the upper right or just below the logo.

The [Straight] Truth About Photography Website Design

StaY Vertical

Before the use of smartphones, designers had to put the most important content “above the fold” on their websites to capture a user’s attention.

Now, users inherently understand vertical scrolling because many of them have smartphones. There’s no “fold” to worry about anymore on Web pages, so don’t be afraid to use vertical space.

Horizontal scrolling, however, should be avoided because it remains foreign and clumsy.

4. Slideshow Galleries

Speaking of control, few items make a user feel less in control than a difficult-to-understand slideshow gallery.

Some photography websites automatically advance to the next image and don’t give users the ability stop and view a photo or advance to the next one on their own. Other websites leave you wondering what to do if it doesn’t advance immediately. The user never knows what to expect.

If you do implement slideshows, save them for special proofing occasions where family members and friends of the client are sure to sit with rapt attention.

Vertical Galleries

To simplify photo viewing, create a gallery where the user scrolls vertically to see more images. This allows them to browse at their own pace and jump forward or backward with ease. Most blogs are set up this way and provide maximum viewer control.

5. Building a Photography Website with Flash

Adobe Flash websites are great for some things, but not for photographers. The main reason? Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

To make it overly simple, think of a Flash site as one big movie playing inside your browser. Every piece of text, photo, or design element is a part of that movie.

Google and other search engines can only find the movie as a whole, not what’s inside that movie. Therefore, the text and photos you put in a Flash website are not easily searchable.

You want every single piece of your photography website to be a veritable feast for Google, not hidden from it.

This is the reason some photographers have a “landing page” loaded with searchable terms. They know Flash isn’t good for SEO and they’re trying to find a way around it.

WordPress Photography Websites

Yes, some services offer workarounds for Flash SEO, and Adobe is improving its searchability. But why settle for a hack when other modern options such as WordPress provide full SEO optimization?

6. Neglecting Mobile Devices

We are browsing the Web on mobile devices at a rapidly increasing rate. Don’t underestimate the importance of making your photography website look pretty for everyone, regardless of the device they’re using.

Sites unprepared for mobile devices do not fit properly on a smaller screen. Viewing from an iPad, iPhone, Android phone, or other device may produce an extremely large or unusable interface.

Responsive Design

Responsive Design adapts to the dimensions of your viewing area and resizes page elements accordingly. This ensures a pleasant experience whether on a cell phone or a 30 inch monitor.

Responsive Design can be found in numerous theme templates. Just look for it by name in the features list.

If you’re making the investment in professional, custom design, make sure to request Responsive Design as part of your design package.

Photography Websites, Flash, iPads & iPhones

Apple has refused to allow Adobe flash on their iOS devices. This means iPads and iPhones cannot view Flash content natively.

Don’t alienate all these users. Help them view your beautiful photography website by investing in good design that does not use Flash and implements Responsive Design.

7. Slow Load Times

You’d be surprised at how many people will navigate to your photography website, lose patience, and close the window before it finishes loading.

I’ve done it countless times. It doesn’t matter how pretty your site is once loaded if the customer kills the load sequence and moves on to your competitors.

Not convinced? Check out this Kissmetrics article explaining why Speed is a Killer.

Slowness & Google

For a while now, Google has factored speed into its rankings algorithm. A speedier website impresses the Google ranking gods while they spurn and penalize slowness.

This means a slow site could cost your photography business money. The slower your site, the more your Google position suffers. And poor positioning means fewer inquiries and possibly fewer sales.

Needless to say, speeding up your photography website is a worthwhile investment.

Test, Invest in Optimization

A photography website should load in under 4 seconds to encourage exploration and retain users.

To test site speed and quality, use analytical tools such as Pingdom, Google Page Insights, or Yahoo’s YSlow.

If your site loads slowly and you’re not familiar with Web design, consider hiring a professional to optimize everything. It’s a worthwhile investment and could be the key to increasing traffic.

You’re on Your Way

Correcting these design mistakes will give you a more professional, user-friendly photography website. People will be more likely to focus on your images and visit your site repeatedly.