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Best photography website builders in 2024 – how to find the right eCommerce platform for your business

Choosing a builder to build your photo website on is a “game of compromises”.

You might be thinking of switching to WordPress, or you’ve heard good things about a different tool, and you’re confused. With many options to choose from, some generic ones and others dedicated to photographers, it’s sometimes hard to figure out which is better.

WordPress has matured a lot in recent years. Being so popular, there’s a wide range of themes and plugins that photographers can use to set up their online photography business. And stats show how popular WordPress is among photographers.

But with WordPress, you still can’t match the power and flexibility of dedicated photography platforms (though you can integrate with them to get the best of both worlds; more on this below).

The margins have become narrower, and have more options these days, you can use WP to create an image-selling website too, with some limitation.

Let’s try to navigate this decision.

I’m not going to tell you “hey, choose this…”, because it all depends on your business goals and level of experience. But I am going to walk you through all the relevant arguments and hard questions so you can make an informed decision yourself.

TLDR

WordPress will always be my top recommendation, because of the power and design flexibility it brings. Not to mention greater control over performance and SEO.

Don’t go with Wix or Weebly.

Don’t go with Showit either (scroll here to learn why).

Choosing a photography website builder depends on your specific needs (ranging from a simple portfolio website to a full-featured eCommerce site) and your technical skills. WordPress is best, but it does require a bit of maintenance afterward; it’s not for everyone.

Start from your specific needs:

  • Need eCommerce with Rights-Managed licenses or automatic print fulfillment? PhotoSheter or PhotoDeck.
  • Blogging? WordPress
  • Want a ton of control over the design of the site? WordPress
  • SEO is critical? WordPress
  • Something very simple with almost no maintenance? Squarespace
  • Best for YOU? It depends. Send me a quick message or schedule a consulting call and I’ll provide the clarity you need.

 

 

WordPress page builder logo on a photo website monitor screen

WordPress – my go-to choice for building photography websites

WordPress has come a long way. Because of its popularity, the WP theme and plugin ecosystems have really matured. You can now build almost anything on a WordPress site, it’s really incredible.

Sure, there still are limitations in certain areas; you can’t match the functionality of image-selling builders like PhotoShelter, the filtering and searching capabilities of big stock sites, or the features of dedicated client-proofing tools like Shootproof.

But unless you do need those advanced features (depending on your photography business), you can build almost anything with WordPress these days.

Selling photo-based products can be done with plugins like WooCommerce (and its photography extension) or Sunshine Photo Cart, among others.

Modern page builders like Elementor or Kadence Blocks allow you to create unique page layouts & designs. I’ve recently used Elementor a lot, a game-changing new WordPress page builder that has greatly simplified all aspects of managing your site (and I feel it does not compromise on SEO, performance, or design customization – including great photography-specific features).

It’s visually intuitive, really fast, and makes managing your site a joy (unlike the experience photographers have on other clunky themes/templates).

It combines drag-and-drop simplicity with cutting-edge features. Just look at how simple it is to build or modify a page. You just drag and drop, no coding needed. Want to change a gallery or text? Just edit and modify visually.

On WordPress, all your static content and blogging needs are obviously taken care of, you have a ton of great plugins for almost everything.

 

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Selling prints, products & photography services using WordPress

1. WooCommerce

WooCommerce is the leading eCommerce plugin for WordPress, it’s basically the industry standard. Any good WordPress theme now comes with WooCommerce compatibility.

WooCommerce is a platform specifically crafted for WordPress, aligning seamlessly with its ecosystem. This integration was further solidified when Automattic, the company behind WordPress, acquired WooCommerce. This move added a significant layer of credibility to the platform.

Being so popular, Woo is incredibly powerful out of the box, and has a very active community around it, with countless free and paid extensions out there. Not to mention that you can Google just about any issue and you’ll find help pages and support forums about it, which can come in handy.

Pricing: free main plugin + paid extensions for advanced functionality

Selling ability

  • services (photo tours, workshops, portrait sessions, photo shoot deposits, etc.)
  • prints (self-fulfilled)
  • image downloads (royalty-free only, with variable prices, but no rights-managed price calculator)
  • video downloads (usually requires paid extensions and hosting integrations)
  • any other products, both physical and virtual (calendars, agendas, wallpapers, T-shirts, etc.)
  • affiliate marketing

Pros / Advantages:

  • Free: the core WooCommerce plugin is open-source free software (and you get free updates over time). Unless you need advanced functionality (that can only be handled by paid extensions), it’s an effective way to scale your online business.
  • Very customizable: Woo comes with detailed settings, but most importantly, you can use many other free plugins (or custom functions) to customize its functionality.
  • Good analytics: detailed reports are built in. You can always understand your sales (broken down by date, product, categories, etc.), customers, taxes & more.
  • Full featured checkout features: custom shipping costs, payment gateways, geo-location support, subscriptions, event bookings, etc.

Cons / Limitations:

  • Learning curve: the plugin does require some WP experience (and patience) to get everything right. With great power comes great complexity, and you have to take this into account. Once you get the hang of it though (or by using additional plugins and extensions for it), you can make WooCommerce “behave” to your liking. For a simpler plugin, take a look at Easy Digital Downloads.
  • Updates can affect the front end sometimes: WooCommerce gets updated (by its developers) quite frequently, which is definitely a good thing. But updates are sometimes known to reset settings or change the design of the store pages (making them incompatible with the WP theme). Thorough testing is highly recommended after every Woo plugin update.

Other WooCommerce extensions and plugins that I’ve found helpful over time:

Visit WooCommerce

 

2. Sunshine Photo Cart

Interesting client proofing and photo-selling WP plugin. You will need some of their paid add-ons to extend the functionality, but it’s definitely a powerful option overall. It’s compatible with any WP theme, it allows you to create private galleries, choose favorites, upload images in bulk, apply watermarks & more.

Pricing: Free core plugin + paid add-ons (or $149 $99 for all add-ons + premium support)

Visit Sunshine Photo Cart

 

3. Nextgen Pro (Imagely)

NextGen Gallery is the “old kid on the block”, it’s been downloaded over 2 million times. This is a great all-in-one eCommerce solution for photographers, because it allows selling both prints and image downloads/licenses, all in a very powerful package. For WordPress users looking to build everything on one single platform, this is probably your best option.

NextGEN Pro is now the ONLY WordPress plugin with automatic print lab fulfillment (meaning that when someone orders a print on your site, a professional print lab will automatically print that image and ship it directly to them, without you having to get involved in the process, as opposed to traditional “self-fulfillment” methods).

You can learn more about it in my dedicated article here: WordPress users rejoice! You now have automatic print lab integration using NextGen Gallery Pro

Pricing: You need their “NextGen Pro” plan ($139) for the eCommerce functionality

Get NextGen Pro

 

4. Envira Gallery (with Woo Add-on)

Envira is a really good gallery plugin (which I usually recommend for WordPress themes that don’t have any inbuilt gallery & slideshow elements). It has a WooCommerce add-on that allows you to sell images in your galleries.

Pricing: Their “Pro” plan ($99) includes the eCommerce feature

Visit Envira Gallery

 

 

Dedicated website platforms for photographers

Website builders for photographers

Unlike WordPress or other general-purpose website platforms, with a photography-specific builder, you can get things like:

  • cloud storage for your JPG, TIF, and even RAW images
  • client delivery tools (including password-protected galleries and advanced access
  • eCommerce for selling prints and licenses (including a rights-managed price calculator)
  • client proofing
  • robust image tagging and search functionalities
  • responsive portfolio websites

Only some of these features can be replicated with WordPress, and even then, it’s a matter of bringing multiple plugins together and trying to integrate them into a workflow. Whereas with photography-specific builders, you have all those photography-centric features under the same roof.

Here are your top website builder options:

 

PhotoDeck


Slowly becoming one of my go-to platforms for photographers. You get automatic print fulfillment, customizable Rights-Managed license calculator, and the ability to sell videos too.

Visit PhotoDeck Features Templates Pricing

 

PhotoShelter

Mixed feelings here. I was a big fan of PhotoShelter for a long time. They have image-selling features that are tough to beat (automated print fulfillment, Rights-Managed Licensing, etc.), but I feel they’ve dropped the ball recently. Many photographers are rightfully complaining that they’ve brought no significant updates in years (at the top of the list is a new page builder that has apparently been scrapped).

The PhotoShelter templates are fairly clean and mobile-friendly, but they’re also quite limited design-wise (none of their templates allow any single paragraph of text on the homepage; this is mind-boggling).

But it’s still the right fit for certain photographers or stock agencies with their advanced photography-focused features. Worth considering.

Visit site Features Templates Pricing Visit site

 

Pixieset

Fairly good page builder (with choices of pre-defined blocks), clean templates, a good set of features (especially for client proofing & image delivery).

Lackluster SEO or eCommerce features offset the pros.

Visit Pixieset Features Templates Pricing

 

SmugMug

Another big name in the industry, Smugmug has a big user base and a ton of features. Notably, it also allows you to sell videos on your site.

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Adobe Portfolio

Simple portfolio websites for beginners. Free (aka included in Adobe Creative Cloud).

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Other website builders for photographers

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Visit site Features Video Pricing

 

Visit site Templates Pricing

 

FAA is a popular print-on-demand marketplace: you create an account, and they automatically fulfill any printing orders on your behalf (including framing, matting, and shipping). You also have the option to embed your “store” into any page on your site using an iframe element (example).

Visit site Features Video Pricing

 

Visit site Features Video Pricing

 

Visit site Templates Pricing

 

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Visit site Features Video Pricing

 

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

 

Generic website platforms that photographers can use to build their site

General-purpose website builders

Squarespace

A huge player in the website industry, and a good all-in-one solution for creating portfolio websites. You get a website builder (with plenty of templates to choose from), blogging tools, hosting, eCommerce, and even a domain registrar, all in one. It does, however, have some limitations and might be too simple for some.

Visit site eCommerce features Templates Pricing

 

Webflow

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Shopify

Shopify is an incredibly powerful eCommerce platform, so it’s natural that some photographers also found a home there. Shopify offers some photography-specific website templates, and with the help of their “apps”, you can build an eCommerce photography website (view their template demos to get a sense of what can be achieved on their platform)

Visit site Features Templates Pricing

 

Why I DON’T recommend using Showit for photography websites

If you’re thinking of using Showit as a platform for building your photography portfolio, consider this as a vote AGAINST it.

This video explains why:

Showit has an inherent flaw: it only provides design editing for desktop and mobile devices. But on tablets, it’s a mess. It just scales the desktop design down till it fits.

If you load a Showit template on an iPad, the text is so small that it’s barely readable.

Even if you’re impressed by some of their templates (they do look pretty out of the box), they don’t add up to a good user experience on the website.

Instead, you should go with WordPress (and a good theme) or SquareSpace, which doesn’t suffer from the same mobile-friendliness issues.

Read this for more information about the different levels of mobile-friendliness.

 

Do not use Wix or Weebly

Or anything from GoDaddy. Or any platform that’s free.

Looking for free website tools? Why? You get what you pay for. And you should take your business seriously.

 

 

Comparing photography website builders pros and cons

Analyze the pros and cons of each builder for your needs

1. Flexibility

Photography builders usually give you a choice of several predefined templates, but they have minimal customization options. You can tweak a few branding details and build your site structure, but that’s it. It is how it is. Even if you do have access to coding features, you’re still limited in what you can do with it, and you can extend to much of the site’s functionality. And that’s just for the general templates/layouts. When it comes to the actual eCommerce process, for example, you have zero control over how that works.

With WordPress on the other hand, the sky is the limit.

In terms of design, your theme options allow you to customize a lot about how your site looks. Beyond that, a developer can change anything about your site using custom CSS code, javascript code or PHP functions.
In terms of functionality, you use what your WP theme provides, then you have tens of thousands of plugins to choose from, and then extra PHP functions beyond that.

Website performance also falls into this category. With a good WP performance plugin, and being mindful with the size of your images, you can get a blazing-fast site, whereas on other platforms you can really control the huge number of scripts that end up in the source code.

2. Complexity

How complex a platform is becomes the inverse of flexibility.

WordPress is indeed more complex and has a lot of moving parts. If you don’t have experience with it, you might lose yourself in all the theme and plugin options out there.

Not to mention that once you install them, you still have to put everything together, configure plugins, etc. You could, of course, hire a web designer, but that just speaks to the complexity of WordPress in general.

Using a service like PhotoShelter or Smugmug is simpler. You get a functional portfolio site, that’s mobile-friendly and allows you to showcase your work straight away. Just add your images and take care of a few site-building stuff (logo, colors, fonts, navigation menu), and you’re done.

3. Power

This comes down to the ability to do something in particular with your website, so it depends on your goals.

Do you need a huge image archive with advanced searching and filtering options, nested galleries, selling rights-managed image licenses, etc.? Then, go with a photography platform like PhotoShelter and accept its limitations in other departments.

Need to sell both image prints or licenses and other products and services online (like books, calendars, portrait sessions, photo shoot deposits, workshops or photo tours, etc)? Consider using a WordPress-only site if you’re comfortable with a limited set of options when selling images, or go with a hybrid website approach (more on this below).

Want to build other advanced features (an interactive map of your photo travels, complex booking forms, embedded videos and Instagram feeds, free wallpaper downloads, advanced blog categories, and custom post types)? Then it’s clear. WordPress.

4. Costs

Photography-specific platforms usually operate like software-as-a-service (SaaS), so you pay a recurring monthly fee (with annual options, of course) to use them.

WordPress is free, premium WordPress themes only need to be paid once, and WP plugins are usually free. Some premium plugins do require a yearly subscription (but they’re usually around $50/year or so).

With WordPress, you also need hosting though. See my recommendations here.

5. SEO

If you’re serious about getting high in Google results, WordPress is definitely your strongest option.

Here is what you can’t accomplish with most photography-specific tools:

  • add text to more parts of your site
  • setting up redirects
  • controlling social previews (how your post snippets look when shared on social media sites)
  • more control over permalinks (to include keywords in the URLs)
  • setting more advanced technical stuff (like setting canonical URLs, control over the sitemap XML and robots.txt files, RSS feed enhancements)
  • advanced analysis of your tags (things like setting focus keywords to help you write your content, readability checks, SEO title and meta-description length counters)
  • being able to build a full-featured blog area (bringing a huge SEO boost in the long run)
  • and generally, the ability to control the source code (to add the proper heading tags, image ALT tags, etc.) and to optimize the site performance and mobile-friendliness (which in turn affect SEO)

That being said, there are many successful photographers who use portfolio services, and they’re doing fine. That’s because on-site SEO is only part of the equation.

6. Specific features you might need

You might like the look of a website builder or the flexibility of another, but until you put your specific site needs on paper, you can’t make a final decision.

This can usually trump all other factors above:

  • for example, if you know you’re going to need to sell rights-managed image downloads, you can immediately exclude many of the options
  • if you want to build a strong travel blog, WordPress becomes the clear favorite

When unsure, either contact each platform’s support team to get more info, or email me, I might be able to tell you what’s possible or not (I have experience with almost all platforms I mentioned above). Time permitting, I’d be happy to offer a quick opinion.

 

Combining multiple photography website platforms on the same site

The hybrid website approach

After researching each platform’s features, and assessing the pros & cons above, you might still be stuck, you might need features from both WordPress and a photography platform.

That’s not the end of the world, in fact, many photography have integrated two different platforms to build a “hybrid” site.

Examples of a “weak” integration (usually on a separate URL altogether and with a different design):

Examples of a “strong” integration (with matching designs):

Guidelines:

  • matching design: ideally, both areas of your site should have a very similar design. Some platforms allow manual customization of the source code, allowing you (or a developer) to integrate them perfectly.
  • consistently using the same fonts and colors
  • navigation menus should be identical on both sites, so visitors don’t have to “learn” how to browse the other section
  • custom domains: most of the time, you can’t use two platforms on the same domain. The next best thing is to use sub-domains (for example, you have WordPress on the main “www” sub-domain, and your image archive in a “images” sub-domain)
  • SEO implications: once again, if you can’t have both on the same domain (in sub-folders), use sub-domains, instead of having them on completely different domains:

 

Metrics that photographers can track when selling prints

Metrics you should track

The world of e-commerce is vast, but for photographers, the focus is clear: sell more prints and downloads. But how do you measure success?

Here are some key performance indicators (KPIs) tailored for photographers:

  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): Every visitor has a price. Whether it’s the cost of ads, SEO efforts, or social media promotions, understanding your CAC helps you determine the efficiency of your marketing efforts. Aim to reduce this over time.
  • Conversion Rate (CR): It’s not just about attracting visitors; it’s about turning them into customers. If 2 out of 100 visitors make a purchase, your conversion rate is 2%. Enhance your website’s user experience, showcase customer testimonials, and offer limited-time promotions to boost this rate.
  • Shopping Cart Abandonment: Ever filled a cart online and left without buying? That’s cart abandonment. For photographers, this could be due to high shipping costs for prints or a complicated checkout process. Simplify the buying process and consider retargeting strategies to bring those customers back.
  • Average Order Value (AOV): Understand the average value of each order. If you offer bundles of prints or discounts on larger downloads, monitor how this affects your AOV. The goal is to maximize revenue from each transaction.
  • Customer Lifetime Value (LTV): This metric gauges the total revenue a customer will generate over time. Encourage repeat purchases by offering loyalty discounts or exclusive previews of new galleries.

For photographers, e-commerce success isn’t just about selling; it’s about creating lasting relationships with customers. By focusing on some of these KPIs, you can fine-tune your online store, ensuring that every click leads to a shutter’s snap.

 

 

What are the top 100 photographers in the world doing?

These are two snippets from my massive “Top 100 website stats” research report

When it comes to selling images directly on their websites, 32% of famous photographers are actually selling photos directly: 30% prints only, 2% licenses only, 2% both prints and licenses.
The rest have no directly image-selling options, but they might sell other types of products, as explained in the next chart.

By “prints,” I’m referring to selling individual prints (including “limited edition prints” or “signed prints”), wall art, posters, photo albums.

Besides prints and licenses/downloads, about half of popular photographers sell various types of products on their websites.

A few definitions are needed here:

  • “Selling products” = selling any physical or digital product that’s sold once, or selling access to photo tours or online education. It does not include selling photography services.
  • “Workshops” = photo workshops & photography tours, 1-to-1 mentoring, online training events, “headshot marathons”
  • “Books” = physical books, eBooks, magazines
  • “Courses” = online courses and educational products, real-life training courses, “photography university”, tutorials, online community, speaking events
  • “Presets” = Adobe Lightroom presets, Photoshop actions
  • “Merch” = branded clothes, stickers, pins, and custom prints
  • “Gift cards” = vouchers and online gift cards
  • “Software” = photo editing software
  • “Calendar” = branded desk or wall calendars
  • “Gear” = camera straps and cases

Half of famous photographers sell educational products on their websites, anything from photo tours and workshops, to books, presets, and online training courses. Consider doing the same (over time) if you want to stop trading time for money (aka selling services).

Conclusion

Don’t forget that building a photography business is not just about choosing a website platform! That’s the easy part; anyone can set up a quick site these days.

Instead, you should ask yourself the hard questions (like the ones in the Photography business & website planning guides).

But once you do reach this website decision, I hope that this article has helped you know what your options are.

There is no general solution for everyone. You need to think about your needs for the site and do a bit of research into the platforms above. You’ll make a final decision based on:

  • what features will be needed on the new site (depending on how you plan on working with your clients and what types of services and products you’ll be offering)
  • whether you’ll hire a web designer or not
  • your budget (of both time and money)
  • your level of technical experience (if you want to build the site yourself)

Finally, don’t go into “analysis paralysis” mode, and don’t procrastinate over your website. A limited website (because you may have chosen the wrong platform initially) is better than having no website. This is all about putting your best work out into the world. Website platforms are just the tools to help you do that, but you have to bring the courage.

 

Need help managing your WordPress site?

Save time & money by protecting your website and having me do ongoing testing, maintenance, prevention & iterative improvements.

Check out my website maintenance plans & technical services for photographers:

Website care plans

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