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Gallery or portfolio page descriptions: what to write about, and why they’re useful to visitors and Google

 

A common question I get from photographers starting a new website is whether they need to include some text on gallery pages, above or below the thumbnails. And what to write about.

The answer is a strong YES. Each gallery on your photography website should ideally have a description at the top, above the thumbnails, explaining what the images are all about.

It can be a small paragraph of text, or a longer block of text if needed. If you feel it takes up too much vertical space (pushing the thumbnails too low on the page), you can just show a small preview of that text with a “more/expand” button.

 

Why gallery descriptions are important

Often, the gallery title and the actual thumbnails might seem self-explanatory.

But writing a brief gallery introduction can really help with a few things:

  1. It gives people “context”, it provides a better explanation of that topic and why you put together that gallery
  2. It does a better job instructing Google what the page topic is all about. Otherwise, Google can only rely on the page title and the image ALT tags (which are all defined uniquely for all of your images, right?)

On this last topic, here’s a rough preview of what Google “sees” on a page when you add a gallery description:

So, if you’re now convinced, what can you actually write about in your gallery descriptions?

 

What you can include in gallery descriptions

  • what: describe the people, objects, products in your photos
  • where: locations
  • when: year, season, date, time of day (where applicable)
  • personal experiences: write about taking those photos, problems you had, the obstacles you overcame, etc.
  • storytelling & facts: do some research (Google, Wikipedia, blogs) and find interesting facts about your subject matter
  • scientific names (for plants & animals)
  • abstract meanings (depending on the type of photography)

 

Let’s look at a few examples of descriptions on gallery pages

Gubler Photography - Travel portfolio page screenshow with gallery description

Simple & enthusiastic Travel gallery description.

Jeff Schultz Photography - Alaska Landscapes portfolio screenshot

A paragraph of text that provides content and acts as a short bio. Bonus points for including a link to the Contact page, encouraging viewers to get in touch.

rehahn photography - site screenshot showing gallery description

A more abstract explanation of the gallery, acting like a mini blog post.

Tawna Brown photography - gallery description - screenshot

A more comprehensive explanation of the project in question, with SEO-friendly details, a link to a dedicated blog post, and a link to the Contact page.

Claire Thomas photography - project screenshot showing text description

An impressive story about the subject of this gallery, drawing people in.

Long gallery description on Blue Planet photography (gallery screenshot)

A comprehensive gallery description on a stock photography website. The higher level of detail helps with organic SEO and with on-site image searches. Notice the use of scientific names for extra “searchability”.

 

A great read on this topic is: “How to write about your photographs”

“A good approach to writing about your own photographs is to write around them instead of about them. As I noted earlier, your viewers aren’t blind, so don’t tell them what they see. Don’t tell them what you want them to see, either. If someone doesn’t see that, but something else – then what? Do you want to limit what people can get out of your pictures?

Writing around your pictures means producing a piece of writing that conveys very similar ideas than your pictures, albeit in other ways. Maybe you’ll add some things that are inexpressible in pictures. Writing around your pictures means that you’ll add a bit of your own personality, of where you’re coming from. You’re going to be showing your viewers a different angle from which they can approach you (and the work).”

 

Gallery descriptions help first-time visitors to better understand your work. And they also obviously help with SEO. Just “letting photos speak for themselves” doesn’t work with Google (yet).

You can manually add text blocks to your pages if using WordPress or Squarespace or add the descriptions directly in your photo management platform. Here’s how that looks like in PhotoShelter:

Don’t forget that writing good gallery descriptions is just one step in ensuring you have good on-site SEO. For more image-related SEO tips, check out my full guide here: Image SEO essentials

So, does your website have any text on gallery pages? Or just photos?

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