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5 wrong things to ask your web-designer (when building your photo website)

I’ve worked on over 200 photography websites so far, so I’ve heard all the possible web-design requests from photographers.

In fact, a while ago I wrote a big article on how to work efficiently with your web-designer, be sure to check that out first.

Today, let’s explore some wrong things photographers focus on when building or improving their website.

These are actual client requests I sometimes get during projects: 


1. “Make the images pop out more”

This is too vague, and usually signifies insecurities about the quality of the photographer’s own images. When I ask for clarifications, photographers say they were impressed with the images on a different website, and that want their images to be visually impressive like that.

Make no mistake, most of the times it comes down to how good your images are. No website design can make mediocre images look good.

A more useful approach would be to think about the site’s layout and background color, that’s something that a web-designer has experience with. I’m referring to:

  • Having a clean design with plenty of whitespace. Enough space around the images will make them stand out more. Crowded layouts won’t do them justice.
  • Using a solid background color, preferably in white or light shades of gray. Background patterns/textures are distracting on photography websites. Full black backgrounds can work sometimes, but not on text-heavy websites. The theory here is simple: with a dark background, the eyes “open up” more to allow more light in, perceiving the images a little brighter. The downside is that white text on a black background is harder to read.

A better request:
“Let’s decide on the proper website background color that would work well with my style of photography.”


2. “How should I name these galleries? Are these images good enough?”

I get these types of questions a lot, but I politely decline to do photo critiques. I can offer advice on how to structure your galleries, but it’s the photographer’s responsibility to choose which and how many images to show to the world.

So whenever working with a web-designer, remember that the quality of the work you put out is your job, you shouldn’t ask your web-designer for photo advice.

I sometimes feel I can offer good advice. I started out as a photographer myself, I had a photo studio, shot weddings and portrait sessions, I sold images. Yet I never comment on my clients’ photos, because it wouldn’t be professional of me. I will focus on my core specialty alone: building great photography websites.

If you’re looking for advanced advice on how to showcase your best work and market yourself, there are companies that can offer some business & marketing clarity for you. I recommend you take a look at Wonderful Machine and Agency Access.

A better request:
“Based on your experience, do you spot any mistakes in how I’m organizing my galleries? Where can I learn more about editing my portfolio or choosing a photography niche?”


3. “Rename these menu items to [something overly-creative].”

I’ve touched on this topic in various different places already (like here and here).

Menu items are not the place to get creative. Instead, they need to be easily identifiable by visitors, you need to get them to click.

And once they do reach a certain page you want them on, you can then “wow” them with your personality and sense of humor. But they won’t get there if they’re confused by your site’s navigation.

A better request:
“What words should I use as menu items to make sure the navigation is simple and easy to use? What to users expect to see in the navigation?”


4. “Make my site rank higher on Google.”

Having your site high up in Google search results is useful, yes, it can help your photography business. But you can’t get there by asking for it vaguely like that.

Ranking higher for which keyword(s) or phrase(s)?

It doesn’t matter if you show up first in a firstname lastname photography”search. What matters if you show up on the first page for “[specialty] photographer in [location]”, that’s the holy grail.

It comes down to your goals for the site. Alone, or together with your web-designer, you should start planning and doing some keyword research to figure out a good SEO strategy.

That knowledge (about your position in the market and your target audience) will then guide how you optimize your site for search engines.

A better request:
“I want to be known as a top architecture photographer in Cincinnati. Let’s focus our SEO efforts on that. Here are the main ways people discover my work now: […]”


5. “I want a design that looks just like [existing successful website].”

Mimicking another website is not a guaranteed path to success (not to mention it’s unethical and potentially copyright-infringing).

That’s because each design decision needs to be tailored to your own target audience. And even if you have a similar audience, try to differentiate yourself in some way.

A quick example: a stock photography agency recently approached me to create a replica of the popular website. After declining the job and explaining the reasons behind it, I offered to create a new design mockup with a similar look and feel, but with many new branding elements and layout changes that would be a better fit for them. They were much happier with the result and enthusiastic to see their branding in a unique design.

Blindly copying another site sets you up for failure, if you don’t know what your own site’s goals are. Sure, it’s fine to take inspiration from others, but only so much as to gather ideas and get clarity.

A better request:
“I like this specific website because […]. I would also like to prominently feature an element similar to […] on my site. My specific needs for the site are […], let’s explore how to design the site to get a similar look-and-feel and increase sales.”


Hope you found these notes useful!

If you didn’t, no problem! It is therapeutic for me to write these small snippets from my web-design experience, I love sharing them!

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