Updated January 2019
How to Select Web Hosting as a Photographer
Are you a photographer, looking to launch your first website? Or perhaps you have had a website for a while now, but are realizing that it’s slow to serve your images. Whether you’re a wedding, event, family, landscape, travel, fashion or wildlife photographer, hosting doesn’t differentiate. You need enough storage space to host your images and the bandwidth to serve up your images quickly and efficiency to your website visitors.
With that in mind, here are the best web hosting options for photographers, at several different price points and needs. so you can choose the best photography website hosting option for you and your portfolio.
Web hosting for photographers can be a bit overwhelming. You’re an artist, not an IT engineer, after all. Luckily this review can help you make an informed decision about the best photography website hosting for your portfolio.
Photography Service Provider vs Your Own Website
There are several out-of-the-box solutions for building a photography website, including Zenfolio, Wix, SquareSpace, and SmugMug, just to name a few. These solutions are great if you’re more of a novice when it comes to the web, online marketing and building a website… and that’s OK! If this is you, then check out the managed website builders listed below.
Some photographers, however, will want the freedom to develop their website beyond what the templated providers offer. In this case, WordPress is by far the most popular option, and the one I would recommend to get your website up and rolling if you don’t want to use a website builder like Wix, Zenfolio, Squarespace, Smugmug, etc. If you’re considering a fully managed photography platform, I’ve included some of the most popular options below. But if you’re looking to go the WordPress and host your own site route, then I’ve picked the best web hosting options for photographers as well.
Keep in mind the main reason you’re doing all this. The most important purpose of your website is to showcase your photography portfolio to prospective clients, right? You’re also a creative artist, not a developer, so you’ll want to keep coding and technical configurations to a minimum — even if you’re tech savvy. Additionally, most photographers looking to launch a website are on a budget, as they’re typically a 1-man or 1-woman business, looking to get their name out there to book more gigs, and don’t have the additional resources to hire a website developer to help customize their website code or troubleshoot issues. For this reason, I recommend photographers proceed with an all-in-one website builder like Wix.
Best Managed Portfolio Providers for Photographers
Best Website Builder (starting at $14/month)
Wix: Operating off a freemium model, Wix gives the basic service away for free, but runs their ads across the platform. Their most popular plan is the Unlimited, which includes unlimited bandwidth, 10GB of storage; for $14/month. They also have hundreds of awesome templates, perfectly suited for a creative portfolio for designers and photographers alike. Wix is the best website builder out there, and wins my recommendation for best managed portfolio provider for photographers. Signup for Wix
Zenfolio: $20 per month for the introductory offer, which renews at $35 per month. They offer unlimited storage space and unlimited bandwidth traffic. The templates and customization are limited, but they make up for this with a myriad of gallery and product options, fully integrated into the platform. Signup for Zenfolio
Squarespace: $26 month to month for the business plan will get you unlimited bandwidth and storage, with a plethora of pre-built template options from one of the biggest all-in-one website solution providers. Squarespace not only caters to photographers, but also to freelancers, eCommerce store operators, and small business owners. Signup for Squarespace
SmugMug: The portfolio plan is $20 a month, and includes 21+ pre-made site designs. Shopping cart and product integration is the big selling point here for photographers wishing to create an e-commerce gallery store. Signup for SmugMug
Best Web Hosting for Photographers
Best Professional Host (starting at $15/month)
Flywheel: Built from the ground up for designers and agencies, Flywheel’s technology is perfect for hosting an image-heavy photography website. Flywheel’s Tiny plan is the most limited of the three, but by far the fastest web host. Their smallest package is $15/month, offering 5,000 visits, and 5GB disk space. The plans jump up from there in terms of storage, bandwidth and visits, as Flywheel easily scales with the click of a button as your photography studio grows. They also have a built-in CDN which they manage in-house for their customers. This feature is another $10/month and will result in an extremely fast website. Signup for Flywheel
Best Beginner Host (starting at $3.95/month)
Bluehost: Starting at just $3.95/month, Bluehost is the best budget shared host out there. The basic plan includes 50GB of storage space and unmetered bandwidth. 50GB is a massive amount of storage space, and will easily host all your images and client galleries (especially as you should be compressing your images and saving for the web). They also offer a proprietary version of cPanel which is very intuitive and easy to setup. Their support is top-notch and they’re happily available to guide you through your website setup. Bluehost is a great place to start out. Signup for Bluehost
Before you make your decision to purchase one of the best web hosting for photographers laid out in this review, you should first consider what your needs are for your website. Regardless of the type of photographer you are, there are some basic commonalities that hold true for all portfolio websites.
- Large Storage Capacity
- Beautiful Portfolio Website Design
- Website Speed
- Data Backup and Restore Functionality
- High Resolution Photography Support
- Web Hosting Support
Large Storage Capacity
You’ll need a web host that provides enough storage to host all your portfolio images and client galleries. The largest part of most any website is the images that are displayed. While there are ways to compress images and save space, you don’t want to sacrifice image quality for smaller file sizes because your web host doesn’t have enough storage space.
Photographer websites are extremely image heavy, as every page, post and category will be designed to showcase your work. Before you get started, ask yourself these important questions. How many portfolio galleries will my website require? Do I need client proofing galleries? If so, how many client galleries will I anticipate hosting each year? Will the client galleries expire after a certain time period, or will I host them indefinitely on my website? Additionally, many photographer websites will have e-commerce galleries, in addition to the portfolio and client galleries. All this can add up to multiple gigabytes of storage space in just images alone, even if they’re web optimized.
Beautiful Portfolio Website Design
Having a beautifully presented photography portfolio is extremely important. You are an artist, and your images should be displayed in a way that enhances your photography and does not detract. If you are considering a website builder, such as Zenfolio or Wix, it is important to review their photography website templates prior to purchase, to ensure that there is a design that matches your style and brand. If you’re looking at self-hosting and putting your photography gallery onto a platform such as WordPress, then make sure you find the ideal template (like these) to showcase your work.
With such an image heavy website, photographers need to think about the speed of their web host when selecting a hosting provider. After all, your portfolio website won’t do you much good if it takes forever to load, and your potential photography clients bounce from your slow website. All of the photography website hosting options presented in this review have been tested for speed, among a number of other factors. But make sure you’re doing your own website speed testing when building your photography website, to ensure a great client experience.
Utilize a CDN for Even Faster Performance
Another thing to look for from your web host is integration with a Content Delivery Network (CDN). A CDN will result in faster page load, with a smaller image payload and leverages edge server caching for optimal performance. If that didn’t make sense, just remember that a CDN uses multiple servers across a region to serve your content to your website visitors, resulting in faster page load times. It’s worth looking into once your website is up and running.
If your photography is being seen by a national (or even international) audience, it is important to utilize CDN. A CDN is a network of servers deployed in multiple data centers across a wide geographic area. When a user accesses your website, it will serve your website from the server nearest to their location, making your images load faster than ever.
For example, you may be a fashion photographer in New York City with your web host located in Austin, but an agency in Seattle visits your website. Rather than serving your website directly from your host in Austin, a CDN will automatically detect the nearest proxy server to Seattle, and serve the webpage from that location. A CDN can result in blazing fast load times when coupled with a good web host.
Two of the more popular CDN providers are Cloudflare and MaxCDN, but if you were to use a fully managed service like Wix you wouldn’t have to worry about this as they already configure everything for optimal performance. Wix has a built-in CDN, delivering your photography from the closest cache server to your clients.
Data Backup and Restore Functionality
After spending hours, days, or even weeks building your photography website, the last thing you’d want to do is recreate everything from scratch! This is why it is imperative to have a data backup and restore functionality with your web host. Some web hosts require the user to go into the configuration and select and run a backup manually, while others automatically run backups as often as every 24 hours. Photography websites generally aren’t being updated as often as content websites, so the backup frequency isn’t as huge a priority as it might be for other web hosts. Just make sure there is some basic backup and restore functionality so you can have peace of mind that your hard work building your photography galleries and online portfolio are not lost if something does happen to your web hosting server.
High Resolution Photography Support
Some web hosts have been known to auto down sample your images, serving a pixelated version of your photography through your galleries in the hopes of preserving a fast server response time. Obviously, this is unacceptable, and none of the photography web hosts reviewed in this post down sample to my knowledge. But it is important to see how fast and sharp your images load on the web host you’re thinking of building your site with. During your trial or money back period, select a generic template and upload some photographs of varying size, color, and complexity to the gallery. Then view those images across several devices and browsers – desktop, tablet, and mobile. If your photography looks good enough for your tough standards, then it will pass the critique of prospective clients as well.
Web Hosting Support
Since most photographers don’t have a degree in computer science or IT networking, it is essential to have a technical support team you can count on at your web host. Some things to keep in mind:
- Is the support 24×7?
- Is support included with the base plan, or does it require a premium plan?
- Is support offered via chat, ticket, and phone?
- Is the support based in the USA, or abroad?
- Is the web host and support team used to dealing with other photographers, freelancers, and creatives?
- What is the average support wait time? (You can test this easily by jumping onto live support chat and seeing how quickly they respond.)
Expert Tips for Photography Websites
How to Optimize Your Photos for Web
When building a photography website, you’ll want to downsize your images so they’re an appropriate size for the web. This size all depends on your theme template, but the general rule of thumb is that you’ll want your images 1200px wide or less – so that would be 1200×800 pixels with a standard image aspect ratio. While your DSLR will shoot much higher DPI or PPI, the standard web resolution is 72 PPI. Downsizing a RAW image to 1200×800 pixels and 72 PPI will have a drastic impact on your file size and help speed up your website. However, you’ll also want to optimize for web.
- File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy)
- JPEG selected (dropdown)
- Progressive = unchecked
- Optimized = checked
- Embed Color Profile = unchecked
- Convert to sRGB = checked
- Quality = adjust to bring file size as small as possible without visible pixilation
- File size = pay attention to the file size in the lower left-hand corner of the Save to Web box
Within the Save for Web dialog box, you’ll notice a variety of optimization settings. Of these, the most important to pay attention to are Quality, Optimized, Convert to sRGB, and the optimized file size. With most Photoshop configurations, “Optimized” will be selected by default. After ensuring “Optimized” is checked, you’ll want to uncheck “Progressive” and “Embed Color Profile” options. Then check to ensure “Convert to sRGB” is selected. While some digital cameras and editing programs will still operate in Adobe RGB, sRGB has long since become the world standard for color photographs as it gives better color accuracy and brighter colors.
Optimize for Mobile
Most website templates these days will be mobile responsive, meaning they’ll auto-scale or stack the desktop content for mobile devices. Over the past few years, mobile web traffic has exploded. The statistics are overwhelming, as users are now using their mobile phones or tables for internet surfing more than they are using their desktop computers. It makes sense if you think about your day – checking your phone is the first thing most people do when the wake up in the AM, and the last thing they do before bed. Apple iOS recently released a feature update called Screen Time, where statistics on the user’s time on screen are reported to the user daily. Needless to say, the initial screen time reports catch most people off guard, as they’re unaware of how many hours all those 5-minute checks add up to.
I have a photographer client whom I recently consulted with on their mobile website optimization. The photographer was extremely concerned with how their portfolio displayed on their 27” iMac desktop computer and didn’t even give mobile optimization a thought. I dug into the analytics report and showed the photographer that the data differed from their assumption, which was based on the ideal of how they wanted their clients to view their portfolio – on an ultra HD Mac computer.
Website visits by device:
- iPhone = 27.5%
- Windows 10 = 20.7%
- Mac OS X = 19.4%
- Android = 13.6%
- Windows 7 = 13%
(the last 5.8% of website visits was single digit % mixed across other devices)
These statistics showed that 41.1% of the photographer’s web traffic over the 90-day period analyzed was mobile! Additionally, 33.7% of the traffic was Windows based, with only 19.4% on Mac OS.
Screen resolution was also all over the place, with the highest concentration at only 15.1% of users on 1920×1080 which is typically a 23″ desktop monitor, with the second highest usage on a tiny 375×667 resolution which is the same resolution as the older Apple iPhone 6/7. From there all screen resolutions were single digits, showing a vast variety of devices were accessing this photographer’s website.
The data tells me a few things:
- Nearly half of traffic is mobile – yes, even when reviewing high-resolution photography and making a photographer booking decision.
- While most artists, creatives and photographers use Mac OS, your clients are more likely to use a cheaper Windows computer.
- It is essential to build your website for (and test on) a variety of devices, screen sizes, and resolutions.
The resulting action steps:
- Optimize for mobile first, as it will soon overtake desktop traffic to your website, if it hasn’t already.
- Review your website on smaller Windows screens vs your 4K Mac.
- Don’t obsess over perfecting your portfolio on an ultra-HD professional Apple computer.
Common Questions: Photography Website Hosting
Free Photography Website Hosting
Perhaps you’re just starting out as a photographer, and you’re considering getting setup on a free photo hosting site. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea; however, it all comes down to your intentions. Are you looking to build a sustainable photography business, or is it more of a creative outlet and a hobby?
If you’re looking to start a photography business with the intention of making a profit, then I would strongly advocate you pay for hosting right off the bat.
If you’re more of a hobbyist, then by all means consider a free photo gallery service like Flickr, Imgur, Google Photos, or PhotoBucket. Just know that it will be significantly harder to book photo gigs, charge clients and sell prints if your main portfolio is hosted on a Flickr gallery.
Boudoir Photography Website Hosting
I’ve had a few questions come in from this post regarding boudoir photography website hosting. In recent years boudoir photography has grown in increased popularity. Many wedding photographers will include boudoir upsells with their client bookings, such as they would offer an engagement session to the happy couple. Boudoir is a French word referring to a women’s private bedroom, or dressing area. This has developed into a style of sensual photography, typically showcasing a bride-to-be wearing intimate lingerie and perhaps even tastefully nude, depending on the style of boudoir photography the client is seeking. If your portriat studio offers any sort of boudoir photography or artistic nudes, even if classified as fine art photography, you’ll want to be aware of a web host’s terms of service and content restrictions before moving forward with your web hosting purchase. While the vast majority of web hosts directly ban any form of pornography, there is a bit of a grey area with some boudoir and fine art nude photography that you should clarify with your web host. It is important to ask your web host, “Does your web host allow sensitive content?”, and “Do you have an Acceptable Use Policy I could review prior to purchasing your service?” Make sure you are properly and specifically informed, as the last thing you would want is to build a portfolio website, only to have the web host take it down for violating their terms.
Here are a few examples of web hosting acceptable use policy. Bluehost, the #1 rated web host on this website, explicitly bans any and all nudity. This has been clarified in their help threads to mean that if a gallery contains lingerie, they cannot be “see through” to show even a hint of any sensitive areas. Other web hosts, such as GoDaddy, have a more laxed viewpoint, allowing nudity to be hosted on their web servers, but it cannot contain “penetration” – yes, they’re that specific, or should I say explicit, in their acceptable use policy!
Leading the website builders, Wix has an even more laissez faire stance, claiming “The nature of the content you choose to upload to your site is under your responsibility”. They simply require that any websites hosted on the Wix platform adhere to international law, copyright law, and ultimately not harm anyone else. Personally, I like this stance from a web host, putting the burden of legality and moral standards upon the website owner, simply requiring that they adhere to the law as any other business would be required to do so. Zenfolio disallows any material deemed pornographic (in their judgement) but may allow artistic nude photography as per their discretion and under no obligation.
So, if you’re looking to host boudoir photography on your website, artistic nudes, or other fine art photography, you should consider hosting with GoDaddy if running a website on a platform such as WordPress, or host with Wix if you are looking for an all-in-one website builder and web host.
Web Hosting vs Website Builder
The debate over web hosting vs a website builder can be summed up in a simple statement, do you want to own your website or rent your website? By using traditional web hosting from a company like Bluehost, you technically rent server space from the hosting provider, however you will most likely utilize an open source content management system (CMS) like WordPress to build your website. You are the owner of that website, it’s code and configuration, and you can transfer that website from host to host whenever you please. Whereas with a website builder, such as Wix, Squarespace, SmugMug, or Weebly, you are using their proprietary platform to build and host your website, and it is not transferable. However, you, the photographer, own all of your images, your content, your branding, etc. So, if and when you ever decided to transfer away from one website builder to another, you would simply need to re-build your galleries and pages on their platform.
Hosting for Tech Savvy Photographers
If you’re somewhat tech savvy, want to create a website asset that you own and have full control over, then I’d recommend you sign up for Bluehost, install WordPress, grab a professional looking photography website template, read through the template’s setup guides and demos, and begin building your website.
Fastest and Easiest Hosting for Photographers
If you’re not tech savvy and want the simplicity of a drag and drop website builder, then I’d recommend signing up for a platform such as Wix. Within minutes you’ll have a beautiful photography portfolio template installed, and you can begin uploading your gallery images. Even if you’re somewhat technical, a website builder like Wix may be your best option, so you can focus more of your time taking photographs and running your business, and less time on website development. Another great benefit to website builders is that they handle updates, upgrades and bug patched for you. They do all the heavy lifting, technically speaking, so you just focus on the front-end, displaying your photography to the world!
Choosing a Web Host for your Photography Website
Launch Your Portfolio: If you’re a total web novice and looking for a web based photography portfolio service, then Zenfolio. I’ve personally never used them (like I have Bluehost and Flywheel), but they’re my personal favorite after digging into their features, specs and template designs.
Signup for Zenfolio
Step Up Your Website Game: If you already have a host that’s just not cutting it, then step up to Flywheel. Or, if you want to skip the beginner hosts like Bluehost, then Flywheel is perfect for you.
Signup for Flywheel
Bonus – Rockstar Going Bigtime: Just land that big contract? Photograph a celebrity wedding? Or perhaps you’re just launching and really ambitious. Then check out WPEngine as the best of the best for photographers, or anyone else looking for premium hosting to serve up a blazingly fast portfolio.
Signup for WP Engine
Photographers, having a fast website that showcases your portfolio in the best light is essential in today’s web driven digital world. Is your portfolio already online? If so, how does your current web host perform? What are some features you’ve found essential to choosing a web host? Have you noticed a significant performance improvement when moving from a lesser host to Bluehost or Flywheel?