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The 2014 Best Website Builders for Photographers

Updated on March 19, 2014
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When my wife first started her photography business several years ago I built her HTML website using Adobe Dreamweaver. As a Computer Science undergraduate major I spent four years creating high level programs, so learning how to build websites was not difficult. My wife found uploading pictures and new files cumbersome when I was not around to do it for her. There had to be an easier system that did not look tacky or generic. We found a good solution for her in Zenfolio, a website builder that was simple and inexpensive.

Website builders are a happy medium for photographers who do not want to learn to develop their own websites or cannot afford to have one created. These tools have an easy to use systems where no coding is necessary to build your website. Most website builders even have convenient features like built-in picture galleries and e-commerce solutions.

In this article I will describe what I believe are the three best website builders for photographers in 2014. This list was developed based on over 25 different photography website builder critiques on blogs, forums, and websites. This hub will discuss the pros and cons of each of the top three website builders, followed by a brief analysis of their rankings.

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1. SmugMug

SmugMug is a family owned business that has been in operation since 2002. Although the business is small, they constantly receive praise from top editorials and photographers for their website builder.

SmugMug Pros

There are several unique traits of SmugMug’s website builder. The software allows you embed pictures, videos, and slideshows. Additionally, SmugMug boasts having 24/7 customer support, which is something the other two website builders examined in this hub do not have. They also offer a wide range of professional photo labs (Bay Photo, WHCC, Loxley Clour, and EZ Prints) that you can use to order prints directly through your own website.

SmugMug Cons

There are several drawbacks to SmugMug’s website builder. When you order your prints through their website there is a 15% transaction fee, which is higher than the other two website builders discussed in this hub. Additionally, to get the e-commerce, branding, photo lab printing, right-click protection, and watermark protection features, you have to buy their higher priced packages

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2. Zenfolio

Zenfolio has humble beginnings. The company was started by four friends in a coffee shop who all shared an affinity for photography. Zenfolio claims to be “the best all in one solution for photographers to display, share, and sell their work online.” As someone who has used Zenfolio for years I can personally attest to the quality of their product.

Zenfolio Pros

A unique feature of Zenfolio is that you can create websites with an integrated blog. We have found that the blog adds a personal touch to your website because it gives you a professional outlet where you can connect with your customers. Another good feature that Zenfolio offers is batch uploading. If you have a large number of photos that you need to upload for a client, you can select all the images and they will upload automatically while you do something else.

Zenfolio Cons

Zenfolio’s website builder does have traits that are substandard. Their websites only allow you to print pictures using one professional lab (MpixPro). Unless you purchase their higher priced packages, the Zenfolio brand logo is present on your website. You also will also be assessed a fee if you decide to upload RAW files. Although Zenfolio claims they will respond to customer service issues in less than two hours, the only method of contacting them is through email. The exception is if you purchase the highest priced package you can contact customer service through chat as well. E-commerce solutions are also only available with the most expensive package.

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3. PhotoShelter

PhotoShelter was started by several friends having a conversation about digital photography and the internet over dinner. Since then the company has grown, and developed a website builder that over 80,000 photographers use.

PhotoShelter Pros

An interesting feature that PhotoShelter has is that you can deliver files to customers using password-protected links or zip files. Although you can only contact a customer service representative from 9am – 6pm, Monday through Friday; PhotoShelter does offer the most contact methods (phone, text, email, and chat) of the three website builders discussed. Additionally, PhotoShelter has the most professional labs (WHCC, AdoramaPix, EZ Prints, BWC, and Loxley Colour) available for use with your website.

PhotoShelter Cons

PhotoShelter is an extremely feature rich website builder, but it also has negative features. Of the three website builders it is the only one that has a storage and bandwidth limit. Additionally, PhotoShelter's specifications state that website mobile optimization is only present on laptops and tablets.

Ranking Analysis

SmugMug was ranked first because it has the most practical features for the price. For a moderately ranged package, you can build a website that you can use to order prints from several different professional labs. You also receive peace of mind from SmugMug because they offer around-the-clock customer support. The main detractor for SmugMug is the high photo lab transaction fee of 15%, which is based on net profit not the total sale.

I ranked PhotoShelter last because they do not offer unlimited storage space for their websites like the other two companies reviewed. In our age of technology this is unacceptable. My wife uses her Zenfolio account as another means to back-up her client’s images. It is shocking that PhotoShelter does not realize that photographers especially need to not be hindered by bandwidth and storage. Furthermore, while PhotoShelter has the most features of the website builders rated; it also has the highest priced packages by far. Because I believe the storage issues is one of the most important features for photographers, I had to rank PhotoShelter last.

To me the most annoying negative feature for Zenfolio’s website builder is having to cope with their logo being on your website. Fortunately this can be overcome through purchasing a moderately priced package, which allows you to replace their logo with your own. Zenfolio also loses ranking points because you can only order prints through one professional photo lab. On a positive note, the batch processing feature of uploading images is very convenient. Without any storage issues Zenfolio easily ranks second.

Of the nine website builders mentioned by photographers in the research, SmugMug, PhotoShelter, and Zenfolio ranked in the top three respectively. With over 31 total votes, it is clear that any of these companies would be excellent to use when building your website.

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    • kerlund74 profile image

      kerlund74 3 years ago from Sweden

      Great and informativ hub. I have no website today because I don't know how to build one. And honestly I have not made any effords to find this kind of applications. But I will look at this, it seems to be a way to handle it. Voted up and useful.

    • KyleandSheRae profile image
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      Kyle & SheRae Hunter 3 years ago from Virginia

      Kerlund74, I know for my wife the website builder was a lot easier to operate, and that's what we still use now. She just needed something that she was able to update quickly and upload her clients pictures for review. Although the website builders are not as customizable as paying someone, it's a nice in-between if you are on a budget. Thanks for the rating!

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      Trevor 3 years ago

      Great read, Thanks

      I've been with smugmug for about 4 years, about two weeks ago I got an email saying they limited access to some of my galleries do to content. A topless girl (in a few pictures). In there terms and conditions they say NO PORN! All pictures must be of a nature that one might see in a museum! I guess they have never been to a museum. Based upon what you said, I'm going to check out Zenfolio. It also looks like their IPad app is way better then Smugmugs too! I have to say the plugin for Apple's Aperture program would be missed if I switched. (www421photography.com)

      Thanks again!

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      Julian Tai 2 years ago

      Hey Kyle thanks for the great read. I'm glad that your wife was able to use Zenfolio, spending time building sites isn't everyone's cup of tea.

      I'm a developer at a portfolio builder http://clickbooq.com. Our team looked at lots of site builders during our product update. We ended up learning that ease of use is critical. So we created a product that truly embodies ease of use. Please check us out if you get a chance!

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