There are so many ways to sell your photos online and all ways have their definite pros and cons—the trick is choose the best website for your own specific needs. For this review we are focusing on the needs of semi-professional to professional photographers who are going to events, taking 100's of photos and want to upload and sell them online, ideally both digital and print versions. Our reviews are based on these needs. Selling photographs online to your clients and customers shouldn't be that hard, should it?
How To Sell Photos Online The Best Options for Professional/Semi-Professional Photographers
We have trialled and reviewed all of the main options so we can recommend to our clients the best and most cost effective way to sell photos online. So instead of the many reviews online that give you a theoretical comparison of the pros and cons, we've actually tried them all out!
1. Smugmug Photography Website Review
The most popular website to use for selling photographs online is Smugmug. This option provides both CMS and hosting for your website. For a photography business, you would choose the Portfolio plan ($12.50 per month) or the Business plan ($25 per month). Both of these plans enable you to print photos and sell photos. The Business plan has the added advantage of grouping photos to events so clients can easily find the photos they are after and various price groups, so essentially only the Business plan would serve our purposes.
Our quick sample website using the best template theme we could find. At best clunky, at worst impossible to navigate and unlikely to attract the average customer.
The main pros for Smugmug are that you have unlimited storage of your photos, and Smugmug handles your hosting for you, which is a big workload off freelance photographers. It also has little setup time.
The disadvantages of Smugmug is that they take 15% of your sales and you still need to pay $25 per month. The layout of Smugmug website is quite awful and not easily customizable. The user experience of buying photos from Smugmug is poor, and would be enough to put me off buying a photo or prints from one of their websites. We've only found a few Smugmug websites that looked any good and they probably had to hire a professional to do it. To make a nice-looking blog on Smugmug is difficult, so you would probably need to set up a seperate website. The SEO tools for Smugmug isn't great, and would require quite a bit of effort to excel at compared to other website hosting companies.
We really like that Smugmug handles your hosting and you can upload as many photos as you want. You can bulk upload and it's pretty good for photographers to use. The main problem we have with Smugmug is that the customers user experience is very poor in our opinion. The commission of 15% is a bit high as well. In short, Smugmug is okay for the price, but we're not convinced the final outcome is up to scratch. In short, we don't think you will make a lot of sales due to the bad layout and usability, so possibly a waste of time and money in the long run for semi-professional and professional photographers.
2. Squarespace Photography Website Review
Squarespace has been recommended by many websites as a good option for photography websites so we went over to check it out. Having experience with creating Squarespace websites for our clients, we were familiar with how it works, but for the average user it would take some time to setup the shop to sell photos. The cost for a suitable photography Squarespace website would be $26 per month. They take 2% commission on sales. Currently there is no print lab integration.
Again, Squarespace is your website CMS plus hosting in one, which is fantastic for freelancers who want to spend no time on website maintenance. Compared to Smugmug, the look and feel of the website is more beautiful and the blog section if of course seamless. It also has easy integration with your social media accounts which Smugmug isn't the best for. Squarespace also has beautiful themes you can use to make your website work seamlessly, whether on a phone, tablet or desktop.
Squarespace just doesn't have good usability for bulk uploads and is not suitable for semi or professional photographers to sell their work online. There is no lab integration so if you want to sell prints you will need to manually order these for your customers. When uploading an item you need to choose wether the product is a digital or physical product, so even if you do the fulfillment yourself of the prints, you would need to upload the photo twice- once for prints and once for digital version.
For a portfolio and blog and to sell the occasional photo, Squarespace is definitely our favourite and our first recommendation for our photographer clients. However, for a semi-professional or professional who is uploading 100's of photos, and wants to sell direct to their clients, this is not the choice for you. One photo per upload, this is going to take me years...Are there any pricing options/variations? Uh...No.
3. Wix Photography Website Review
Wix is another website plus hosting package, the main rival of Squarespace. We like Wix for their fun designs, the flip-side is they are a bit of a mess to work with and you can't change theme templates once you choose one. For a photography website, selling photos online, you would probably go of the $25 per month plan, that gives you 20GB storage and unlimited bandwidth.
Our quick little shop we set up on Wix using the Sell Photos App. The App created a rather messy shop and not very professional-looking but would be okay for a hobbyist.
Again, much like Squarespace, we love how Wix will take care of your hosting, so you don't have to worry about hosting and website maintenance. With Wix, you can choose an app in the app store called Sell Photos. This app is put manually into each page you want to have a photo gallery of photos for sale. The great advantage is that it's both print and digital and there are different sizes customers can choose. The prints are actually connected to an online print shop that will send the photos out to your customers automatically which is a great function. You can also upload multiple photos at once in the same album, which would work great for event photography.
To get a nice looking shop with this app would be difficult and time-consuming. It's also doesn't save your galleries, so you would need to repeat the process on every single page you wanted to a photo gallery for selling photos. Logistically this creates a nightmare for a professional photographer, so we don't recommend it for this purpose.
For a semi-professional or professional photographer, we found Wix and the Sell Photos app unsuitable. However, for a photographer who wants to sell the occasional photo with both prints and digital copies this would probably be the option we would choose for our clients.
4. Wordpress + Sell Media Plugin Review
A Wordpress website is a free CMS that many people prefer due to the fact that they have more control, and better features and usability for their customers. With this freedom also brings with it more responsibility— you must get your own hosting, a theme that will show your photographs in an organized way, and plugins to enable you to sell online.
Hosting prices range from $3.50 per month upwards. The plugin that we have used to sell photos is the Sell Media Plugin plus extensions from Graph Paper Press. To ensure compatibility, we used the Graph Paper Press theme "Stock" a theme for stock photographers. The premium price is $149 per year, ($12.40 per month). To make this work smoothly and not slow down your website, you may also need to set up an Amazon S3 account to host your photos, depending on how many you plan to upload per month. Amazon S3 costs depend on how much you upload and how much people download, but for a semi-professional photographer selling on the side, you may only pay $5-10 per month. Therefore, the total cost of around $21-31 per month is still very competitive, especially because the Sell Media plugin does not take a commission.
Automatic watermarks, a nice, easy to navigate shop layout and photograph licence variations - love it! This is the website we created for Ginkgo Photos.
Wordpress + Sell Media Pros:
The Wordpress theme, "Stock" by Graph Paper Press has a wide-screen homepage to show your best photo on the front page, and gives the freedom to make your website look awesome with not much effort. The shop uses the Sell Media plugin and is simple and easy to use shop for customers to buy your photos or prints. You can upload multiple photos at a time, and the sky is the limit. There is no commission using Sell Media, so you get all the profits. The extensions that come with Sell Media are brilliant as well. They automatically add a watermark, and when your customer buys your digital photos, they can choose different licences depending on what they are using the image for. Neat! Customers can also order prints with the same product listing, and you can choose which company will do the printing. Using Wordpress also gives some advantages to the website's SEO by using plugins such as Yoast SEO.
Wordpress + Sell Media Cons:
There aren't too many cons, the hosting, photo storage, plugins and web maintenance are not in a package, so you will have multiple accounts for these. The setup time is also longer. The shop looks great, but not as slick as the Squarepace shop. In terms of printing photos, it is self fulfilment, so you will need to organize the printing through an online printing company. With just this option, it's probably not worth selling small prints.
Wordpress + Sell Media Overall
Wordpress seems to give the best result for your money, but setting up would take more time than using Smugmug. However, the theme Stock is surprisingly easy to setup. The main thing would be setting up the necessary plugins and the website maintenance.
Conclusion- the Best Website for Professional Photographers
After tireless research for our photography freelance clients, we've come to the conclusion that Wordpress + Sell Media is usually the best choice for them. All of these options we have used are viable for photographers, and we have used these options, but for the best commercial success, we suggest Wordpress is the way to go for professional photographers with a lot of photos that need to be uploaded in bulk, along with a nice-looking blog to attract customers. Wordpress + Sell Media also gives the option of selling prints.
Coming in a draw at 2nd place is Squarespace that trumps in terms of an easy-to-use, stylish platform for your website, blog and the occasional sale of photos. Smugmug also comes in 2nd, only because it's already setup to start selling photos bulk. In terms of the blog, and style it's not really a good option for getting many customers and may be a false economy to invest your time and money in.
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