The value of your online portfolio


Crime writer Martina Cole photographed at a London hotel © Neil Turner/TSL

I’ve had a web presence of some sort or other since 1999. First of all I was just dipping my digital toe in the water with some free web space and free software supplied by AOL when I was with them. That morphed into the original website which was all about helping other photographers to understand light and lighting. Like most things we do in life, my site has grown and changed and it has mirrored my work – both have been through many changes to get to where I am now.

January as a freelance is traditionally a tough time – or so I’m told. One of my goals for this month has been to re-evaluate my online presence and to give my website both a freshen-up and to make it more iPad/iPhone/Android friendly. Work, happily, got in the way and so I haven’t got anywhere near finishing what I started. I have given a lot of thought to deciding exactly what the point of an online portfolio is:

  • I know that I haven’t been inundated with work from it
  • I’m sure that my SEO (search engine optimisation) isn’t state of the art
  • My Google rankings by name are great
  • My Google rankings by occupation, specialism, location and other useful factors are not great
  • I know that it gets a lot of visitors because I have all of the relevant analytical data

Who are my visitors? Where do they come from? Why are they visiting my portfolio so much? Would they notice if it wasn’t there? Would my business suffer? Five very important questions to which I don’t know the definitive answers. That got me thinking and it got me going online to see what other people thought about the very same issue. Professional photography is unlike most other businesses – clients that I work with don’t order online and the amount of repeat business is good but not to the extent that we’d like it to be.

From digging around myself, chatting to friends, colleagues and a couple of web professionals and generally canvassing opinion I have come up with a few absolute truths and one or two bits of generally accepted notions by which changes and upgrades to my web presence are going to be governed in future:

  • You have to have a web presence
  • It has to be good
  • It has to show your work off
  • It has to be focused and demonstrate clearly who you are and what you do
  • You have to assume that it is being looked at by the right people
  • Probably fewer than 10% of the viewers are the right people
  • Most of those ‘right people’ are there because they want to look at my work – they haven’t stumbled across my site randomly

So that means if I want to do more than one thing, I have to have more than one website. That means that I need to show pictures – the kind of pictures that I want people to notice, be impressed by and then to commission something along the same or similar lines.

By now I sense that most people who have read this far are saying “tell us something we didn’t know”. I apologise for being un-original but the truth is that there isn’t a magic formula – despite what SEO expert George keeps emailing to say. So where next? Should I invest money in getting a site built for me that is a bit better than I could build myself? What format should the pictures (because they are the most important thing on the site) be in?

In trying to answer those questions I have been looking at a lot of options ranging from template drive sites to slide shows to contact sheets to bespoke (and expensive) “wow” sites. As I get nearer to the end of the revamp process I find myself getting more and more apprehensive about the various options and technologies. So here is the thing… I have been playing with a software package called Wowslider and I have put a single test page together and asking for opinions and feedback about that page. So here it is and I’d be very interested to hear opinions. I know this one thing for sure… what worked last year is probably very different from what will work next year and so January 2014 will probably see me going through this very process again. See you in twelve months time!


  1. Hi Neil,

    Interesting post. I’m going through the same process having failed to keep refreshing my corporate and editorial site for several years.

    I’m starting from a less developed (pardon the pun) position than you and have admired your work for a long time, so it feels slightly odd to offer thoughts on your new folio, which, as always, is full of great and well lit images.

    I strongly agree that the image selection has to be focused towards the buyer you are trying to attract. This, as you say, may mean more than one site could be necessary.

    One thing that struck me is that I want to see more of your images quickly. Could the thumbnails be bigger? This could be one way to achieve this.

    I have one question that I think would also be relevant to you. Is it possible to mix editorial, PR and corporate photography, without confusing your buyer, and so loosing them in the first few seconds. I imagine you would have thoughts on this, as, if I understand things correctly, your work has branched into these other areas since going freelance.

    Thanks again for the interesting blog post,


    1. Lots to think about for sure. I have my own severe doubts about mixing genres but so far I have failed to adequately separate the work out. Some portraits that were short for editorial clients now appeal to PR and some commercially driven pictures appeal to niche editorials. My current thinking is that I have “a style” and that I want to offer that across the various sectors. That will probably change.

      The slide show pictures were chosen as a sample rather than an edit. When I get this right I imagine that I’ll have 20 portraits, 20 ‘people’ pictures and 20 bits of reportage all in their own slide shows.

      Still formulating a plan here… I wish you well with your new site(s) however they are formulated!


  2. “…and I’d be very interested to hear opinions”

    If you can alter the transition speed and the length of time each slide is shown, then I think the pace is good but the transitions are a bit abrupt. Something silky smooth would be better.

    Some people will come to the site and land on the folio pages. In which case they have not seen the blurb on your homepage. Therefore, you could help yourself by having some bold (as in bold and brassy) text nice and big in the sidebar – about what you can do for the visitor – would help for those who otherwise might just not think beyond looking at the pictures.


  3. Hi Neil.To cut it short.I had a look as a visitor/photographer.I don’t like the slide show idea.It just doesn’t allow me to have my time with the picture-especially the one I like.The layout,the colors and the simplicity of the site,I like.I was in the same dilemma as you a bit ago,and I chose the simplest solution on the planet.Clients must care about our photographs,not our sites…Cheers!
    (You have great stuff in there!)
    Alex Zoubouloglou


    1. Hi Alex

      Thanks for your feedback. The slideshow can be paused but maybe the way to do it (mouse over the image) isn’t obvious enough. I will have a look at the auto advance again.




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