The Best Web Hosting Services for Creative Pros
There are a seemingly unlimited number of choices when it comes to hosting a website. Our sister publication PCMag has rounded up some of the best of them. But for creative professionals who want to showcase their work, starting from scratch or using a generic web template can be a heavy lift. Here, let’s take a look at web hosting services with the needs of creative pros in mind, such as those of photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and more.
WordPress: Get a Lot Done With Only a Little Work
WordPress has come a long way from its blogging roots. Back when I built my current photography website, I needed to use Drupal to get the features I wanted. Now, I could absolutely do everything I need for my main website with a version of WordPress running on my VPS. However, if you’re willing to live with some limits, you can get hosted offerings from WordPress itself or many other companies. PCMag picked out WP Engine as its favorite. If you wind up creating your main site using WordPress or another “generic” site creation tool you might also want to have a creator-friendly vendor for your gallery hosting and e-Commerce needs. (Read PC Mag’s review, or check current prices.)
SmugMug: A Great Choice for Serious Photographers
I’ve hosted my public photo web site on SmugMug for many years. They continue to improve the variety of themes, tools, and commerce offerings. It’s fairly easy to customize your galleries with various permissions and licensing terms. It’s also easy to create embeds and links, so typically if I need images in a blog post on my main site, it is much more flexible to upload it to SmugMug and then use it from there. That has the advantage that anyone who wants can download or get a print of the image (possibly after purchasing the right to, if I’ve set it up that way). Watermarking preview images with your logo is also simple to accomplish. Importantly, SmugMug has great mobile apps and can be used to store Raw files (although I have other solutions for backup and archiving).
SmugMug can handle just about every piece of your photo sales and fulfillment — especially with their $360/year Pro plan. One feature that I find particularly useful is PrintMarks. Rather than having to either print & sign a photo, or have it printed by a lab and sent to me for signing, I can create a PrintMark that SmugMug’s lab partners will overlay on any purchased print. (Read PC Mag’s review or check current prices.)
PhotoShelter is a popular alternative, although to get the same unlimited storage SmugMug offers you need to spend $540/year on their top-of-the-line plan. A friend of mine uses ShootProof for his school shoots — although he still does his portrait shoot sales in person as it is more effective. He likes their basic functionality but says they aren’t very good about taking input about future directions. If you have a large image library, they’re also quite expensive, at $720/year for unlimited storage. (Check current prices.)
ZenFolio: A Stylish, Full-Featured, Photo Hosting Site
Years ago, ZenFolio was the hip alternative to SmugMug, with better style options, but perhaps a bit behind in back-end systems. Now the two offerings are a pretty-close matchup. Like SmugMug’s, ZenFolio’s Pro plan is $360/year (although as I write this they are offering a substantial discount for the first year). In addition to the features you’d expect from a pricey-photo-hosting service, ZenFolio offers BookMe for scheduling clients, and special features for school and sports photographers.
Like SmugMug, it offers simple order processing with a choice of lab back ends, specialty products as well as prints, and custom price lists. Both ZenFolio & SmugMug offer trials. Since committing to a platform is probably a long-term decision, you may want to check both out and see which one best fits how you work. (Check current prices.)
LiquidWeb: Premium Hosting at a Premium Price
We’ve hosted our main website and several client websites with LiquidWeb for many years. They provide the absolute best customer support of any internet vendor we’ve used in the last 20 years. In our case, we have a managed server, which is a great option if you want full control over a server, but with tech support backing you up. If you’re technical, it’s a fun option, but most creative pros won’t have the time and inclination to want to have that level of responsibility and will probably prefer their hosted WordPress offerings, that start at $19/month. (Read PC Mag’s review, or check current prices.)
Zazzle: e-Commerce for Creatives
When pro-grade photo sharing sites first emerged, they only fulfilled print orders, not specialty product orders. So having an additional presence on a site like Zazzle was really helpful in creating additional sales. Now that most platforms can fulfill orders for just about anything, I maintain a Zazzle presence because it draws from a different audience than those who find my website directly. Once you upload a photo, you can create literally dozens of different products from it, and Zazzle does the rest. You can customize your storefront as well, which makes sense if you have the types of images that will attract a lot of consumer interest.
If you’re a creative who already designs physical products, then Etsy is an obvious alternative. While it may not suffice for your entire web presence, it connects you with a large audience for your sales. (Read PC Mag’s review, or check current prices.)
Thoughts on Selecting the Right Hosting Service
The first thing to decide is whether you want a website that includes some showcase photos or other products, or a full-fledged photo-centric (or craft-centric) e-Commerce site. For photographers and videographers, in particular, the decision is important because of storage considerations. Traditional hosting plans tend to have limited storage and additional storage is expensive. Conversely, sites built for photographers tend to offer large amounts of storage, so that you can keep your images there and fulfill orders directly from their site.
Second, decide whether you want to have a larger presence than a “simple” creative site template will allow. For example, if you book workshops, offer photo trips, or do client sittings, you’ll want to make sure your choice can support that. One popular model is to use a general web-hosting tool, like WordPress, for your main site, and then use domain redirection (which most photo sites support) to send people to your home on a photo-sharing or e-Commerce site showcasing your offerings.
We haven’t called out Adobe Portfolio specifically, but if you are a Creative Cloud subscriber, and are planning to continue to subscribe long-term, it is definitely worth considering. Overall, we’ve only listed a few of the many options here, so we welcome your favorites, and least favorites, in the comments.
[Image Credits: David Cardinal, Unplan-It Earth]