There’s never been a better time to be a photographer, long gone are the days of film, processing and developing and expensive set-ups. Sure, we still have costs and equipment (I would love a few more L lenses) but you can’t dispute that the playing field has been leveled. What differentiates photographers is experience and skill level.
However, to be successful you need to have skills and experience not just behind the lens but also with marketing and promoting your services.
And that’s where online portfolio and image hosting services come into the equation. Let’s look at the contenders and examine the pro and cons of each.
The grand-daddy of them all. Started by photography enthusiasts to share photos and experiences. The great thing about Flickr is that it is popular and cheap (25 USD per year unlimited hosting). Unfortunately there is not a lot you can do to customize the layout. However this hasn’t prevented some photographers using the service and especially the groups to help promote their business. If you only post your best photos and contribute value to group discussions it is surprising of how far you can make Flickr go.
With Zenfolio, you have more opportunity to customize and have a designed look to your portfolio. Image as they say is very important. However there is a cost. Starting from 25 USD a year gets you a very limited service. Maybe enough to dip your toes into the water but you’d be upgrading fairly soon. To use your own domain for example, you would have to upgrade to the 50 USD a year level, and to remove Zenfolio’s branding or have watermarks on your images (for protection) you would have to upgrade to the 100 USD level. Some of the more expensive plans have options for you to sell your images as opposed to using your portfolio to sell or promote yourself.
On the surface Smugmug is similar to Zenfolio. It has paid plans, and gorgeous themes for you to use for your photo portfolio. The plans seem more customer-centric and balanced. From 40 USD a year, you have unlimited storage, whereas the 60 USD a year plan adds unlimited video storage as well. You’ll need to upgrade to the 150 USD plan if you want to sell your images. One great feature is SmugVault which lets you backup any file-type like TIFFs or RAW files. This service is based on Amazon’s S3 storage so you’ll have to pay Amazon’s charges separately but having it integrated is a fantastic aid.
500px is a new service that is attracting a lot of attention. Like Flickr it has a free plan but is quite limited but still includes unlimited hosting, and iPhone/iPad ready portfolios. Or for 50 USD a year, you use your own domain, remove 500px branding and have access to premium themes.
One thing about 500px is that it really is portfolio-centric, there aren’t many other features though that may change in time.