How To Make A Photography Portfolio Website: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

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Every photographer needs a web presence. It’ll help get your work seen and help you connect with new clients.

A professional portfolio is the key to growing your name and building a brand around your photography work. There are self-hosted services but most creatives are better off making their own portfolios. You gain more control and have more designs to choose from.

pro photographer

With WordPress this is super easy and you never need to write a line of code.

In this guide I’ll teach you how to create your own photography portfolio site from scratch. I’ll show you how to find a domain, setup hosting, install WordPress, and customize your site with a sweet theme.

All you need is a couple hours to follow this guide and some patience to work through the steps.

But trust me on this: absolutely anybody can setup a website if they try.

Portfolio Setup Overview

Before we dive into the guide I want to clear up a few points.

First let’s look at the whole process of how to setup a photography portfolio website. Since we’re using WordPress it’s insanely simple and only has 5 steps.

  1. Get a domain name & web host
  2. Install WordPress
  3. Customize WordPress
  4. Install a portfolio theme
  5. Add some free plugins

You may be asking yourself “why WordPress?”

There are many reasons, primarily that it’s free and powered by a huge community of contributors. In fact WordPress currently powers 25% of the entire Internet.

This is because WordPress is easy to setup, easy to learn, and has a lot of free help guides online.

You could go with an alternative portfolio service but it’ll cost about the same price and you won’t have as much control over your website.

Plus online portfolio services can shut down anytime. But with WordPress you will always have control over your website, and you can even download the files locally to backup your site for safe keeping.

With WordPress you own your website. This isn’t the case with other providers and it’s a big reason why I always recommend that creatives & artists use WordPress.

So without further ado let’s dive into the setup.

Step 1: Domain & Web Hosting

Every website needs two things: a domain name and web hosting.

The domain is what people type into the browser to see your site(ex: google.com). It’s best to stick with a .com suffix because this is the most popular choice.

A hosting account lets you put your website online. WordPress needs to be installed on a computer called a server and this is what gets your portfolio on the Internet. Don’t worry too much about the technical stuff, just know that any good portfolio service will still charge for hosting.

This is the only fee you should ever pay for getting your portfolio online. With BlueHost you get the domain for free so it’s easily the best deal. So the first step is to think of an awesome domain name.

It’s common to choose a domain that matches your name. For example photographer Billy Rood uses billyrood.com.

But if your name is fairly common it might already be taken.

In this case you can try adding a middle initial or adding extras to the end of the domain. For example if your name is also Billy Rood you might try billyroodphoto.com. Or you could add your location like billyroodtoronto.com if you were from Canada.

Don’t worry too much about your domain because most people will find you through Google anyway.

Just make sure it’s a domain you could share around or put on a business card.

Once you have some ideas head over to BlueHost and click the “get started now” button to start the process.

bluehost signup

BlueHost is a web host provider that also offers a free domain name with signup. This is huge because usually you’d need to pay for the domain. But with BlueHost you only pay for hosting and it’s cheaper than most providers.

Once you click the green signup button you’ll see a new page with three tables. Click the one in the far left-hand corner labeled “basic”.

bluehost table

This is all you really need for a simple portfolio site. It comes with the free domain and you get 5 free e-mail addresses too.

So if you want to create your own e-mail like me@mydomain.com you get that service completely free.

Once you click the basic table you’ll be directed to the domain signup page.

bluehost domain signup

Make sure you enter your domain name in the left column because this is how you register a new domain for free.

If the domain you pick is already taken you’ll get a message offering some alternatives. I’d recommend sticking with a .com but if you really can’t find a free domain then you could choose a .net or something similar.

Once you find an available domain you’ll move onto the final signup page.

This is where you enter all your contact details and payment info. It’s all pretty straightforward but I want to bring your attention to the box in the middle labeled “package information”.

There are tons of extra options added by default that you’ll want to turn off.

Uncheck all of the boxes except Domain Privacy Protection.

check domain privacy

Domain privacy keeps your personal info hidden from whatever domain you register.

The topic is a bit complicated but to quickly summarize, all new domains must submit contact information to the domain clearinghouse called ICANN.

With domain privacy the contact info is seen as BlueHost’s contact info rather than your own. Most people want privacy so the domain privacy protection is well worth keeping. But everything else can be removed.

I’d also suggest changing your plan from 36 months to 12 months using the dropdown menu.

select account terms

BlueHost offers the best monthly price if you sign up for three years but you’ll end up paying more upfront.

The 12 month price is still very affordable and it’s cheaper now. They’re both fine so pick whatever you prefer.

Once you’ve made these changes and added all your info scroll to the bottom and click “submit”.

If everything goes well you should get a confirmation e-mail and a final “success” message.

From here you can log into your new BlueHost account and setup WordPress. You may be asked to create a new password for your account but it shouldn’t take long.

Make sure you keep the password written or saved somewhere just in case you forget it.

Now with your domain & hosting all setup we can move onto WordPress.

Step 2: Install WordPress

Once you log into your new BlueHost account you should see a dashboard like this.

bluehost dashboard

Each box has different quicklinks to help you setup your site and work with extras like your free e-mail addresses.

We want to install WordPress so scroll down until you see a box labeled “website”. The 2nd icon in the box should be light blue with the text “Install WordPress”.

wordpress install link

Click this icon to get started.

You only have to do this one time and it’ll only take a few minutes. BlueHost has an auto-installer so you just enter some info and let it run.

The next page offers pro services that you don’t need so ignore everything and click the big green “install” link at the top.

green install button

On the next page you’ll have to select the domain you want to use.

Since you just got a free domain that should be your only choice. But you can choose between the www or non-www prefix.

domain check

It does not matter which one you pick because they both work exactly the same. The only difference is how they look, so pick whichever style you prefer and click “check domain”.

It’ll take a moment to check your domain but it should bring you to the last step.

On this page click the checkbox labeled “show advanced options”.

show advanced options

You’ll see three new fields where you have to add your site’s name along with your admin username/password.

The site name is generally your name since this is a personal portfolio website. It’ll appear at the top of your site and in the WordPress dashboard, but you can always change it later if needed.

The admin username is how you log into your WordPress website. This can be completely different than the BlueHost username/password you just created in the previous step.

You can use the same password if you want. Just make sure it’s secure and that you’ll remember it.

create user password

Once you fill all the fields check the terms & conditions box at the very bottom and click “Install Now”.

It’ll take a few minutes to create the WordPress install but once it’s done you’ll get a notification at the top of the screen. Now you can log into your brand new WordPress site and start toying around!

To check out how it looks you can type your domain into your web browser. It should show a default WordPress theme.

To get into your admin panel you should add /wp-admin/ to the end of your domain.

For example if your domain is myname.com then type myname.com/wp-admin/ into the browser and hit Enter. You should get a login screen like this:

wp login

Punch in the username/password you just created and you should get into your new dashboard.

wordpress dashboard

There’s a lot you can do with WordPress but you won’t need to worry about most features.

I’ll help you customize the basic settings and get your site looking more like a real photography portfolio.

Step 3: Customizing WordPress

From your admin dashboard look for the “settings” link in the bottom-left corner of the nav menu.

settings admin link

Click this to visit the general settings page. The biggest thing to change here is the site tagline.

It’s right underneath your site title and by default it’s a cheesy WordPress tagline.

wordpress tagline

For a portfolio website I recommend just deleting the tagline and leaving it empty. Branded companies may have taglines but it’s not as common with writers.

Once you clear that field scroll down and click “save changes”. This is how you’ll update changes for all the WordPress settings.

Look back to the Settings menu on the left-hand side and find the link titled “Permalinks”.

permalinks link

On this page you can change how WordPress displays URLs. By default it uses the ugly “plain” setting which is just a numeric ID.

Instead you should change it to “Post name” near the bottom.

permalinks structure

This is the best choice for a portfolio site because it reduces all URLs to the most basic keywords. So for example your portfolio page URL might just be /portfolio/ rather than an ID number.

This is also true for any blog posts you publish. But since this is just a portfolio site you don’t need to maintain a blog unless you really want to.

Look back to the left-hand menu again under settings and click the “Discussions” link.

uncheck discussions box

On this page un-check the box next to “allow people to post comments”. This disables all user comments so you don’t need to deal with spam or crummy comments on your posts or pages.

These are the most important settings to update for a new site. But if you want to look through the other pages you can toy with other settings too.

I think it’s more important to move onto a theme because the design of your site is everything.

Creative professionals are expected to showcase their work in a manner that jumps off the page. You want a theme that’ll wow first-time visitors and really showcase your photography in the clearest style possible.

Step 4: Picking A Portfolio Theme

Because WordPress is so popular you can find an endless sea of themes to pick from.

There are literally thousands of themes both free and premium made specifically for online portfolios. When it comes to a photography site you can probably get away with free themes because minimalism works best.

But if you’re willing to spend a bit more you can get a kick ass portfolio theme that comes with extra features.

Free themes are hosted by WordPress in their themes directory. These can be installed automatically from the WordPress backend so you don’t need to download anything.

free wordpress themes

If you instead want to try premium themes then I highly recommend browsing ThemeForest to see what kind of portfolio themes they have. I always get my themes from ThemeForest because it’s not just one team building themes.

Instead it’s a marketplace for thousands of developers to submit their work and reach a huge audience. So you have a lot to choose from with prices ranging from $30-$60.

To get you started here’s a list of my favorite themes both free and paid.

Best Free Themes

Best Premium Themes

There is no single right or wrong choice so you should pick whatever theme you like best.

But try to find a portfolio-specific theme because you’ll want to create a portfolio layout for all your photos. Default WordPress themes use the blog layout on the homepage which isn’t great for a portfolio design.

Photographers should have their best work right on the homepage to draw visitors further into the site. With a portfolio theme you’ll usually get a grid-style portfolio layout by default which is perfect.

Once you pick a theme you’ll then have to install it.

Go back to your WordPress admin panel and locate the “Appearance” link in the nav menu.

appearance menu link

Click this and you’ll get a list of all the current themes installed on your website.

To install a new one click the “add new” link at the top of the page.

add new link

From here you’ll see a list of currently featured themes in the WordPress directory. But you can search for a theme using the search bar in the right corner(note: this only works for free themes).

I want to install the Draft Portfolio theme so in the search bar I’ll type “draft portfolio”. The results should auto-update and this theme should be the first(or only) item in the list.

To install just hover the box and click the blue “install” button.

wp theme install

The theme will download from WordPress and install to your site automatically. Then you can just click “activate” to make it your default theme.

If you get a premium theme from ThemeForest then you’ll follow a similar process.

When you get a premium theme it comes in a .zip file. So once you have the .zip file downloaded to your computer go to your WordPress admin and click Appearance, then click “add new” at the top.

But instead of searching for a theme you should click the “Upload Theme” link near the top.

upload theme

This displays a small upload form where you click and browse to the .zip file. Then click “install now”, wait a few moments, and your new theme should be installed.

WordPress accepts .zip files for themes so most premium WordPress themes come in this format.

Once the theme is installed you can always activate it from the Appearance menu.

Most premium portfolio themes come with extra features so I won’t be able to cover all of those in this guide. But most features are self-explanatory and you can learn by tinkering. Or you can contact the theme developer for support if you ever have questions.

Free themes are usually limited in functionality but they’re also a bit more predictable.

Either way even if you’re brand new to WordPress you should be able to catch on quickly.

All major changes can be made from the “Customize” link found under the Appearance menu in your admin panel.

wp customize link

All major theme developers work with the customize settings so every free theme should have a few options at least.

Different themes will have different options but most let you change colors, typography, and even layout styles.

customize page

You really can’t screw up anything in the customize screen because you always get to preview changes before they’re saved. Plus you can undo anything with the click of a button.

Make some time to familiarize yourself with the options in your theme. This won’t take more than 10-15 minutes and it’ll help you develop a solid grasp of WordPress.

A bit later I’ll show you how to update your nav menus but let’s first dive into some basic(and free) plugins that you should install.

Step 5: WordPress Plugins

Plugins add functionality to your portfolio and they let you add extra features without writing any code.

You have thousands of plugins to choose from and most are free. You can browse the plugins directory to see what’s out there, but I recommend sticking to only the plugins that you need.

It’s easy to install a bunch of plugins and bloat your WordPress dashboard. It’s better to stay lean and keep your total plugins under 10 if possible.

Head over to the plugins page by clicking the “plugins” link in your admin menu.

plugins link

On this page you should see a few pre-installed plugins. Many of these come with WordPress and others come with BlueHost.

Thankfully you don’t need any so I’d recommend deleting all of them. You could just deactivate them if you want to keep them saved, but either way you don’t need them running.

To delete a plugin you first have to deactivate the plugin by clicking the “deactivate” link. Then you’ll see a big red “delete” link which removes the plugin from your site entirely.

plugins list

I only have four plugins to recommend and they’re all free. You should feel encouraged to add more if you ever need more functionality on your site. Just try not to go overboard since there are a lot of plugins out there.

But let’s start with the must-haves for any portfolio website.

W3 Total Cache

In the modern era of lightning-fast Internet people don’t like waiting around. The best way to speed up your site is with caching.

This is a technical process that saves local copies of your pages so they load faster. Instead of doing this yourself I recommend W3 Total Cache, a completely free caching plugin and the most popular choice for WordPress users.

In your admin panel click the plugins link in the nav menu. At the top of the page you’ll see a link with the text “add new”.

add new plugin

This works just like the themes page so you can search for any plugin by name.

Type in w3 total and this plugin should be the first result. Hover and click the blue “install” button, then when it’s done click activate.

w3 total install plugin

There is no setup and no need to customize anything. You just install the plugin and let it be.

I should state this plugin is huge and comes with a lot of custom features.

But most of these features are geared towards advanced high-traffic websites. For a simple portfolio you just need the basic caching features which are turned on by default.

Once you get this plugin activated you’ll be all set to go, no need to change anything. Just keep it running and your portfolio should have some quick load times.

Yoast SEO

Another “let it run” type plugin is Yoast SEO. This is the definitive plugin for anything SEO related on your website.

It’ll automatically generate clean URLs, create titles and descriptions for Google, plus add relevant meta tags into all of your pages. There are plenty of options you can change but out of the box Yoast is genuinely incredible.

To install just follow the same procedure as before by searching for yoast seo.

When it’s activated you should see a big SEO plugin link in your menu bar. This huge menu contains all of Yoast’s default settings and features. You can poke around if you want to make any changes or see what Yoast can do.

One thing I do recommend is creating an XML sitemap by going to the SEO -> XML Sitemaps page.

yoast seo sitemap

This can be submitted into Google Webmaster Tools so your portfolio site gets indexed sooner. However it’s better to create a sitemap once you have all your pages created, so you can always do this at a later date.

But one thing I hate about Yoast is all the extra stuff it adds into your dashboard. Some features are nice but I personally think it adds far too many extras, especially for a simple site like a photography portfolio.

To remove some of the bloat you should install another plugin called Hide SEO Bloat. It’s completely free and you can also install it from the search page.

hide yoast bloat

This plugin isn’t required but it’s something I add to all my WordPress websites. It makes the dashboard a little easier to handle without so many Yoast features crowding up the interface.

Contact Form

The last plugin i suggest installing is a contact form plugin. This lets you add an e-mail contact form onto any page in your portfolio.

This is by far the easiest way for anyone to reach you so it’s a good idea to setup a contact page early.

Contact Form 7 is the most popular plugin but I also like the FS Contact Form plugin which is used here on WhatPixel.

Both are completely free and easy to setup. You could even install both and see which one you like better.

They both have their own settings menus where you can enter the e-mail address where you want to receive mail. By default they both have pretty simple contact form templates that you can use right away.

To add the form into your site just copy a bit of code into your contact page. This code is called a shortcode and it should be split between brackets [like this].

shortcode img

To create a contact page hover the “Pages” link in your admin panel and click “Add New”. Give it a title like “Contact” and then paste the shortcode into the page body.

Whichever plugin you pick should last you a lifetime without much effort. There may be some plugin updates every so often but once you get a contact form added to your site it’s easy to let it sit and move on.

A Portfolio Plugin

WordPress is built like a blog so it doesn’t come with a default portfolio setting. Premium WordPress themes come with grid portfolio features but if you’re using a free theme then you’ll need a plugin.

There are tons of free portfolio plugins so you might want to try a few and see what you like best.

For this example I’ll install the Huge IT Portfolio plugin which comes with a bunch of incredible features for any portfolio work.

huge it portfolio plugin

Once installed you’ll find a default portfolio filled with dummy content for testing. This is a fun way to demo the plugin without adding any of your own photos.

You can pick exactly where you want this gallery whether it’s on your homepage or an internal portfolio page. Or you could even create two different galleries, one for the homepage and another for an internal page.

If you go to Pages -> Add New you should notice a portfolio quick button in the editor.

hugeit portfolio button

If you click this button you can select which portfolio you want to add into the page. And you can change the view style like a grid gallery, slideshow, or lightbox display(among other choices).

There are many other portfolio plugins to choose but I think this is the best free option.

You don’t need to know any code and it offers a lot of customization including multiple portfolios, titles/descriptions and outbound links for each item, plus categories if you want to group your portfolio items together.

hugeit portfolio admin

The interface may seem daunting at first. But if you spend even 15-20 minutes playing around I guarantee you’ll get more comfortable.

Launching Your Photography Portfolio

If you’ve made it this far then you’re basically at the home stretch. Kudos!

You have your own domain name, a fresh install of WordPress, plus a sweet theme to display your photos online. All you need now is some content.

Photography portfolios should be short and sweet. Give visitors enough enough to learn about you, gauge your quality of work, and offer a means to get in touch if they’d want to hire you.

This can be done with three pages:

  • Homepage/portfolio
  • About page
  • Contact page

You might add some extra pages like a resume page or a larger portfolio page separate from the homepage.

But keep your navigation short and to the point. The focus should be on your photos which is why minimalist themes work well.

The biggest task is to first create a static homepage for your portfolio stuff. Whether you want a photo gallery, slideshow, or just some static info about yourself, you definitely don’t want a blog archive.

To change this you first need to create two pages titled Homepage and Blog.

Go to Pages -> Add New and create both. Enter the titles for each and hit “Publish”.

Then move down to the settings link. Hover to see the flyout menu and click “Reading”.

reading settings

The very first item on the page lets you change the front page to a static page. Select the 2nd radio button and two dropdown menus become visible.

For the first dropdown menu select the page titled “Homepage”. Then for the second dropdown menu select the other page you made titled “Blog”.

Now save your changes and your homepage should be a blank static page.

This lets you add anything you want to the homepage including a portfolio gallery using your fancy new portfolio plugin.

Lastly I want to show you how to edit your main navigation. To do this hover the Appearance link and click “menus”.

menus link wp admin

On this page you can build custom menus with very specific links.

Start by adding a name into the “Menu Name” box. This name can be anything but it should resemble your top navigation. Maybe title it “main menu” or something similar.

create menu name

Click the blue “create menu” button on the right-hand side.

Now you should be able to check different pages in the left-hand sidebar. You can also add specific posts, category archives, or even custom URLs to your navigation.

Select whichever pages you want then click “add to menu”.

add links to menu

Now you can drag & drop to rearrange links to change the menu order. You can always change things again later so this isn’t permanent.

Once you’re happy with the order check “Primary Menu” under the Menu Settings and click the save button again.

primary menu checkbox

Now you should see these links in the primary nav for your new portfolio. They’ll appear at the top of all pages and you can always change the links going forward.

This is why it’s OK to use WordPress for a portfolio even though it’s a blogging platform. If you never write blog posts and you don’t add the blog link to your menu then nobody will ever notice.

From here you should start uploading photos, tinkering with your portfolio plugin settings, and writing content for your pages.

Be sure to add plenty of info about yourself and your work history. A great portfolio sells both the work and the creator.

And with that said I think we’re all done here.

I certainly hope this guide covered everything you need to get a photography portfolio up & running.

The idea of managing your own web portfolio can seem daunting. But learning to use WordPress is a valuable skill and it grants you full control over everything on your website.

If you have any questions or critiques about the guide you can send a message and share your thoughts. I’ll update this guide as much as I can so reader feedback is crucial to make this guide the best it can be.

Thanks for your time & enjoy your new portfolio!