The Pros of a Portfolio Site
Portfolio sites can be a great place for photographers to begin building their web presence, especially when funds are tight in the startup stage. Many of these portfolio sites offer free accounts that allow you to hang your digital shingle and showcase your work. Because these sites also have a built-in social component, the community there can be a valuable place to establish a network. When I started my photography career, Flickr was incredibly important to my growth in providing a supportive community that could answer questions and help me become a better photographer and business owner.
As a site gains notoriety within an industry, it can become a go-to place for people and companies looking to hire creatives. Designers have been hired via Behance, and photographers have gotten gigs based on their portfolios on Behance and Flickr. Additionally, as these sites develop stronger communities, their content has the potential to be ranked better in search engine results.
Sometimes a portfolio, or content from a portfolio, can rank higher than the photographer’s own website, because the portfolio site itself has a higher domain authority. For example, Behance or 500px is likely going to have a higher domain authority than most photographer’s websites. So, someone looking to hire a photographer might find their portfolio on 500px or Behance more easily in a search engine result. However, being able to direct traffic back to your website is a sign of professionalism and means that you still retain control over the hub of your web presence.
Some portfolio sites also let contributors offer their prints or products for sale or to be licensed. Flickr used to have a partnership with Getty and now 500px distributes its Marketplace images in a Getty collection. Other sites like EyeEm have partnerships with various stock distributors as well, giving photographers the opportunity to make a small amount of income with their portfolios.
The Cons of a Portfolio Site
There are a number of limitations that come with a portfolio site. The biggest one is that most of them often give you little control over the look and feel of your brand’s presence. Having to conform to the brand standards of a portfolio site can dilute the impact that your business has, making your presence feel generic.
While the content of each creative’s portfolio may differ, a Flickr portfolio looks like a Flickr portfolio – just as a DeviantArt portfolio looks like a DeviantArt portfolio. Tumblr is somewhat of an exception, in that it allows users to purchase premium themes. However, while many photographers use Tumblr as a portfolio site, its main function is as more of a blogging platform.
In addition to conforming to the brand standards of whatever site is hosting your content, you are at the mercy of their terms of service and server. If your content violates their community guidelines, you can find your content removed or, potentially, you can be banned from the platform. If their server goes down, your portfolio goes down as well.
Some portfolio sites have also created marketplaces to sell prints, products or licensing rights. While this can provide photographers with some extra income, it removes another level of control for the photography business owner. For example, with print-on-demand capabilities that some portfolio sites like DeviantArt offer, the photographer is unable to do quality control prior to the product shipping to the buyer.
On the licensing side, when a company like 500px changes how it offers photos, there can be a number of consequences for the photographer. For example, when 500px closed down its own Marketplace in 2018, it shifted its focus to offering photos through its distribution partners Getty and Visual China Group. Royalties from sales that were made on the Marketplace platform were split between the photographer and 500px.
Now, with distribution through Getty and Visual China Group, those royalties are split between three parties and the distribution partner usually takes the first cut. So, if a sale is made through Getty, which takes a 70 percent cut, the remaining 30 percent is split between 500px and the distributor. There were also complaints that images licensed through a 500px distribution partner were not credited to the photographer, but this does not appear to be the case in the Getty 500px collection.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular portfolio sites that photographers and other creative business owners can take advantage of: