How I drive visitors to my photography portfolio and land clients

Cover image by Alexander Andrews

I’ve been working as a freelance photographer since March 2016 and I’ve never really sent a single portfolio or cold-email yet I continue getting new clients regularly. In this article I will be sharing with you a few methods I use to drive people to my online portfolio and eventually land assignments. At the end of the article I’ll also include a few useful tips for freelancers.


Note: The following methods all play a part in increasing the traffic I get on my portfolio. Some of them can be a bit controversial, just because they work for me, they won’t necessarily work for everyone

Create a nice portfolio

This seems obvious but having a good looking portfolio and interesting projects on it is the main reason why people will eventually bookmark your website or even share it. It’s 2018 and there are plenty of solutions to build great looking photography oriented portfolios.

I personally use Squarespace for my website samuelzeller.ch using their York template. I chose them for a variety of reasons, I like the visual editor and the fact that I can sell prints of my work directly and effortlessly.

The “commissioned” section on my website
Selling prints directly via the Squarespace e-commerce

I also recommend Format and Cargo collective (V2) which are two very easy to use platforms and can help you in creating a good looking online presence.

If you need something that can act both as your portfolio, your archive and a way to sell prints then you should probably look at SmugMug (I previously wrote how awesome and useful it is for building up an archive) and Photoshelter.

I don’t recommend using Wordpress unless you’re more experienced, it can be an awesome platform when set-up properly but it can also be a real pain if you’re not very tech savvy. Your portfolio will likely change a few times before you end up being happy with it, I modified mine (changed layouts, presentations, projects) about five times in the past two years. You should choose a system that let you modify it quickly and iterate on your original design, a platform that you feel confident with.

Let people right-click your images and stop using watermarks

There are two different kinds of photographers, the ones who shoot landscapes (often HDR or over-edited) and apply a fat cursive-type watermark to all his shots and displays a “©Breezy Pixellzzz Photography” on his website when you try to right click one of his image, and the others. I’m all for protecting your copyright but I hate watermarks and I don’t see the point of restricting right-clicks on my website (because the truth is, anyone with basic internet knowledge can inspect elements and find the images anyway).

The other reason why I let people do what they want with my images, save them on their desktop, pin them on Pinterest, right-click and share them on Tumblr or whatever other platform they use is because of how much more visibility I get in return and how much more user friendly it is for them.

Think of a photo editor from a magazine who lands on your website and wants to save one of your images to include it into a presentation (in Indesign) in order to pitch a client and can’t do it. I’ve worked as a designer in an agency for a few years and I know how it is when your boss asks you to find a few photographers for a client project and you have to screenshot one guy’s portfolio because you can’t just drag his images into your presentation.

Just on Pinterest alone, the images coming from my website (the images hosted on my domain that were “saved on Pinterest”) get 1800+ impressions per day on average. There’s an average of 7 images saved per day by Pinterest users. That also means my images appear in search results on Pinterest for various keywords and it’s very likely that some people discover my work because of that.

Analytics on Pinterest showing me how many images from my website are seen every day

Some images from my Botanical series have also been circling around Tumblr (which allow people to re-blog images) and have been “re-shared” sometimes by more than ten thousand people. Maybe only a very small percentage of them will actually visit my website but this is still very important.

One thing that I learned in my previous career as a designer is the importance of brand awareness. You’ve probably heard about Nest the smart thermostat, it doesn’t matter if you’re gonna buy one or not. What matters is that if one day a friend tell you he wants to get a thermostat and you’re gonna tell him about this brand you remember called “Nest”.

The more barriers and watermarks you put on your work the less likely it will spread around. People will steal your work no matter how much you protect it and they will remove your watermarks if they want to. For protecting your images there are far better options than removing right-clicks and putting an ugly signature on your work.

Build backlinks over time

A backlink is a link pointing to your website on someone else’s website. They play a very important part in search engine optimization, they’re in a big part responsible for calculating the relevance of your website related to a keyword.

To see how many links to your site you have you need to use Google search console (from Google webmaster tools). I currently have 7,054 links across the web directing to my portfolio, most of them (4000) are people who shared my images on Tumblr and point back to the source.

Screenshots of different Tumblr blogs who shared my work.

There are also websites like DIYPhotography, Petapixel and DPReview which posted some of my articles. A lot of links point back to my Botanical series, which means if someone types “Botanical” on Google it’s very likely that my website will appear in the first results. Google consider the relevance of my Botanical project page (located on samuelzeller.ch/botanical) to be very high since a lot of other websites are pointing to it.

People are mostly searching for my name, my Botanical project or for the free Lightroom presets I’ve created.

The easiest way to get a few more backlinks is to have people sharing your images and website around. If you have a blog or a youtube channel you can also contact various photography websites and submit them your content for re-publishing, they’ll link back to your portfolio in their articles.

Organic search and referral (backlinks) account for over 50% of the traffic on my website. In May 2018 on a total of 5163 visitors there’s been 1532 people who landed on my portfolio by clicking on a backlink and 1141 who landed on my portfolio by using search engines.

Build an archive of your work

Every single day people search for images on the web and most of them do that using Google images. Having your work showing up in search results is an easy way to increase the number of people who will visit your website. But getting your work properly indexed by search engines is not as easy as it seems.

Your portfolio only contains your best work, your archive on the other hand is a repository of all your edited images ordered by categories and/or locations. Each image has a title, a description and tags. The more images you have on your archive the more often your work will appear in search.

A screenshot of my archive, filtered to show images tagged “buildings” in the album “London”

I’m using SmugMug’s excellent services to create and maintain my archive located at archive.samuelzeller.ch (I’m using their “power” plan at just 72$ per year for unlimited storage).

My archive is still relatively small and new but it already display in Google image results about 50 times per day for various type of queries.

You can find a more in-depth article about this subject below:

Create a blog or a side project

Publishing articles or having a side project is one of the best way to get more people to end up visiting your portfolio. This article you are currently reading is a great example of that, you may not have seen my website yet but there’s a small chance that if you enjoy this read you’ll probably want to check out my work.

As for side projects, I’m running one called Fujifeed. It’s a website + community + instagram with the goal of publishing other Fujifilm photographers work through interviews, articles and tutorials.

The homepage of Fujifeed showing the most recent articles

This is something I do on my free time, it’s a passion project. A lot of people know me because of that project alone. I regularly organize photowalks and meetups in different cities in Europe as well.

Fujifeed Instagram account on the left and the Fujifeed Slack discussion group on the right

Most importantly, personal projects such as a blog or a side project are great ways to talk and express about your passions (not only photography) and diversify your audience. They show how dedicated you are to a cause or a subject, it’s a great addition to your portfolio.

Share some of your work on Unsplash

This is quite a controversial topic but sharing some of my images on this free stock photography website helped me land clients (like UBS) and most importantly get a better reach internationally. For those who don’t know what Unsplash is, it’s a website that started five years ago as a simple blog on Tumblr. Everyone can upload high res photographs on it and let others download them, the images are under the Unsplash license which lets people use them commercially or non-commercially without asking for permission or even giving credit (but giving credit is encouraged).

Unsplash has seen an incredible growth. It’s now a community of 87,000+ photographers from all over the world who shared a total of 548,000+ high res images. It’s used by ten thousand agencies and creatives as a source of inspiration and as a ressource for quality images.

So far I’ve shared 499 images on Unsplash which are viewed more than 27 million times and downloaded over 130'000 times per month. I’ve recently passed 400 million views and 2.5 million downloads in the last three years. That’s impossible to get those numbers on any other platforms.

Every few day there’s one or two people who credit me on Twitter for an image they’ve used. I also get emails regularly and new backlinks to my website every week, new posts on Instagram with people mentioning me.

I’m not losing any money or time doing this and so far it has been beneficial. Of course I don’t share my best work on it, only personal images that I don’t intend on selling as fine art prints.

You can find a more in-depth article that I wrote about Unsplash below:

Publish videos on Youtube

Making videos or Vlogs is one of the best way to gather an audience and drive people to your website. Youtube videos have one big advantage over all other sort of social media posts, they’re long lasting and will bring views even months or years after their publication date.

I’m not a big Youtube user. I’ve only posted one tutorial a year ago (and two others I’ve since deleted) on my channel.

That single video has now 8900 views and 1450 people subscribed to my channel, and the most amazing thing is that the video still gets about 300 new views per month!

Not only will having a Youtube channel help you get more visibility but it can also become a non-negligible source of side income (if you monetize it correctly).

Put your projects on Behance

Behance is an online platform made to showcase & discover creative work launched originally in 2005. It was bought by Adobe in 2012. It’s the 391th most visited website in the world and it’s used by countless agencies to find talents.

On my Behance profile I publish finished projects, either personal ones or commissioned works by clients. It’s more up-to-date and exhaustive than my portfolio probably because it’s so easy to add and edit content and it’s way more connected and visible.

The reason why? Behance is based on search, categories and location. If an agency is looking for a photographer in Switzerland or in Geneva they’ll most likely end up on my profile.

A typical Behance profile, informations and bio on the left and projects on the right.

I already gained new clients who found my work on Behance and I’ll keep using it to showcase a wider selection of projects than what I can do on my portfolio.

Make sure to visit the Photography section to discover some great photographers that are active on this network.

Make photography tutorials

People just love to see behind the scenes and get a glimpse of your process. It is time consuming to write a proper tutorial but it’s also very rewarding, it creates value for others and they will likely share it around if it’s good.

Screenshot of a tutorial that I made on retouching interiors

I post tutorials over on my blog which reside directly on my website, this ensure that people will land on it directly and will then explore my portfolio.

Tutorials expand your audience and they’re a great exercise for every photographer. Writing about your own process can inspire you even more and the feedback you’ll get from people reading your articles can be invaluable.

Create presets for the software you love

This is another method I’ve used that is currently bringing me a ton of traffic. I created a set of 12 Lightroom presets specially designed for Fujifilm users and shared them for free. They became popular very quickly and I ended up having articles about them on major photography news websites like Petapixel, DIYPhotography and DigitalRev.

Showing a few presets before/after on my website

Every month there’s over 3000 sessions on my website who land directly on the page where my presets are located, that means that about 2500 unique visitors land on my portfolio every month because of those free presets. Not only does it brings me more visitors but it also increased the number of newsletter subscribers I have to a bit more than 15'000 over the last year.

Don’t overestimate Instagram

I see too many photographers who are putting all their eggs in the same basket. They focus on Instagram like if it was a priority but don’t really think about why exactly they need the audience. There’s no point in spending time building an audience in only one place, Instagram will not stay eternally and the ten thousands of followers you currently have will likely be worth nothing one day. Putting all your efforts into Instagram can be a waste of time.

The only reason you’d want to maximize your audience on this social network is if you are a travel photographer or blogger who heavily depend on having a large following to land sponsorships and collaborations. That’s not my case.

The main problem with Instagram is that it’s all too ephemeral, stop posting for a day or two and your engagement will drop. The tutorials you’ll write, the Youtube videos you’ll make, the articles you’ll have on magazines they will all last way longer than all your Instagram posts combined. Build a long lasting audience, don’t focus on the now.

Be active in a community

We’re always stronger when we’re together. Being part of a community plays an important role in networking. It can be your local photoclub, a Facebook group, a forum or just connecting with a group of photographers in your city.

I’m very active in the Fujifeed community (on the Slack discussion group and on the forum) but also in my hometown, Geneva, where I try to attend every photography related events. In pretty much every big city you can also find communities on Instagram like igersparis, igersgeneva, igerslondon and so on who organize events and photowalks.

Participate in events and conferences

Get outside and hang out with the right people, attend every photography-related events and conferences. You can even start doing talks if you feel confident enough.

I’ve been talking about my work and process since a bit more than a year now, at first it is a very scary and stressful thing to do but eventually you become used to it. The cool thing is that you can get paid for that!

Two different talks in Prague and one in Lausanne

Try to get out in the real world as much as possible, nothing really beats meeting people face to face. This year I’ve been proposed to exhibit in Paris and in Basel because of people I’ve met and connected with during projects and travels.


Here’s a few more tips for you. Take those with a grain of salt.

Show your personal work first

Always show the work that you are the most proud of first, the projects that represent you. They’re most of the time personal projects and that is perfectly fine. My clients don’t hire me because I’ve done X or Y for another client, they hire me because of the style of images I make, because of my personal way of seeing the world. Put your personal projects first, they’re the one that show how unique you can be.

Name your series and projects wisely

It may seem like a small detail but the name of your projects will strongly affect how people will find your work. A great example would be my Botanical series and the book of the same name, it’s such a simple word yet it’s widely researched on Google. As a result, the project page on my website appears about 140 times a day on Google search results for the word “Botanical” and it’s ranking quite high. Think of the name you give to your projects, it can have a long term impact on your visibility.

Do a book or a long term project

Word of mouth can be very powerful and there’s no better way to increase it than having a published book or to do a long term project on the side. Most people will associate you with the work you produce but they’ll likely not check your whole portfolio.

A look inside Botanical, edited by Hoxton Mini Press

Most people know about me because of my Botanical book and because of Fujifeed (a long term side project that I started in January 2016).

Doing a book is a time consuming project, but it’s so worth it. I’ll make a more in-depth article on the process behind my first book in a future post.

A selection of people sharing the book on Instagram

What’s interesting is how far a book can travel, I’ve spotted mine in Seoul, New-York, Australia and all over Europe. I’ve even had people from Mauritius and New Zealand who ordered a copy.

Of course working with an editor like Hoxton Mini Press greatly helps, they’re known for their great photography books and they are well distributed.

Business cards are nice, postcards are nicer

No, business cards aren’t dead and you still need to have some (I’m printing mine using MOO and their matte 350gsm paper) because you’ll always meet people who will ask for a business card eventually. One thing that works even better than them (at least for me) is to always have a pack of postcard sized prints in my camera bag.

I chose ten images from my Botanical project and made a set of postcards, the front is coated with a matte finish and the back is uncoated which means you can write on it. On the back you can find my full name as well as my website.

I made those using MOO as well, the benefit is that you can choose up to 50 different designs for the front! Yes 50 different photographs all in the same order.

Some people love them so much that they even framed them or they display it on their walls, on their office desk etc…

Conclusion

All those methods play a part in increasing the traffic I have on my portfolio, they aren’t necessarily potential clients but it greatly increase the chance that people will talk about my work to others. I currently average 170 unique visitors per day (5266 in May) on my website and even if most of them are other photographers it still a good move on the long term and I encourage everyone to build up their brand awareness. I hope you found this article interesting and that it gave you a few ideas on how to increase your visibility.


Thank you very much for reading. I’m a photographer based in Geneva, Switzerland, some of my work is visible on my website and on Instagram.