Zenfolio Review: The Ideal Choice for Photographers?

Zenfolio is fast becoming one of the most popular options for photographers looking to create a website to show off their photographs. It is created by photographers, for photographers – and this is something that is very evident in its design.

 

Zenfolio Portfolio Hosting Review

What is Zenfolio?

Zenfolio is platform that photographers can use to create a professional-looking website. Using and manipulating pre-designed templates, you can painlessly create your perfect website. They’ve also cleverly integrated an e-commerce system into every website, so that you can sell your work online. There’s a lot more to be said about this, and I’ll go into more detail later in this review.

Customisability

One of the most important things when using a system with pre-designed templates is that you can achieve your own unique look. The Zenfolio system lets you customise and change all the colours and styles of every element on the website. However, you cannot upload your own theme created from scratch like you could do on WordPress. Whilst this may seem like a limitation at first, I haven’t felt that my website has been held back by this.

The advantage that comes from this is that you cannot “break” your website. With the frame of everyone’s websites being the same, Zenfolio can roll out updates and fixes that instantly work with your website without issue.

I have customised a variety of aspects of my website. Take a look at what I have done at this link.

Gallery

The most important aspect of a photography portfolio is the way your photographs are displayed. This is where, in my opinion, Zenfolio excels in the little details.

The gallery will dynamically resize and sharpen your images depending on the visitor’s screen size. This ensures that your images look fantastic for everyone. Having said that, they don’t increase the pixel count for those using retina screens, but I don’t know of any websites that do this yet.

One of my favourite features is the ability to automatically watermark all (or some) images. To do this, you simply upload your watermark and tell Zenfolio where to place it on each photo. The system then automatically watermarks all the sizes of your photo that get displayed, ensuring it stays protected. This keeps everything uniform and smart.

You are able to organise your images into as many separate galleries and collections as you like, whether that be by species or location, it is up to you. This improves the browsing experience if you have a lot of photographs to show off.

Gallery
Gallery thumbnails are large and attractive, and when clicked load up even bigger previews for ultimate impact.

E-Commerce

This is probably the strongest part of a Zenfolio website, in my opinion. The shop is integrated into your gallery pages, so people can buy whilst browsing your portfolio. You are able to sell products via printing labs, letting them send out the orders for you and eliminating the (sometimes stressful) management of fulfilling orders.

If this isn’t for you, you can also sell self-fulfilled products. Here, you can list whatever products you like and fulfil the orders yourself. This part of the system does work, and I use it myself to great success, however it could do with some more customisation. Zenfolio assure us that these customisations are coming in due course, but how long this will be is anyone’s guess. For example, if you want to sell different sized mounted prints, you cannot have a selector to choose the size. Instead, you have to have each size as an entirely different product, meaning you end up with a screen like this (confusing if you have many sizes and different options):

Zenfolio Ecommerce
Until rectified by Zenfolio, product lists could become complex if you have many different designs.

You also can’t add a product to a specific image, but instead to an entire collection. This can be a limitation if you want to sell images that are in the same gallery differently.

On the top hosting package (£150/year), Zenfolio will take no commission on your self-fulfilled sales. The lower hosting packages do have some commission on sales. But £150 per year is, in my opinion, good value for what you get in return.

The shopping system only uses PayPal to take payments – however PayPal allows users to pay by card without having an account, so this shouldn’t be an issue. There is a shopping cart which remembers a user’s selection and stays with them throughout their visit. It’s very handy as people are likely to browse around and byy multiple things.

Checkout is neat, with the ability to use gift certificate codes and also coupon codes of your choice and value.

Cart
The cart system is advanced, with many different options.

Furthermore, you can set up shipping tables which automatically calculate how much needs to be charged. This means you can ship worldwide, without the headache!

Blog

There is a blog built into the website, allowing the user to update visitors on their travels and experiences. The blog does seem fairly neglected by Zenfolio, and could do with some attention. I would like to see Disqus comments integrated, instead of a Zenfolio-only system. It is a fairly basic blog, but there are some nice layouts that can be applied to it.

Customer Service

It has to be said that Zenfolio’s customer service is second-to-none. If you have an issue or a question, drop them an email and you’ll receive a response very quickly. They’re always happy to help and are very friendly. The top hosting package also gives you live-chat support. They don’t have telephone support, but since their response times on email are so quick I don’t see that as an issue.

Speed & Downtime

The praise for Zenfolio continues. I originally had a portfolio website created by a designer, but it was incredibly sluggish and could not hold up to the demands of a photographer with a website full of images. I moved to the Zenfolio platform in a desperate bid to revive my website presence. I was delighted to find that the portfolio loads quickly, even with lots of images. They use a content delivery network to provide a fast browsing experience.

As for downtime, the servers are almost always up. Planned maintenance is warned of in advance (although it would be better if they were to warn further in advance than a few days), and even then it is only occasional. There have been a few unscheduled moments of downtime, but the technicians are quick to work on resolving any problems.

There is one slight irritation that I have found, though. Whenever Zenfolio look to update the system with upgrades, they plan their maintenance for a certain timeframe. Often this time is exceeded by 2-3 hours, which is irritating when you are running a business online.

Behind the Scenes

The control panel for your Zenfolio website is well designed and easy to use. You can add images into collections, galleries and folders – helping you to organise an easy browsing experience. Recently, they introduced the ability to store raw files and attach them to their processed JPEGs. Whilst the RAW files are not shown on the website, it gives you an extra backup option for your photographs.

In Conclusion

Zenfolio is popular for a reason. They’ve made a website platform with the knowledge of what a photographer wants. There is room for improvement in the way some things are handled, but a lot of these things are being addressed as we speak. You won’t find another company with such good-looking designs, a great e-commerce system and fantastic customer support.

If you are interested in a Zenfolio website, you can take a 2 week trial at no cost to see if it is right for you. Check out the Zenfolio website for more information.

Assuming you become a fan of this platform, we have our own referral code that will get you 20% off your first subscription. Use it at checkout if you wish: 23P-DPE-78Q

 

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Will Nicholls is the founder of Nature TTL and a professional wildlife photographer and film-maker from England. Having been photographing since the age of 12, Will's images have won a string of awards, including the title of "Young British Wildlife Photographer of the Year" in 2009 from the British Wildlife Photography Awards. Will is also the author of the book On the Trail of Red Squirrels.

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