As photographers, we have to choose where we’re going to host our images online, and it generally comes down to two broad categories of options: third-party photo hosting, or a gallery system on your own website.
I think that too often this gets compared in the wrong way… more on that later.
One option is to go with a third-party photo hosting service such as SmugMug. They’re good people who have been in the photo business for a long time, and their service allows you to create nice galleries with a variety of image viewing features, without having to worry about the details of administering your own servers or paying for storage as your photos will end up on their servers.
- No need to maintain or upgrade server software or storage space
- Variety of pro photo lab integrations
- Entire system is under the control of another party
- Different look and feel than your website (unless there’s extensive customization)
- You get what they offer, the way they offer it
Plenty of photographers use a system like this, either from SmugMug or a similar service (Zenfolio, Photoshelter, etc) and it works well. If you need pro lab integration, this is probably your best option. On the other hand if you prefer a bit more control, or want a photo gallery experience that’s more closely tied into the rest of your website, I’d recommend…
Your Own Website Gallery
The other option is to maintain your own website (I recommend using WordPress) and use a full-featured gallery plugin such as Envira Gallery or NextGEN Gallery to display your images. You install one of these plugins onto your WordPress website, configure the desired options, and then upload your images to your own site.
- Extensive customization options
- Can more easily match the theme of your website
- You retain full control over the entire system
- Requires you maintain your own website
There’s no perfect solution for everyone – it depends on your skills and how you value your time and money.
But don’t let someone oversimplify this comparison to being “the easy option with a hosting company” vs. “you do everything yourself” – it’s not that simple. The reality is that even with someone like SmugMug, Photoshelter, or Zenfolio, there’s an up front setup investment of time to customize the galleries and configure various options. And the major gallery plugins for WordPress have added a lot of features that can compete with the photo hosting companies.
It’s not as much about features as it is about your mindset, how much you want to tweak things, and whether you’d rather have a custom gallery that was designed by you and hosted on your own server versus a customized version of the galleries offered by the photo hosting companies.