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Web Site Review: Zenfolio — An Online Photographer’s Paradise

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Photographers and writers are invisible performance artists and are known only by their work, not by their physical presence. While singers, actors and dancers perform in front of an audience, a photographer's audience usually never sees the actual performance, but only the results. It is the results, however, that the photographer wants the audience to see.

It's a rare photographer that keeps their work under wraps and away from the public and away from view. Normally, images are to document an event, publication or to be exhibited. I would feel safe in saying a large majority of photographers are amateurs and never put their work in front of the public. Of this demographic, there is a healthy number dabbling in fine art and semi-professional work (getting paid for their images, but not gainfully employed, full time as a professional photographer).

Zenfolio provides a service to photographers wanting to exhibit their images, possibly sell them, but don't want or can't technically maintain a proprietary Web site. Whether you are a novice, hobbyist, semi-pro or professional, Zenfolio has features to accommodate you.

Using Zenfolio's services is much like having your own web site, except for the costs of programming, on-going maintenance, and installation of a shopping cart for selling pictures, which can be both expensive and difficult to set up.

I created a trial account on Zenfolio to examine what they offered and also to experience the uploading and settings available. Zenfolio's trial account allows you to have two weeks to evaluate whether Zenfolio has what you need and, to be fair, I didn't find it lacking any essentials. In fact, I'm hard pressed to determine what, if anything, is missing.

After the two-week trial, Zenfolio offers three tiers of service: Basic, for $25.00 per year, has no bandwidth limit (you can feel free to have every one of your relatives, friends, clients and the general public view your pictures without any additional costs), but initially, has a two-gigabyte limit for image storage. If you stay at the Basic level, you get an additional gigabyte of storage for every additional year you maintain your subscription. The maximum file size per image is 12 megabytes, which should be plenty; the Unlimited tier, for $50.00 per year, offers the same per-image size, but the Premium level ($100 per year) has a per image limit of 24 megabytes.

Between the different levels, Basic, Unlimited and Professional, there are a few differences, with most of the difference between the two lower tiers and the Premium level.

The Premium level is intended for image sales and, as such, has a myriad of services intended to make the process of selling quick and easy. Zenfolio lists a comparative chart of their services and features.

Zenfolio Wizard
Figure 1: Zenfolio Wizard

When I got started with Zenfolio, the site presented a wizard to facilitate getting set up. There were two choices of uploaders to get your images from your computer onto Zenfolio's site. The Zenfolio Uploader can upload a batch of images at one time. All you need do is drag and drop them into the uploader, press the upload button and get some coffee. The HTML uploader requires you to add photos, one-by-one. You can also use third-party tools.

After opening a trial account with Zenfolio (no credit card required), I used the wizard to upload three of my images and then went to look at how they were displayed. I thought it looked good…so good, I wanted to put up a few more to see the slide-show at work and that's when I ran into the first problem. Where is the upload tool?

After going to my account page, I looked for a login link and finally found it at the bottom right-hand corner. I logged in and looked for the uploader and, not finding it, searched the lower right corner, but it's not there.

Glancing around the screen, I saw the Zenfolio logo on the top left and a few items at the top right: WELCOME DENNISHAYS, MY ZENFOLIO (drop down) and LOGOUT. Thinking, for just a minute it's in the MY ZENFOLIO drop down. I check. There is a Back to Edit View link there (also goes to edit view when you click the WELCOME link). It's not obvious, but, I guess if you look hard enough…

Zenfolio Edit Page
Figure 2: Zenfolio Edit Page

Back at the edit view, where you can start one of the uploaders, the original wizard popped open, even though I had checked "Do not show this page when I log in." After the first time I used it and checked "Do not show…" I don't really expect to see it every time I go into Edit mode. This happens with both Firefox and IE7.

That is small potatoes overall. Zenfolio is a comprehensive online tool allowing you customize it almost any way you want: layout templates, background color, adding music and, as I said previously, a back-end shopping cart to help you sell your images.

Zenfolio Price Calculation
Figure 3: Zenfolio Price Calculation

If you elect to sell your images through Zenfolio, you can create and manage price lists, building various lists for how you market your images. For instance, you can create a price lists for general sales and another for selling limited run pictures. When you upload images, they go into galleries you create (there is no limit to the number of galleries). Once created, you can assign your price lists to the galleries.

Zenfolio Price Formula
Figure 4: Zenfolio Price Formula

Initially, I wanted to see the Zenfolio prices, but couldn't find a link. However, when you create your price lists, the base cost displays showing you Base Price, Profit, Service Fee, Selling Price and a tick box to tell Zenfolio to use a formula for price calculations. You can turn this off and change the profit and/or Selling Price to whatever you want. Also, you can change the formula used by Zenfolio in the price calculations.

Selling Price = Base Price + Fixed Markup + % Over Base

Zenfolio is a remarkable online platform for photographers. In an afternoon, you can create a presence which is both professional and comprehensive, allowing a myriad of customization to make your gallery unique.

Is it worth the price? Zenfolio's fees are, in my opinion, quite reasonable, at $25.00, $50.00 and $100.00 per year. The real question, however, is what is your alternative? What's the cost in time and energy to create your own Web site from scratch or how much will you pay to have someone do it for you. Let's face it. We're photographers and our time should be spent taking and editing pictures and marketing our services, not pushing code.

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About Dennis Hays

  • http://etierphotography.blogspot.com/ FCEtier

    I’ve used Zenfolio for over a year now in addition to my own website that is one of those template sites.
    So far, Zenfolio has worked well enough that I may go to it exclusively in a year or so. It’s a bit cumbersome to get used to in the beginning, but then so was “Lightroom”.

  • John

    Nice review, thanks! Have you also considered SmugMug? Many photographers also consider this service. Check out this breakdown for a side-by-side SmugMug Zenfolio Comparison:

    Smugmug vs Zenfolio review

  • http://etierphotography.blogspot.com/ FCEtier

    Dennis,
    Been missing you on Blogcritics. Please contact me via my link, just click on my name.
    Thanks!

  • Ruther

    I have an account at Zenfolio and so far I am contented on the services they are providing. I highly recommend it to those photo lovers and most of all to photographers.

  • Chino

    I should try Zenfolio. I’m a amateur photographer and I’m kinda excited to post some of my shots there. Thanks for this post!