The Uncommon Guide To Building a Psychology-Savvy Photography Website

Jenika McDavitt

[ml_wide_content_align] Building a Psychology Savvy Photography Website [/ml_wide_content_align]

Let’s say you went out to lunch with a wise, aging artist whose paintings you admire. Over steaming Italian food, eager to learn from this artist’s years of experience, you ask him or her how one really creates an impactful, valuable painting. What is the process like? I’m guessing the artist’s answer will not be something like this:

  1. Get a canvas.
  2. Get some high-quality paint and a few brushes.
  3. Dip the brushes in the paint and apply it to the canvas.
  4. Repeat until the canvas is full.
  5. Hang it up for people to see.

Rather, the conversation would probably center around discovering the answers to questions like: What ideas do you want the painting to express? What emotions do you want the viewer to feel, and what techniques will create that impact?

Of course, at some point, creating a painting requires getting some paint and applying it to a surface. But even decisions about tools and techniques are made simpler when you know exactly what goals you are trying to accomplish.

Find a Domain NameSimilarly, when people ask, “How do I make a good photography website?” my answer is not going to be something like this:

  1. Register a domain name.
  2. Get a web host.
  3. Choose a template.
  4. Upload photos and add text.
  5. Launch and invite people to look at it.

Yes, these steps are important eventualities. Yet many photography websites that stick closely to these five misguided steps will fail right out of the gate. The real questions that need to be examined in detail — what the website needs to express, and what specific emotions it needs to elicit  often are merely guessed at or skipped altogether.

Unlike a painting (or your photography), which may be enjoyed for purely aesthetic reasons, your website has a clear, actionable goal: to turn viewers into clients. Visitors need to not just enjoy the site, they need to do something (i.e., book you) afterward. Therefore, much ground needs to be covered before you start talking about color schemes and logos.

Before you jump into the world of templates and web hosts, there are three major, well-researched decisions you should make. The answers may change over time, but skipping these steps is the surest way to end up with a confused, underperforming web presence.

#1: Who exactly are you talking to?

How many sessions can you photograph in one week? Multiply that by 52, and that’s how many portrait clients you can possibly serve in one year. For most photographers, this number will be 100 or less. Whatever yours is, I’m guessing this number is far lower than the number of people who live in your town.

Don’t build your website as if you’re trying to attract everyone in the tri-state area. Build it for the 100 people who you would most love to work with.

Drill down and speak, with exquisite precision, to their exact questions, concerns and fears. If you do that, your website will convert visitors into clients at a much faster rate.

To actually do that, you need to know exactly who those 100 people are.

If you’re giving a speech at a physics convention, you might start by telling a joke that starts: “So a quark and a neutron walk into a bar … .” and the audience will respond with hearty guffaws, and then settle in with rapt attention.

Try that same joke at a high school assembly? Crickets. Followed by boredom.

Your website is essentially giving a speech on your behalf, but you don’t have a captive audience. If someone feels bored or uninspired, they can click away in a flash. You need to capture their attention by showing them immediately that you understand who they are and why they came to you.

As you get ready to build your site, don’t waste time looking at other photographers’ websites and don’t copy what you see them doing. Create a profile of your target client:

  • Where do they hang out?
  • What books do they read?
  • Where do they want to be five years from now?
  • What are they pinning on Pinterest?

Refer to someone who represents the 100 people you most want to hire you, and get to know them extremely well. No detail is unimportant.

Lululemon clothing company places employee stations strategically next to fitting rooms so they can eavesdrop for customer preferences.

If you understand who you’re working with, overhear what they like and what they don’t like, and know how they respond and what language they use with their friends, it enables you to present products and services that are exactly what they’re looking for — using language they understand, in a way that solves their problems. That combination is irresistible. When applied correctly, it results in better profits and happier clients.

If you need help creating your own target client profile, keep reading. There’s a great resource I recommend at the end of this post.

#2: What are that target client’s needs, and …

#3: How can you describe what you’re selling in terms of those needs?

Don’t sell yourself short by simply thinking, “Clients need beautiful pictures.” Nope, that’s why you need them. Take a step back and look at the wider picture of their life.

Let’s say you complete your target client profile, and find that she’s a 36-year-old woman named Lynda. She has a corporate job and two kids she feels like she doesn’t get to see enough of. Lynda drives to work and picks her kids up in a Prius, does all her holiday shopping on Amazon (she pays them to handle the gift wrap), and subscribes to Atlantic Monthly.

Or maybe your target client is Suzanne, a 27-year-old graphic designer who left her job last year to stay at home with two kids. Suzanne gets a lot of time with her kids and regularly posts blog updates for their grandparents. But she also craves peace, quiet and adult interaction. She spends her spare time trying out DIY home decor crafts she pulled from Pinterest, subscribes to Real Simple magazine, and feels slightly guilty about how much time she spends on Facebook.

Even though both women are loving mothers who want pictures of their two children, you can tell from just a handful of facts that they’re going to express their immediate needs and pressing concerns differently. And you could attract one or the other simply by shifting how you describe your services.

Lynda craves downtime with her kids (see: corporate job); Suzanne needs a chance to get in front of the camera instead of always being the one holding the camera (see: mommy blogger).

Lynda needs you to handle all the session details (see: paying Amazon for gift wrap), while Suzanne would eagerly discuss every aspect of the shoot with you (see: looks forward to adult interaction, loves Pinterest).

Lynda wants to align her spending with her values, and will spend extra money on a photographer who uses sustainably sourced paper and eco-friendly packaging (see: Prius), whereas Suzanne is frugal, but will start making plans immediately when she sees a list of crafty ways she can use your images as she decorates her home (see: DIY crafts).

Adorama Metal Prints for the OfficeEven the exact same product can be framed differently depending on who you’re targeting. If you offer metal prints, you could showcase them to Lynda as a tasteful, subtle way to display her images at the office. Suzanne, on the other hand, might be more excited if you showed her a picture of metal prints hanging in the bathroom above each kid’s towel hook  both decorating the bathroom and eliminating arguments about whose hook is whose.

Clients’ reactions to your website should be “this person totally gets me” rather than “oh look, another photographer.”

If clients see that you understand their life, anticipate their worries, share the same interests, and serve other people just like them, you’re going to immediately stand apart from everyone else. By presenting your services in their words and addressing their exact needs, in one fell swoop you will increase excitement and eliminate barriers to booking.

As you create a profile of a target client and tailor your website to them, don’t worry about excluding anyone. Chances are, if you create a photography experience just for Lynda that is time-efficient, family-focused, and eco-friendly, this will also appeal to a lot of other people. But focusing in and exploring the life of just one person gives you access to the kind of detail that helps you craft a stronger marketing message.

Dwight Schrute from The OfficeThink of it this way: The TV show The Office exaggerates all the loony, exasperating, funny things that happen when you work in an office. By narrowing down and exploring that universe, the creators were able to find gems of humor. But the audience they attracted wasn’t just people who worked in offices; the characters were popular among all kinds of people. In the specific, you will find the universal. Zero in and study the exact person you most want to work with, and in the process you’ll naturally attract a wider circle.

So whether you’re grabbing a canvas and paintbrush, or a domain name and WordPress, take some time and think about what you’re trying to say with your work, and to whom you want your work to speak to. Answering the three questions above will make downstream decisions about your website much easier, with the result speaking directly and powerfully to your ideal client.

How To Build An Absolutely Irresistible Photography Website

- Don’t worry, we’ll do it together -

Want step-by-step help creating a thorough target client profile? And additional know-how about how to translate that into a fantastic, client-booking web presence?

That’s exactly what we’ll do together in How To Build An Absolutely Irresistible Photography Website. This workshop in e-book form walks you through the exact information you should gather about your target clients, and helps you summarize it into an actionable website road map.

[ml_wide_content_align] From Portfolio to Profit Ebook for Photographers [/ml_wide_content_align]

This e-book does not provide a cookie cutter template. Instead, it outlines the process for taking your business and tailoring your own website to match the desires of your target client.

As you walk through this e-book, you’ll learn:

  • How to write and arrange your website so people take action
  • Exactly how to talk online about your pricing
  • How humans naturally view a screen — and how to use it to your advantage
  • How to disguise key information in delightful ways
  • What content people share with friends
  • What memory research says about your navigation bar
  • Unexpected ways to use galleries to show more than your portfolio
[ml_button url=’′ target=’_blank’ color=’#f5f5f5′ color_hover=’#444′ background_color=’#444′ background_color_hover=’#f5f5f5′] See What’s Inside [/ml_button]



Photography Spark is a partner with Jenika McDavitt and affiliate links are used in this post.

Jenika McDavitt

is on a mission over at Psychology for Photographers to make running a photography business easier through a better understanding of how people buy and behave. She holds a master's degree in psychology, and believes photography can change how people feel about themselves, which makes it the best job in the world. Jenika divides her time between photography, writing, raiding the local library, and hanging out with her family. Wave hello on Facebook!


I'm not a photographer, but I am an artist who does custom work. Your advice is applicable to anyone looking to market to a specific niche of people. Before I rebranded and had my new website built, I had to go through an in-depth process of examining everything about my target market, as you suggest. It definitely had an impact on what we created. Now that it has gone live, the feedback I am getting is mixed - not about the design, but about the "how to use it" issues. So I will evolve again by listening. Check out my site and let me know what you think.

Odille EsmondeMorgan
Odille EsmondeMorgan

Sounds very interesting but I am a landscape photographer, I don't go out and do 'sessions'.  I want to appeal to folk who want beautiful wall art.  I've never found one of these guides to be the slightest bit of use - they are aimed at wedding/portrait/newbordn togs.  Convinve me this is different and I might be tempted.


Great article. And just what I need to be thinking about at the moment. Love seeing your writing on this cool new website Jenika!

I have a question about focusing on your target clients. I get stuck on income. Do you feel like that should be part of what you are thinking about when you are creating a profile? Or should it have more to do with what they value?



I'm working on my new website right now, and it's one of my resolutions for 2013...beautiful web presence, here I come!  Thanks for the awesome tips!

zachprez moderator

 @carolgcolman Hi Carol, I like the "feel" of your site. The branding, color and spacing all match with the work you provide which is great. This alignment should attract your ideal clients as Jenika suggests above.


There are some minor readability issues in the small font size and the script headings. My litmus test is to scan a page in 10 seconds or less and see what pops out at me. Try this on your blog and see if the key things you want to communicate are easily found. I'd brighten the "Socialize" module in your right navigation and remove the tag cloud and archive widgets.

zachprez moderator

 @Odille EsmondeMorgan Regardless of product and medium, I think Jenika challenges us to think about how customers experience a website, any website for that matter. By looking at your site through a client's eyes, and taking into account principles of psychology, we're better prepared to address THEIR needs instead of OURS. Even for a landscape photographer, it should be helpful to profile the "folk who want beautiful wall art" and create content that speaks to them. For example, art for me is much more than the display, but the story behind the scene as well as detail about the creator. Taking that approach you might attach stories to each of your landscape photos to appeal to the audience who craves a story with the art.


 @Odille EsmondeMorgan Like any piece of education, usefulness depends on both the needs and engagement of the user, so I don't see "convincing" as part of the equation here.  Not all resources are the perfect match for everyone.  I can tell you that I spoke with a lawyer just yesterday who is redesigning his legal services site around the principles of this e-book (his wife is a photographer and bought it, he read it and got all fired up to change his own site).  I can also say that the e-book has been used widely among product photographers, fashion photographers, pet photographers, etc, so what you learn has wide potential for application.


That being said, I did write it with the portrait/wedding photographer in mind in that most of the examples I offer to illustrate the principles taught use wedding or portrait clients - however, a major goal of portrait photography is to help people decorate their home in a meaningful way, so the end game isn't so different from yours.  If you're willing and able to look beyond the exact examples and see the principles, then you should have no problem using this e-book.  (And as you'll see if you decide to download the sample chapter - I even apply these ideas to a website that's selling trees.) There are also sections of the e-book that simply discuss human behavior and how people view a page, and those ideas are independent of what type of site it is. 


The exercises involve narrowing down and understanding your target client - exactly the person you want to buy your work - and tailoring the site accordingly.  This is a tremendous amount of work (hence "workshop in e-book form") and many photographers neglect doing it at all, but it's a key to selling more no matter what you're selling.  Sitting down with a group of people who are going to want beautiful wall art and understanding their motivations, hesitations, fears, etc, will help you build a better website.  Whether this e-book is the best way to communicate those ideas to you is not for me to say, though there is a 30-day money-back guarantee if you buy it and find that it isn't.  Feel free to email me if you have other questions!


 @JenniferStein Hey Jennifer!  Thanks for the kind words.


I think no detail is too small to include when you're gathering data (I literally know what kind of hand soap my target client uses), HOWEVER, keep it in perspective.  Income tells you far less than most people think it does (I think you're onto this already).  It's a good rough indicator - when I was in grad school I was marketing to other grad students who were living on stipends, and no way was I going to be able to sell $4,000 portrait packages to them (that was almost three full months' salary).  However, I've had frugal single moms spend more on photography than families with two robust incomes.  Far more important than absolute income is - what does this photography represent to them?  Is it an aspirational/status purchase or a pedestrian one?  Is this a dreamy splurge they save up for every few years, or did they google you because their mother-in-law guilted them into getting pictures of the grandkiddos?  Someone might have a high income, but maybe they sink all of it into a big mortgage and their boat.  You get the idea. There are rough correlations that may go along with income, but far more important to track are priorities, values, and how your services fit into their lifestyle.  SO - sure, include it alongside job type and other demographics, but as you indicated, don't be ruled by it.  :-)


@zachprez @carolgcolman Thanks for the feedback it's very much in line with what I've heard from other places so I will be taking your advice thanks again