I've recently made the decision to move my online photography presence from Zenfolio to Wordpress. In this post I'll explain why.
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Leaving Zenfolio

I’ve recently made the decision to undertake the incredibly tedious move of my online photography presence away from Zenfolio. In this post I’ll explain why, provide a brief review of Zenfolio in 2022, and present the lower-cost alternative that I’m now using.

My Needs

First and foremost, my own personal website gives me the ability to share my photography with the world. To that end, the display of the images is the most important factor. Photos should look great. Specifically, images should be displayed full-screen in high resolution on any device or screen.

Second, I enjoy writing about photography and anything related to photography, so my website must include a blogging platform. And since I am writing about photography, the blog should also display images beautifully using a modern design.

My final need is the ability to sell products, including prints, calendars, and downloads, through the website.

Leaving Zenfolio Blog, photography, portfolio, wordpress, zenfolio

Reasons for the Zenfolio Breakup

This is not a rant against Zenfolio, and I’m not angry or upset with the service. The short version is Zenfolio is no longer meeting my needs well enough to justify the increasing cost of the service. Over the last 6 1/2 years, they have not taken away any features, but neither have they improved anything, and yet they are charging more for it.

In 2021, Zenfolio rolled out a completely new platform; unfortunately, they have left their existing customers high and dry on their outdated legacy platform with no pathway for migration. The legacy platform has major limitations-images are displayed at lower resolutions (1440×960 is the max), the mobile experience is severely lacking (mobile support was tacked on to their pre-mobile platform), and the websites built on this platform are looking dated. And while Zenfolio maintains support for the legacy platform for existing users, they are not going to make any improvements. But they are raising prices in 2022.

Zenfolio’s legacy platform is failing at my top two needs (beautiful display of images on any device and a modern blog). Their selling platform does offer some unique features (primarily the ability to set per image price lists rather than per gallery or single product) but the shopping experience for customers is outdated, managing the backend of the store is complex and tedious, and Zenfolio charges a 6.9% commission on top of the annual subscription fee.

My frustration with Zenfolio over these issues has been growing for the last couple of years. In 2021, I researched other options for photography website hosting but didn’t find another service that compelled me to switch, and after talking with a Zenfolio rep about what they are working on with the new platform, I decided to renew my subscription (and they offered me a hefty discount on the renewal fee). However, I feel more limited by the platform every day, so I’ve decided it’s time to move on.

Leaving Zenfolio Blog, photography, portfolio, wordpress, zenfolio

My Solution-Wordpress and Cloudways

After a couple of false starts, I’ve settled on using WordPress to host my primary website and blog. WordPress is not perfect but it can meet all of my needs, and with Cloudways web hosting, the actual annual cost is about half of what I was paying Zenfolio.

When I started this website in 2015, WordPress was at the top of my short list alongside Zenfolio. At the time, Zenfolio had the edge on total cost because, while WordPress itself is free, I had planned to use the paid Photocrati/NextGen Gallery theme ($109/year) and web hosting can be expensive (roughly $180/year). But in 2022, it is no longer necessary to pay for a portfolio theme, and cloud hosting services like Cloudways have made fast, reliable web hosting more affordable-I’m paying about $13 per month ($156 annually). Compare that to Zenfolio’s current rate of $258/year (plus commissions).

Alternative Services

In 2021, I looked into Squarespace, Pixpa, and Wix as alternatives but couldn’t find a compelling reason to switch. Notably, none of these services meet all the needs I described earlier; therefore, I started looking at how to meet my needs for the absolute lowest cost. Initially I settled on using Adobe Portfolio (free) for hosting my galleries and portfolios, WordPress.com ($7/month) to host my blog, and Etsy for selling calendars (free with commission). But after setting up a test site on Adobe Portfolio I realized that I didn’t want to have to split my blog away from the main website. And having gained some familiarity with WordPress as a blogging platform, I decided to go all-in with WordPress.

Leaving Zenfolio Blog, photography, portfolio, wordpress, zenfolio

My WordPress Configuration

Apparently WordPress has been going through some major changes over the last couple of years. Many of the top WordPress gurus on Youtube have been recommending the Kadence theme as the best all-around theme for WordPress in 2022, so that’s what I’m using. Again, it’s not perfect, but so far I’ve been able to accomplish everything I’ve wanted with my site using the free versions of the Kadence theme and Kadence Blocks plugin. For my photo galleries, I am using Meow Gallery and Meow Lightbox (free versions of both) from Meow Apps on the recommendation of Martin Bailey.

Image Management

Managing photos in WordPress is by far the biggest downside to using WordPress and is something I still have not fully grasped. With Zenfolio, all of my photos could be arranged in folders and also linked to galleries, and I used Jeffrey Friedl’s free Lightroom plugin to upload and synchronize the images. This process was flawless-whenever I made changes to a synced image, that image was marked to be re-published to Zenfolio. And when I hit the Publish button, it always worked. Unfortunately this is not the case with Wodpress.

Meow Apps also makes a duo of plugins for Lightroom and WordPress that synchronize images on a WordPress website with Lightroom. WP/LR Sync is a Lightroom Publish Service that uploads the photos to WordPress and works in conjunction with Photo Engine, a free plugin for WordPress that manages the galleries. The Meow Gallery plugin also works with Photo Engine but other gallery plugins, such as Foo Gallery, also work with Photo Engine. WP/LR Sync is only available as a paid Lightroom plugin for $29/year.

My hope was that the combination of WP/LR Sync and Photo Engine would provide similar functionality to what I had for Zenfolio. However, I have found WP/LR Sync to be extremely finicky-sometimes it will upload an entire collection of images without a hiccup, but more often than not, it uploads a single image then freezes up requiring a restart of Lightroom for another attempt. I wish Jeffrey Friedl would make a WordPress plugin.

Leaving Zenfolio Blog, photography, portfolio, wordpress, zenfolio

On the WordPress side, image organization is just clunky (perhaps non-existent would be a better description). WordPress only all image files in a single folder on the server. Plugins like Photo Engine throw a virtual gallery structure on top and provide a separate user interface but don’t actually change the way WordPress stores the files. Meow Apps has done a good job with the Photo Engine plugin and the limitations are probably inherent in WordPress, but there are a lot of limitations.

There are other options for image management in WordPress, such as the paid versions of NextGen Gallery and Envira Gallery. However, those plugins utilize proprietary gallery structures that lock the user into those paid plugins forever, and there’s no reason to think that those plugins provide better functionality than Meow’s Photo Engine. I’ve paid for a year of WP/LR Sync so I’m going to stick with it for now; if I can’t resolve my issues by next year I may just resort to manually exporting and uploading the images.

Selling Features

I have not yet attempted to add any products to my website. I’ll have to figure it out later this year to sell my calendars, but I expect it to be fairly straightforward to implement a solution to sell a single product. I’ve decided that online print sales are probably not worth the effort given the limited number of prints that I sell. I’ve updated my About Prints page to provide some options and example pricing and simply asked the buyer to contact me directly to complete the transaction.

Fine art photographs of an aspen forest in Colorado..

My Other Websites

I set up Cuchara Valley Landscapes in 2015 as a website dedicated to showcasing the beauty of southern Colorado. It was intended to serve up beautiful photos of Cuchara and the surrounding area to anyone who was homesick or yearning for a visit to the mountains. As my photographic interests expanded beyond Cuchara, I added a number of other photo galleries on my Cuchara Valley Landscapes website that were unrelated to Cuchara. This was fine for a while, but the site had become cluttered with these other galleries. So as part of this move, I’ve set up two other websites for sharing my photography portfolios so that Cuchara Valley Landscapes can remain focused on Cuchara.

The first site, jeffstovallphotography.com, is for sharing all of my other photography including film, infrared, travel, drone, and whatever else I want to share. The other site, jeffstovall.art, is dedicated to sharing only my fine art black and white images. Currently both of these site are hosted through Adobe Portfolio, so the only cost to me is for the custom domain names.

My Blog

I’ve also decided to keep my blog associated with Cuchara Valley Landscapes. It probably would make more sense for the blog to be part of my general photography website, but as I started moving the blog to a separate site, I realized that I’ve been blogging as Cuchara Valley Landscapes from the beginning, and I’m just not prepared to change that at this point. If I do decide to make that change in the future, the blog is now on WordPress so hopefully moving it to a new site will be much easier.

Summary

Now that my new websites are all set up and all of my blog content has been migrated over, I’m really glad to have made the move. Aside from image management, everything else about WordPress and Cloudways is a major improvement over Zenfolio, particularly not being locked in and confined to the limitations of an outdated platform. I also love that since I’m hosting my own site, I can add just about any functionality to my website just by installing a plugin.

What do you think about my new website? Leave a comment and let me know!

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