It’s been a long time since we snapped a photo or maybe uploaded something on my social page! Do we hear such statements nowadays? We doubt not, since all we see is flashes and sound of clicks all around us.
From local streets to snowclad mountains, hiking camps to indoor photography, modern humans have embraced the art of creating and saving memories in an interactive way which was not possible in olden days.
We all know the importance of these clicks in our lives, as our sole carriers of past memories. Wouldn’t you want these memories to come alive? Maybe at least in a way you can kiss or hug it or shed tears over it.
To physically create these moments, we need the help of modern-day photography and the art of framing them. For this purpose, either you need to rush to the local store again and again and wait for your turn to get it done.
Apart from that, wouldn’t it be wonderful to display those beautiful memories or tricky clicks and your talented photography to the world and also earn some bucks? How can you do both of these things sitting at home?
Well, you’ll be pleased to know that in the modern internet era, there exists Portfolio Websites, which not only displays the artwork or your memories to the world but also generate some revenue from it.
- Pro-Plan Trial Version: Zenfolio has a two weeks Pro-plan as a trial version.
- Quality Image Upload: You can upload HD or Ultra-HD and even raw images.
- Unlimited Photo Uploads: Upload numerous photos and videos with the Pro and Advanced Subscription.
- Professional Printing Vendors: Zenfolio comes with some popular printing vendors and provides free priority shipping above $35 purchases.
- Better Theme and Template Personalization: Zenfolio has very detailed modification options for themes and templates.
- Superior Store Features: All the in-store features are amazing and provide full customer satisfaction.
- Separate Blog Page: It has a separate page to submit daily blogs but lacks adding feeds from other sites like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.
- Decent Custom Pages Feature: With 10+ inbuilt unique pages, the users can make their own custom pages.
- Decent Sale Statistics: Although the sale statistics are not visually apt, they provide most sale related info.
- Dedicated Client and Customer Support: You can find proper communication tools for the client and the customers.
- Insufficient Template Stock: The stipulated template stock is very low which may give fewer choices to novice users.
- Mediocre Site Editor: The site editor has very restricted editing.
- No Widget Section: Lack of widgets limit adding extra elements to the pages.
- Wallet Heavy Plans: Except for the starter plan, both other plans are costly for low/mid-level aspirants.
- No Backup for Deleted Photos: Zenfolio lacks a recycle bin to retrieve the deleted photos and doesn’t have a separate backup facility.
- Less Than Average Photo Editing: It neither has an excellent inbuilt photo editor nor does provide an external integration.
Portfolio websites are used by everyone from a local foodie, to professional models, wedding planners, newlywed couples, family collage, nature hiking, etc. You can upload any images of your interest and also create a sale for it.
To make a portfolio website, you can utilize the computer language codes you learned in your graduation or use an online site builder without too much hassle. The best option here for novice and advanced users alike is using an online site builder.
Unlike regular applications to build a website, it will be much more feasible to use a dedicated portfolio site builder. This is because it will not only have every template and theme for a good portfolio site but also allow the printing support for its users, which regular site builders do not provide.
And here comes Zenfolio, one of the top portfolio site builders. Founded in 2005 in California, USA, this builder has skyrocketed its glory and has held to the top portfolio builder sites’ list.
Zenfolio, like other sites, is armed with all the amenities to make an amazing portfolio site. You can find many templates, themes, photo gallery, and many more photography related features, to aid you in making a good photo portfolio site.
In this review, we will be using the trial version of the builder and see if you can make some real money with it. We will dig out every possible corner of its features and functionalities and then conclude our evaluation.
It’s Time to Test the Features
If you are serious about making your own portfolio website, we’d suggest that you find some good collection of photos that can be used to preview the site gallery and learn adding professional pics to it.
Using Zenfolio is quite easy, and you can begin after you create a new account. You can either go for one of the subscriptions or can try it for free and explore it first.
Once you have done successful signup, the main dashboard will guide you on the various tabs and features of the site. The main panel will display the items uploaded on the site. In this panel, you can start uploading the stock photos you have and create separate folders for them if you want.
To head on to the main editor page, you can see four pull-down tabs on the top. The tab named Websites will have a customize the site option. Click on it, and you can see the page redirected to the editor section.
The main panel will display most of the desired uploaded items under the list of Featured, Recent, Favorites, Watermarks, and Soundtracks. The top navigation bar of the main panel has links to Photo Manager, Website Editor, Selling and Communications.
On the same page, the users can see the accounts tab on the top right. This option is used to edit the account info like the site name, domain, its title, etc.
Overall, the entire site navigation is designed in such a way that most novice users can grab the concept easily and build their own portfolio site. There is also an option for manual code input in the custom code section, where advanced users can add their codes to the site.
How Good are Templates?
As simple as it goes, any website that you build is dependent on the visual aesthetics as well as the user friendliness it offers. The site must be balanced in both these aspects to yield better browsing experience for the viewers.
To access the templates, go to the website tab on the panel and select website customization. In the main editor, the users need to select the preset button. The name given here is quite self-explanatory as Preset here also means predesigned templates.
There are a total of 13 predetermined templates in Zenfolio, and most of them are under regular portfolio category like weddings, newborn, pets, art gallery, model photography, etc. All these templates are free along with any type of plan except the advanced subscription opens up three new templates viz. school, sports and event photography.
All the preset templates are customizable and have quite informal UI for novice users. After selecting the template, the users can now modify/remove the content they want from the pages. One of the amazing things this site has provided was that they have a separate section for themes and page layouts.
However, many users may notice that while most content of the preset are fixed, the themes and layout are highly customizable. Also, each page can be made differently using these two options and so it is quite relaxing to know that your site will not be in the same old colors.
Exploring the Editor
How do I start adding or modifying content on my site and its pages? Such questions may be flooding in your minds, and so we will help you understand in detail and decide the quality of the site editor Zenfolio is equipped with.
As you open the main editor page, there are several items that can be modified on a certain level, out of which the preset content is usually fixed. Contrary from the other portfolio sites, in Zenfolio, the users can only change the item via the top right edit option.
This icon on the top right will display the editable items on that page. Each page has different items in the preset that can be modified. This part may be disappointing for some since there are no customizable elements in the site.
And surprisingly, this portfolio site builder has no widget function. You heard it, folks! It has no widgets, quite disappointing to be honest.
The users can create custom pages and add new existing page types via the menu bar on the left. The Site Menu lists all the current online pages of the site. Clicking on any of them will redirect to that page for customization.
Below the page navigation menu, you can access the options like site header, footer, and general settings. The top right corner has the choice to either preview, restore or publish the changes in the current page or site.
The editor seemed lackluster due to the absence of widgets. This is one field that Zenfolio needs to update on. In our review and usage, we found that it can be quite confusing for novice users to see what items can be modified.
To solve it, the developers need to add a separate edit icon over each element on the current page. This will create a more user-friendly approach.
Also, they must allow the users adding certain element randomly on the page like typical website builders. Users must be able to add certain elements like photo gallery, single photos, videos, text fields, form fields, maps, separators on their page.
SmugMug and Format both have better options to modify the pages. Both of them have a separate widget section, and the users can add any of them to make a fully customizable page.
Now, there are certain things in this editor different from others like you can customize the themes and layout of the pages. Also, you can add more pages on your site and select from around ten preset pages like Home, Contact Us, Login, Blogs, etc.
Let us look at the various customization Zenfolio has to offer in themes, layout and preset.
A webpage layout is the appearance and arrangement of elements on that page. As we have experienced in real life, the more understandable and uncomplicated a design, the easier it is to navigate through the site.
Many times, developers add too much graphical elements on their site instead of a simple layout. This can and will confuse the visitors, and they often will leave the site, if they cannot find their required content in the first few minutes.
To avoid such situations and to give more control to the site owners, Zenfolio is equipped with a custom layout selector. The use of this feature is a bit tricky, and many users may not be able to understand it without goofing around.
To start using the feature, click the page whose layout you want to edit. Once that page loads, select the layout option. This will open the layout menu, and you can see several layouts to pick from.
The trick here is that for every page type, Zenfolio has assigned different layouts and so you can either see only 2 or 3 for some pages like Contact Us, while you can choose many for pages like Gallery, About Us, Blog or other custom pages. The number can vary from two r three layouts to over 20 for some pages.
They have allocated spotlight layouts where you can insert either audio, video or image file in the center of the page to grab attention and other details on the later part of the page.
This feature can be convenient if you want to change the look on various pages of your site. All the layouts available have simplistic UI and do not possess any high-end scripts. It is unique only in Zenfolio, and they get a plus point for it.
The succeeding item is the themes that are easy to personalize, and we have discussed them in the next section. Other than this, there were general header and footer settings. You can choose the display template of the images on the gallery page, change grid sizes, thumbnails, welcome messages, store templates, etc. from here.
Concluding to this section, we would say that it is quite impressive to provide such detailed editing for layout. We would certainly like Zenfolio to work on adding the widget section similar to SmugMug, where you can drag and drop some elements on the current page.
Another highly personalized feature Zenfolio has come up with is the themes section. Many site builders have themes feature, but most portfolio site builders rarely offer extensive theme support.
Similar to the layout section, the themes section has a plethora of choices. They have gone one step further and have armed the users with custom theme building.
Like above, the themes tab is found on the top left corner of the editor page. In this mode, the users are flexible in choosing a different theme for each of their pages. This feature is not provided in most portfolio site builders and their theme modification affects all pages on your site.
Let us explore how we can create custom themes and what kind of modification is allowed by the editor. Select the create custom theme option, the last choice in the theme’s menu, and you will be forwarded to the custom themes page.
The first thing that you will stumble upon is the color wheel on the top of the theme designer. As much as many not like it, this wheel is the easiest way to save you hours of color picking and can give you the desired theme in one go.
As you can see, the color wheel consists of all the color arranged in a circle along with their respective shades. The middle of the circle has a graph, whose four quadrants have different saturation level of the selected shade.
The neighboring items to this circle are the generated schemes, and color scheme chart. Select a primary color on the circle and a saturation level. After this, the generated schemes tab will show five options of the selected color. The rest of the colors are automatically picked by the editor, so all you need is selecting one color.
The color scheme chart on the right of the wheel will display how the various elements of the page like background, texts, headers and footers, accent and frames, links and the buttons will be filled with the selected theme colors.
Some people may find this process too tedious and so for them, use the time savior option Randomize, just below the wheel. You can hit this button to randomly generate the color schemes and change it until you find a good one.
After this, you can either use the generated theme or make some more variations to it. To do some editing to the current theme, move to the leftmost sidebar. This palette will display all the modifiable items on the theme page.
There is a drop-down menu on this palette from which the users can choose any element on the given page, e.g., page background, boxes, button, breadcrumbs, contact info, image fields, text fields, maps, header and footer, spotlight area, and many more. Isn’t it mind boggling?
The amount of detailing is sheer magnificent in this theme composer. As you can see in the tab above the color wheel, the same amount of detailing is possible for different pages like homepage, gallery, blogs, and E-mails.
Once you are done with creating a proper custom theme, save the theme. You can then see this theme listed in the site editor’s theme menu.
One thing we all can agree on here, is the sheer amount of detailing Zenfolio has provided, and the freedom to choose the color schemes is fantastic. This is an area that they can really brag about, as such detailing is not possible in any portfolio site builder. Even a novice with basic understanding can make a good theme if they follow these steps.
Image Editor and Media Manager
Talk about online photo gallery, terms like editing the photos, moving them in folders/subfolders, watermark them, etc. come into our minds. For these features, we can use the inbuilt media manager of the site builder.
Zenfolio also has a base level media manager. This media manager can be accessed on the main dashboard itself. The center panel will contain the list of all the folder and collections. Click on any one of them, and you can now access the photos in that folder.
The create-new option on the left side palette can add new folders, gallery, collection folders, etc. in the media manager. You can already see the client folder there. Options like preview, upload, access, price lists, and details are present to modify some photo settings or upload new ones.
To change any setting of the current photos, double the desired gallery and then select the image you want to edit. Only editable options here are the mirror and the rotate button. The action tab in the right side in this panel has the option to delete, move/copy, watermark, change the collection folder, and add it in exports.
The users can add image information via the edit detail button. This detailing is still less compared to the detail provided by other builders like PhotoShelter. The detailing lacks the IPTC metadata and EXIF data. You can only add the attributes, title, captions, copyright name, keyword and object types.
One silver lining here is that the users can export the CSV file of the whole collection, edit the related meta tag cells in it and directly upload them via the Bulk Metadata Update button. This saves the trouble of going through every image or media you have uploaded and changing the data one by one.
Overall, compared to SmugMug, PhotoShelter, and Format, this portfolio site builder has a good image manager platform. Certainly, they can add more editing function for the images something like a mini photo-editing app, or use Adobe Lightroom integration, etc. and improve this section of the application.
Time to Open the Shop!
It’s been so long discussing the features that now you’d be wanting to know the sales related features of Zenfolio. Many questions regarding the sales like package list, shipping methods, payment methods, service charges, etc. might be going in your head. Let us now march to the sales gallery and check if Zenfolio can offer us decent services there.
To start tweaking with the sale and printing stuff, go to the selling tab on the top menu bar and click the Selling button. This will take you to the main panel of the sale feature. Most of the modifiable items are present on this screen.
As you can see, the panel is very interactive and arranged in a user-friendly manner. The items present in this dashboard are orders, pre-orders, reports, price lists, packages, coupons, etc. You can also see the self-fulfilled products and vendor integration here.
Since all of the above sub features have their own panel to set them up, we will discuss them separately and dissect them for the readers.
Orders, Pre-Orders and Coupons
Going from the name itself, the Orders tab will display all the pending client orders, and orders placed by the photographers.
The second tab Orders placed by photographers is used by the owners of the site to place the orders. The owners can sort the orders by date only. These orders will list the order number, date, quantity, tracking details, and receipt of the placed order.
The coupons section can be accessed on the main panel itself. Similar to the coupons in online shopping, Zenfolio also provides them to give discounts to customers. The only alterations possible in the coupons section are name, coupon description, total discount allotted, maximum usability and minimum purchase price.
The owners can add the time limit or usage limit to the coupons. They can also make it applicable to certain products only or all products. You can also add the discounted shipping here. Overall, the orders section is quite easy to handle, and the setup procedure is the same as other portfolio builders.
Price-Lists and Vendors
Before the customers place their orders, they will need to see the price list of different products. For that, the owners will have to consult the local price markets and then make a price listing. The whole task can become quite cumbersome and so to avoid that, Zenfolio has come up with price listings, based on the international standards.
Go to the selling drop-down menu on the top navigation bar and select Price List there. You will see the list of products along with the designated pricing. In this list, you can find several frame sizes from a small magnet, cards to large canvases and home decors.
The main vendor Mpix has provided many types of frames and finishes along with tons of photo sizes. When you select a finish type, the list will also display the available sizes. The Zenfolio US offers aluminum art, which is not provided in other portfolio builders.
There is a list of products to be selected manually in the bottom via the quick shop products. This creates a custom list apart from the preset list by vendors. It can be helpful to add more items in the list or to edit the pre-existing ones. You can also manually create new product list in this panel.
Let us now look at the various vendors provided by Zenfolio to complete the publish/printing stuff. These vendors are given in the preset so that most owners will not have to set up the pricing on their own and can rely on anyone to complete their sales.
The top vendors assimilated in Zenfolio are Mpix, Mpix Pro, Fotoflat, Zenfolio US, Pikto, One Vision, Picto, Nulab, and NuShots. Most of these vendors in amongst top-list for providing the printing support. Of these Mpix, Nulab and One Vision have the most amount of different products under the basket.
Just click on any one the above list of vendors, and they will redirect the owners to the list of all available size for that vendor. You can also set the vendor frame and frame finish while booking.
Overall, the print and vendors department of Zenfolio is similar to SmugMug, but it is better arranged and easier to set up than the former one. We are pretty sure that most professional customers will be satisfied with the current vendors and price-lists.
Digital Products, Packages, and Albums
Sometimes the images that you have picked from the website may not be needed in the frame format. You may only need a digital copy of it, either to manually print it over your place or to just keep it in your storage. For such purposes, allowing to use the digital download only option is beneficial.
To add digital products to your product list, click the Add Products button on the main panel and select the digital product. This new tab will ask to you to input the images from the gallery you want to put as digital products. Then set the title, license type, dimensions allowed, and the quantity allowed.
The license types by default are four viz. one-time print, unlimited online usage, non-royalty commercial usage, and free-royalty personal usage. You can manually add other license too. This way you add multiple digital only products.
Let us check out the packages preset in Zenfolio. These packages are like the wholesale market where you get some discount. The packages given by Zenfolio are gold, platinum, silver and bronze ones.
You can also choose to form your own collection package via Add New Packages. These packages may be made depending on the popular demand and sell them accordingly. These packages can be assigned to both Zenfolio partnered labs or the self-fulfilled person above.
Lastly, we move to the photo album services. This feature is used to connect to the clients directly and avoids most interference of third party. There is some commission given by the Zenfolio to the owner for every client they connect.
The site owners get a 20% commission on every transaction with the client. Zenfolio directly handles all the communication and product dealings with the client on your behalf. Overall, in 10 business days, your albums will be ready to be shipped. This is also a unique feature provided by Zenfolio, which no other portfolio site builder has to provide.
Reports, Payouts & Self-Fulfilled
Boy oh boy, Zenfolio has indeed paid a lot of attention in developing the sales and its related features and this can be seen from the detailing they have given to every mode in it. After you have sold some of your products, its time now to see the statistics.
There is a Reports & Payouts option on the main sales dashboard. When you enter this section, you can now see the sales statistics like total sales, total taxes, product and shipping revenue, profits, etc. All the sales data can be accessed here.
You can also see various tabs like taxes, orders, preorders, products, coupons, annual reports, etc. for more detailed info on each criteria of sale. Also, a pie chart or a bar graph would have made the reports more visually attractive and easier to read.
Next comes the Payout option, which allows the site owners to check out all the credits in their Zenfolio wallet to the bank account. Zenfolio will automatically hand over all the money in their wallet at every calendar end. This is an automated process and owners can also submit for a payout anytime by requesting Zenfolio for the same.
You can also see the account statement, and annual report from here. All these data are quite useful for businesses and Zenfolio did a fantastic job by incorporating them in it.
What about self-fulfilled products? Well, they are readily available in Zenfolio and so you can customize any products as per size, colors, frames, shipping methods, payment methods, resolutions and package size. Even a novice can easily make some self-fulfilled products and get some sales, such is the ease of UI here.
Many of us may want to design our own photo templates and so you can use this feature from Zenfolio. It is very easy to create a new template from your idea here.
There are some vendors like Mpix and Pro, One Vision and Zenfolio US who have made available some of the best photo templates ranging from a small gift card, greeting card, calendar, bragging book, magnet, phone covers, and full-sized canvases.
You can edit the background, text and photo placeholder in the canvas or any size frame that you’ve selected. Save the changes and then add the template name, description, design group and preview image. Now you are ready with you own designed photo template.
Communication with the Customers
Rarely do we see a portfolio site builder that indulges too much in client-owner communication and support. Zenfolio unlike its competition sites, has separately allocated a section for the owners to contact their customers.
The communication section has following tabs viz. Contact lists, Email lists, Guestbook, Comments, and Visitor stats. The first tab of contact lists out the added contact in your list. The owners can tag these contacts with the gallery folders or client’s folder. You can send Email, or export, delete or modify them from here.
The subsequent section is about customizing the Emails and adding custom messages to them. There are several mail messages like first visit mail, group invites, order collection and dispatch, gallery expiry, etc. These mails are mostly system generated and so its better to not tweak them much.
The triggered mail section allows the owners to set trigger-based mail on certain client actions like new account, order placed, favorite, contact form submission, etc. The last tab here is the history tab that displays all the history of above email exchanges. As we can see, this whole setup makes managing the Email stuff quite less hectic.
Next to it is the Guestbook & Comment section. This segment will list out all the comments, guestbook entries, and blog comments. The owners need to approve/disapprove them, can make them public, private or delete them.
The last segment in communication section is visitor stats. The stats data is quite basic and has only data regarding number of visitors over a week, month, or year. It can also display the most popular gallery and photos.
The last section in communication part is the Client Page. This page will be for client, who have logged into their account and can upload photos in the gallery via the gallery ID. The client gallery is same as the owner gallery except that they cannot alter the main gallery images from it. The owner however can modify/delete it.
Finishing this section, the customer, client and site owner are having sufficient means of communication along with full tracking of each instances. The client function is decent and similar like in PhotoShelter. Overall, these features are enough for any level of photographers or aspiring gallery managers.
Knowing about Zenfolio was easier since it is already amongst the top products in portfolio site builders. But such impression will not affect our review and systematic testing. So, as usual, we dissected every feature in it and now let us see a brief summary of our experience with them.
From templates to custom themes, layouts and editor, Zenfolio has tried to envelope as many as functionalities in them. The templates were comparatively lower than other portfolio builders like SmugMug, PhotoShelter, etc. However, they did a wonderful job in further increasing customization via a separate layout and themes.
Another amazing unique feature was multi fold theme customization. As we discussed in above respective section, no other portfolio site builder has allowed such amount of personalized touch.
The media manager was good enough for mid-level professionals, and definitely needs more editing options and functions to beat the competitors. The image editing was negligible, and this part needs to be addressed soon. If they cannot add internal editing plugins, they can integrate with external ones like Lightroom, etc. to promote appropriate editing of photos.
The sales and related features were amazing and much improved than other portfolio builders. Any mid-level to high level professional can achieve amazing sales of their products. There were tons of photo sizes, frames, finishes along with many vendors with them. Overall, we did not find any trouble in creating a product list, their packages, self-fulfilled albums. That’s why they must consider sales as one of the features to do a boastful marketing.
For the interactions of the owners with clients and customers had decent means. The stats page of sales and visitors need more detailed data with some infographics. Also, the client section needs more improvements and is still novice compared to other builders.
Finally, the printing and delivery support along with customizable pricing, auto-taxes, etc. made a deserving impression on our minds. Only thing we want Zenfolio to focus more on first hand is adding the widgets to the site editor. Rather than having a strict site editor with static editing, Zenfolio can incorporate a versatile approach for users who need to add more elements to the page like buttons, icons, text fields, maps, etc.
We have now come to the end of our article. Looking at all the features and their performance, we finally conclude that Zenfolio is indeed the top contender as a portfolio site builder. Honestly, the pricing are bit expensive.
If you are a professional with more than 5 years of experience in photography and online portfolio sites, you may go ahead and choose the $30 advanced plan. For starter, either SmugMug or Zenfolio’s $5 base plan are best to learn and explore. If you are skeptic and want to be assured about the product, feel free to try the trial version for fourteen days.
We certainly want more improvements in the site editor and client section as said above; else Zenfolio has performed very well in our tests. Finishing to our review, if you are an aspiring photographer or a model, or just want to make a personal portfolio site, you can definitely rely on Zenfolio.