One of the guiding principles we have at Fuel Your Photos is to create a community of photographers that love their websites. Many photographers will eventually acknowledge that their website is place that unifies their entire existence online. It is the central point in which most potential clients will interact directly with your brand. It has also become clear over the many years of social media platforms coming and going, that your website is your own sovereign place on the web.
For many reasons, WordPress continues to be our top recommendation for most photographers looking to choose a website platform. They range from data ownership, modularity, ease of customization, SEO performance, and the ability to keep up with the pace of change of the internet.
WordPress has made many large changes over the past few years, and third party developers have pushed the platform even further. Here are our recommendations for everything you need to build a WordPress website in 2023. Listen to the podcast for a longer conversation on this topic.
A Note on Budget
It is possible to create a simple photography site using WordPress and our recommended tools for as little as ~$13/mo. That would be using Cloudflare or Google to register the domain, the standard 1gb Cloudways hosting, free Kadence theme and blocks, and no premium plugins.
If you have a slightly higher budget, you could add in a designer child theme and selection of premium plugins (WP Rocket / Shortpixel).
If you follow all of the premium recommendations in this guide, you’ll be spending roughly $150-200 up front for a child theme and ~$535/year for hosting and all premium plugins/options.
This is where you simply need to find an available URL, register it, not be bothered with expensive upsells, and have easy controls for DNS, Nameservers, etc. Many companies use these as loss-leaders to get people into their system and then sell them overpriced website products and services. Here are our recommendations:
Our easy recommendation for the past few years has been Google Domains. This was thrown into the air recently, with the annoncement that Squarespace would be acquiring them later this year. You still have quite a bit of time before price or features will be affected. I used Google Domains again last week to register a domain, but will be looking for a replacement to migrate to within the next year.
The main contender is going to be Cloudflare. They’re titans in the enterprise CDN world and offer great features and pricing. The main concern will be ease of user interface in comparison to Google.
Hosting can make or break your WordPress experience. If you’re on poor quality hosting, you’ll have a sluggish website, are more likely to get hacked, and have terrible support. After years of trying practically every host in existence that makes sense for photographers, we’re down to only recommending one.
Cloudways has been our primary recommendation for years, based on their simple and fair pricing, fast and high quality cloud servers, straight forward interface, and helpful technical support. They recently updated their entire dashboard and have improved it greatly.
We continue to use them almost exclusively for our site, our personal sites, and our side-projects.
If you’re starting out, or have lower traffic, get the 1gb standard server (make sure you’re not selecting premium). This should be ~$11/mo.
Then add the Elasticmail add-on for ~$0.10/month to securely send messages from your website (password resets, contact form submissions, etc).
Finally, if you need an email inbox and don’t use Google Workspace, add the Rackspace add-on for $1/month.
If you have more traffic, or any e-commerce, you should start or upgrade to the 2gb server.
Price: $12.10/mo for 1gb, ~$25.10/mo for 2gb.
This is another area where there are many fine options, but one stand out. The theme you pick for your WordPress site will also likely be one of the deciding factors for your overall experience on the platform.
We highly recommend that people stick with popular themes from well-established developers. We have countless horror stories from sites that used cheap themes from Themeforest / Creative Market / Envato / etc.
Kadence hits all of the boxes for us. A lightweight and easy to use theme that is built to work inside the WordPress ecosystem as it was designed. We’ve found that most photographers can learn this theme and become experts on it within months. It unlocks the ability to truly craft the website that you want.
Kadence Pro Theme
The Pro version of their theme unlocks a few really nice quality of life features. For us, the ability to use Hooked Elements really opens up possibilities for endless customization. Their Header Add-ons are nice and the custom fonts plugin works seamlessly within their ecosystem of theme and blocks.
Price: $129/year for essentials bundle (Pro theme, Pro Blocks, Custom Fonts)
Child themes allow developers and designers to create customized and opinionated versions of the Kadence theme and then package them in a way that allows continued Kadence updates without breaking the customizations. Kadence also has an easy “Starter Templates” and “Cloud Library” ecosystem that allows designers to create individual blocks and sections that their clients can use directly in the block editor. Here are a few favorites making child themes for photographers:
These are themes designed specifically for photographers who want to implement the same kind of SEO strategies we teach in our Membership. They walk you through website setup for best SEO results directly from the demo content. Simply replace the images and copy, match your color palette to your brand, and add your logo. They’re a partnership between Dylan and his wife Jess, so you’ll get great support within our community.
The Design Space
Melissa Love has been a long-time favorite in the photography theme space. Her themes have previously been exclusive to Divi page builder, but she’s made a large push into the Kadence ecosystem with her latest offerings and is about to release Cloud Library options for photographers. Her design aesthetic is always on point.
This designer has a large number of themes for feminine creatives and photographers. They also sell cloud sections for each theme that can be used to build an extensive library of similar blocks. The beauty of the Kadence ecosystem is that you can easily have access to cloud libraries from different designers directly in your block editor.
Previously in WordPress’ history, you likely needed to incorporate a third party page builder into your stack if you wanted to create any sort of content more than a simple blog. This lead to tools like Divi, Elementor, Visual Composer, and others. These tools gave great design freedom, but it came at a cost. There were performance and migration issues. You also had to learn that builder, which felt like an entirely new platform in itself.
In the block editor era, we find it best to ditch the old-school page builders and simply use a set of blocks that extends the standard WordPress blocks.
Kadence Blocks gives us the ability we need to create practically any website using their free WordPress plugin. The Row Layout and Section blocks allow you to quickly build out the structure of the page. The Advanced Text block lets you set typography settings separately from your heading structure. For a free tool, this is all most photographers will need to build their site.
Kadence Blocks Pro
There are a few areas where the free blocks are improved with Kadence’s paid option, Kadence Blocks Pro. The free blocks give you a limited Post Grid/Carousel. This is great for showing content on a page from a specific category or tag. The pro version unlocks many more configuration options and makes this tool flourish.
The Portfolio Grid/Carousel is also quite nice for photographers looking to display their images in a large swipe able gallery on the page. There are image slideshows in the free blocks, but they are limited in comparison.
Price: $129/year included in Essentials Bundle
WordPress out of the box needs a few performance tweaks to ensure users will have a proper user experience. The difference between an out of the box WordPress site and a properly optimized site can be many seconds of loading time on desktop and an eternity on mobile. One of the advantages of WordPress is that you have the ability to have best in class performance, if that is your goal.
The first need is for some sort of caching. This will allow the server to store responses for end users to download directly, rather than have them be requested and created for every visit.
This plugin is our go to performance plugin for WordPress sites due to its extensive feature list and ease of setup. There are other similarly featured performance plugins that exist that are simply a nightmare to configure properly. The ability to remove unused CSS is quite useful for Kadence sites and can have a meaningful impact on loading times for real users.
This is an older fork of WP Rocket that has been simplified and configured to work on Cloudways servers. It is included on Cloudways with their new WordPress installations. For most users, this will be fine. It works well and makes sure that your Varnish cache is cleared after changing or publishing content.
This free plugin is recommended by many hosting companies as it is a great generic caching plugin. We’ve tested it and it works fine on most sites/hosts.
Bloat Removal & General Performance
WordPress is built to be a platform for all types of websites and has years of features that have been added. It can be worthwhile to think about these specific features and consider disabling them for your website if they are unneeded.
Price: $24.99/ year
As photographers, we generally deal with significantly more images on the typical page than most websites. This makes image handling even more important. The best modern setup is to make sure that you’re lazy loading all of the images on your site outside of the initial viewport, but you still need to worry about the overall compression of your images.
This has been our recommendation for quite a few years and we haven’t come across a better competitor. It can compress all of the images in your image library and then compress all images as they’re uploaded going forward. Be sure to test the compression before running the bulk tool. We typically prefer the Glossy setting.
It also allows you to both create webp images and show them on the front-end. This works quite seamlessly with the typical Cloudways + Kadence website.
Price: $19.99 for 30,000 image compression credits
WordPress out of the box has a surprisingly large number of important SEO features that are missing. SEO plugins typically fix these issues, and then give users tools to further improve their overall optimization.
We run SEO Press on the majority of our sites. The ease of setup, clean user interface, simple options, and extensive configurability makes it our favorite. While they do have a pro version, they aren’t showing ads for it all over your dashboard (not true for other plugins).
Pro Version: $49/year (not needed for most)
If SEO Press is intimidating, Yoast can be a better option for people who are new to WordPress. Since it is the most popular plugin, there are easy to follow guides and tutorials for every situation.
Price: Free, don’t use their Premium
With WordPress, you are more or less in charge of your own security. Here are a few recommendations we can make, after creating hundreds of websites and not having any problems being hacked.
Comment spam is super annoying and this free plugin stops it with zero necessary configuration.
We mentioned it above, but it does have a few great security features. One is to change the location of your login page away from WordPress standards. This will stop most brute force login attacks.
Bot Protection (MalCare Security)
This plugin is installed by Cloudways by default on their new WordPress sites. It seems to stop bot traffic in its tracks, with zero need to configure. A great plugin that has no known downsides in our testing.
Here are a handful of additional plugins that we recommend for the typical WordPress site.
This plugin needs to have the API key from your SMTP provider, Elasticmail if using Cloudways. It will then log all of your website’s internal mail (forms, etc). This is great for making sure that you don’t have mail deliverability issues.
This plugin allows you to quickly and easily modify your sites theme files (like the functions.php file). If you’re ever adding custom code, this is the way to do it. You can toggle each snippet on and off for testing purposes and it has a great UI.
We install this plugin on all of our sites. It tracks your page/posts for any slug changes and can automatically create redirects for you when you make a change. It can also track 404’s on your site, allowing you to create redirects where necessary. Finally, it tracks those redirects.. so you can see if you have redirect issues or significant redirect traffic.
We hope this guide was helpful. This is the simple WordPress stack that we use on the majority of our sites and it leads to a simple and easy workflow to create and maintain fast and dependable websites. If you have any recommendations for competitors to the above products and services, let us know. We try to test new entrants into the WordPress ecosystem constantly.
If you have a stack that is different than ours, please share in the comments!