Strong portfolio photos can make your Web site a powerful marketing tool. Photos that are weak or reflect your work inaccurately can drive away attractive prospects and force you to spend valuable time weeding out others.

Imagine that a couple wants to see your work. You tell them to drive to a neighborhood you typically avoid, where you're doing a small project of a type you don't really like. The doors are locked, but they might be able to see a bit of the project by peering through the dirty windows.

Web site photos do the virtual equivalent of this if they take forever to open; are old and/or dated; are tiny, blurry, poorly lit; are so few or unvaried that the company seems to have extremely limited experience; or don't represent the company's best or even preferred type of work.

“The most important thing a Web site can do is to screen out unsuccessful customers,” says architectural photographer Greg Hadley (www.greghadleyphotography.com). Show only the types of work that you want to do more of, and show your range, quality, and style of work, he says. Tips for doing this successfully:

The portfolio section of Landis Construction's Web site lists 10 different types of work. Clicking on a window brings up another page showing a variety of projects that viewers can click through to see in greater detail.
The portfolio section of Landis Construction's Web site lists 10 different types of work. Clicking on a window brings up another page showing a variety of projects that viewers can click through to see in greater detail.

  • Hire a professional? Preferably, but a sharp eye and a quality digital camera may suffice if images are well-lit, taken from good angles, and consistent in quality. Realize that old film images, if scanned, may look fuzzy compared with new digital images.
  • Keep it simple. Don't make prospects sit through a fancy intro or download special software to view your site. Have a portfolio or gallery link on your home page, with sub-pages for project types. Make your site function forward and backward, so viewers can dig deeper as well as easily click back to where they want to be.
  • Compress. Big images will open slowly, especially on dial-up connections. Before uploading a high-resolution image, always optimize for the Web (most photo software has a “save for Web” option).
  • Be selective. Show only: your best work, dramatic before-and-afters, finished projects, uncluttered spaces. If you haven't shot many projects, show them from different angles, and show interesting details. Always leave clients a clean home and a nice thank-you gift.
  • Update often. Set up your site to let you update images in-house, Hadley says. The up-front costs may be more, but you'll save in the long run. You'll also be more inclined to update your site more often than if you relied on an outside designer.
  • Show your people. Staff photos and bios can alleviate concerns about reliability and may make valuable connections — schools attended, interests, families, Hadley says. No head-and-shoulders shots; show staff on the job, enjoying their work
  • What about progress photos? There's really only one safe place for these, Hadley says, and that's in a password-protected area that clients and staff alike can easily access and update.