Making it easy for photographers to build an all-in-one website, including a blog, portfolio, and ecommerce store for selling prints and downloads.
Whether you're an established professional photographer or just starting out, having your own website can make a strong first impression on prospective clients. If you can attract enough traffic, it can also be a great way to generate passive income by selling prints.
It's easier than ever for photographers to start a blog or set up a simple website. However, it's tough to find a solution that meets all their requirements and is easy to use. Most blogging or website builders excel at doing one thing, and any additional features tend not to integrate well.
Several specialized vendors exist to serve the photography niche. However, most go to the other extreme—offering a dizzying array of features. The result is often unnecessarily complicated websites that are confusing to visitors.
Visual Society is one startup that is working to solve these issues and offer a platform that is both powerful and intuitive. Their team has just released version 2.0, which further refines its ease of use and expands its capabilities.
The Back Story
Thad Allender is a photographer, designer, and entrepreneur based in New York City, NY who embraces the evolution of media and wants to help shape the future of visual communication.
After discovering photography in his teenage years, he graduated with a journalism degree from Kansas University in 2002 and went on to serve as a photographer, journalist, and multimedia producer. Working for several prestigious organizations, his work received various awards.
In 2004, he began designing blogs and websites for non-profit organizations, small businesses, and individuals. This venture grew, and in 2007, he founded Graph Paper Press, a web development company focused on creating tools (plugins) and designs (themes) for creatives using WordPress, the world’s most popular web publishing system.
The number of individuals around the world using products created by Thad's team to power their websites grew to over 300,000. Meanwhile, they also served as an agency serving a broad range of clientele, including National Public Radio (NPR), and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA).
The Visual Society Concept
Thad and his team noticed that their WordPress plugins and themes were attracting photographers, most of whom had limited experience setting up websites to host their portfolio and sell prints. Observing how they struggled, they decided to shift their approach.
They transitioned from offering parts for DIY customers to offering Visual Society; a turnkey solution. It is a hosted e-commerce platform powered by their software that includes automated print fulfillment and aggregates a selection of photography in a shared marketplace.
Visual Society Overview
Visual Society allows anyone to upload photos in an attractive storefront and begin making sales immediately without the hassle of doing any of the printing, worldwide order fulfillment, or customer service. The products include canvas wraps, framed prints, and posters.
Users can control the pricing for all items, set their own profit margin, and keep 100% of sales profit.
There are two premium plans; Plus ($5/month) and Pro ($25/month). The latter has everything a photographer would need and is a bargain considering how much it would cost to go the DIY route. There is a free seven-day trial that lets you try all Pro features.
What most people don’t realize is that once a website has been built, it needs to be maintained. Even if you don’t do any further customization and only add content, there are multiple layers of software that must be updated regularly. Sometimes when one part gets updated, it upsets other parts, and so a technical expert is required to fix the issues. This is why a managed solution like Visual Society is best for the 99% of people who aren’t web developers.
Visual Society's Standout Features
It's often thought that to create a successful startup, you need to have a completely unique idea. However, sometimes, you can find an area that is not being adequately served and come up with an option that better meets the needs of a specific niche. Visual Society's offering is something that a large portion of the photography market was looking for.
Having tested the platform and asked the team a lot of questions, the following are what I feel are the standout features of Visual Society.
Customer Support: So far, I've found that all of my inquiries have been answered promptly and my questions have received clear and well-written responses.
Branding: The free trial gives you a template that is like a hybrid of Instagram and an online store. The Pro plan lets you use your own custom domain and have even more control over your branding.
Usability: The user dashboard has been carefully crafted to shield the user from the complexity of WordPress. Even compared to WordPress.com, WordPress' turnkey hosted offering, it is far easier to use. Of course, this simplicity won't be for everyone, but I expect it will be appreciated by the vast majority of photographers who just want to get things set up and focus on their business.
Keyword & Metadata Handling: Visual Society processes image uploads using Amazon's AI technology to automatically apply keywords. This is going to be a huge time-saver and I was shocked at how accurate it was. Visual Society can also import metadata present within your image files including Title, Caption, Creator, Keywords, and Location.
Product Configuration: Unlike some print-on-demand platforms, Visual Society doesn't require the user to mess around fitting their pictures to the products. It just works.
Marketplace: Visual Society lets users submit their best photos to its central marketplace. It then promotes them via Google and Facebook ads. Of course, you'll have to do your own promotion for the most part, but this is an excellent option that most website builders don't offer.
Blogging and SEO: Visual Society has a custom content management system (CMS) with blogging and SEO (search engine optimization) integrated, so Visual Society won't let you down in this area. Whereas for several website builders, blogging was bolted on as an afterthought and isn't optimal.
Easy to Change Designs: The Pro plan gives you a selection of ten design templates (themes) to choose from, which was plenty for me. They are all practical, minimalistic, and modern.
There are many other features that I like about Visual Society that make it an excellent option for amateur and professional photographers alike.
Features I'd Like to See
It's impossible for any platform to please everybody, but I did have the following items that I'd like to see in future updates.
Video Tutorials: Visual Society is easy to use, but I think they still need a set of video tutorials so that people can get the most out of the platform.
Photographer Directory: Perhaps Plus and Pro users can be eligible to be included in a directory of photographers.
Gallery Ordering: Currently, photos appear in the order they are uploaded. It would be nice to be able to drag and drop them to rearrange the order.
Adding Images to Multiple Galleries: A single photo listing can only appear in one gallery at a time. If you want it to show up in two or more different galleries, you'll have to re-upload it.
Donations: Visual Society lets you sell downloads. I'd like to be able to offer them for free, but allow people to send me a donation if they wish. This is similar to how Pexels and Pixabay do it.
Setting Licenses: I’d like to be able to specify the type of license for my downloads. For example, Minds lets us choose from among a selection of Creative Commons licenses when posting an image. Something like this would be great.
Art: The marketplace will initially focus on photography. I'd like to see it have a section for art such as paintings.
Video: I think there's scope to adapt the platform to fit videographers who want to sell stock video clips or offer them with the option of accepting donations as on Pexels and Pixabay.
I've already submitted these ideas and the Visual Society team tell me that some are already in their development pipeline, while others are under consideration. They also revealed that they will be opening a dashboard section which will allow users to submit and vote for new features.
Overall, I would say that Visual Society represents excellent value for money. Its balance of simplicity with practical features provides a much-needed alternative to taking the DIY approach or signing up for one of the legacy incumbents in the website builder space. A Visual Society site is an excellent foundation for photographers of any level seeking to show off their work to potential clients while having the opportunity to sell prints.
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Written by DLKR