I have used Adobe Lightroom since version 4 in 2012. After upgrading to version 5 and 6 in the following years, have really grown to appreciate its workflow, comprehensive suite of editing tools and the digital asset management.
When Adobe switched to a subscription model for Lightroom and announced they would no longer offer the product as a standalone license, I started looking at other options because I didn’t want to be locked into a perpetual pricing model. I was already paying nearly $100/year for a website and as a hobbyist photographer with a family and a full-time job, the thought of paying another $120/year for Lightroom seemed crazy.
That is until I discovered Adobe Portfolio and had a complete change of heart.
A bit of background
In 2015 I got serious about doing photography work for clients. At that time, I recognized the need to have a professional easy-to-use website to attract clients and showcase my work. I tried a number of options before settling on Squarespace.
Their $96/year fee was entirely reasonable to me because it provided access to dozens of templates as well as a worry-free website I did not have to update or maintain like a self-hosted WordPress installation requires. I appreciated how easy Squarespace was to use as well as its rich set of features including blogging, podcasting, and even tools for buying and selling goods and services.
A few years later as I was investigating software options to replace Lightroom, I stumbled across Adobe Portfolio entirely by accident. I certainly never intended this barely-mentioned service to be the fulcrum on which my decision to subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan would rest!
The more I examined what Portfolio had to offer the more I realized that the subscription which includes Portfolio along with Lightroom and Photoshop would be ideal for my needs as a part-time photographer.
While Squarespace handled all my website needs with aplomb, it also offered many things I did not use at all. Portfolio, on the other hand, is almost anemic by comparison but uniquely suited to fit the basic needs of most photographers.
It does not have all the options, tools, integrations, and flexibility of other platforms including Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and WordPress. But as a photographer who just wanted a simple way to showcase my work, it fit the bill perfectly.
For me the choice was clear. I could sign up for the Creative Cloud Photography plan for only a few dollars more than what I was paying for my Squarespace website and get Lightroom, Photoshop, and a beautiful website that did everything I needed. I canceled my Squarespace account, signed up for Creative Cloud, and couldn’t be any more pleased with how things have worked out.
Start with a theme
If you have a Creative Cloud plan you already have access to Portfolio and you can get started by visiting myportfolio.com and entering your Adobe ID. After that, you begin the process of building your website by selecting a theme. Right away you may notice one of the significant shortcomings of Portfolio compared to other website services. There are only eight themes from which to choose. This dearth of options can be a source of frustration if you’re used to a myriad of themes on other platforms.
Some photographers might balk in horror at the idea of only having eight template options but I saw it as a way of streamlining my design approach. I couldn’t spend hours poring over different templates if I only had eight to choose from, so it only took me a few minutes to select one that suited my tastes just fine.
The templates do allow for some editing and customization but you are limited to the basic look and feel of how they are laid out. This approach is similar to how many mainstream website platforms operate and is well suited to photographers who would rather spend their time taking and editing pictures instead of poring over lines of HTML code.
It’s also worth noting that you can change templates at any time. So if you are not sure where to start you can just pick one that you like and begin editing with the freedom to change it later. I settled on the Mathias template but any of the eight options would work well for photographers who want a simple, pleasing, and functional website.
The ace in the hole for Portfolio and a standout feature that allows it to really shine despite its lean feature set is the way that it integrates seamlessly with Lightroom. This is a huge boon for photographers who rely on Lightroom for their editing and digital asset management, and one of the big reasons it makes sense to consider Portfolio as a worthwhile website platform.
On the editing screen, there is a giant blue Add Content button which gives you access to four different options: Page, Lightroom Album, Gallery, and Link. Any photo collections in Lightroom CC, or those you have synced with Lightroom CC from Lightroom Classic CC, will show up as options when you click Lightroom Album. There is no need to export images and upload them individually. Choose Lightroom Album and the full Lightroom Web interface will load which will let you select any of the albums to be automatically displayed on your website.
You can also manually upload pictures via drag-and-drop interface but I found it much easier to manage images by loading them from Lightroom.
Editing Website Content
In addition to loading images directly from Lightroom, you can create content right from within Portfolio. This is useful if you want a few image galleries to showcase your work while also having elements like an About Me and pricing pages. Individual pages can contain blocks of text and images with captions, and elements can be re-ordered using a simple drag-and-drop interface. There’s even an option for inserting a Contact page which can contain many different fields that you are free to customize.
After creating a Page, Lightroom Album, or Gallery the ever-present floating menu lets you edit the unique characteristics of the element you just created. This floating menu took me a little while to get used to but now I don’t mind it at all.
It never really goes away but you can expand and collapse the panes and use the three horizontal lines at the top to move it around so it’s not in your way. While you can’t go so far as editing the actual CSS code you can make changes to things like background color, page header, and fonts.
It won’t take you long to get the hang of this workflow but you also may get frustrated at what initially feels like a criminal lack of options. As you poke around with the tools available you will likely hit some brick walls, just as I did, when you find out you can’t insert pull-quote text boxes, customize the appearance of individual blocks of text, or embed elements such as a blog feed. Slideshow options are limited as well, and this is where some people might hang their head in frustration and run back to WordPress with open arms.
However, keep in mind that the purpose of Adobe Portfolio is to offer a simple way for photographers to showcase their work. It’s not supposed to be a comprehensive all-in-one web publishing platform, and within the context of that framework, the limitations in terms of choices and options make a little more sense. You can add a custom logo, change the appearance of your pages, embed dozens of web elements, and even password-protect your site if you so choose.
Portfolio lets you use a custom domain name as well, and though this process is fairly straightforward it does add a little extra to the cost of the service. Portfolio nor Adobe cannot actually register your domain so you will need to go to a third-party site like Dreamhost, Hover, or Register to set it up. Most domain names cost about $15/year which isn’t much but it does bring the total cost to around $135/year when you add that to a Creative Cloud subscription.
The Happy Middle Ground
The entire idea of a website might seem like somewhat of an anachronism in today’s social media-saturated internet. Many photographers have elected to forego a traditional web presence entirely in favor of building a brand and following on social media.
The downside of this approach is that your audience experience can be tainted by design decisions and embedded advertising entirely beyond your control, and there are always going to be a subset of potential clients who choose not to engage on social media at all and will, therefore, miss out on the chance to view your work.
Websites might not have the shine and excitement that they once did but there are still plenty of good reasons to build and maintain your own presence on the internet. To that end, Adobe Portfolio offers a compelling set of features for literally no cost at all if you already subscribe to any of Adobe’s Creative Cloud plans.
If you don’t currently subscribe to Creative Cloud but do pay a third-party provider to host your website you might want to give Portfolio a second look. Think of it as paying about the same as you are now for a website, but with the added bonus of world-class photography software like Lightroom and Photoshop thrown in at no extra charge.
Your opinion of Adobe Portfolio will likely depend on your needs for a website and your expectations of what Portfolio can offer. If you want an extensive do-everything website solution, Portfolio is going to fall short in many respects and you’d be better off with something like Squarespace.
But if you want a simple platform that lets you display your work for the world to see, in a manner that you choose, without any intrusive third-party advertising or corporate mining of your personal data, I can’t recommend Portfolio highly enough.