WordPress vs Squarespace: the battle. Or not.
A recurring conversation I have with photographers as they consider various website options for their businesses and galleries often boils down to a discussion of WordPress vs. Something Else, with Something Else often being Squarespace. From there, the discussion often goes in a variety of directions and it can get kind of convoluted.
A while back, an analogy hit me that I think sums things up nicely as we talk about WordPress vs Squarespace:
WordPress is like a DSLR; Squarespace is like a Point and Shoot
It’s not that one is better than the other; they’re different tools with different strengths.
Work with me here… see if this tracks…
Attributes of a DSLR
Photographers know DSLRs: they’ve traditionally been the workhorses of serious photographers since the digital photography revolution took hold. They all kind of start out looking the same. They’re a toolkit, with an automatic (Program) mode along with various modes allowing the photographer to customize an increasing number of settings. If you want to go fully manual, with the ability to change every setting on your own, you can. A DSLR is designed to be part of a system, with many expansion options. You can use an external lighting system, add a battery grip, employ remote triggers, swap lenses, and employ a variety of techniques to add on and alter your photography experience.
Attributes of a Point and Shoot
Point and shoot cameras are great for someone who falls into one of two categories:
- they have little-to-no photography knowledge, and aren’t really interested in learning, or
- they have simple needs that can be met by a point and shoot camera, and they don’t have a plan to expand
A point and shoot camera can take great photos under many (but not all) conditions. It’s optimized for the most common scenarios. It’s probably small and doesn’t require a special bag to carry it around.
WordPress is Like a DSLR
WordPress is like that DSLR: You can use it in automatic mode (as it was installed) but its real power comes in spending time getting to learn it, because your options and customization opportunities are nearly unlimited.
Choose what you want to add on in the form of plugins or themes. Don’t like the look? Use a commercial theme. Don’t like the built-in galleries? Check out Envira or NextGEN. Or something else. It’s your choice. You can put an ecommerce system directly on your website, or integrate with a separate photo hosting company such as SmugMug. Want to add an online booking system? You can. Choose your own web hosting, and change to a different company later if you wish.
You can build decent photography websites with WordPress as it ships (aka automatic mode). With a bit of learning (at a level anyone can handle… much like understanding aperture priority or shutter priority) how the parts fit together, you can make it great. Want something extremely powerful and custom? Want something like “full manual” mode? That’s possible with WordPress, just like how a DSLR can handle pretty much any photography job with the right knowledge and accessories.
Another consideration: when you want to learn to do more with a DSLR, you’re looking at standard photography controls for which it’s easy to find answers from any number of sources. Most serious photography is done with a DSLR, and most serious photography learning material is geared towards DSLR users.
Squarespace is Like a Point and Shoot
Squarespace comes with a smooth interface to perform the built-in functions. It offers some templates to choose from. If you want photo galleries, you can choose from their gallery options. If you want to do ecommerce, there’s a Squarespace ecommerce function that works as they’ve intended, with their choice of payment processors. They offer decent hosting, but you can’t switch to a different company, or move to a web host offering better performance.
Squarespace can get the job done, as long as what you need falls within the parameters they’ve built into their system. Yes, you have options within the features, but you’re limited to the features they provide.
You can put together a good photography website with Squarespace. For some purposes, it might be easier than WordPress in “automatic mode.” Once you move into wanting something custom, however, there can be limitations. From a learning standpoint, because Squarespace’s market share is very small compared to WordPress, your options to increase your knowledge will be much more limited. If you want to hire someone to help you with your website, the number of consultants who are well-versed in Squarespace is significantly smaller than the number who are familiar with WordPress.
WordPress vs Squarespace: Neither is Perfect for Every Purpose
It’s not a right vs. wrong situation. Much like a point and shoot camera is quite well-suited to casual photographers who don’t want to invest deeply in the photographic world, a Squarespace website is great for those who want a simple web presence and don’t need or care about extensive options or deep customization. For photographers who want a very customized, flexible web platform, especially one that integrates with ecommerce, print labs, booking systems, or other online services, look at WordPress.
For the purposes of this comparison, when I say WordPress, I mean an independently hosted version of WordPress on your own web hosting, not the version that’s hosted by WordPress.com. The version on WordPress.com is not able to be extended; it’s much like Squarespace in this regard. ↩
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