Zenfolio is an all-in-one website platform for photographers. It allows you to create a portfolio website, host private, protected client galleries, and sell prints. Regarding website platforms for photographers, Zenfolio is one of the oldest, having now serviced tens of thousands of photographers for over 15 years.
In July, Zenfolio began emailing some customers about a new feature, dubbed the Zenfolio Archive tool. You can usually choose to use a tool, but that’s not the case with the new Zenfolio Archive. Instead, those who received the email and had the time to read it were informed that starting August 14th, 2023, any galleries with a last modified date older than three years would be moved to an archive and no longer be instantly accessible via the gallery’s previous URL.
Furthermore, starting in early 2024, the 3-year limit would be shortened to 14 months. In other words, from early 2024, if you create a new gallery on your Zenfolio site, there’s a chance it will only be accessible for 14 months. I’m choosing my words deliberately here. There is a chance they will become inaccessible, and here’s where things get a little complicated.
When I read Zenfolio’s FAQ about the Archive feature, I was left with a few questions and wondered how Zenfolio users would feel about these changes. I called a couple of photographers I know to use the website platform and wasn’t too surprised when they reacted negatively to the news. Most photographers are constantly being pulled in all directions, and the last thing they want to do is divert energy to dealing with something that was otherwise working just fine.
Not feeling like I totally understood the situation, particularly the reasons behind Zenfolio’s rollout of this tool, I reached out to them and requested a chat. The following day, I spent an hour talking with their product manager and marketing manager. I left our conversation with a much greater understanding of why this change was necessary for Zenfolio to perform and who it would impact.
Will This Affect Your Zenfolio Site?
Firstly, I must underline that the Zenfolio Archive tool will not be rolled out to all Zenfolio users. If you read their FAQ, you wouldn’t know this, but it turns out this change will only affect users of what they call internally “Classic Zenfolio.” In 2021, Zenfolio began rolling out an entirely new platform for new users. This new platform was initially available in the UK and the US, followed by Canada in 2022. Strangely, Zenfolio does not have any public differentiation between the old platform and the new platform, so, for clarity in this article, I will adopt the names “Zenfolio classic” and “modern Zenfolio.”
You have nothing to worry about if you use the modern Zenfolio platform. The Archive tool does not affect you. The tricky thing is that I can’t tell you whether you are a Zenfolio classic or a modern Zenfolio user. Due to the staggered launch timeline in different countries, there’s no easy way for me to say that if you signed up for the Zenfolio platform after a specific date, you are a modern Zenfolio user, and hence in the clear for needing to understand the implications of the new Archive process.
A big clue would be whether you received their email about these changes or see a pop-up about it when you log into your account. Only those users affected were sent an email about it, so it’s safe to say that if you got an email from them, you’re a Zenfolio classic user, and you should pay attention to the rest of this article. It’s also safe to say that if you signed up to Zenfolio before 2021, you’re using the Zenfolio classic platform. If you’re still not sure, your best bet is to talk to their support.
Are Your Photos Gone Gone, or Just Hidden?
When a gallery is archived, your photos are still safe. The gallery will not be viewable online at its old URL; however, the images are still safely stored on Zenfolio’s servers. You can view your archived galleries in the new Archive tool in the Zenfolio dashboard. From there, you can search within the archive to find old galleries should you wish to restore them. Once they are restored, they will be available again at their old URL, and the 14-month countdown is reset.
Why Are Zenfolio Making This Change?
The Zenfolio classic platform hosts tens of thousands of customers who upload over 100 million gigabytes of data every month. The total storage usage of these sites is apparently more than 20 petabytes. Zenfolio told me that after digging into their data, they discovered that most people do not touch their older galleries. Unfortunately, the architecture of the old platform is such that all user images are stored in a single database on their servers. This means that when someone searches for an image, or makes changes to galleries and collections, the back end of their system is querying a database of millions and millions of images, even if a user’s site holds just a few.
Essentially, they are fighting against a 15-year old design that really wasn’t meant to deal with this volume of data. By creating the Archive tool, which will automatically move large numbers of old images to a different server and database, they will increase back end performance. In particular, users should expect improved loading time of their Photo Page and Gallery Tree.
Are Zenfolio Saving Money By Doing This?
Server costs vary by speed. When Zenfolio moves your old images to the Archive, behind the scenes, they are being moved to a slower server that costs them less money. In that sense, yes, this move is saving Zenfolio money. When I put this to them on our call, they were keen to point out that server costs have risen dramatically in the past couple of years.
This is true. Lingering component shortages and increased logistics costs have contributed to increased costs. It was implied that while this move to archive some images would lower their server costs, it won’t dramatically affect their operating profits. They underlined that these changes were primarily done to combat current and future site performance issues caused by an aging platform. Cost savings were secondary. Presumably, we can hope that this cost-saving delays the inevitable price increases that come with every web service, though this is impossible to know.
How to Prevent Your Galleries From Being Archived
There are a few ways you can stop the automatic archiving process. Not all of these methods will be acceptable solutions to everyone, but here they are:
1. Keep modifying your gallery
Starting in early 2024, galleries that have not been modified in 14 months will be automatically archived. To keep your galleries live and publicly accessible, you could make small modifications to each one at intervals of no more than 14 months. Per Zenfolio’s support document, “The last modified date of a Gallery is set when certain changes are made to the Gallery. This change could be uploading images, changing Gallery settings, or setting a Gallery expiration date; as a few examples.“
2. Link to the gallery in your site menu before August 14th 2023
Any gallery directly linked within your site’s menu before the rollout of this feature on August 14th, 2023, will avoid the archiving process. For most photographers, this will be their portfolio galleries. To protect many galleries from archiving using this method, you will want to use a drop-down menu item to keep things tidy. Unfortunately, Zenfolio doesn’t support drop-downs within drop-downs, so you can only create a gallery tree that’s one layer deep. This isn’t a solution that will work in a tidy way if you need to keep tens or hundreds of galleries from being archived. It also requires you to know about this before August 14th, 2023.
Any gallery in a user’s menu before August 14th, 2023, will be grandfathered into a special status and never archived. They will not count toward a user’s 20-gallery “no archive” limit (see point #3). Thus, if you are reading this before August 14th, 2023, the prudent thing to do now would be to add all or as many galleries as possible to your menu before that date.
Note: Placing a Group of galleries in your menu does not protect all galleries within the group. If you link to groups and not galleries from your menu, you may want to rethink that.
3. Protect 20 galleries from archiving
Users will have the ability to protect 20 galleries from ever being archived. Disabling archiving on a gallery can be found in gallery settings. As far as I can see, there isn’t an easy way to know how many of the 20 protected galleries you have used, but you will receive an error message when you try to protect your 21st gallery.
What Happens When Someone Visits An Archived Gallery?
Let’s say you shoot weddings and promise your clients that their images will be accessible on your site for up to five years. After 14 months, if you haven’t modified their gallery, it will be archived. If your client visits that URL after it has been archived, they will see a message that the gallery has been archived.
If you leave your Archive settings at their defaults, when the client visits the gallery URL, they will be given the option to restore the gallery and receive an email when it is back online. Zenfolio’s support documents state that the restoration process will take 12 hours. When asked about this, I was told, “That’s just how long it takes,” so I wouldn’t bother hoping it was much quicker than that. If you don’t want your clients to have the ability to restore galleries themselves, the Archive settings for each gallery can be adjusted to put that under your control.
Do I think clients will get annoyed by this? Certainly. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people expect things immediately, particularly when it comes to digital products. If a client comes to your gallery to browse or download photos you shot for them, it’s because they want those photos then and there. Not in 12 hours’ time.
I can’t be sure how many photographers this will affect. Still, if it were me, I would be quickly amending my shooting contracts to be clear that photos are only available for immediate viewing for up to 14 months after the shoot. After that, I would be clear that there might be some delay.
Who Will Really Be Impacted by These Changes?
If Zenfolio users take the time to understand all this, I think many, if not most, will see that it won’t make a difference to them. It doesn’t affect anyone using the modern Zenfolio platform at all, and it won’t make a difference for those who use the Zenfolio classic platform as a simple portfolio to display a few galleries of their best work. The ability to protect 20 galleries from being archived will more than cover most of those people. Even those that use the platform to deliver client images either never promise the photos to be indefinitely available in the first place or have the simple option to warn clients they must download their images within 14 months. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
That said, some photographers will struggle with this change, and I expect the platform will lose some users. One example of a business model that will no longer suit the Zenfolio classic platform comes from a friend who shoots international sporting events. He has close to ten years of event galleries on his site and can generate print sales from any of those images anytime. Each event has its own gallery, and he shoots 30+ events annually. There’s no realistically viable way to keep that going on Zenfolio anymore. Eventually, his older galleries will be archived even if they are still generating print sales. Sticking with Zenfolio would cause him to lose customers.
If my business model revolved around shooting sporting events and hoping to sell prints or digital downloads to competitors afterward, I would also be hesitant to stick with Zenfolio. While most sales will likely come shortly after the event, there will always be some stragglers. Are those potential customers going to wait 12 hours for the gallery to be unarchived if they visit too late? In a world where 50% of people say they are less likely to buy something if the checkout takes more than 30 seconds, I doubt it. I’d be looking elsewhere if my photography business looked anything like that.
Can You Migrate From Classic Zenfolio to Modern Zenfolio to Avoid This?
Unfortunately, if you are a Zenfolio classic user, there is no way to automatically migrate all your photos and galleries to the newer platform to avoid the Archive tool. Per Zenfolio’s support documents, “At this time it will not be possible to migrate or transfer your current Classic Zenfolio site to our new Zenfolio platform. The new Zenfolio platform is built on an entirely new infrastructure that is not compatible or transferable with the Classic Zenfolio platform. Attempting to upgrade or change your Classic Zenfolio site to the new platform will result in a completely separate site being created.“
Are There Any SEO Implications?
Suppose you have a public gallery with highly detailed photo metadata on your site. In that case, there’s a good chance that Google has indexed those images and galleries, potentially showing them in search results. This might lead to print, stock sales, or client work if someone likes what they find. While I don’t use Zenfolio, I take my portfolio site’s SEO very seriously. Something that has repeatedly resulted in job offers landing in my inbox throughout my career.
If a gallery from your Zenfolio site is archived, Google’s bots will no longer be able to crawl the URL. After a time, the page and images will be de-indexed, meaning they will no longer appear in Google search results. It’s hard to say whether this would impact how you use Zenfolio, but it should be considered if some of your business relies on people finding your work through image searches.
Wrapping Things Up + Recommendations
I suspect many photographers will initially feel annoyed about these changes when they hear about them. I don’t blame them for having that reaction. Photography is a challenging profession these days, and most people are juggling many hats. The last thing they want to do is divert time to understanding something like this and potentially adjusting their workflow to make it work.
With such a wide variety of photography business models, I can’t tell you whether this change will affect you. All I can do is lay the information out for your digestion. I expect some people will read this and breathe a sigh of relief, realizing that it won’t make a difference to them. Others will read it with increasing dread as it dawns on them that this creates more work and the potential need to move their portfolio and archive to a new platform. I hope you’re the former, and if you’re the latter, I’m sorry to be the bearer of the bad news
If you are in the latter camp, I’m sure I’ll get the inevitable question: Do you have any recommendations for other website platforms? There are many options out there, and I don’t profess to know the ins and outs of all of them. I can only say that I currently use SmugMug for my client delivery galleries, and the platform works well for me. It would be best if you did your due diligence, but that’s a great place to start looking.