We live in times of instant photo sharing on social sites. The ease of taking a snap on your smartphone, adding a caption or comment and uploading it to Facebook, Twitter or another service is pretty much expected these days.
But what if you're a bit more serious about your photography, care about how your work is displayed and viewed by others, how it is stored? And most of all, who has the rights to use it?
This is where SmugMug comes in. It allows you to upload your photos and video files to an unlimited pot of cloud storage online. More than that, it allows you to create a personal website, gallery, or even an online store. Plus, you can customise the look and feel of your site to your heart's content.
We had a chance to test out the latest version of the photo-sharing website and see how it compares to some other services that we have been using for our photography needs.
We opted for what we think most mid- to semi-pro photographers will need, which is the 'Power' plan for $8 per month (approx. £5). There are also Basic, Portfolio, and Business plans for $5, $20 and $35 a month respectively. The major difference being that Portfolio and Business plans also include e-commerce, branding and marketing options.
Note that none of the subscriptions include a domain name, so you’ll have to buy and link your own custom URL separately. You can, of course, simply stick with a yoursitename.smugmug.com address.
Creating an account is a breeze and we were up and running in no time. The recently overhauled interface is sleek, fast and has a lot of pro-level features that allow you to fully customise your website.
First you will need upload some photos to SmugMug in order to design your website or gallery. There are various ways to do this, with the easiest being drag-and-drop.
However, you first need to fill out all the info about your gallery and then you're taken to the uploading procedure. You then have to wait until all the photos are uploaded. This can take some time if you have large files, especially videos. It would be better if photos continued uploading in the background, so you can carry on filling in relevant information and begin to customise the look of your site.
Once you’ve got a few galleries (folders) of photos uploaded, you can create a homepage. This is what visitors will see first when visiting your site. SmugMug has a huge selection of ready-to-use templates and we were impressed with the clean, modern designs.
Best of all, each one is fully customisable so you can make your site unique. We’re no strangers to layout and design, but found the interface pretty overwhelming. There are so many options, it can take a while to figure it all out. There’s help in the form of some great video tutorials that take you step by step through designing your website. At any time you can hit the preview button to see what your site will look like to visitors.
You have many settings for each of your galleries that will allow you to set up the appearance, security and privacy, social sharing, shopping and even the sharpening of your photos. You can choose as many or as little of these as you like depending on your needs.
You can also change preferences for individual images and perform simple edits to your photos right within the web app. This might be fine for the novice user, but not for serious photographer, who will edit their photos before uploading.
The good news is that there are many SmugMug plug-ins for popular editing programs which will allow you to customise settings and upload your images right from within these apps. Usefully, there’s one for Adobe Lightroom and, after quite a bit of tinkering and reading online help files, we managed to upload a handful of photos to our SmugMug gallery from within Lightroom. You can even set up synchronisation of your photos between Lightroom and SmugMug.
Once you’re happy with the look of your homepage and galleries you can publish them for the world to see, share links on Facebook or other social sites, or just email them to people you know, SmugMug will even let you know if your recipient has read your invitation and clicked on your gallery to view it.
As well as being able to choose the size photos are displayed in your galleries, you can upload image files as big as 50MB and videos up to 3GB, and there’s no limit on storage. This is fantastic and will be a great way for many to back up their work in the cloud for safe keeping. Unfortunately, files types such as PSDs, TIFFs and even Raw files aren’t supported. This will be a deal-breaker for many photographers that shoot Raw, as they won’t be able to archive their most important files. We hope to see more file types supported in future updates.
There’s an official SmugMug iPad and iPhone app which automatically uploads photos and videos from the Camera Roll, lets you edit galleries and even view your work. Unfortunately we could only sign in to the app and see our video files. The rest of the time the app would crash. Clearly there’s some work to be done.
Overall we were impressed with SmugMug’s service. The new interface is sleek, clean and the huge selection of customisable themes and galleries is great.
Integration with other pro apps is also a very good but the learning curve is steep and new users are likely to find it difficult and overwhelming to get started and to customise their site.
The lack to support for Raw files is also a huge letdown, given that SmugMug is primarily aimed at professionals.
SmugMug caters to both consumers and professionals alike, and it's good value if you need masses and masses of online storage. However, endless customisation comes at a price: a steep learning curve. Plus, you can't upload Raw files, which will be a deal breaker for some.