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SmugMug is a cloud based photo album for amateur and professional photographers and according to the company, the “largest independent photo sharing platform” there is. It allows users to safely store, share, and sell photos online. In a UK survey* it was discovered that Brits take over 600 million photos a week** and almost a third (28%) of Brits, who take photos during an average week admitted to not backing up their photos. I myself have been victim of a corrupted back-up and failing hard drive that made me lose at least 1,000 photos – something I’ll never be able to get back.
As a result I was intrigued when I was invited by Alastair Jolly, Business Development Manager at SmugMug to take a look at their offering and undertake a short nighttime photography course with the help of Nikon Training Manager, Neil Freeman, a few months ago.
SmugMug is owned by father and son team, Chris MacAskill, 53, and Don MacAskill, 30. The company is based in Silicon Valley in the US and currently has 100 employees. It was launched 11 years ago, with most employees keen photographers themselves – something that comes across in the design of the site.
I’ve since taken a look at SmugMug in more detail, created my account, uploaded my own photos and shared them with family and friends.
In a nutshell, SmugMug offers six features:
For both still and video images, SmugMug enables you to keep your memories completely private or share them with anyone you want. You choose the level of accessibility and security your photos receive. Photos and galleries can be password protected and non-searchable. You can right-click protect, watermark or unlist your photos individually. Just beware that if you watermark images and they appear in your homepage showcase, they will also have the watermark, which doesn’t look great. I do have to say it is quite useful to have these privacy settings as they allow you to decide who visible you want them to be.
There are three privacy settings: public; public, but password protected; and unlisted which requires you to actively share the link.
Photos and videos are also protected by Amazon Web Services and when I spoke to the SmugMug team, they reassured me that images you upload continue to be your images and not those of SmugMug.
The site offers dozens of designs, with each one completely customisable.There are around 70 themed templates, with simple layout tools and drag and drop functionality making it easy to give them the look and feel you want it to have to make it your own.
I really enjoyed the layout options given and it can really help to showcase your images in the best light possible. I thought it was easy to set this up and populate it with different images. The one thing that I wish was possible is shuffling the photos. At the moment the homepage showcase uses a number of images from different galleries. However, rather than being mixed, the images are in order of gallery and time of place. It’d be great to have an option to mix it up to make it feel less structured.
I also thought that the layout options given were fantastic and even once you’ve chosen a template, there are so many more options to truly make it your own, which is great.
Images are stored on the site at full resolution. This is great not only for viewing them, but especially if you lose a back-up, you still have access to your high-res files rather than just a thumbnail or compressed version.
The guys at SmugMug confirmed that there are nine levels of image size, which is also great if you’re planning on selling them as it gives plenty of options for customers. They also don’t strip metadata, which helps with SEO.
For videos you can upload high-def clips with a maximum length of 20 minutes.
Sharing your images
You can choose to publish your galleries or individual photos to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or send them via email. You can also embed them on blogs and forums.
It’s easy to label an unlimited amount of photos with keywords and anyone, even non-members, can search images on the service by typing in keywords (depending on your privacy settings). It’s also easy to use your mobile devices to share your shots and videos as there are mobile apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android and they really do look great on those devices.
If you name your images, it’s advisable to give each one an individual name rather than ‘DS1234’ or something like that as this’ll help you get your search results up.
You can also embed images and videos from SmugMug, which is great for bloggers like me.
The different account levels
There are four different account levels: Basic, Power, Portfolio and Business.Power and Pro users get unlimited storage for 1080p HD video. If you have either of those levels, you can save them in multiple formats, embed them everywhere, and replay them in every resolution imaginable. There are also no storage limits, which is great. A Portfolio or Business account lets you monetise your photography.
The Pro Package also offers easy shopping tools as well as ready-to-go marketing tools with Coupons, Packages and event marketing. You can even purchase your own photos and create prints, gifts, cards, photo books, posters and framed prints, purchasing photo products from the best photo labs in the industry (WHCC, Bay Photo, WHCC, Loxley Colour).
The different plans are as follows: basic – $40; power – $60; portfolio – $150; business – $300 per annum
Overall I really enjoy the service and I think I’ll continue using it. Some of friends and family are not on Facebook, so it’s great to have a modern photo album to show to them, but most importantly, it’s also a way to ensure I don’t lose them. Unfortunately I’ve had a couple of experiences where I either lost all of my photos (despite having two back-ups!) or at least some of them, because technology failed me, so this is worth the money just for peace of mind. Another great thing is that you can start selling some of your images without much hassle, which is great if you’re looking to get a bit more serious about your photography.
I also had to make use of the 24/7 customer service to help me with some design questions and I have to say the service was excellent. I used chat and he was able to have a look and told me exactly what I had to change in addition to actually having a sense of humour too (unlike most other customer service).
If you’re looking for a service like this, I’d say give it a go. Even if you decide you don’t want it, images are saved for 6-12 months so you can still access them.
Oh and for some inspiration, the guys at SmugMug have something called SmugMug Films which lets you take a look behind the scenes of some great photographers.