Smugmug – Not Just For Professional Photographers

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I’ve been using SmugMug as an online store as well as a photo back-up and host continually for about six years. I used them as far back as 2012 but then took a brief stint with one of their competitors, Zenfolio for about a year. That’s all the time it took for me to switch back.

That said, there are affiliate links for SmugMug in this review, but I’m not paid directly for anything said here. I’m providing a review of the features I like and dislike about their service. But, of course, it’s slightly biased. I love their service! If you are looking to start a website, or use a back-up service, please use the links I provide here if you found this article helpful as that helps me out too!

SmugMug Overview

Who should use this service?

There are four different pricing options depending on what services you need or what you are trying to build.

There really is an option that would benefit most people who want to save or share their photos. There’s a lot to be said about having cloud back-up for photos. It would be devastating to lose the thousands of photos I take every year. Not just professionally, but of family and friends as well. It’s an excellent peace-of-mind knowing that a crashed hard drive, theft, or fire won’t mean a loss of all those images!

My Review – The Interface

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The SmugMug interface is simple, and that’s awesome. You can create files, pages, and galleries just like on your computer. Uploading is as easy as drag-and-drop. You can share or “collect” photos across multiple galleries or pages with the click of a button.

Screenshot of the back-end "Photo Organizer" in my SmugMug site
Screenshot of the back-end “Photo Organizer” in my SmugMug site

It’s easy to select the gallery appearance, with multiple different options from thumbnails, collages, or full-page journal styles. Most styles have several different formatting options also, making it easy to get the right look you’re trying to achieve. Posting informative content, you can display the full-text descriptions with the photos. Just want a buy button without clutter? That’s easy to do.

Display of some of the top toolbar options in SmugMug.
Display of some of the top toolbar options in SmugMug. It’s very easy to change gallery style.

My only complaint with the interface is that the block editor interface when changing the “Content and Design” of a page or gallery, can sometimes feel a bit clunky. Sometimes drag-and-drop gets finicky and you block doesn’t want to go where it’s told. When working with an extensive gallery, to put an element at the bottom means scrolling down the entire gallery (not fun with infinite scroll and 1000 photos). But, as far as “minutes wasted” are concerned, it’s been just a few. And it’s easy to apply changes to all your galleries, so you only have to make your changes once.

Smugmugs content block builder
“Content & Design” Content Block Builder for designing pages, folders, and galleries.

My Review – Site Page Options

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ll start off with what is one of the biggest drawbacks to SmugMug in my opinion. There is no blogging tool. I know this is a frequent request SmugMug gets and it’s something they don’t seem to prioritize getting to. This was actually what drove me to Zenfolio a few years back. But I’ll tell you why I went back to SmugMug and why the lack of a blogging platform doesn’t matter to me anymore.

SmugMug is a photography-centered website. It’s based on presenting your photos beautifully, and they have done a remarkable job at that. If you want your one tool to do everything for you, it’s almost definitely not going to do everything well.

I now keep my blog from my photography website. They don’t always go hand-in-hand anyway, and some of my posts felt inappropriate to the way I tie into my photography marketing. This way I have total freedom to do what I want with either. And certainly they feed off of each other well.

It’s easy to link to my photo galleries, or even embed gallery slideshows directly from my SmugMug page to my website. The top of the page on every hiking guide I write has an embedded slideshow from SmugMug where I’ve organized the photos (for example Gulkana Glacier Hike).

Embedded Slideshow Example

Slideshows can be shared as a link, embedded in a webpage like here, or shared as a downloadable mobile app which would be a great option for wedding or event photographers.

It turns out, I’m quite happy to have a separate website/blog from my SmugMug photo portfolio. It was easy enough to set up SmugMug as a subdomain on my website. Although, I could definitely see how a more casual blogger or photographer might want to have those tools wrapped up in one. If that’s your case, Zenfolio might be worth taking a look at. It would be nice if they could roll out this feature.

I’ve been happy with all other site features available on SmugMug. I mentioned before there are three types of pages: folders, galleries, and pages. Folders are great ways to organize your site content. Obviously, galleries are where you showcase your photos, and pages are essentially a blank slate where you can insert whatever blocks you like, galleries, folder, text, navigation, menus, social media icons, and more.

I’ll briefly touch on each of these page options below.

Galleries

Galleries are the heart of a photo website. You can organize these any way you like. For instance, I have my core galleries organized by date, and then I create other galleries or pages by “collecting” selected photos by subject. So I have a few photos that end up in multiple pages like a “wildlife” page, “portfolio” page, etc. But I’m only uploading the photo once and storing it in one location.

Folders

By default, the Folders page displays whatever the contents of the folder are. It’s a good way to easily display links to multiple galleries. That said, I don’t use it very often.

Pages

Pages are the blank slate that you can build from the ground up using the block style content builder. You can add individual photos, text, galleries, search menus, maps, and a lot more. You could even potentially use pages to make a “blog” in your SmugMug site, but it’s definitely messier and clunkier than using a website built for blogging.

My Review – Customer Service

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve only had to contact SmugMug’s customer service 3 times in roughly six years of using them. Those three interactions were enough to keep me a customer for a long time. They are quick to respond, friendly, helpful, and I could tell they were helping me solve my problem.

Twice, I had to contact them with no issue of their own doing, but issues with the print lab. Both times I had the issue resolved within a few hours through nothing more than a few messages or emails.

My Review – Pricing

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Basic Plan and Power Plan I feel are both well priced and well worth what you get, especially with unlimited storage. However, it’s a big jump in price if you want to sell photos for a profit.

The Portfolio Plan is over double the Power Plan, and the main benefit is being able to set your own prices. I would probably be totally fine paying the higher monthly rate if they didn’t also take 15% of the profit. I definitely charge more for prints simply to account for that fee. I’d be lying if I didn’t think about just using the Power Plan and using my own selling option.

The fees, commission, and a blogging platform are what made me dabble with Zenfolio a few years ago. But, it seems now the monthly fees are nearly identical for similar plans (although Zenfolio still only takes a 10% commission).

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Overall

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall I’m thrilled with SmugMug. The most significant drawbacks, in my opinion, are the price and fees for the Portfolio and Pro options and the lack of an internal blog. If I ever decided to quit photography, I’d still use the basic plan for storage/backup. I believe that SmugMug is an excellent service for enthusiasts or amateur photographers as well as seasoned pros.

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