SmugMug Review – Where I Keep My Photos Online

I’m an over-researcher. I’ll admit it. I tend to spend far too much time looking over all of my options, incessantly weighing the pros and cons and then finally (and probably far too slowly) making a choice.

Sometimes my inclination to completely investigate my options can be handy, though. That way I’m at least a bit more certain that I’m choosing the right thing.

When I knew it was time to get my images backed up online, I dove straight in and made lists and comparison charts and combed the web for any additional details and information I could find that would help me make an informed decision.

There are a fair amount of choices when it comes to uploading and saving your images online but none that fully worked for me. As with anything there will be compromises. But I did a loooot of research and it came down to one winner:

Try SmugMug for FREE (+ save 15% is you subscribe!)

Try SmugMug for FREE (+ save 15% is you subscribe!)

 

They have almost everything I need and eventually overtook the other contenders. So let’s talk about what I was looking for that they are able to provide.

1. Unlimited Uploads for JPG Images.

Do you have your images safely backed up somewhere? If so, are they only on an external hard drive that’s sitting next to you at your desk?

Backing up your images is so hugely important and I know I even waited too long to have a more failsafe system (nothing is completely failsafe, of course, but you can certainly take some steps to better protect your photos).

I have a pretty robust backup system but it only incorporates external hard drives (HDs), some of which live onsite with me, others of which live offsite and rotate with my onsite HDs. This may sound like overkill for a few of you, but at the same time you probably wouldn’t want to have to lose everything to find out.

Anyway, I think everyone who cherishes their photographs should look into online backups in addition to external HDs. Keeping a copy “in the cloud,” or online, is a great way to keep your memories safe from fire, theft, natural disasters and more.

I chose SmugMug to host my JPG images because they provide unlimited photo uploads. Unlimited. How amazing is that?

That means that you can take 100 photos or you can take 100,000 photos and you’ll be able to upload all of them. And now you know they’ll be safely and securely stored on their servers, far away from your home. Can’t get much better peace of mind than that.

You may notice that I said they host my JPGs. I’m actually a RAW shooter, but SmugMug doesn’t offer unlimited storage of RAW files, only JPGs (though you can still upload RAW files at an additional cost).

It shouldn’t matter for a lot of people, though, because many of you will likely use JPGs. And even for those of us who do shoot RAW primarily, it still comes in handy.

For my workflow, I convert all the images I want to keep long-term into JPGs for storage and preservation. It’s likely that this format will be around for a while, whereas proprietary RAW files (like CRW for Canon or NEF for Nikon) can change in the future and you may or may not have the ability to read old versions of the RAW files. I feel safer keeping JPGs of everything for now, so SmugMug works well.

I signed up for SmugMug last year and I’ve begun the long and tedious task of uploading all of my JPG images to SmugMug, but I know that once I’m done, I’ll sleep much better at night.

2. Storage Designed for Photos.

 

Viewing Categories & Galleries in SmugMug

Screenshot of Photo Galleries within SmugMug

 

I know there are other options out there for storing your data “in the cloud” (like Dropbox or Amazon S3, for example) but a lot of them aren’t specifically designed for storing images.

Initially I didn’t think it mattered, but in the end I think if we’re storing photos we’re better off using a service that focuses on photographs.

The benefits of using a photo-specific provider are:

  • You can more easily create galleries and share them with friends and family…
  • Or alternatively you can hide all of your galleries from public view and just use SmugMug as your online backup, organizing photos into galleries so you can find them easily
  • You can sell your images
  • You can add watermarks
  • You can upload the full-sized image and then use SmugMug’s tools to automatically resize your images for you (which can come in handy if you want to share smaller versions of your photos to Facebook or a blog, for example)
  • You can upload directly from programs & devices like Lightroom, Aperture, iPhones, etc., making your workflow go much smoother

I know I’ve made use of many tools SmugMug offers and I like how it makes some things a lot easier.

3. Excellent Support.

A lot of times when you’re dealing with online companies, you’ll find that getting help is next to impossible. Forget about ever speaking or chatting with a human. You’re usually stuck with sending an email to support hoping to someday get a response from someone.

There are good companies out there, though, and SmugMug has been a delight to work with so far.

I’ve chatted online with support a few times and they’ve been super responsive and always helpful. It’s good to know that if you’re feeling stuck, you’re not far away from someone who can help you with your specific problem.

4. Better URLs for SEO.

I’m guessing this isn’t gonna be a big deal for many of you, but I was looking for a provider who could offer prettier URL links to my images. It looks nicer for users and also helps with SEO (search engine optimization).

For example, let’s say I have an image called “london-tower-bridge.jpg”.

If I had chosen other services, the URL would look something like this:

http://www.sitename.com/p50673108#h309027be

That’s really messy and makes it difficult to link to for my blog.

Smugmug’s links aren’t ideal, either, but they’re an improvement. Links look something like this, instead:

http://www.sitename.com/Country/Britain/i-3sVwdJM/5/XL/london-tower-bridge.jpg

So at least humans can figure out the image’s name and that it’s nested inside the Country/Britain path.

Like I said, this may be a non-issue for you, but it was something I was looking for.

5. Great Hosting for Blog Photos.

I post a fair amount of images here and to KimOlsonPhoto.com and I didn’t want to slow my sites down too much by uploading all of my images to my web host.

To help alleviate this problem, I can now upload all of my images to SmugMug and then link to the photos in my blog posts. Doing this keeps my images and my web content separate and helps speed up my site.

kimolsonphoto-smugmug-get-a-link-l

Share a Photo with SmugMug

Get a Link for sharing SmugMug Photos

Get a Link for sharing SmugMug Photos

6. Affordable, Competitive Pricing.

There are a fair amount of companies who provide similar services. Here is the pricing for SmugMug and other ones I looked at:

  • SmugMug.com
    • I opted for the Portfolio plan because I wanted a lot of features, but didn’t need the full-blown Business plan.
SmugMug pricing

SmugMug pricing

 

  • Zenfolio.com
    • I liked Zenfolio, but would’ve needed to get the Premium Business plan to get the features that would’ve come with SmugMug’s Portfolio plan, which was $100 less.
      Zenfolio Pricing
  • Photoshelter.com
    • A great option but geared more towards pros. And it also comes in at a higher price point.
      Photoshelter Pricing
  • Flickr.com
    • $24.95 for 1 year. You really can’t beat Flickr’s pricing, but I found linking to images too cumbersome and organizing was a bit of a hassle.

Most of these providers offered the same tools, more or less, but in the end I found that SmugMug offered the best combination of features I was looking for at a good price and with great support.

 

Downsides to SmugMug

As much as I’m digging SmugMug, it’s not perfect. Here are a few things I’m not a fan of.

1. Awkward Interface.

SmugMug Dashboard Interface

I’m big on usability and design and I don’t think SmugMug does a the best job of having an intuitive interface. It may look pretty clean and straightforward in the screenshot above, but I feel like there’s a bit of a learning curve in figuring out how to set up your site. Initially I found myself having to go back and forth between the Admin Account Settings and My Homepage in order to get some of my settings just right.

It’s not impossible to figure out and it shouldn’t take too long to navigate between the different tabs, but I’ve seen better layouts. And that black background is just so, well, black.

2. Limited Nesting of Galleries.

From what I can tell, you can only nest your galleries 3 levels deep. So you end up with something like this:

Category

Subcategory

Gallery

And that’s it. You can have multiple Categories, Subcategories and Galleries, but it doesn’t nest any deeper than this.

I found their structure pretty restrictive and because my folders are nested deeper than 3 levels, I was forced to completely move photos around to make SmugMug work for me. I would’ve preferred to keep a folder structure similar to my own on my computer, but I couldn’t find a better work around.

3. Can’t Customize the Ecommerce Screen.SmugMug Ecommerce screenshot

I prefer a lighter site design and white is usually my background color of choice. But if I wanted to use SmugMug’s ecommerce tools to sell my photographs, I would be forced to accept their black background and green accents like in the photo above. Ick.

SmugMug’s default colors are harsh and dark and not in keeping with my site’s flow, and they told me there’s no way I can customize the checkout process to use my own colors. So using their ecommerce was not gonna happen, which bummed me out a bit because I do like the idea of auto-fulfillment of some photo products.

Happy Camper

At the end of the day, SmugMug came out ahead of the others and I’m happy I made the choice to go with them. They’ve been around for a while and I don’t see them going anywhere any time soon, which helps put my mind at ease since uploading and linking to hundreds of images on my websites is not a quick or easy task.

Try out SmugMug (+ Save 15%!)

If you’d like to check out SmugMug, they offer a FREE trial so you can sign up and play around with it before paying anything. And if you use the link below, you’ll Get 15% Off:

Sign Up for SmugMug (+ save 15% if you subscribe!)

(and so you know, this is a referral link which helps support this site but doesn’t cost you anything extra – it actually saves you 15%! I appreciate it if you use the link but there’s no obligation to. Thanks!).

Hope this review helps and if you have any other questions, let me know!

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2 Responses to SmugMug Review – Where I Keep My Photos Online

  1. Lindse September 28, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    I have been looking for an online storage backup for a while and have been thinking about smugmug. Thanks for this post, it pretty much answered my questions.

    • Kim October 22, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

      I’m glad it helped, Lindse! SmugMug has made some changes since I wrote this post and it’s now better than ever. It’s much easier to keep your photos organized *exactly* how you want to. Have fun with it!