How to Make an Online Photo Album

So, as I am moving my photography portfolio to SmugMug! You may be wondering — Why?

With over 21 million views on Flickr, I do not make decisions like this lightly.  I’m not giving you that stat to show off… just to let you know that I really know what I’m talking about when it comes to online photo portfolios.  I only want the best. You guys know this by now, right?  After looking (and using) many other options, I think SmugMug is the best, and the guide/feature list below talks all about it.

Getting Started

If, after reading this, you are interested in getting started with SmugMug, use the SmugMug Coupon of “STUCKINCUSTOMS” to save 20%. That will save you money on an already affordable product. You’ll love it!

Which package should you get?  I suggest the SmugMug Pro package, because it will enable you to sell your work at 85% markup.  Besides just prints, you can also sell digital downloads.  I think it’s the cheapest way to turn your hobby into something that might make a bit of cash!  Anyway, more on that later…

First, I’ll talk about some of the great things about SmugMug.

Strengths and Weaknesses of SmugMug

As with everything, nothing is perfect.  The strong points outweigh the weak ones for me.  I outline the negative points down towards the bottom.  Many of these may be important to you, but they are not to me.  As you know, social networking and a pretty portfolio are very important to me, so I think we have a good balance of both with SmugMug.  Your opinion may differ – but I went through a long decision-making process for this.

A Pretty Interface

If you make quick decisions based on “Oh, that’s pretty!”, then simply go see my portfolio at You will see exactly what I mean.

I love the slideshow entry-point for my photography portfolio

I wanted my photography portfolio to immediately start with a slideshow, almost full screen, and then slowly meander through some of my favorite shots. Also, I wanted to allow people to interrupt the slideshow at any time. I figured they may want to see more information, or perhaps they quickly want to jump to another image.

An online portfolio is a tricky thing! While it doesn’t need to be all things to all people, it should allow for the most common “viewer behaviors”. First, many people simply just want to sit back and see something pretty flowing into their world. Second, other more “clicky” people will want the power to quickly move around and surf throughout the portfolio on their own.

I used to house one of my portfolios on a site called BluDomain. It was more expensive, less flexible, and harder to update!  Also, and this should be obvious, SmugMug is a much more impressive place to visit than Flickr, which feels like a slightly better Photobucket, which is the absolute bottom of the bucket.

Whilst the user is navigating on their own, it’s also very pretty! I really like the thumbs on the left and the big image on the right. It is simple and nice.  Of course, the view is customizable to the gallery owner, so you may choose something different.  This view does not even compare to Flickr, whose default sizes are small, requiring a massive amount of clicking to navigate a portfolio. That’s no good! The way the portfolio is set up feels very good and natural to me.

I chose to Customize SmugMug even further with a custom theme

Easy to Use

I am a very advanced “computer and internet user”. However, that does NOT mean that I prefer to use clunky interfaces and badly designed websites! I want things to be easy and obvious. I don’t have time to read manuals, help pages, and go back and forth on forums to figure out how to do something.

Creating an account on SmugMug was very simple, and getting my photos up was a piece of cake. There are SO many ways to get your photos online — it’s crazy. I imported all of my Flickr photos right into SmugMug with just a few different clicks. Of course, you can also upload right from your computer in the usual way, or by using iPhoto, Lightroom, Aperture, or any other major program.

Not everyone likes to provide the full-size images, and you can set how big the images are, and if people are allowed to download them.  Also, you can set your own prices for downloading or printing… makes some extra$$!

After you have your files up, navigating and arranging is very simple as well. SmugMug was designed by people that know what they are doing. You can have multiple galleries and everything you would need is there waiting for you.

When an image is clicked on, it goes full screen and can be viewed in its true glory!

A Flexible Platform

I can do whatever I want on SmugMug! The team at SmugMug understands that everyone has their own little quirky needs for image hosting, and the world is your oyster. Built into the system are many customization options, themes, layout options, and more.

There are a ton of Customization options.  You can see all the friendly-looking tabs and the good UI.

Furthermore, you can make private galleries, protect your images with the right sort of copyright stuff, and change the way in which users interact with the images.

I chose to further Customize SmugMug by using a third-party. Even though the themes are powerful, I had hyper-particular needs and did not really have the time to do it myself.

My Images are Safe

I think of SmugMug as a “Digital Lockbox” for my images. I can store the max-resolution versions of all my images there and not worry about them. They have another option, if you so choose, where they use Amazon S3 to store your RAW or TIFF files permanently as well. That’s great! I do think it is smart, nowadays, to store your images in multiple locations.

To be frank, whenever I get a new online backup solution of my world, I feel pretty awesome about myself. That niggling “worry” evaporates, and I can once again relax and have a cappuccino in peace.

Also, SmugMug is incredibly “Open”. What does that mean? It means that, while they store the images, they do not “own” them and make them difficult to access in the future. There are all sorts of services I can use to copy my images down to my computer or move them to another online service. There is a powerful API that is open to developers, and they have created a myriad of programs to ensure my images are easily movable, should the need ever arise.

You can Make Money with SmugMug! (Pro Version Only)

Yes! Now all of your photos can make millions of dollars! Hehe, well, not really… BUT, you can make some extra money on the side by turning on various options.

  • You can charge people to download digital versions of your photos and set different prices for professional and personal use.
  • You can set pricing for Prints.  Pick the size offerings and the costs.  You can get up to 85% markup.  That’s a great profit margin!
  • You can also sell merchandise.  Smart!

Maybe you are a soccer mom (or whateva) that takes good pictures at the games and then wants to put them up on SmugMug, email the team, and then let parents buy photos. Easy! BTW, that’s not a bad idea is it? You know you already take pretty good pics (beter than those other parents), so why not make a little money off it!

Or maybe you take photos that are a bit different than everyone else in the world, but you have never quite found the perfect place to both host your portfolio and your storefront.  This is a perfect solution, and it is so inexpensive to get started.

You can set the prices for printing, downloading, or merchandizing options.

If you want some of these services, you will have to get the SmugMug Pro account. You get so many other features, it is totally worth it. Just think — you basically get to start an online photography business for really cheap! This sort of thing just was not possible a few years ago in an easy and simple way.

If, on the other hand, you want to take things to the “fine art” sales level, that is possible too. There are many print options that you will find available.

Starting an Online Photography Business (or Art Business!)

I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people asking me how to start an online photo business.  Or, an art business – to SmugMug, it’s the same thing, really.  The solution of starting an online business has always been a hit-and-miss mish mash of technologies that I’ve had to recommend before.

For $149.99 a year (Even cheaper with 20% off STUCKINCUSTOMS SmugMug Coupon), you have all the tools and infrastructure you need to start out!

In years past, you might have been forced to spend thousands of dollars on a website and integrate a clunky e-commerce solution that was more trouble than it was worth.  Putting together a payment mechanism for your customers is no small task. There are already a lot of Pros on SmugMug that have helped to shape the photographer and client experience so everything is perfect.

If you are a wedding photographer, then this is an amazing way to get quality work to your clients. I know many wedding photographers that swear by SmugMug — and they are right to do so!

And..being optimistic… you really don’t have to sell THAT much to make up for the yearly fee, do you?

If you do not want to sell your photos, then you can choose one of the other options on SmugMug, which are very well priced.  I’ve been paying Flickr for years and years… and I can’t believe how much more value I get out of SmugMug for a comparable price.

SmugMug is a good company!

I visited the SmugMug headquarters out in California, just south of San Francisco. I was able to spend time with some of the owners and founders. I was surprised that it was a family-run company! Several of the people at the company are blood relatives, but they treat everyone there like a member of the family. They even had an in-house chef who made us a homemade meal that would knock your socks off. The last time I had that much organic food, I was feeding off the land in Patagonia.  It was more than enough roughage to clean me out.  Thanks SmugMug!

But, honestly, these people at SmugMug are top notch.  I was impressed by the whole experience, and there is no doubt in my mind that the team at SmugMug will continue to innovate and make the best possible experience available to their users.

This is the home page of SmugMug.  It’s friendly and welcoming.
They have designed the whole site so it is approachable to new and experienced photographers.

The do great quality video

And not just that, but you can also host hi-res video at the site. More and more photographers are starting to add video into the mix, and SmugMug is a great host for video!

I posted a few videos on Flickr and I was appalled by the quality. Slow. Choppy. Disappointing. Who needs that?

Besides the much better quality from SmugMug, I simply like the “presentation” of the video. It just fits and feels right.

A great community – smaller than Flickr, but different

People on SmugMug are true photo-lovers. Already, I think that photographers are some of the kindest people in the world, and you will find this is also the case at SmugMug. I lament, personally, that I am often too busy to engage in the community, but it is nice to know they are there.

I notice that Photography is a bit of a “talkin-sport” where people enjoy talking about photography as much as they enjoy doing it! There are ample opportunities for this around SmugMug.

Even better, there are often real-life meetup events! I’ve been to a few of these with their Community Organizer Candice Cunningham. I find that people really like to get together and hear about, engage in, and practice photography. These events have always been great fun, and I’ve met wonderful people at them. In this digital-internet-world, it’s nice that people like Candice are running around creating a fun sense around the sport!

Flickr also has a good community, but it can also be a strange community.  People “game” the system by submitting to strange groups just to get views.  It all seems a little forced to me sometimes and unnatural.  Just like with Flickr, you will get out of SmugMug what you put into it.

Negatives of SmugMug

I know there are a lot of photo sharing websites out there.  Most of my experience is with Flickr.  There are many gripes I have with Flickr, and SmugMug solves most of them.

One thing SmugMug does not have is the millions of people that Flickr has.  This means your photo may not be discovered quite as much by other photographers.  Also, I have a huge existing network of friends on Flickr, which may not move over to SmugMug, so I have splintered my network a little bit.  That is okay to a certain degree, because it is most important to me that the average viewer on the site sees the photo nice and big.

Another negative of SmugMug is that it costs money.  This is not a big deal, since I find it incredibly inexpensive for what you get.  I’m not one of these people that thinks everything on the web should be free, but I know some people are like that.

A third negative is the lack of a good WordPress plugin.  I am working on building one, and will release it to the world for free when it is done…  For now, there is a lot of manual cutting and pasting to get the embed code into the blog.  That is kind of a drag, but I hope we can get that fixed up soon.

A fourth negative is that it does not yet integrate with Google Buzz – this is a bit of a problem, but not monumental.

I address some of the main concerns below.

A New Way of Thinking: Flickr vs. SmugMug

I got some interesting comments below, so I wanted to talk about new ways to think about your photography audience.  I have been thinking this for a while but have never communicated it.

Flickr is great, and I have obviously loved it for many years.  But, there is a serious “bubble” limitation.

Here on, we have an interesting demographic.  Of the 500K pageviews, half are photographers and half are just “fans”.  The thing is with Flickr, that you just get 100% “photographers”.

So, if you make the center of your digital world Flickr, then it is “All photographers, all the time.”  This is fine — but in that world, only photographers see your work.  It’s a bit like being an oil painter in a museum that only oil painters go to.  Does that make sense?

If you want to make an impressive “presence” on the web, you need a pretty “center” for your vision.  This can either be a blog or a nice portfolio page that doubles as a business.

Whatever the center of your photography world is, make the images big and beautiful.  You want your photos to look their best as soon as you get someone’s attention, right?  So why do you want their first experience to be a 400 pixel wide blip on a page filled with noisy comments that have ugly badges to advertise one group versus another.

Many of you may disagree with me — that is fine.  This is how I see the world.  I think that everyone in the world loves photography, so it’s good to get out of the “bubble”.

News Alert – Photographers don’t want to buy your Prints!

Hehe, I don’t mean that to be as sensational as it sounds….

But, 98% of the time, photographers don’t want to buy your stuff. Most of the time, I find that Photographers only market to other Photographers!!  They generally don’t want to buy your photo of a leaf floating in a pond!  There are millions of people in the world that DO want to buy THAT picture, but they do not hang out on Flickr!

So, when you only build your social network with other photographers and try to sell your work, you will notice it is very hard.

Have some of you had trouble selling prints?  Is most of your social network not a likely demo to buy your stuff?  Again, this is why I suggest making the center of your photography world a pretty place for the typical consumer.  When you send a potential customer to Flickr, they just get confused and it’s not a good user-experience.

Now, simply moving to SmugMug will not solve your problems… you’ll still need to market to get people to come to your portfolio site.  That is a whole different topic…

Make your Online Portfolio Totally Unique –  Customize it

For details, see my “Customize SmugMug” page.

Even though the default themes are very good, I wanted a few special things. Now, I could have gone in there myself and made all these customization changes myself, but I did not have time or the expertise.

I simply talked to Justin (you’ll meet him on the Customization page) and said, “I want my SmugMug site to look kinda like except be a flowing protfolio of the best.” I also told him I wanted a few links to come back here to the main site. That was all it took! A few emails later, the site was up and running.

A bit of personal stuff here. My background is computer science and math. I’ve done all kinds of programming and can figure out most anything. However, just because I CAN do it does not mean that I SHOULD do it. My photography-time is best spent shooting and post-processing, and not messing with all the other little bits that other people can do faster and better. Besides, customization is relatively cheap, especially when you consider bang for the buck.

Here is a sample from Justin Busa, just one of several customization options for your online portfolio,
See the “Customize SmugMug” page here on the site for more…

Any questions about the nature of these reviews? Visit my Ethics Statement. It’s all quite simple!

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