SmugMug Review – Stuck in Customs

SmugMug Review

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The Two Best Things About SmugMug

Beauty and Flexibility! Oh, and speed. That’s three, I suppose. But, after testing a ton of different portfolio sites, speed is a very important factor. Really, I am amazed at how fast the site is. They do some black magic to scale the images for all devices, and it doesn’t seem to matter how quickly you scroll down to see more, they’re always there in glorious HD format and delivered as fast as your internet connection will allow.

But first, join me in Morocco with SmugMug Films!

I was really excited to have the crew from SmugMug come out to join me in Morocco for a bit. Here’s a video they made.

Is it really the most beautiful and flexible?

Yes! I’ve looked at all the others and this newest version of SmugMug is definitely the best. They did a full re-design a few years ago and they continue to tweak it to keep it the best. Over on the right, you can see my main Portfolio and the theme that I’ve chosen.

When I say beautiful, I’m referring to all the amazing themes and looks you can put on your portfolio website. It doesn’t matter if you do landscape or wedding or portrait or whatever — you can definitely find a theme that will make your work look very impressive.

When I say flexible, it’s amazing how much you can change to make your website uniquely your own. Even better, it’s easy to customize with simple menus. I was able to make my site look exactly like I wanted without html or scripting nonsense.

Great for Beginners but powerful if you’re Hardcore

The new SmugMug has a nice setup for all kinds of users. They have some basic templates where you can just click a design and nothing else is needed! I know this is a big segment of the market, and so do they. You can jump back and forth and try out a bunch of different templates that match your style of your photos.

If you’re not a beginner and want to customize your site even more, then it is very easy. It’s so easy, in fact, that I bet a lot of beginners will feel comfortable doing it.

Support for Multiple Portfolios

I split my portfolio into four different categories. The main portfolio, which is a mixture of all my favorite photos. But then I also separated a few others out. Since I’ve been to Burning Man for the last decade or so, I wanted to dedicate one to that. And, even though I mostly do landscape and travel photos, I also love People & Portraits, so I made one for that too. The same with Cityscapes.

It was nice that I could make Virtual Copies over on SmugMug so I didn’t have to re-upload the photos to each individual gallery. For example, everything in my Portraits and People gallery is also in my Main Portfolio, so it would not make sense to upload them twice.

Here are the other three galleries. You can click through if you want to see more in detail.

Burning Man

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Some favourite photos from my last decade or so at Burning Man

People & Portraits

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I love taking photos of people and catching them organically in the right moment


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I’m also a huge fan of cityscapes and architecture, so I wanted to make a special gallery just for them.

The Style of My Portfolio

I decided to go with a different kind of style for my portfolio. I don’t know if you care about my reasoning, but I’ll let you know here. I believe that the way people consume photography on the internet is evolving. The “old” style of galleries is full-screen and you click NEXT NEXT NEXT (or right arrow). And then you wait for it to load, and then you do it again…

I think people prefer to scroll vertically (they’ve been trained on this thanks to Facebook and Instagram) and they can stay on an image as long as they want. When they’re ready to scroll to the next one, they do so at their own pace. For this reason, I went with my current style, to combine full-screen and vertically-scrollable where possible.

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How to Use and Customize SmugMug

I recorded a video below that shows more about how to customize SmugMug for your needs.

You can Make Money with SmugMug!

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% mark-up. That’s a great profit margin!
  • You can also sell merchandise. Smart!

Maybe you’re a soccer mom 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 (better 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’s so easy and inexpensive to get started.

Below is a screenshot of a sale I had on SmugMug. You can see the customer bought four images. You can also see the base cost (what I pay) and the customer cost (what they pay). The difference in between is my profit. You can set your prices to whatever you wish.

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You can set the prices for printing, downloading and/or merchandising options.

If you want some of these services, you’ll have to get the SmugMug Portfolio or Business account. You get so many other features, it’s totally worth it. Just think — you basically get to start an online photography business for next to nothing! This sort of thing just wasn’t 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’ll find available.

My Top Five SmugMug Features

I like that SmugMug is built for ALL photographers, from the hardcore professional to the neophyte hobbyist. It’s not an easy task to make a tool that appeals to all types of people.

Some people just take photos for fun and want to a chance to be able to sell them for a bit of profit to support their habit. Others are professional wedding photographers, some of which struggle to make bookings, and others of which are overloaded with clients and proofs. Some, like me, just shoot a lot of random stuff they think is interesting and want a pretty place to share their work. Whichever category you fall into, SmugMug scales to fit you, with unlimited storage built in to your account… yes… UNLIMITED!

1) Simple customization

The beautiful templates that are available are super impressive. The idea that you can just click and pick a theme is very powerful. And then, once you realize you can easily swap between themes, it all gets a little bit too intoxicating!

Be sure to watch my video above to see how this works.

Because SmugMug is great for all types of photographers, they have different themes. Some of the wedding themes may look silly for landscape, and vice-versa. Never fear, you’ll find a theme or three that matches your desires.

If you are generally afraid of getting into the details and changing your customization, then this one-click scenario is the way to go. Oh, and once you choose a theme, you’ll probably want to pay attention to #3 below!

If you’re wondering, I chose the “Osiris” theme and then modified it a bit.

SmugMug Review

2) Complete Customization

Customizing other platforms can be difficult. With SmugMug there are smart drag-and-drop controls with individual menus that let you make adjustments quickly and easily.

I was able to go into a complete customization of the default SmugMug template and make my site look exactly like I wanted. Awesome! I never had to look at any code or php or script or any of that nonsense. In fact, I found the whole process to be very fun and interesting. It actually made me think very hard about EXACTLY HOW I wanted people to experience my work on the internet. This is very philosophical in a way, you see. I enjoyed the process, and I loved using the tools to realize that philosophy.

Now, you can take a default template (like in #1 above) and simply add a few new controls or navigation items. So you don’t have to start from scratch. Say you don’t like the way the menus are laid out in one of the basic templates — well that is easy enough to change. And then if you want to change the way the photos are displayed, then you are in luck there too. The controls are very simple and powerful.

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3) Photo organization

I might be alone in thinking that it has always been a pain to re-organize photos after you’ve uploaded them to the web, but I don’t think so. I’ve never seen anyone do it right and slick until now. For some reason, the engineers at SmugMug were able to do something that not even Google or Flickr can do.

I have a lot of photos in my four albums, and I find that I’m constantly re-organizing them. The order is really important to me… I’m always getting new favorites in my top 25 or top 100, or I begin to dislike ones I once enjoyed. I’m indecisive like a woman, but that’s okay. Let’s just say I’m in touch with my feminine side.

Anyway, it’s very fun and fast to re-order my albums and move files around folders. It’s logical and snappy. It has also given me a great chance to get in there and clean up all the clutter that happened over the years.

SmugMug Review

4) Help menus

When I occasionally have a question, I’ve been very impressed with the built-in help. It’s smart in the way it points you to the solution right within the UI. This is hard to explain, but you’ll know it when you see it.

SmugMug also has a bunch of Human Helpers — I think they call them Heroes — that are online waiting to help you out too, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! That’s awesome… I doubt you could ask for human help on Flickr/Yahoo and get any kind of timely response (if at all!).

HDR Photo

5) Scalable for every device

Wow, this is a big one. People now access the web using a huge variety of devices. It’s depressing, but you’d be shocked at how many people first experience your portfolio on a little phone. I know you don’t want it to be true, but, really, it is! And this percentage will just continue to grow.

We all (me included!) like to think that people experience our portfolio on a nice big monitor with huge resolution. Of course, that is how WE like to look at it, but the number of people that actually experience the portfolio site in this high-res web browser mode is not as high as we hope.

So, it is even more important that the portfolio site is responsive from every device, from dinky iPhones to tablets to huge monitors. The way the site bends around to every kind of device is super-impressive. There is a lot of secret-sauce happening, I can tell. At some point as the width shrinks to a mobile phone, for example, my navigational elements change from a horizontal arrangement to a vertical arrangement. This is cool! I bet there are a few people that might complain about this, but not me. It’s more important that people be able to navigate your site than it to maintain the original orientation and have an unreadable, tiny font.

HDR Photo

Any negatives with SmugMug?

Well, it’s not free. I guess you can complain about that if you are a Marxist. You will have to pay some money, but, in exchange, you do get a lot of great services (beautiful portfolio, backup, ability to make money through your prints).

Some people may also complain about the lack of social features. I don’t mind this at all — I don’t need SmugMug to be a social network… I just want it to hold my portfolio. It does work easily with Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc etc… and I think that is smart. There is no need for SmugMug to make its own social network.


Look. It’s great. Life is too short not to use the best. If something better was out there, I would definitely switch to it… Even if you are on another site and already have a lot of momentum, I’d consider making the switch now because SmugMug is a powerhouse and it’s only going to get better.

Click here to try SmugMug FREE for 14 days and SAVE 20% on a new account!

In addition to all the great features listed above, here are some new updates from the past year or so. Each of them links to a deeper “Help” file where you can discover more.

  • Ability to restrict coupons to specific prints/products. Find out more about coupon options.
  • Mobile Apps for both Android and iOS. Upload, view, share, etc via the apps.
  • You can also create a custom mobile app of your site, a folder, gallery or page, that you can share with others to add the app to their phones.
  • Apple TV app: Watch videos/films, Login and view your SmugMug site, view friends/family sites.
  • For your followers in the UK, Loxley Colour is available to select as the lab for order fulfillment. SmugMug has also added many new products with their other labs including metal and curved metal prints. More info about the labs and catalog is available here.
  • SmugDomains: Get a custom domain right through SmugMug.
  • File size increases and of course unlimited storage of photos and videos on all account levels. Find out more.
  • Privacy Settings: Fine tune your privacy options to share content with only those you want.
  • The awesomeness of the Site Organizer. Ease of use, power to manage all of your photos/videos in one convenient area.
  • Desktop apps for Folder uploading. Upload entire folder structures for both Mac and PC as well as several other uploading options including directly from Dropbox, Amazon Drive, etc. Mac App, Windows App,
    Folder Uploading, and additional uploading options.
  • Customizable Site Designs: 26 ready-made designs that are highly customizable with Content Blocks. There are several new ones like the Carousel and Button content blocks.
  • A Plugin for those who edit with Adobe Lightroom.