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SmugMug Review: Protect Your Photos, Create a Customized Website and Make Some Money

smugmug_bannerSmugMug is a premium photo and video hosting service for people that want a website they can customize, that will protect their photos, and where they can easily sell prints to clients and fans.

And when I say “premium”, I mean – it ain’t free.

And like any purchase, you must ask yourself, “Is this a good product for me? And is it worth it?”

Well, that depends, of course. But I hope that this review will help you decide if SmugMug is the right solution for you.

Basically if you’re a pro photographer, aspiring pro photographer, or avid amateur photographer – SmugMug is a fantastic service that can help you sleep at night (security and privacy features), show off your portfolio (gorgeous and flexible customization), and make you money (slick e-commerce tools).

Here’s my simple, but effective photography website – powered by SmugMug – www.ryanoakleyphotography.ca

If all this sounds great and you want to cut to the chase – click here to save 20% on your new SmugMug account (which includes a 14-day free trial).

And if you want more details – keep reading…

The Main Features and Benefits of SmugMug

Security is one of the main reasons pros and regular people alike choose SmugMug to host their images online.

Security is one of the main reasons pros and regular people alike choose SmugMug to host their images online.

Safety and Security – It’s not sexy, but it’s pretty important to us photographers. We take pride in our craft and we want to protect our images. And this might include password protecting client galleries, un-listing or hiding away photos of our kids, or watermarking and right-click protecting our award winning shots. SmugMug has a great suite of tools to lock your photos down, or unleash them to the world.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, thousands of people sadly lost their homes (and their computers). Which means many of them lost all their files and photos that were on their local hard-drives. But I remember hearing stories of people emailing SmugMug saying how grateful they were that they had all their important photos on SmugMug – safe and sound, backed up in the cloud.

Our photos are priceless – and SmugMug helps you organize and keep them safe.

SmugMug DesignsFlexible and Powerful Drag-and-Drop Customization – Photographers are striving to create and express. Why should it be any different with our websites? The new SmugMug, released in the summer of 2013 opened up the world of web customization to everyone – not just coders and designers.

SmugMug has dozens of designs that you can choose to use right off the bat. But they are fully customizable with colours, fonts, content blocks and the like. Even the hard-core web designers can have fun with CSS and HTML to really make their sites unique and personal.

It’s drag-and-drop easy but if you need some help, you can check out my SmugMug Customization Tutorial.

Making Money – For folks with Portfolio and Business SmugMug accounts, you can set your own prices on everything from prints, merchandise, and even digital downloads.

Making money by selling photos helps off-set the cost of SmugMug

Making money by selling photos helps off-set the cost of SmugMug

After the cost of producing the good(s), the photographer takes home 85% while SmugMug takes 15%. Some people have criticized this split, saying 15% is too much for SmugMug to take. But I disagree. For the 15%, SmugMug takes care of payment processing, order fulfillment, and even takes care of the 100% guarantee and customer service.  Even if I had employees to do this work for me, it would cost me and my business way more.  So yeah, 15% of my profit is just fine with me.

SmugMug has also done a lot of great work for the SmugMug Pro users – adding features like coupon codes, boutique packaging, global currency, and making partnerships with other services like Moo Cards, Animoto, and Blurb to name a few.

Yeah - SmugMug takes their Customer Support "Heroes" thing quit seriously.

Yeah – SmugMug takes their Customer Support “Heroes” thing quit seriously.

Customer Service – They call their team of customer service staff “Support Heroes”.  They even make them wear face paint (hopefully not every day!). But really, I have found their customer support to be one of the best for any company I deal with – not just in photography. Though they are a family-owned intimate business, they have the staff to properly service their customers. When I send a question in to their help email, I usually get a response within an hour. That makes my life easier.

On top of that, SmugMug has been around for a long time – and I don’t see them going away (or being acquired by Yahoo) anytime soon. So that gives me confidence that my photos are in the right hands and I don’t have to worry about a critical change that could disrupt my business or my life.

It’s Not Perfect

The biggest issue with SmugMug is that it’s not free – or even cheap. As I mentioned at the top of this post, SmugMug is a premium service. So you need to decide for yourself if the service and benefits that you receive is worth the cost.

I’d say that for anyone selling photos or doing photography as a full or part-time business, it’s an easy choice.  Even their top-end package at $300 per year is a steal when you consider how much pro photographers will pay monthly to rent studio space.

Personally, even with my part-time business, I’ve been able to sell enough prints every year to easily cover the cost of my SmugMug site.

If you have zero interest in selling prints, the choice is a bit more difficult. I’d suggest you look at the free alternatives that are out there, and ask yourself if there is something missing that you really really want. Maybe it’s the security features, or the ability to customize and personalize your own site. Maybe you want to make sure your photos are viewed at their very best – not next to some ugly ads.

SmugMug isn’t for everybody. But with their 14-day free trial it’s easy to sign-up, give it a spin, kick the tires and see if it’s a good fit for you.

14 Day Free Trial + 20% Off Coupon

True story.

Equipment Matters – A Camera Buying Guide For Sane People

It always irks me when I hear people say that camera equipment doesn’t matter. That “good” artists can use any disposable camera to shoot a great wedding or take their next masterpiece.

Then why don’t we ever see that?! Pros always use the best equipment they can get their hands on.

Another one is that upgrading cameras won’t magically make a “bad” photographer produce good images.

Guess what? YES IT WILL!

I guarantee you that if I put a Nikon D810, loaded with a 50 mm f/1.4 lens, in the hands of nearly anyone and told them to just point it at someones head and press the shutter button – they would take one of the best portraits of their lives. And that photo would be better than any image posted by their friends on Facebook that day.

Camera gear matters.

Which is why so many of us photographers spend our days dreaming of the latest and greatest, the biggest and most expensive.

I took on my first wedding gig because I desperately wanted the highly coveted Nikon 18-200 VR when if first came out – and I couldn’t afford to spend $1000 from my family budget.

Gear envy and lack of spending discipline has a serious dark side. It’s easy to lose yourself in the shiny new toys that are flashed before our eyes – everywhere we look. At best, we can never feel satisfied with what we have – and at worst, we spend and spend until we drown in debt or drain our checking accounts.

I want you to buy new gear. But we need to be sane to make good choices with our limited resources.

So with this in mind, I present:

A Camera Buying Guide for Sane People

Step 1: Determine how much money you have to spend

You don’t want to start shopping without knowing how much you want to spend.

It’s easy to overspend – and the consequences suck (buyers remorse and debt) so this first step is critical to making a sane purchase.

And if you’re thinking about buying a dSLR or Micro Four-Thirds system – you’ll want to keep in mind the cost of accessories – like lenses, bags, memory cards, and maybe even software.

Step 2: Go as expensive as you can afford

With your budget figured out, I can safely tell you to shop around for the most expensive camera (and/or lenses) you can afford.

Generally, with camera gear, you get what you pay for. So when you fork over more cash, you’ll get a better camera. And, as I mentioned at the start of this post, a better camera will make you a better photographer.

Step 3: Compare options with reviews and recommendations – ignore spec sheets

There are countless sites dedicated to (over) analyzing the image quality of each camera and lens on the market. It’s easy to get lost in the data – and it’s easy to feel like any decision on a camera will not be the PERFECT choice.

There is no perfect camera. Let’s get that out of the way now.

The best thing to do when comparing cameras is to use the power of the crowd to help you find one that won’t disappoint you.

Amazon is the obvious choice for this information. Rely on the thousands of consumers that have bought and tried every camera on the market and use their reviews and ratings to help the good products rise to the top.

Also, have a look at what your favourite photographers are using – knowing they may have demands similar to yours and have done their own extensive homework.

Trey Ratcliff’s post on the death of dSLR’s greatly impacted my decision to move to a micro four-thirds camera system.

Step 4: Consider special features

The tilt LCD screen feature is a must have for me. Helps me get these "on the ground" images.

The tilt LCD screen feature is a must have for me. Helps me get these “on the ground” images.

I love me a good tilt LCD screen. Helps me get shots at odd angles that others don’t often think off. So when I’m considering a new camera, this comes into play for me.

And when I bought my last camera, I went with an Olympus OM-D EM-5 because I was sick and tired of carrying around my big Nikon dSLR. I also wanted to start shooting street photography – and the sleek EM-5 is nice and discrete.

I treat the camera like a nice looking accessory. Even if I don’t plan on shooting, I want it around my neck when I head out of my house.

Other considerations:

  • fixed lenses vs. interchangeable lenses
  • size and weight
  • brand name (this matters to some)
  • water resistance and shock resistance
  • colour
  • external flash
  • video capabilities (like HD)
  • external microphone
  • Built-in GPS or wi-fi

Keep in mind it’s nearly impossible to find a camera that will have everything you want. You may need to prioritize your desires.

Cnet.com is a great resource for filtering out features.

Step 5: Try before you buy

There’s a good chance the search for your next camera will come down to 2 or more very good options.

It’s time to go to a local camera store and get your hands on these cameras. The one that feels best in your hands is the one you should go with.

It’s as simple as that.

My recommendations

I am in love with the iPhone camera. I am so amazed at the technology that allows us to shoot relatively remarkable photos with our freakin’ phones!

It really is true that the best camera is the one you have on you.

Sure, there are limitations – like low-light, high noise, lack of zoom, etc. but for documenting most of our daily lives, the iPhone is as perfect as you get.

But when you want more…

My love affair with my Olympus OM-D EM-5

A photo of my favourite camera, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (with battery grip) taken with my second favourite camera, the iPhone.

A photo of my favourite camera, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (with battery grip) taken with my second favourite camera, the iPhone.

I have to recommend the camera I currently shoot with, don’t I? :)

When my Nikon D90 smashed to a million pieces (true story) I went on the hunt for a new camera.

It would have made perfect sense for me to stay with the Nikon system – so I could use all my existing lenses, batteries, etc.

But I knew I needed a change. I wanted to go smaller and sleeker. I wanted a camera I was attracted to.

With the Olympus OM-D EM-5 it was love at first sight.  Retro silver, small, tilt-screen, high-quality lenses, great reviews from experts and customers alike…..ahhhh…..be still my beating heart.

With my street photography – it’s nearly perfect.

I was concerned that the camera would feel too small in my hands. And it was. But this was easily rectified with the additional battery grip – which adds just the right amount of space for my fingers.

Happy Shopping!

I hope that this guide helps ease your anxiety about buying the “perfect” camera. We all work hard for our money and we should spend it wisely.

I want you to unwrap something you’re excited about – but doesn’t give you buyers remorse cause it was more than you could afford.

Lastly, be grateful for living in a time when access to amazing technology (like the iPhone) is available to nearly all of us.

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