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A good photographer needs a good eye, some equipment to shoot with, and, depending on the kind of work they do, the ability to be there when things happen or the creativity to make things happen. But in order to succeed today, a good photographer also needs a portfolio website.
This is where SmugMug, a code-free website builder for photographers, comes in. A leading photography platform since 2002, the site acts like your own customizable online gallery space, letting you display — and sell — your photos securely and easily in a professional, custom website.
The SmugMug website introduces itself this way: “SmugMug is your do-it-all photo place. Keep every pixel safe, share them securely with whoever you want, or use our sales platform to make money selling prints and downloads.”
And, despite its somewhat silly-sounding name, the company takes this promise seriously. Though many other platforms allow you to build your own website with little coding skill or experience, SmugMug pays special attention to the needs and wants of photographers — whether you’re just starting out or looking to grow an established photography business.
Aside from the basics of website making, you also get a photo organization and storage platform with its own modest photo lab, as well as an eCommerce platform that takes care of the nitty-gritty details of sales for you, from payments processing all the way to shipping.
Who Is It For?
Whether you’re looking to make a photography website just for fun, for profit, or for both, then SmugMug has the features that can help you do just that. You can probably also use it if you’re a designer, painter, or any other kind of visual artist, but the core demographic the service caters to is really in photography and videography.
So if you are a photographer or videographer, then keep reading.
What Can You Do With It?
You can use it as a kind of storefront to showcase your work with different clients and businesses. For professional photographers and videographers, there’s even a function that lets you share private or password-protected galleries, so you can show draft work to clients or collaborate with partners.
The unlimited storage also comes with a backup service, so you can rest easy knowing that your hard work is safe and, because of SmugMug’s mobile app, accessible at all times.
If you’re looking to make money online and sell prints, then the platform also takes care of the eCommerce processes for you, too. You just need to set your own prices and print sizes.
Aside from prints, you can also have your photos printed on mugs and aprons. From there, SmugMug handles payments, printing and shipping for a small commission.
A Rundown of SmugMug’s Powerful Features
Creating an account and your very own website on the SmugMug platform is a breeze — especially compared to other website builders like Squarespace, WordPress, or Wix. In fact, the hardest step would probably just be choosing which photos in your gallery you’d like to showcase.
To get started, all you need to do is to click on the green ‘Start Doing’ button. This lets you begin on a 14-day trial, without having to enter any credit card or payment details. You just need to provide your name, e-mail address, and a password. And from there, you go straight to picking out a theme.
Then, the platform prompts you to upload some photos. SmugMug takes those and places them in the theme you just chose, and tada — you have a portfolio website.
You’ll also be invited to choose a URL, and it’ll look like: [your name].smugmug.com on the address bar of your browser. You can also indicate if you want to sell photos. For these, you can decide at the beginning, or skip for now and then come back to it later on.
The entire process is refreshingly easy and quick, without any complicated forms or confusing code. From there, you can tweak the website on the platform’s editor, so you can customize your website further.
Now, the editor interface takes a bit of getting used to, especially when it comes to manipulating the blocks of content on your website draft. But for a platform designed to be both a photo management tool and a website builder, SmugMug manages to do both well.
Plus, it’s pretty easy to navigate once you’ve gotten the hang of it — and it sure beats having to learn CSS and HTML to make things look good.
Easy Import and Great Image Quality on Secure, Unlimited Cloud Storage
Part of the set-up process we’ve already touched on is image importing, but SmugMug’s import function is so good that it’s worth its own section.
For starters, you don’t have to worry about storage: A SmugMug account provides you unlimited cloud storage for your files. Images can be up to 200 MB each, while 1080p videos can be as long as 20 minutes.
If you’re already storing and displaying your work online, then SmugMug allows you to link your existing accounts and import images straight from sites like Flickr, Dropbox, and Amazon Drive with just one click. (Yup, it’s that easy.)
You can also import photos from your phone or tablet using the SmugMug app, available for free on both Android and iOS. If your files are on your desktop, then you can upload those to the platform easily, too, with the site’s drag-and-drop feature.
For those who use Adobe Lightroom, SmugMug also has a neat Lightroom Plug-in that lets you create and manage galleries from the Lightroom program itself. This can be especially useful if you’re working events like weddings, as you’re able to upload your final images even before guests leave the reception.
Once your work is online, you can then manage your images and videos via the platform’s built-in file manager. It comes with some modest editing functions like cropping, and lets you organize your images into galleries.
It’s also worth noting that the image quality is superb, even on high-pixel monitors. Sure, this may sound like a given on an image-sharing platform, but you’d be surprised at how other platforms can lack in this regard. When it comes to ruining beautiful images, Instagram is a notorious serial offender with its image compression algorithm, while platforms like Zenfolio can lose image quality for larger screens.
Photographers can also rest easy knowing that SmugMug’s down-sampling is pretty great, too: When sizing down images from their full resolution, the image quality and sharpness stay the same. You also have the option of turning off image compression if you want to.
As for safety and security, SmugMug allows photographers to add watermarks and disable right-clicking on their site, which can help prevent site visitors from stealing your images.
Moreover, as of 2021, SmugMug users can also upload RAW files for storage.
Well Thought-Out Templates
SmugMug’s template gallery consists of 26 designs, which sounds drastically fewer than, say, Wix’s library of 800+ templates, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Because the platform has a more specific niche, there’s no need to churn out hundreds of templates for different industries. Plus, it saves new users the hassle of digging through dozens upon dozens of options before choosing one (and maybe switching to another a few days later).
For the 26 templates that it does have for different kinds of photographers, SmugMug has made sure that they all make the user’s images shine. They’re all pretty minimalist, modern, and clean, designed to make your photos and videos look as good as possible.
And this is no small matter: Studies show that 38% of users will leave your website if it’s ugly.
From these templates, users have a significant amount of freedom to change up their portfolios. You can customize fonts, colors, sizes, margins, and fonts, and tweak the look of your website using the platform’s block system. This lets you drag and drop items like galleries and text into place, without ever having to look at a single line of code.
If you do have some coding experience and have the time and energy to use it, SmugMug also gives you the valuable freedom to use custom CSS and HTML. This makes the customization options nearly limitless.
You can also customize your domain by either connecting your SmugMug website to one you already own, or purchase a domain directly through the platform. This way, you’re not forever stuck with [your name].smugmug.com.
Selling and eCommerce
Once your website is all set up, you can also start selling digital and physical prints of your work. SmugMug works directly with four labs, namely:
With the exception of Loxley, which ships prints throughout Europe, these labs can cater to customers all around the world. As the account owner and printseller, you have the option of choosing which labs you’d like to sell your prints with, but you can’t really go wrong with any of them.
Aside from prints, you can sell wall art, photo books, and other keepsakes.
The platform itself supports 10 currencies and lets you set your own prices for each product. You can even set up package deals for the different products you offer, which would be especially useful for event photographers, though the availability of some of these functions will depend on the kind of plan you purchase (more on this below).
These functions can be especially useful if you’re just starting out and have no idea how to sell your work. That’s because SmugMug takes care of everything else — you’ll never have to worry about dealing with suppliers, packing, and ensuring delivery fulfillment.
Do note though that in exchange for this service, the site takes 15% of the profits of every sale you make. This is a bit higher than the likes of, say, Zenfolio, but it is a small difference of 3-5%. The good thing about it is that the company is pretty transparent about that 15%, and even lets you build your price list with it in mind.
Works and Looks Great on Mobile
Another neat feature is SmugMug’s mobile-friendly approach. From importing your photos to setting your price list, the platform can be used on-the-go through its app, which is available on both iOS and Android systems.
This can be especially useful when you’re collaborating with partners or looking to send images straight to clients — there’s no need to have to lug around a laptop or wait to get home to your desktop.
Plus, the website you’ll make on the platform automatically adjusts to different screen sizes, so you won’t have to worry about making a mobile-friendly version of the same portfolio.
Analytics for Improving Your Business
To help you make sure you’re getting the most out of your SmugMug website, the platform also provides you access to detailed analytics in its “Stats” function.
Here, you’ll be able to see your website’s total views, referrers, gallery and photo trends, and so on, so you get a sense of how well each photo or video on your customized site is performing. Over time, this can help you learn what kinds of content to feature to get the most views and sales.
SmugMug’s analytics feed also ties in with Google Analytics and StatCounter support, which provide even more detail on the behaviors and preferences of your website visitors. This way, you can try out different settings to find the one that’ll lead the most people to your digital store.
Helpful User Support
Last but not least, SmugMug provides a comprehensive support service — ranging from searchable and detailed guides, to a help chat function (with responses “from an actual human,” the site promises).
The guides are so thoughtfully made that you’ll likely find the answer to whatever you’re wondering about in either the articles or the video tutorials, which are also available on SmugMug’s YouTube channel. These even provide eCommerce tips and inspirational material for your next shoots.
Our One Critique
The one critique we might lodge at the site is that there’s no free plan outside of the 14-day free trial, unlike with other website builders. After the two-week trial period, you’ll be asked to choose from one of the platform’s four plans, which are:
- Basic: $9 per month, or $75 per year
- Power: $13 per month, or $110 per year
- Portfolio: $28 per month, or $225 per year
- Pro: $42 per month, or $360 per year
But, it is important to note that for these prices, you do get a lot of bang for your buck.
The Basic plan alone gives you the luxury of unlimited cloud storage, a personalized photography website, detailed privacy and security controls, apps, and 24/7 support.
Those looking to get rid of the “.smugmug.com” will have to go for the Power plan, while those hoping to take their photography business to new heights will benefit the most from the Portfolio or Pro plans — the latter of which even lets you offer your customers gift-wrapping options.
The Bottom Line
These days, there are plenty of options to choose from if you’re looking to make a functioning website without subjecting yourself to the dizzying ordeal of CSS and HTML. But if you’re a photographer or videographer hoping to create a professional website that stores, showcases, and/or sells your work easily, then you can’t go wrong with SmugMug.
Its array of storage and marketing features means you can use it for simply storing and sharing your photos and videos, or even run a successful business to sell your work.
There is, however, the lack of a free plan to think about, as that can be a barrier for beginners trying to get off the ground. But if you’re willing to shell out a little every month (or get big savings by paying every year), then the features on SmugMug are more than worth it after you’ve mastered the platform’s unique and powerful tools.
If you’re still on the fence, you can see these tools for yourself using SmugMug’s 14-day free trial — no credit card info required.