SmugMug Review

SmugMug Review

SmugMug – is a multi-functional photography website builder. The target audience of the service includes photographers willing to sell their works online. The system makes it possible to create online galleries with shared access to empower photo enthusiasts from around the world to tell the stories they intend to share with the audience in the most remarkable way.

The website builder is not similar to standard portfolios like those in promo websites. The major SmugMug goal is not only to present your works to the advantage or attract client base for photo sessions (although, it may be used for these purposes as well). People using such systems don’t appreciate photographer’s professionalism only, but often choose stock photos to meet their personal goals here.

The service is not unique, of course, but it’s still quite rare. It will be of great interest to professional photographers, although, any enthusiast will be able to create a gallery consisting of nice photos from smartphone here as well. Why not? By the way, this review was written for participation in the SmugMug partner program where I’ll earn a commission if you purchase a SmugMug account. The review is 100% unbiased. The commission is sort of like a tip for doing the research to save you time and help you make a decision. So let’s have a look at the options SmugMug offers.

  • Niche portfolio website builder
  • Allows selling photos online
  • Lets you stock photos on the website servers

Pros and Cons

SmugMug website builder is a professional photography-focused platform. Its target audience encompasses specific niche user categories, namely photo enthusiasts, professionals and freelancers. Thus, the service comes with a broad range of features and tools needed to start and manage portfolio and photography websites. Along with the list of advantages, it offers a set of demerits that may affect users’ choice. It’s high time to mention them now to let users know what they can expect from the platform.

Professional responsive portfolio templates that are fully-customizable;
Easy to get started for everyone;
Code-free system;
Broad range of eCommerce options;
Convenient file manager, opportunity to upload the unlimited number of photos;
Versatility of design customization options, including HTML/CSS code editing;
Lightroom plugin integration;
Enhanced password protection for website pages, folders, galleries as well as special photo watermarks;
Powerful statistics collection, traffic and sales analysis tools;
eCommerce platform;
Qualified and informative support center;
Powerful features for photo/video selling.
Insufficient ergonomics and settings inconsistency;
Less templates as compared to the major niche competitors;
Visual simplicity that does not correspond to the actual integrated functionality of the system;
Absence of a free plan;
No connect domain feature on the Basic plan;
Some design customization tools are complicated for first-timers.

As seen from the table, the number of SmugMug advantages notably prevails over the list of its demerits. Having reviewed the system, it’s possible to conclude that it doesn’t have any serious negative aspects, which may pose problems to users, no matter how niche-proficient they are. This is what most subscribers value about it.

  • eCommerce for photos
  • Lightroom integration
  • Integrated stats and powerful design customization

What Is It Good For?

SmugMug is a specialized website builder. Its main sphere of application centers exclusively around the development, storage, promotion, marketing and selling photography projects. The platform positions itself as a professional tool for photographers, enthusiasts, artists, designers and just memory makers. This approach is mainly explained by the integrated functionality of the system and its distinctive focus.

Whether you are a photo expert or just an enthusiast willing to keep your photos well-organized, you will find plenty of tools and options while working with SmugMug. Apart from high end portfolio templates that come with a variety of settings to ensure quick and quality image loading and presentation, the system also provides safe and reliable photo storage options. Actually, this is the best home for your special images and videos. The system offers unlimited disk space that lets you store as many photos/videos as you need for personal or business use.

SmugMug also takes care of exceptional safety of each photo, image, web page and gallery, offering enhanced password and watermarke protection options. The integrated shopping cart of the system allows selling the photos, while professional stats collection tools make it possible to keep track of your website popularity, traffic and sales volumes. This is what makes the system a trusted tool for photo enthusiasts and professionals.

Ease of Use

SmugMug is oriented both on the needs of newbies and professionals. Thus, it is not complicated at all, even though, inexperienced users may find its interface a bit overloaded with elements and design customization tools. This, however, is mostly the problem of the visual perception. As you start exploring the system and creating your own project with it, you will quickly make sure that it’s actually easy-to-use and quite convenient, irrespective of the web design skills you have.

If you already have the experience of working with website builders offering drag-and-zoom photo editing options, you may consider SmugMug web design approach somewhat intimidating and even sometimes challenging because of its fixed block structure. At the same time, the process of publishing your first photo gallery will take a few minutes only, if you decide to use the template the system grants by default.

To help you get used to the platform, its developers offer informative tips and recommendations on each stage of the web design process. Well, it’s possible to explore the system on your own, but the risk of making a mistake is also high in this case. To save your effort and time, it makes sense to stick to the recommendations the platform provides. This is how you will be able to easier explore the system and get used to its dashboard quicker. You will feel comfortable here in 2-3 hours of working in the system.

Generally, it’s difficult to call SmugMug an intuitive website builder. At the same time, it looks visually simple. Get ready to find some options in the unusual places and feel confused because of the interface. There is only one solution to this – just get used to it.

Getting Started

The speed and convenience of the sign up process will fill you with confidence regarding the platform choice right off the bat. To register with the website builder, you will have to fill out the online form. This is where you will need to specify your first and last name, email and password. The system will also offer you to answer, whether you are going to sell your photos online. The answer will affect the feature set provided by default.

SmugMug start trial

Right after the sign up procedure, you are expected to pick a template. Don’t be afraid to make the wrong choice as the system makes it possible to switch to another theme, if there is such a need. As soon as you are done with the template choice, you can start uploading photos and proceed to your website customization.

All in all, it takes around a few minutes to sign up for the platform. The process is not only quick, but it’s also intuitive and pretty understandable for each and every user. You don’t have to be a web design pro to get started with your photography website creation here.

Website Editing

Now that you are done with your SmugMug account creation, you will be offered to start your first gallery. Mind that upon the completion of this task, the thumbnail of the gallery will be displayed on the homepage. So, make sure to pick the right photo for the cover page right from the start.

When creating a gallery, you’ll be expected to provide its name and upload as many photos/videos as the project requires. The system highlights the importance of using high-resolution images to give the gallery catchy look. The better the image quality is, the more professional your website will eventually look.

As soon as the photos are uploaded, you will be offered to add extra website content, naley project logo, the display name and social media links, if any. Right after this, you should click the “Show My Website” button to see the result. If you are satisfied with the current project status, you may proceed to the next step – photo organization. This won’t be a problem due to the integrated Photo Organizer. It lets you manage images, galleries, folders and settings via the use of the drag-and-drop technology.

SmugMug start page

Thus, the process of SmugMug website customization doesn’t take it long. You just need time to explore the entire feature set of the system, the tools it encompasses, the parameters you can set up here. However, that’s not that difficult and time-taking at all.

Going Live

Now that you are done with your photography/portfolio website customization, you should save it and adjust share settings – both Gallery and Social. Gallery settings lets you create and edit gallery/mobile app link as well as copy this link to share the website as a fullscreen slideshow. Likewise, it’s possible to embed this link on any external resource to grant access to the project. Another way to share your portfolio is to do that in social network accounts or by sending it to anyone else.

  • Quick and convenient sign up process;
  • Less intuitive than its major niche competitors;
  • Comprises content blocks with fixed photo editing structure.

Features & Flexibility

SmugMug functionality should be analyzed from the point of view of convenient gallery organization, interface management and availability of specific settings like access and download restrictions, payment acceptance etc. Let’s admit – the website builder copes with these tasks pretty well. Yes, the dashboard interface is a bit complicated, but it is still possible to find lots of useful options here.

SmugMug visual editor supports drag-and-drop functionality. You can add new blocks and other elements (menu, buttons, photos, pages) to the pages by dragging them. Having worked a few hours in the system, you will be able to find the required settings and edit the website as needed. The process is quite simple here. You are offered 4 categories of options, namely:

  1. “Upload”, which makes it possible to upload photos to the new or existing gallery;
    SmugMug Review
  2. “Organize”, which is a file manager that resembles Windows Explorer or Mac Finder in its structure. You can create new photo folders and galleries here and add pages for your website. You can also edit photos (crop, color effects), add watermarks, location data as well as SEO parameters (title, description, keywords). It’s possible to set up the visibility of web pages for the search engines and access to them (for everyone, via the password or for manually chosen registered users) in this section.
    SmugMug Review
  3. “Customize” that grants access to the settings of web pages, templates (you can change them if needed), color schemes and a rich choice of options provided in the «Content and Design» section, which contains the largest amount of settings, subdivided into 4 categories:
    SmugMug Review

    • “Content”, which makes it possible to add logo, menu, social network buttons, breadcrumb, galleries, separate photos, buttons, featured events, videos (YouTube and Vimeo are supported here), text, maps, calendar, Google translator etc. Generally, this is a section with widgets;
    • “Theme” that contains website color scheme settings. You can use any color scheme available in the section or create your own design by setting the colors, fonts, transparency, background etc. You can also add your CSS code;
    • “Background” that allows choosing the website background (inherit from entire site, none, photo, video, slideshow);
    • “Layout”, which makes it possible to setup website width and height (design is responsive by default), spaces and activate sidebars.
  4. “Sell” that provides sales history info, addition of price lists, discount tickets, product packs (for example, several galleries for a fixed price), events (such as sales by a rich amount of pre-set parameters). There is also “Branding” point available here, which involves account settings, security policy, payment acceptance, statistics and lots of other things, which do not correspond to the name of this menu point.

SmugMug Review

Apart from the options discussed above, you can activate/deactivate header and footer blocks, make your homepage independent (other website settings won’t affect it) and add the favicon in the “Settings” menu, which will be available after you enter the “Customize” dashboard found near the “Done” button. When “Independent Homepage” is turned on, the “Homepage” element ignores the customizations and content blocks added to the entire site.

This allows for a unique and special home/landing page but then consistency in the header and navigation throughout the rest of the site. What appealed to us a lot is that the “Help” section is always at hand – you just need to activate the «?» sign in the right upper corner of any page. By the way, there is a nice educative video here. We recommend watching it.

SmugMug Review

SmugMug options at a first sight are inconsistently and illogically structured. An important section may consist of one tab with a couple of checkboxes only. However, the associated sections may offer lots of links that grant access to the rich variety of other settings. Some secondary points are singled out in separate menus and look very detailed (like template color schemes, for example), which is quite weird.

If you have desire and creative taste, you can spend long hours adjusting colors, fonts and sizes of each letter, button or line at the website. Most people don’t need that from our point of view. Just ignore this excessive customization. Choose any ready-made template and color scheme, add galleries, setup access to them and SEO parameters, connect payment methods and that’s it. This is how the most effective SmugMug usage scenario looks like. Anyway, what really matters here is the amount and quality of photos. Focus on this aspect.

Mobile Apps

SmugMug has official apps for iOS/Android, which make it possible to manage the website from smartphone. It also has dedicated ‘Windows’ and Mac’ apps that allow to upload directly from the OS. This allows for the user to start an upload at any time on their computer. If you lose connection the upload will pause and resume when connection is made again.

SmugMug Review

However, you’ll need Adobe ID to do that. This plugin is downloaded and installed separately. You can download it in the “Apps” section of your private profile, where you will also find the detailed video instruction on how to install it properly. We recommend watching it. Otherwise, you won’t guess how to install the plugin correctly. This is a complicated process.

Convenient Photo Organization

SmugMug Review

The system lets you conveniently organize all the uploaded images into thematic collections. Apart from creating and managing photo galleries and folders, you can also try bulk photo management via the application of the drag-and-drop functionality. To personalize photos and their collections, you should additionally assign titles, keywords and captions to each and every image. Additionally, you can sort out the uploaded images by their dates, tites and other parameters as well as rotate them, set up color effects, adjust thumbnails and perform other actions.


With SmugMug, you can set up your web store to further sell your photos there. This is the place, where you can customize price lists for your potential customers, organize photos into thematic collections, adjust photo selection options for clients (thus, they can either hand pick their favorite shots or download the entire collections).

Additionally, you can sell prints and gift certificates, adjusting security settings and storing them on the system’s server. SmugMug comes with a fully-hosted shopping cart and checkout options. Mind that whatever price you set, you will avail 85% of the eventual profit. The eCommerce feature lets you build a brand name for your photo business, creating (uploading) a unique logo, adding watermark signs and digital branding to projects, integrating shopping carts and completing other multiple eCommerce actions to market your brand name.

The system allows accepting global currencies on all the orders completed, including CAD, USD, GBP, EUR, JPY, AUD, CHF, SEK, NZD, HKD and more. It’s up to you to pick the preferred currency type, when specifying gift and print prices as well as the cost of downloads. When making the transactions, you can collect profits via electronic channels, enable proof delay and make final edits prior shipping as well as create custom price lists for unique individual galleries to meet the needs of each and every client.


SmugMug portfolios are SEO-friendly as the system makes it possible to adjust the settings and fill out special parameters to boost the search engine ranking of your project. The website builder comes with multiple advanced SEO tools, detailed analytics and statistics collection features, which let you monitor traffic flow to your website as well as other crucial parameters.

Lightroom Plugin Integration

SmugMug lets you upload, organize and manage your photos in a few simple steps. To do that, you should use the Lightroom Plugin that automatically synchronizes with the website builder. Lightroom integration helps keep your website structure and SEO meta data (including titles, captions and keywords) absolutely intact.

Photo Storage and Control

It’s up to you to control the accessibility and safety of your photos on the web by adjusting the sharing options. You can specify the users, to whom you can assign the access rights as well as reserve unique passes for VIP users. SmugMug boasts enhanced photo cloud storage options to safeguard your images in the best way possible. Whatever photo you upload, it is backed up with Amazon Web Services.

What’s more, all the images can be protected by your own copyright. As a photo owner, you can decide, when to set up passwords for separate images or galleries. You can completely limit visibility of all the items and even web pages only to those users, who have shared gallery access links or you can make these collections absolutely private.

Image Sharing Options

When using SmugMug, you can share your photos, portfolios, galleries and website pages via social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc.). You can also use the integrated cost-free mobile app to upload, edit, archive and share images on the go. Finally, you are allowed to invite your friends and acquaintances to add new photos, edit and manage your portfolios in the live mode via the shareable link. To boost user engagement rate, you may also enable, moderate and disable comments as well as display geotagged images on interactive maps.

Customer Engagement Features

SmugMug is one of those website builders that has one of the most rewarding systems. The platform ensures 100% print satisfaction guarantee (high print quality is a must here), makes it possible to order products and photos offered by experienced print laboratories directly from your website, enable/disable gallery product sales. You can also create special offers and gift cards for your clients as well as let them purchase photo books, frames and other related accessories provided by the renowned vendors.

Photo Import Feature

If you already own photo galleries published and stored on Flickr, Amazon Drive or DropBox, you can import them into your SmugMug account. The online import option lets you do that with minimum time and effort investment. No coding or web design skills are needed to complete the task – you can copy the preferred photos directly from the specified web hosting services. That’s easy, fast and hassle-free, indeed.

SmugMug + Flickr

SmugMug has recently acquired Flickr, which has notably enhanced brand popularity and functionality of the platform. This integration has made the company the world’s most influential photographer-centric community, providing a powerful feature set to start, manage and promote photography/portfolio websites.

Generally, SmugMug is a powerful website builder for photographers. Yes, it is a bit strange, the dashboard consistency is awful. Some interface parts look as if they have been taken from another system (as we knew, they’re from the old SmugMug version), although, the website builder design is quite appealing. It’s possible to get used to these nuances. This compensates for the ergonomics demerits. Newbies might consider SmugMug complicated. However, the functionality of the service is amazing and it’s definitely worth testing.

  • Photo organization, management and sharing
  • eCommerce platform
  • Lightroom Plugin integration

Design & Templates

Uploaded photos and gallery settings matter a lot, when it comes to working with SmugMug. Template number and design are secondary here. Thus, the website builder cannot boast many of them, especially when compared to its competitors of the service like Zenfolio. The system offers 8 ready-made templates of high quality (to get all the 26 designs, you have to upgrade to the “Power” plan). There is nothing impressive about SmugMug designs, but they look quite modern that appeals to most users.

These templates are required to give your photos appealing look. 90% of your website content will consist of photos. They initially have to attract the attention of users. Design unicity doesn’t matter a lot here, although, you will be able to flexibly customize the required templates.

To adjust the design, you will have to choose «Content and Design» section in the upper menu of the dashboard. This is where you will be able to add new “Content Blocks” blocks, such as logo, work with the background (set video, slideshow, playback speed etc.). You can also change the color scheme of the website and layout (stretchy or fixed width), set the space value in pixels and the width of sections inside the basic blocks. It’s also possible to activate left and right sidebars and add custom HTML code or CSS to any block. Apart from that, you can change the dashboard design, having chosen the color scheme.

SmugMug Review

Regardless of the limited template number, they come up to diverse portfolio types. Some templates, for example, provide full-screen photo display, which works well for small portfolios featuring high-resolution prints you are going to offer for sale. Other templates, however, are designed and structured in the best way to showcase photo-rich collections to create the impression of your work.

What matters most, however, is that most templates encompass the features of both template types, acting as the medium between them. The system allows switching between the templates on any stage of the web design process. Having uploaded photos, you can have the preview of your project to understand how it will look after the publication.
SmugMug templates are automatically optimized for mobile viewing – they are responsive by default. No matter what device you will select to view the theme, the system will adjust the template to match its size and resolution.

SmugMug Review

You can single out any block you have added and set up its structure, alignment, set of elements, size and shape of icons, color etc. The number and character of block design settings depend upon its type.

It’s easy to create an online gallery or photo store with SmugMug. Design and structure of each gallery can be adjusted separately in the «Appearance» section. You can choose gallery style (collage landscape, SmugMug, journal, collage portrait, thumbnails, slideshow), cover, photo sorting rules, camera data info, file names and enable map features. It’s also possible to set maximum amount of photo presentation (up to 5000), apply watermark and activate buttons to download photos.

Generally, SmugMug looks pretty nice in terms of template quality and setup settings. There are all the required tools here, even though, the customization process isn’t that pleasant – there are many strange nuances here. It’s easy to get puzzled here, if you decide to experiment.. But don’t worry if you do something wrong – you can easily discard all changes and turn back to the last saved point.

  • Limited template collection
  • Responsive designs
  • Design switch feature

Customer Support

SmugMug customer support options are not quite versatile and extensive, but the available knowledge base is definitely worth the attention. To find answers to your questions and to see what exactly the platform has to offer in terms of assistance, have a look at the support solutions and features listed below:

  • Support Center – SmugMug comes with a powerful and informative Support Center that offers a rich set of top notch reference materials. All the instructions are subdivided into categories that are quite easy to look for. There is also a convenient search filter option that allows finding the required materials by providing the inquiry in the corresponding section.
  • YouTube Channel – the platform has its own YouTube channel, which encompasses multiple video tutorials. They help first-timers master the basics of working with the website builder. The channel is updated on a regular basis.
  • Email Support – the support heroes of the system are available via the email 24/7/365 and, thus, they are ready to answer all the questions and solve all the issues the subscribers are interested in.
  • Live Chat – ‘Portfolio’ and ‘Business’ account subscribers have an opportunity to make use of the Live Chat options, offered by the system experts during standard US Business hours. The service doesn’t outsource help and its response time is typically under 30 or less, depending on the volume of tickets.
  • User Community – SmugMug boasts a powerful user community that provides multiple resources, tutorials, articles and other information sources available in the following sections: Blog, Events, SmugMug Films and Forum. Thus, the customer support of the service is on quite a nice level. There is also a separate Product Feedback section. This is the official Feature Request page, where users can fill out a special online form to provide their suggestions or product feature requests.
  • Powerful Support Center
  • YouTube Channel with informative videos
  • Live Chat, Email Support, powerful user community

Plans & Pricing: How Much Does SmugMug Cost?

Having registered with the system, you will get 14 days to test it. SmugMug doesn’t have a free plan. All accounts come with unlimited Storage for photos and videos. What’s a really cool feature for professional photographers is that they can upload up to a 210 MegaPixels or 150MB image. Paid plans look as follows:

  • Basic ($48/year) – unlimited photo uploads, full customization for the “Homepage”, password-protect galleries, pages and folders;
  • Power ($72/year) – 21 extra templates, HTML/CSS code adding, right-click protection on images, opportunity to connect your own domain;
  • Portfolio ($180/year) – e-commerce optimized galleries, fulfill orders from WHCC, Bay Photo, Loxley and EZPrints, sell photo and video, apply watermarks, set site wide pricing (keep 85% of the markup);
  • Pro ($360/year) – create custom coupons, packages and events. price individual galleries or images with different price lists, group galleries under events, offer gift-wrapped packaging and brand shipped client.

SmugMug Review

In our opinion, SmugMug is worth the money you will pay for the chosen plan. Unfortunately, the cheapest plan doesn’t allow connecting your own domain. This is a serious disadvantage.

Nice offers start with a “Power” plan. Functionality features provided by the paid plans are smartly separated: there are no senseless restrictions here, while the amount of options provided come up to the increase of prices. Let’s face it: $72 per year is quite an affordable price for professional photographers willing to get top notch portfolio on the chosen domain. If they want to make an impressive profit by selling photos, they should choose either “Portfolio” or “Pro” plan. It goes without saying that the invested money will pay off soon.

  • 14-day free trial
  • Four paid subscriptions
  • No connect domain option on the Basic Plan

SmugMug Review Conclusion

SmugMug is an impressive website builder for photographers. Yes, we have been placing an accent on the specific dashboard of the system, while reviewing it, but it is still possible to explore and understand all its nuances without any haste within one day only. Speaking about the complexity of the system, we imply its comparison with other website builders. This service differs a lot from them. Newbies, however, may not even notice all the nuances described above just because they don’t know other systems that may be compared with SmugMug. That’s why, the complexity issue is quite relative here.

As to the functionality, the service completely meets all the requirements of the tasks it is meant for and even more. SmugMug gallery websites look stunning. This is what really matters. The cost of plans is also feasible. So, is SmugMug worth the investment? It definitely is, especially if you aim at creating a feature-rich portfolio for your personal or business needs and you want it to be a success.

Howard Steele
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About the Author

I'm Howard Steele, the founder and editor-in-chief of this website. With over 10 years of web building I know how complicated and tiresome this task can be for a non-IT person. Can’t decide which service to choose? Feel free to ask me for advice. Just describe your website needs, and I’ll gladly help you.

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