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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.

SmugMug

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

1. Ease of Use

SmugMug is quite easy to use and manage despite its strong niche photography focus. The sign up process is quick, simple and it takes around a couple of minutes to get started. There is no need to pick a template, provide your payment details or upload photos right from the start. Just select your subdomain and specify the objective of your registration. However, if you are not ready to provide this info for some reason, you can skip these steps and proceed to your account creation via email (login) and password specification.

Right after you enter the service, you will be offered to upload your first photos. SmugMug looks quite a simple website builder, although, its interface is a bit unusual as compared to other niche platforms. Despite that, it is much easier to explore it and create your portfolio here than in the simplest CMS – WordPress.

As soon as you are done with your photo import, you can either pick and modify a custom template provided by default or select your own design and personalize it from scratch. What you should know is that the system is comprised of content blocks. Mind that it’s impossible to resize or reposition the photos inside each block.

SmugMug Editor

So, if you have got used to working with drag-and-zoom image editing feature provided by some website builders, you may find the process of working with SmugMug with its fixed block structure somewhat intimidating, if not even a bit challenging. However, if you feel that there is no need to pick another theme and you are completely satisfied with the one granted by default, then publishing your first photo gallery will be just a matter of minutes.

Anyway, we recommend reading and memorizing the tips the system offers on each stage of the web building process. You can explore the system on your own by making mistakes, of course, but it is still much better to listen to the tips provided by the website builder. This will help you explore the service and get used to its specific dashboard much 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.

SmugMug

  • Easy and quick sign up process
  • Not as intuitive as compared to the competitors
  • Comprised of content blocks with fixed photo editing structure

2. 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.

eCommerce

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.

SEO

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.

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.

SmugMug

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

3. Designs

Professional Templates: YES
Free Themes: YES
Responsive Design: YES
Sort by Industry: NO
CSS Code Editing: YES

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.

SmugMug

  • Limited template collection
  • Responsive designs
  • Design switch feature

4. Customer Support

SmugMug comes with a great Support Center, which offers a large amount 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.

SmugMug Review

The service also has its YouTube channel that comes with lots of video tutorials that can help newbies learn all the nuances of the complicated dashboard. SmugMug support heroes are available 24/7/365 via email. LiveChat is also available to the ‘Portfolio’ and ‘Business’ accounts during standard USA Business hours. The service doesn’t outsource help and its response time is typically under 30 or less, depending on the volume of tickets.

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.

SmugMug

  • Powerful Support Center
  • YouTube Channel with informative videos
  • Versatile user community

5. Pricing Policy

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.

SmugMug

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

6. Pros and Cons

SmugMug is a full-featured website builder that targets specific niche categories – photographers, enthusiasts and freelancers. The system comes with a broad range of advantages, but it also has a list of demerits that may eventually influence users’ choice.

Pros:
Cons:
Quality reference materials and tips offered by the system;
Flexible design customization, including an opportunity to add your own HTML/CSS code;
Convenient file manager, an opportunity to upload the unlimited amount of photos;
Nice integrated photo editing options, Lightroom plugin and native OS upload app support;
Opportunity to set passwords on the whole website, folder, page or gallery level as well as watermarks on photos;
Flexible photo access settings;
Powerful integrated tools used to collect sales, traffic statistics etc.
Nice template quality;
Informative and versatile support center;
eCommerce platform;
Nice SEO;
Lightroom plugin integration;
Powerful functionality required to sell photos and videos.
Visual simplicity;
Absence of connect domain feature on the Basic paid plan;
Poor ergonomics and inconsistency of settings;

The correlation of SmugMug advantages and quite a short list of demerits is pretty nice. Basically, the service doesn’t have any other notable disadvantages, which may have pose serious problems to users.

SmugMug

  • eCommerce for photos
  • Easy to manage
  • Integrated stats

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.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
SmugMug.com
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Howard

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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