SmugMug is a multi-functional portfolio 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. It’s worth mentioning that it 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.
Websites that may be built with SmugMug can be classified as photo stores. Well, you are not bound to sell your photos here. You can just showcase them or make them available for download and view to everyone, who needs that. At the same time, you can restrict access, making it available to subscribers only. In other words, your photos will be protected from download and view, if necessary.
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 nowadays.
1. Ease of Use
You’ll need your email to register with the system. 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.
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.
2. Feature Set and 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:
- “Upload”, which makes it possible to upload photos to the new or existing gallery;
- “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.
- “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:
- “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.
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 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.
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. You can also install a plugin for Lightroom to edit and publish the photos you have edited.
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.
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.
|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. The system offers 8 ready-made templates of high quality (21 extra templates are added when upgrading to the “Power” plan). There is nothing impressive about them, but they look modern and are responsive.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 ($150/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);
- Business ($300/year) – create custom coupons, packages and events. price individual galleries or images with different pricelists. group galleries under events, offer gift-wrapped packaging and brand shipped client.
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 a decent profit by selling photos, they should choose either “Portfolio” or “Business” plan. It goes without saying that the invested money will pay off soon.
6. Pros and Cons
SmugMug is a decent website builder. Its benefits include:
- 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;
- Powerful functionality required to sell photos and videos.
The main disadvantage of the service is the fact that it seems visually simple. Users don’t expect such an amount of chaotically arranged options from this interface. Poor ergonomics and inconsistency of settings arrangement may pose a serious problem for you on the first stages of SmugMug exploration. Fortunately, the system offers high quality educative materials.
The correlation of SmugMug advantages and its only disadvantage is pretty nice. Basically, the service doesn’t have any other notable demerits, except for the strange interface.
SmugMug is a decent 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.