SmugMug is a photgraphy-focused website builder and photo sharing solution that gives users a rich, easy-to-use platform for their photos. While the SmugMug site will have you believe it’s the best option out there, it’s worth exploring a little further.
This SmugMug review will unpack the website builder and other features, discussing their strengths, potential drawbacks and the kind of photographer that will benefit most from the platform.
Using SmugMug might be the perfect addition to your approach to photography. It could also prove disappointing. Read on to learn more.
SmugMug functions primarily as a photo sharing platform. Customers can upload their shots to a secure server that can be viewed and used by anyone who is granted access.
On the one hand, the service is aiming at casual photographers who want to share their memories with family and friends.
On the other, SmugMug has its sights set on the professional photographer looking to showcase their work and collaborate more effectively with their customers.
Key Features Review
We explore the main features of SmugMug below. Where possible, we’ve assessed their ease of use, effectiveness and compatibility. Within the scope of this review, we’ll try to determine how valuable each of these features are in relation to the competition.
Unlimited Storage for Customer Photos
Photographers get access to unlimited storage of as many high-resolution shots as they’d like. A prominent SmugMug boast is that the security they use for their platform is the best available in the industry. This makes sense, as the value of a sharing service relies heavily on its security.
If you could lose your files, what’s the point in storing them in the first place? Customers who want peace of mind for their shots may appreciate the security and unlimited storage on offer here.
Overall, the UI for uploading and viewing shots works well, although it must be said that at times it can feel a little clunky.
One area that deserves praise is the dual approach to image visibility. What we mean by this is that users can either take advantage of built-in SEO tools to help their content rank higher in search engines or, alternatively, they can opt to delist their photos from search sites altogether.
This helps SmugMug appeal to both professional photographers who want to promote their work to the world and casual users who just want a place to keep their images safe.
Another key element of the service is the website builder geared towards professional photographers. It’s designed to make it easy for users to establish a range of price plans for their clients and set up ecommerce tools for selling prints.
While not unique to SmugMug, this kind of functionality can empower photographers to take the necessary steps from casual photography into using the skill professionally.
In general, this website builder works fairly well and is relatively user friendly. The vast majority of the user experience is characterized by content blocks that users can drag and drop to start building a platform for their photos. It’s pretty easy to use SmugMug to create an accessible site.
A number of standard considerations can be found where you might expect them to be. It’s relatively straightforward to keep your branding consistent and optimize SEO elements of your site, for example.
One thing we especially like about the website builder is its auto-layout for the mobile version of your site. The amount of control you have over this version of your site is relatively limited, but SmugMug does a surprisingly good job of optimizing things to work equally well on both a PC and a smartphone.
A key difference with the approach here is that an emphasis appears to be placed on keeping the mobile version as visually similar to the PC site as possible. Other website builders don’t maintain visual consistency as well as SmugMug.
One area where this website builder falls short compared to competitors such as Zenfolio is in the lack of native blog implementation. While not necessarily a dealbreaker, this could put some potential customers off.
Frequent, relevant blog posts can really help a site’s search engine rankings, so a future implementation would be great to see. Another thing to mention is that SmugMug has more powerful customization tools when it comes to things like HTML and CSS.
Sales Tools to Grow Customer Bases
When it comes to ecommerce and freelance tools, ease of use is everything. One aspect of SmugMug that deserves a fair bit of praise is the set of sales tools designed with the professional photographer in mind.
When delivering an order to a client, for example, the way your digital delivery is presented to them is entirely up to you. As a SmugMug customer, you have control over each aspect of your work from the sizes, to the details of your client’s specific price package.
A common reason that photographers use website builders like SmugMug is to sell prints of their work. Your customers can order prints from four different photography labs that cover international and European deliveries. You get to decide which lab(s) deliveries come from, not your customers.
This level of control is great to see.
Integrated Photo Editing
If you’re a Lightroom, Luminar, or On1 user, SmugMug has a dedicated plug-in designed to make your life easier. While it’s hardly groundbreaking, this kind of feature can bring a significant boost to your workflow. If you already use Lightroom for your photos, this plug-in built to draw you into the SmugMug “ecosystem”.
The process for syncing your Lightroom shots to SmugMug is as follows:
At least, that’s the theory behind the plug-in. Whether or not you’ll be able to get it to work is another question entirely. In previous versions, the software worked very well and could be transformative for photographer workflow.
Unfortunately, a recent update appears to have butchered functionality for some users. To be fair, it’s entirely possible that SmugMug will fix the issue shortly but as it stands, we’re unable to endorse this specific feature.
When/if the plug-in is fixed, there’s another aspect of the integration that we felt was worth mentioning. If you have tons of Lightroom photos spread across multiple galleries, an account-wide sync might not help you that much.
Syncing literally all your photos when really you just need one or two galleries can hinder workflow more than it helps it. Be sure to turn on gallery-specific sync mode to avoid disappointment.
If you have a modern device and an internet connection, you can probably access your SmugMug content. Photographer-focused SmugMug apps are available for both iOS and android. They’re built to make it easy to showcase your work wherever you are.
This could prove invaluable when discussing past work with a prospective client, for example. One feature we love about these apps is the auto-upload mode. It’s possible to configure the app to automatically upload all photos you take with your smartphone.
With tech giants like Google rolling back their free unlimited storage options, SmugMug features like this are set to be much more enticing as the year progresses. Whether or not you think this justifies the pricing structure is another issue.
‘364’ Customer Service
To be honest, this one is pretty great. While it’s not unusual for a paid service like SmugMug to offer above-average customer support, the standard here is impressive. Compared to some other website builders, this level of support gets a huge thumbs up from us.
One thing to mention is that the level of customer support improves greatly for “pro” and “portfolio” customers. In a similar vein to sites like Wix, your customer support access is limited until you increase your monthly payments to a more premium tier.
Overall though, using SmugMug becomes much less of a headache thanks to the above-average customer support on offer.
SmugMug Pricing Plans Explained
Whether or not you see value for money in the SmugMug pricing plan will depend quite heavily on how many of the features you plan to use. If your photography needs are casual in nature, you might be better off spending your money elsewhere.
However, if you need a robust storage solution for your photos and would also take advantage of the ecommerce and freelancer features of a SmugMug site, the cost of the service starts to seem much more reasonable. We explore the different SmugMug prices below.
Free Trial For 14 Days
Customers can take advantage of a 14-day free trial without sharing any credit card details. To be fair to SmugMug, this is a reasonably generous amount of time for users to get a feel for the service and see if it’s right for them.
The basic plan for SmugMug costs $8 a month. If you opt to pay annually, this plan will run you $66 per year. The good news is that this tier offers users the same level of unlimited storage as more premium customers.
The cap for video length is 20 minutes across the board and the max file sizes for images and videos are 200mb and 3GB respectively.
One area where the basic plan is lacking is in your access to customer support chat services. You won’t be able to chat live with a human throughout the week. You’ll have to email or call to resolve any issues that arise. While hardly a dealbreaker, it is a shame to see this feature restricted to more premium tiers.
When it comes to the SmugMug website builder, your feature set is slightly limited too. You won’t be able to customize HTML and CSS in the same way as pro users. You can also forget about registering your own domain name to your site.
Who’s This Plan For?
If you’re a professional who’s drawn to SmugMug for its ecommerce and client side features, this plan isn’t for you. A basic plan is best suited to casual users like families who want a convenient way to store and share as many photos as they’d like.
If you take a ton of photos and want to store them in full resolution, $8 a month may just be worth it to you. It’s worth mentioning that other storage services are available if you don’t care about maintaining the original quality of your image.
Google Photos, for example, lets users save their images online. Unless you pay for a premium subscription, though, your images will be compressed to save space.
So what’s the difference with a “power” plan? First of all, users pay $13 a month, or $102 per year. The bread and butter of the new features this unlocks is access to the SmugMug suite of premade website templates and themes.
Power users can also create their own custom templates, tweak CSS/HTML and assign their own domain. In short, if you’re serious about the portfolio and website features of SmugMug, you should consider the power tier as your entry level.
At this price point, it’s also possible to customize the level of access different people have to your content. Power users can decide a custom right-click message for their images and choose to allow only certain people to view certain galleries.
Who’s This Plan For?
The power tier sits in an uncomfortable position in our opinion. On the one hand, it offers significantly more website control than the SmugMug basic plan. On the other, this increased functionality doesn’t quite empower photographers to promote their work professionally.
This package is still best suited to a more casual user in our opinion, but it could serve as a good option for a bare-bones portfolio too. If you need a place to showcase your photography but don’t need to sell prints to clients, consider either a basic or a power plan.
We’re now firmly in the professional category. The portfolio tier costs $32 a month, or $240 annually. The main difference here in terms of available features is in ecommerce functionality.
A SmugMug portfolio account grants users access to four different photo labs that can professionally print their work for them. This is the tier that lets you start making money from your work through the platform.
It’s possible to accept a wide variety of currencies for payments. Your prices for each specific product can be tweaked with a satisfying level of detail. One small thing we want to mention in this review is the ability to sell custom greetings cards for a significant markup.
If done right, this can boost revenue a fair amount and help spread awareness of your work as a photographer. You may have noticed that this plan represents a pretty dramatic jump in price point. If you’re likely to take advantage of commerce functionality, this jump may be easier to justify.
Your customer support options also improve significantly once you reach portfolio level. With this tier, you’ll be able to chat with a service agent throughout the week when you don’t feel like calling or emailing.
This kind of feature may seem relatively small, but it is much more convenient if you’re likely to have multiple queries while you work.
Who Should Use This SmugMug Plan?
If you’re a professional photographer who works independently, this plan may work well for you. The ability to set site-wide pricing and adapt your products to fit the needs of prospective clients is essential if you want to make a photography career work.
If you also have a ton of photos that could benefit from unlimited storage, the asking price here isn’t crazy.
This is the most premium tier that SmugMug offers. For $50 a month, or $431.86 annually, you’ll have access to the same templates, commerce functionality and storage options we’ve already mentioned in this review.
So what changes when you move up to this level? Several considerations here appear to be geared towards teams looking to take advantage of the SmugMug service.
If you work as part of a group, or use an assistant to help you with your photos, a pro account allows you to grant access to your staff with a secure password. Custom pricing on a per-gallery basis is another feature that’s restricted to pro users.
Branding and customer control are two other SmugMug perks that are exclusive to this price point. If you want the ability to create custom coupon offers, give visitors to your site the option to favorite photos, or ship orders with custom logo stickers and consistent branding, you’ll have to fork out $50 a month.
Who Is The SmugMug Pro Tier For?
If you work as part of a team or run a photography business, the full functionality of this tier is probably what you’ll need. The granular control over pricing and special promotional offers are what set this option apart.
We touch upon many of these points higher up in this SmugMug review. That said, this section will give you a brief overview of what we loved about the service.
The ability to store as many full-resolution images as you’d like is definitely a strong point of the platform. There are many upload solutions online that make it easy to save your work. The thing to point out here, however, is that many of these services will compress your work considerably.
SmugMug is one option that serves as a more robust approach to image hosting. If you’re a professional photographer, there’s not much point saving your photos online if your cloud copies are saved at an inferior resolution. If you have a huge back catalogue of shots that need to be backed up, SmugMug might just be for you.
In general, we were impressed by the level of control professionals have over their pricing and portfolio with SmugMug. If you need somewhere to sell prints of your work, the tools you’ll have at your disposal here are considerable.
Just make sure you choose from the top two payment options if commerce features matter to you.
Some aspects of the SmugMug website builder leave a lot to be desired. An area where this isn’t the case is with their mobile optimized sites. Typically, these versions work very well and require only minimal input before they’re up and running smoothly.
A big positive here is that your mobile site can look very similar to your desktop version. This is something that some website builders struggle with.
There are few things we encountered when writing this SmugMug review that left a lot to be desired.
Fee Structure and Pricing
We’ve mentioned the ability to set site-wide pricing a few times throughout this review. While this feature is certainly useful, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll take home just 85% of your markup. SmugMug charges a 15% commission on the revenue you generate through your site.
This might not turn you away, but it’s worth understanding now to avoid disappointment later on.
The UI Can Be A Little Limited
The drag and drop functionality of the SmugMug UI works reasonably well for the most part, but it can feel a little clunky when compared to competitors like Squarespace. What’s more, the number of available templates can feel a bit lacking if you’ve used other platforms before.
Sometimes a limit in options can make it easier to make decisions, but keep in mind that you won’t be spoiled for choice with SmugMug.
We hope this SmugMug review has made it clear who should and shouldn’t use the service. The bottom line from this review is this: if we were a professional photography business in need of a new image and commerce host, we’d definitely consider signing up.
If we were casual users who just needed a place to store some files, we’d probably look elsewhere.