UPDATE: I now recommend Zenfolio as the best place to store your photos online
So you've read How do I manage and edit all of my photos? and you've got your photos looking their best after reading Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3, so now you are ready to share them with the world (or at least your Mom). Now what?
Choices, choices, choices
When I started this article, I thought I would list out some of the bigger name photo sharing places like Shutterfly, Picasa, PhotoBucket, Flickr, etc... and talk a little bit about each one. However, as I started looking through emails from friends and the web, I discovered there are TONS of sites out there! The problem is that most of them suck.
Sure, you can find free places to put photos on the web - that's no problem, because there's tons of sites willing to give you a few gigabytes to store pictures, but when sharing with friends and family you usually want more than that. You want the ability for them to see thumbnails of a photo album, sideshows, larger versions of your masterpiece, and you want them to be able to order their favorite pictures. What's more, you want to be able to add your own look and feel so that you don't have a site that looks like everything else out there. In short, you want more than a hard drive in the sky, or some pathetic low-res picture viewer.
I've tried a bunch of services, and in fact still have photos on flickr, photobucket, photosig.com, and shutterfly. However, none of those services gives me all of the features I want PLUS makes it brain-dead easy to upload my photos (okay, well flickr does rock for that one). Here's some of the things I get with Smugmug, that I honestly can't live without anymore:
- Unlimited storage
- No ads or spam
- EXIF data - (this is huge for a geek like me)
- Password enabled galleries for privacy
- Custom themes
- Photo email
- Numerous photo sizes available instantly
- iPhone support
- I can buy and sell professional prints & gifts at a very reasonable price, with outstanding quality (WAY better than Shutterfly)
- Post photos in blogs & forums
- Basic photo editing tools for things like last minute crops
- USER CONTROLLED download high-res photos or originals
- Organize via slick drag and drop
- Dedicated human readable URL (i.e., http://ronmart.smugmug.com)
- Photo traffic stats
- Support for comments and rating of photos
- Photo communities
- Geotagging with display on Google Maps
- Can order backup DVDs of uploaded photos
- and more
Sure, some of these features can be found on other services, but so far Smugmug is the only one that I know of that has everything I'm looking for - which is why I love it so much!
You get what you pay for (and it's easy for Mom)
Okay, I know what you are thinking. But, hey wait a minute. With all of these free services out there, why on Earth would I pay for a service?
I understand you my friend, because I was the same way. I resisted Smugmug initially, and even built my own web site to host my photos (what a headache that was!). However, I kept lusting after these nice photo galleries I was seeing from friends, and some of the customized galleries I saw just blew my mind. Frustrated by the poor experience my dear Mom was having with my other sites, and the hassle of slow uploads, I decided take up Smugmug on its offer of a free trial. After all, I had nothing to lose, and I could finally see just what it was like to use Smugmug versus my previous favorites Flickr and Shutterfly.
WOW, the first thing I noticed was how easy and fast it was to upload photos. Sure, Flickr and Shutterfly are pretty good at this too, but the speed sure felt faster to me on Smugmug. However, the best part was that I now had a site that allowed me to upload, tag, and store photos in easily (or protected) galleries like Flickr, PLUS the ability to have Mom place orders for prints with no hassle using the best photo shopping cart I've seen on the web.
After using the site for 14 days, I decided to give it a try and haven't looked back since. It's the best thing I ever did because it allows me to focus on other parts of my photography, and presentation is now just a simple drag and drop from my hard disk to the web browser. No hassle, and great results.
Show me da money
While I think Smugmug's basic account is great for most people, what I really love is the pro account that allows me to sell my pictures with custom pricing. This is great because I now have an eStore for my photos where I'm in control of the prices (sorry Mom, no discount coupons until 2009). It also allows me to customize the site so that it can have its own domain name and look like a stand-alone web site, yet I can still take advantage of the rich Smugmug API to avoid having to re-invent the wheel.
Now there's even more goodness- support for video for Power and Pro users. I don't have any video yet, but when I get my Canon 5D Mark II, you can bet I will!
Great Customer Support
The one thing I REALLY like about Smugmug is their fantastic customer support, and their overall commitment to customer satisfaction. Now really, how many sites do you know that have the CEO blog about the good, the bad, and the ugly of their company?
There's lots of written support too! There's a wiki for common questions, an excellent help system, special topics for pros, a non-nonsense guarantee for great prints, a great forum for advanced topics and an API for the ultimate customization.
And if all else fails, you can always contact them and get a response from a REAL human being who knows what they are talking about and isn't just pasting boilerplate responses or reading from a script.
Okay, I'm convinced - Special Offer for Blog Readers (Coupon Code: SmugRon)
Well hopefully I've convinced you to AT LEAST try out the free trial, but should you decide to join then I've worked out a deal with Smugmug to give you 20% off your first year membership when you use the coupon code SmugRon. I know it's not a huge discount, but hey it beats full price right?