Monday, May 25, 2009

Mpix.com really “stands out” and offers a discount to blog readers

*** From now until June 30th, you’ll get 15% off your entire order when you enter the discount coupon code ronmart2 in your shopping cart ***

When I featured my last article on MPix.com when I got a metallic print framed, and I was thrilled with the results. This time, when I needed to get some prints to display in my wife’s obstetrician’s office I went back to Mpix.com without hesitation. I loved the results I got before, so this time I was a little more daring. I started out by trying their standout frame which is basically a picture glued to a thick foam core board. Here’s a view from the front, side and rear of the 8x12” standout printed on E-Surface paper with a lustre coating:

Moonhee MPix Frames-3 Moonhee MPix Frames-5 Moonhee MPix Frames-6

It was okay, but for $31.49 ($30 + $1.49 for lustre coating) I felt I’d rather spend a little extra money and get a frame. Fortunate, for this order I DID! Here’s the two frames I ordered:

Moonhee MPix Frames-2 Moonhee MPix Frames-1 

Much better! For only $2.99 for the frame on the left, and $7.99 more for the frame on the right, I got an 8x12” frame with the same exact type of print in a custom frame shop quality frame with excellent quality glass. However, the results were outstanding – especially the black matted version which has been getting tons of great feedback from those who are seeing it in real life. I’m embarrassed to say how many times more I’ve spent for a similar product from my local frame shot (where I provided the photo), but let’s just say they won’t be seeing me again. Mpix.com’s frames prints are outstanding!

A Word about Shipping from MPix.com

If you are like me, your biggest fear for ordering frames through the mail is that you’ll get a damaged frame. Let me assure you that there’s no reason to worry. Mpix.com always ships these frames out FedEx overnight so it minimizes the transit time (and thus the likelihood of damage), PLUS they wrap these things enough drop so that they could be dropped from the roof of my house on to the concrete below and they’d survive unscathed. I’m serious. It takes about 10 minutes to open one of these frames because they put bubble wrap on all four corners, then they put a piece of oversized cardboard against the frame and shrink wrap it. This is placed in the gigantic bubble wrap in a huge box (you think your 8x12 is really a 16x24 when you see the box).

I keep forgetting to take a picture of how well these are done because I’m so excited when they come in, but believe me when I tell you that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to get a damaged frame. In fact, I’d go so far to say that if you got a damaged frame it was because it was that way BEFORE it shipped – it’s really that good!.

Shipping all 3 of these frames overnight via FedEx cost me $10.75, which I felt was very reasonable. I’ve paid nearly that much sending just regular prints from other services. My total order was $115.75, which is less than I’ve ever paid for one framed print from my local frame shops, so I consider this to be a steal!

Discount

The last time I talked about MPix.com I worked very hard to get my readers a discount, but that isn’t something that they normally do so I could only get one for a short period of time (15 days to be exact). GIven the fact that this was during my Noise Reduction Roundup, most people just flat out missed the offer. Well, enough of you saw it that MPix.com felt it was worth it to offer another discount, but this time for twice the duration. From now until June 30th, you’ll get 15% off your entire order (or ANYTHING you want from MPix.com) when you enter the discount coupon code ronmart2 in your shopping cart. I encourage you to take advantage of this offer as I know you’ll be pleased with the results!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Top Photographers Interview: Stephen Eastwood

StephenEastwood

 

This past week I had the opportunity to exchange emails with Canon Explorer of Light, Stephen Eastwood. He is currently number 8 on My Favorite Photographers list and someone whose beauty photography represents what I would like to accomplish one day. This article contains a series of some of my favorite shots from Stephen’s portfolio as well as information I collected during our discussion. I hope you enjoy this peek into the world of one of the top beauty photographers out there right now.

Background

 

image

Q&A

Do you have any advice for those getting started? (i.e., How to get discovered?)

“Networking, networking, networking. There is really no other good advice, get your work out there, be seen, send direct mailers, send your book out, send you site out, but before all that, make certain your work is within the level of quality that may actually fit the people you are sending it to and their requirements, if not, its an insulting waste of their time.”

Any advice about how to stay graceful under pressure? (i.e. photographing celebrities, for big advertisers, etc…)

Never make it personal, its stress of a business day and pressure, its rarely personal, and even if it is, you getting upset [and] accomplish[ing] nothing but making you less able to deal and think and react as needed as efficiently as you could be.

No favorite photo? Does that mean you are like a lot of photographers where you are hard on yourself in that search for the perfect photo?

Always, but more so that all the photo I use to represent myself usually have some meaning or reason for me to be using them.  Some commercial shots are not as interesting to me, but they are what the client wanted and my ability to consistently give that to them is of more value in maintaining my ability to continue to be a photographer, so that has meaning and value.

Do you use Photoshop? (If not, what?)

Yes. [Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)] for most conversions with the remaining falling to Bibble or [Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)].

Since you don’t use plug-ins, what Photoshop techniques or tricks do you find most useful?

Lots of layers, lots of adjustment layers, near every image needs different things, most can use a tad of contrast added since I convert a little flat to give me more headroom, there is no set formula at all. 

Here’s some of Stephen’s Favorite Web Sites:

Stephen also has some great tutorials at http://www.StephenEastwood.com/tutorials

image

Gear

Stephen is a gear head’s idol. He’s got all of the coolest gear and he is very knowledgeable about some of the hottest stuff in the industry right now. In this section I get the skinny on some of the cool stuff that he uses. Here’s a partial list of what’s in Stephen’s bag: (more follows)

image
What gear do you shoot with (or recommend)?

Phase One backs, now a P65 on an H2 body, long glass, on the H2 the 300 most often, sometimes the 210 for when I need wider, and extension tubes. On the Canon I stick to 200-400 range most often, going as wide as 135, and that accounts for about 90% of what I do, the remaining 10% can be anything from 14mm up. For lights I use anything, but mainly prefer Broncolor (now versos) and speedotron blackline. I picked up some hensel porty packs to use so I could possible recommend them as a lower priced portable option on some DVD series and when asked. I have used lumedynes and continue to do so when I need lights in very small spaces as accent lights (heads in a lamp or sconce, strange and exotic locations where a normal head won’t fit) I use [B&W and Hoya] polarizer's and ND filters outdoors often. I also use a collection of speedlights, slaves, random strobes, vivitar 285hv's and all sorts of strange and one off or custom made lights from when I use to get bored and have all these things made or designed or retrofitted.

What Tripod Legs & Head do you prefer?

I don't, but for video I have  a Cartoni S422 C20S head and H601 legs and Sachtler. [These are] mainly used for the RED camera, on smaller format cameras like the Canon XHA1, XLH1, Sony EX1 you can use much, much less expensive setups. 

What do you carry your gear in?

Pelicans (review), and large (very large, Photoflex Transpacs and Kata gear cases usually).

NOTE: For those who aren’t familiar with Transpacs I’ve included a list of some on B&H here:

PhotoFlex Transpacs

What studio light gear & mods do you recommend?

Broncolor or Speedotron Blackline, maybe a Hensel Porty System with ringflash. Plus Kino's, LED's, Fiber Optics, and all the above. I use fresnels strobe and HMI and tungsten, most any and all softbox, stripbox, octobox has a grid on it, beautdish with grids, reflectors with grids, para's and octabanks, as well as umbrellas and softlighter II's

Any gear, book, etc… recommendations for the gear heads?

I think most all books I have looked through have a combination of good and bad, I myself prefer to look at fashion and advertising work in current print, in magazines, many European, and figure out what to take from what is being done in that work.

As for gear, Interfit makes a really cool reflector paney set, its like a lower priced feature packs sunbounce, its called the flex-lite 5 in one panel with a C-Stand and grip gear, or just the frame and panels and a smaller one.

What type of computer do you used to edit your photos?

PC's dual quad core systems currently.

Do you own a printer (if so, what kind) to print your own photos, or do you use a print service (which one)?

Commercial work goes to offset, [and] I have a Canon IPF9100 60 inch printer

With the rise in popularity of photographers doing video with the 5D Mark II, what camera stabilization system would you recommend?

Well, I personally like the indicam.com  but I hear the Merlin Steadicam works as well, you need an arm and vest otherwise its hard to have any real smooth footage.

image

Parting Thoughts

It was a real treat to get to talk to one of the industries leading beauty photographers and a Canon Explorer of Light. What I never expected to learn was just how much video is a part of his life as his photography is. What’s more, Stephen is a real gear guy so it was a blast to learn about a lot of cool gear I haven’t discovered yet. I’ve loaded up my wish list on B&H with all the cool gear he loves. Now I just need to win the lottery to so I can buy that list and live the dream life as a beauty photographer/videographer like Stephen Eastwood!

Click here to learn more about Stephen Eastwood in his own words, and stay tuned for more interviews from My Favorite Photographers list.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Professional Photography Web Hosting Roundup: Conclusion (6 of 6)–RETIRED

 

**** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****

THIS ARTICLE HAS BECOME TOO OLD AND OUTDATED. I now use Zenfolio exclusively for my personal portfolio and http://ronmartinsen.com now only points to my Zenfolio site. Click here to read my Zenfolio review and learn why I feel it’s the best service available now.

**** WARNING **** **** WARNING **** **** WARNING **** **** WARNING ****

 

Ron Martinsen Photography - liveBooks
liveBooks on ronmart.blogspot.com
Through the end of May ‘09 when you mention this blog
you can save $600 off the Unlimited Package
and $300 off the Select Package when you sign up.
Ron Martinsen Photography - FolioSnap
FolioSnap on ronmart.blogspot.com
Extend your trial to 30 days
Ron Martinsen Photography - SiteWelder
SiteWelder on ronmart.blogspot.com
$75 off your setup fee - special code RMART
Ron Martinsen Photography - Smugmug Pro
Smugmug Pro on ronmart.blogspot.com
Discount: 20% off first year

After two months of evaluating the services featured in this series, I’ve reached my conclusion about which service is right for me. However, I encourage you to recognize that what is right for me may not necessarily be right for you. Read on to see what I recommend and how a different service might be just what you are looking for.

Article Recap

If you missed any of the articles in this series, I encourage you to go back and read them before you continue to read this article. Here’s a complete list of previous articles:

  1. Professional Photography Web Hosting Roundup: Intro
  2. liveBooks Review
  3. FolioSnap Review
  4. SiteWelder Review
  5. Smugmug Review
  6. Conclusion

Ron’s Opinion Of What Service Might Be Right For You

The cool thing about this series is that there’s no real loser, because all of these services are very good. There is something I really like about every one that I wish the other services offered, so you’re takeaway should be that you match your needs to the appropriate service that best suites those needs. With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of each:

Ron Martinsen Photography on liveBooks

liveBooks – The Best in Presentation

If you want a site that looks like you are a world class photographer, then liveBooks will deliver on that. If you look at the sites of their top clients you see some unique and fantastic presentations, so I believe their design team is without equal. I also loved the level of control that editSuite offered as well as the way their thumbnails work. If you can afford it, I highly recommend liveBooks for a world class Internet presence. If I had the money to do it, I know I would. To help with the cost liveBooks has release a special offer through the end of May ‘09 - when you mention this blog you can save $600 off the Unlimited Package and $300 off the Select Package when you sign up.

 Ron Martinsen Photography on FolioSnap

FolioSnap – Fast Setup without Flash

Of the four sites I created, none was working faster than FolioSnap. I literally got it up and going in about 20 minutes. What’s more, it worked brilliantly with my iPhone using the same site design that non-mobile users would see. I liked that A LOT. If you are in a hurry to get your site online or you need a solution that avoids the use of flash, then I highly recommend FolioSnap. I encourage you to try it out and extend your trial to 30 days just by entering the promo code RONMART when you sign up.

Ron Martinsen Photography on SiteWelder

SiteWelder – Excellent Template Layouts with a Can Do Attitude

Of the sites reviewed, nobody offered the volume of custom template layouts like SiteWelder. Once you choose your template layout you aren’t done because their “Can Do” attitude will serve you well to create a custom experience that goes beyond the initial template layout to create something unique from other SiteWelder users. I loved the fact that the template was only a starting point and that they were willing to make reasonable changes at no additional cost. In addition, they were the only site advertising that they would migrate your existing site from another service which could be useful for those stuck paying to much for their current solution. Get $75 off your setup fee when you use the special code RMART.

Ron Martinsen Photography on Smugmug Pro

Smugmug Pro – The Value and Customization Leader with Best in Class Support

$59.95 to $149.95 per year for all of this??? – WOW! Smugmug Pro offers many features the others in this series haven’t even began to think about yet, and its customer support doesn’t seem to have the word “no” in its vocabulary. In addition, it offers access to its CSS which means you can do a tremendous amount of customization. However, the key word here is YOU. If you aren’t the type that can learn how to program for the web, then its Easy Customizer will give you nice results for local photographer work but not for the big leagues. It’s private gallery support is definitely the best – bar none – for wedding and portrait photographers, and if you don’t do your own printing then its shopping cart integration with third parties is the only game in town. Smugmug used to be compared to rival Zenfolio for general purpose to prosumer photo sharing, but its now in the big leagues and certainly competent enough for pro web hosting. Get a discount of 20% off first year when you use the coupon code SmugRon.

And the new hosting service for http://RonMartinsen.com is:

Smugmug Pro on ronmart.blogspot.com

I chose Smugmug Pro because I’m comfortable doing web programming to tweak my site to get the exact results I want and because it offers a value that meets my current budget. I don’t do self-fulfillment, so the shopping carts integration with EzPrints and BayPhoto really met my order fulfillment needs. In addition, I love how quickly I can get my photos online and share them with clients. I wish it had a better thumbnail presentation like liveBooks, and I really wish it would take a cue from FolioSnap and do a non-Flash slideshow. However, Smugmug surprised me here and offered something that I never thought was possible at the beginning of this series.

Runner Up

liveBooks on ronmart.blogspot.com

I wish I could have gone through the entire design process and created a compelling site with liveBooks like a normal customer would do. I felt like this service offers a very professional presentation that results in a world class presentation, albeit for the highest cost in this series. It truly is the Porsche of professional photography web hosting services, so if you can afford it then I’m fairly confident you won’t be disappointed.

SEO Follow Up Article

As of May 16th, 2009 at 10:54 PM, the search results for the sites created in this article with the big three search engines were as follows:

Google.com

Live.com

Yahoo.com

  1. SiteWelder
  2. Smugmug
  3. liveBooks – not found
  4. FolioSnap – not found
  1. SiteWelder
  2. FolioSnap
  3. liveBooks – not found
  4. Smugmug – not found
  • No sites found

I continue to monitor this, and if the results change in a month I’ll be sure to post a follow up article that shows who is winning in search engine results. Right now it appears that SiteWelder is the big winner. This is something to consider when choosing your hosting service because your site is useless if nobody can find you!

UPDATE: Here’s the follow up article on SEO and Smugmug wins big again!

Thoughts from the Pros Follow Up

At the conclusion of this series I had hoped to include the opinions of some top photographers as to their thoughts of the sites created for this series. Unfortunately busy schedules precluded that from happening, so I will try to write a follow up article at some point should I get enough responses back. In the meantime, here’s what two pros had to say:

Scott Robinson
Gary Parker

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Friday, May 15, 2009

FolioSnap Review Update

image

I’d like to issue an open apology to FolioSnap for an error I had made in my review. I had mistakenly said they only offered one layout when in fact they offer three. I had gone to the Choose Theme portion of their site when I was writing the review (late at night) and naturally only saw one layout.

Shopping Cart Experience

In my review I also trashed the shopping cart experience because it simply didn’t work. The Add to Cart and View Cart buttons didn’t show up, but after some debugging on behalf of Founder, Josh Rencher, it was discovered that I hadn’t set a title for my image. This is required to make this feature work (which I believe should be addressed from a usability standpoint), so my test site now works as expected:

image After you add the item your cart it' will take you to PayPal just like SiteWelder does, and you’ll see a page like this:

image

In addition there were a couple other minor errors. I would encourage my readers to re-read the updated version at Professional Photography Web Hosting Roundup- FolioSnap.

FolioSnap has also added a special offer for my blog readers where you can extend its normal 15 day trial to 30 days just by entering the promo code RONMART when you sign up for a free trail. This service was the fastest to get up and going in this series with a nice professional look, so I encourage you to try it out for yourself!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Professional Photography Web Hosting Roundup: SmugMug Pro Review

 

**** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****

THIS ARTICLE HAS BECOME TOO OLD AND OUTDATED. I now use Zenfolio exclusively for my personal portfolio and http://ronmartinsen.com now only points to my Zenfolio site. Click here to read my Zenfolio review and learn why I feel it’s the best service available now.

**** WARNING **** **** WARNING **** **** WARNING **** **** WARNING ****

 

 

Ron Martinsen Photography - ronmartinsen.smugmug.com

Smugmug Pro

Introduction

Before this series there was only one service I’d highly recommend for online photo management, and that was Smugmug. In fact, I had written an article entitled Where should I display my pictures online where I sang the praises of Smugmug and insisted that it was the place to store your photos. I’ve been a long-time customer of Smugmug and the great folks there have treated me like I was a big customer well before my blog even existed. So I’ll state up front, I’m biased, but this is the Smugmug review - not my series conclusion.

I’ve been a computer programmer now for about 20 years. I hold a patent on Internet technology that is used by major browsers today. I know HTML, CSS, the DOM, W3C standards, AJAX, etc… well – very well. However, it is no longer my day job so I don’t get to play with it as much as I would like to anymore. I also know it well enough that if I want to spend time being a photographer, then I don’t have time to be a web programmer – combined they are too much of a time sink. This is why I finally gave up developing my own site and went to Smugmug. I’ve never regretted that decision – it’s just too damn easy!

When I started to do this series I started to ask myself the question – why are these sites so expensive when the stuff they are doing is so trivial? How could someone charge $195 for a flash slideshow when it literally takes them as much effort as it takes to copy and paste and replace a word? I just couldn’t understand why some very trivial web features were costing so much money when it was (and really should be) included in my inexpensive Smugmug site. With that in mind, I approached one of my pro photographer mentors and suggested Smugmug could do anything those expensive sites could do, and he scoffed at the idea. He said that Smugmug was a consumer site and that you can’t expect it to compete with pro sites, but I know the code behind the scenes. I know what is possible when someone like Smugmug opens the doors by creating its Advanced site-wide customization feature, so I smelled a challenge.

I decided to contact Markham Bennett (below left), VP of BizDev for Smugmug and I threw down a challenge to him –- I bet that Smugmug could build a site as good as or better than the big boys in this review. Well, since Markham is a superhero, he naturally took the challenge and enlisted his fellow caped crusader Barb Gates (below right) to join in the fun. As they used to do on Batman - KAPOW, BAM, BOOM! Now its time to kick some serious CSS ass!

Markham Bennet Smugmug VP of BizDev Barb Gates Smugmug Support Superhero

Site Tour

In my article entitled Advanced Smugmug Customization by Barb Gates I showed how a default Smugmug site looks, and what a little love with Easy Customizer can do for it. However, Barb then goes on to build http://ronmartinsen.smugmug.com as you see it in this article (it’s a living site so it may evolve from what you see here – screenshots can be found here). If you’ve used Smugmug before then this will simply blow you away, as most users rarely go beyond the default view and have no idea that this level of customization is possible. This of course, is what the all new Smugmug Pro hosting is all about. This ain’t your father’s Smugmug (okay maybe that’s a bit overboard), but rather the new kick ass side of Smugmug you’ve never seen before called Smugmug Pro.

You’ll notice in the pictures throughout this article that the site is fairly similar to the Sitewelder and FolioSnap sites created during this series. It took a lot more work, but thanks to Barb we made it happen. Truth be told, Smugmug doesn’t have a good gallery style to match the offerings of the other sites in this series, so I had to settle for its Filmstrip view which is the bane of even the Smugmug team! It works, but it’s far from an ideal solution. Andy Wiliams, House Pro, says that something better is coming soon and I promise you that I’ll be the first in line to try it out! Here’s a sample view of my places gallery which features a shopping cart (a slideshow, but its hidden on my site), a lightbox view (shown in the smaller second image below) and more:

Lightbox view

I’ll be the first to admit though, that this was the hardest site to build in this series. The other sites are great because you just pick a template and it works. Smugmug can do that too with its themes, but it won’t look as professional as its peers in this review. However, they cost three times (or more) as much so if you are willing to get your hands dirty you CAN match nearly anything done elsewhere!

In a way, Smugmug is currently like unfinished furniture – its just as good as the finished stuff, but for half the price. It’s also the same in that you’ll have to get a little dirty, and it might piss you off a bit, and even worse if you discover you can’t do it then you’ll need to pay to have someone finish it for you – and it won’t be cheap. This is why I created this article, so you could at least try to copy what was done on my site without too much effort.  You then only need to replace the colors and logos to your taste. In addition, you can just following along with the customization article on there forum, use Andy’s Fast Start (great) or if all else fails then contact help@smugmug.com to get steered in the right direction.

Shopping Cart

Where Smugmug shines above all others is in its incredibly well designed shopping cart experience as shown below (note: meaningless mock values entered):

Smugmug Shopping Cart - ronmartinsen.smugmug.com

You can add your own prices for 170 product offerings (as of the time if this review), and you can even choose between ezPrints or BayPhoto as your image provider. In the near future there will also be support for much needed custom packages and coupon codes. However, there’s still a big gap in that if you want to do your own fulfillment, there’s no built-in option for you. The other sites in this review all assume custom fulfillment, so this could be a major deciding factor for you based on your offerings and needs.

Uploading Images and Sharing Links

Uploading files on the other sites in this review was rather cumbersome because they want you to optimize your files for a specific size, and then your photos are stored in an art library where the files must then be moved over to a gallery. In Smugmug all of that hassle is simplified to a brilliant user-interface. You just create your gallery (and many of its settings – including pricing – can be done in ONE step) and then you just drag & drop (or select) the photos to upload. You can easily assign captions and the process goes by very quickly.

However, the best part of this process is that I only upload FULL size images (~24mb 5D Mark II images at JPEG 12 are fine) and Smugmug does the right thing to create 8 downsized images (complete with a sharpening option – scroll to the bottom) plus it maintains the original. I can choose which sizes I wish to display, but it can use the high res images for printing. This is how it should be done – period. No fooling around with “resize” checkboxes and manual optimizations. This just works and is brain dead simple – WELL DONE SMUGMUG!

Another cool thing is that you can save a lot of time exporting your photos directly from Lightroom to Smugmug using Jeffrey Fridel’s “Export to Smugmug” plug-in. This is a huge time saver, and it even supports creating new galleries!

In addition, I frequently I find myself wanting/needing to send or embed (in the case of my blog) a link of a specific size. Fortunately Smugmug also offers a nice “get a link” page where you can simply click to have the url sent to the clipboard for use elsewhere. Once again, this is brilliant and a huge time saver for me.

Video

I’m sure if you ask the other sites to give you video, they’ll accommodate you. But Smugmug has first class video sharing. Even the now infamous Reverie by Vincent Laforet is on his Smugmug site. Very cool!

Behind the Scenes: Administering your site

To get a behind the scenes look at my site, simply arrow through the images here. As you’ll see there is a tremendous amount of controls available for more customization offerings than any other service in this series. However, with great control comes great complexity, so for some it may seem overwhelming – even confusing. However, the good news is that the Easy Customizer will give the local pro wedding/portrait photographer everything s/he’s looking for. In addition, the easy of uploading photos and the advanced gallery support make it a breeze to create as many groups of gallery sets as you could possibly want. In fact, you have galleries up and ready for clients nearly as quick as your photos will transfer over the Internet. In addition, private galleries are trivial and unlimited (and they mean that – hundreds of terabytes are really allowed).

HTML/CSS Customization

I’ve already mentioned Advanced Smugmug Customization by Barb Gates and shown what’s possible – my site is the result. However, there’s much more available via third-party customizers like:

Domain Name Registration

You can use SmugmugDomains.com to get your own custom domain name (i.e., http://ronmartinsen.com) for dirt cheap (only $7.69 at the time of this writing). Sure, SiteWelder includes this but when you consider Smugmug’s pro account costs $150 and you add your domain for only $7.69, that’s still less than SiteWelder’s setup fee!

iPhone Support

Smugmug_iPhone SmugmugiPhoneRonMartinsen

Visit http://ronmart.smugmug.com or http://ronmartinsen.smugmug.com/ from your iPhone to see the iPhone support in action. You’ll get a different interface optimized for the iPhone (above left), and you can go to the non-iPhone site like you’d normally get in Safari (above right). My site worked fine in either format (although the flash slideshow doesn’t render on iPhone, since the iPhone doesn’t support flash).

However, that’s just the beginning, you can download an apps for your iPhone that support Smugmug so you can actually upload photos directly from your phone to Smugmug (complete with GeoTagging)! Here’s a cool example of the awesome FREE Smugshot app for the iPhone available on AppStore:

When it comes to iPhone support, Smugmug not only embraces it – it extends it. This is REALLY cool stuff!

Key Customers

Photography Corner lists over 28 pros who call Smugmug home. In addition, there’s a few other big names you’ve probably heard of:

  • Vincent Laforet - Canon Explorer of Light who became crazy famous after releasing the first cool video, Reverie filmed exclusively with a 5D Mark II.
  • Mark Weisberg – Award winning Portrait/Wedding Photographer
  • Robert Evans – Los Angeles Celebrity Photographer
  • David Jay – Wedding Photographer and Adobe Evangelist
  • Miguel Lasa – Wildlife and Nature Photographer
  • Sherron Sheppard – 2003 California PPC “Photographer of the Year” - Journalistic Wedding & 2006 PPA “Platinum Photographer of the Year”
  • Brian Valentine - (a.k.a., LordV) – AMAZING Macro Photographer

There’s also a couple good pro photographers using flash on their Smugmug site:

To see some other examples of cool Smugmug sites, click here.

Search Engine Performance

Ron Martinsen Photography on Google.com

Like FolioSnap, Smugmug really doesn’t track their Search Engine Performance. However, like everyone in this series they do care a lot about the subject. In fact Andy offers a good article on the subject, but I hadn’t had time to follow his advice so my results are based on doing literally nothing!

As of the time I wrote this article a search for Ron Martinsen Photography on Google resulted in http://ronmartinsen.smugmug.com coming in just ahead of liveBooks and SiteWelder (ronmartphoto.com).

Cost

Cheap – dirt cheap. At the time of this writing, you can get all this cool customization for as little as $59.95 (Power), but you can get much more (like the fantastic shopping cart) for $149.95 (Pro). If you can live with the default themes, then its only $39.95 to host your photos (not recommend for pros).

Pros / Cons

What I love about Smugmug is:

  1. Price – You’ve gotta be kidding me? Is that a typo? That’s value baby!!!!!
  2. Shopping Cart – Setting prices is a bit cumbersome, and the lack of self-fulfillment is going to be a no-go for some pros. However, the addition of packages, coupons (both coming soon) and the option to use two great services for printing will mean a great way to generate revenue without dealing with the headache of self-printing.
  3. iPhone Support – Not only is it good, it’s fun! Everybody else – here’s a model to follow!
  4. Uploading Ease of Use & Share Links Features – From the time I’m done with my photos (excluding Internet transmission speeds), it takes me less than a minute to have my photos online in a new gallery. What’s even better, is that my original and 8 other sizes are available to share with others right away.
  5. Customization – 90% of what you see can be tweaked via CSS or in some tricky cases via JavaScript, but at least you can get to it – that’s not possible on any other site in this series.

Areas for Smugmug improvement:

  1. Too much brute force customization required – Easy Customizer is a GREAT step in the right direction, but most great Photographers I know aren’t computer geeks (beyond Photoshop) so they’ll need a lot more than that to be successful using this service. For them, the other offerings in this line-up are much more compelling (despite the Themes support).
  2. Flash Slide Show – This a great site that avoids flash, except here. Take a cue from FolioSnap, and get a non-flash slideshow.
  3. Poor Gallery View choices for some Pros - The Default view is good for Wedding/Portrait Photographers, but for everyone else it’s too cluttered. The filmstrip view is the only real uncluttered option, but then that freakin filmstrip is a nasty little best. Note to Smugmug: SiteWelder’s scrollbars with CSS support are a WAY better option!
  4. Favicon support is just broken for Internet Explorer – Apple and other browsers may be making headway, but the last I checked Internet Explorer still has a commanding dominance of the browser market. Not supporting this platform is a bad choice. FolioSnap solved this problem, so I’d like to see Smugmug step up and do the same.
  5. Limited customization for galleries – For all the cool customizations available, you’re kinda stuck with what Smugmug gives you for the photo gallery itself. I wish that there was a lot more control over that process without having to resort to hard core JavaScript.
  6. I don’t have one of those cool superhero pictures from Chris MacAskill!

Conclusion

The other sites in this series are definitely better for the hands-off pro, but Smugmug Pro will continue to get better so that advantage will get smaller with time. However, there’s a ton of great stuff here that no other host in this series offers. Big things like an amazing shopping cart and gallery management that is super fast and easy make it a must for wedding and portrait photographers. A book could be written about Smugmug because there’s just so much there (hum, I should do that), so I have no hesitation in making my highest recommendation for Smugmug.

Special Offer

Save 20% off your first year when you use the code SmugRon when you sign up! If my math is right, that’s less than $120 for a year – that’s crazy cheap!!!!

SmugmugDomains.com has domain name registration for less than $8 for your first year as of the time of this writing – top that!

Other articles in this series:

  1. Professional Web Hosting Roundup: Intro
  2. liveBooks Review
  3. FolioSnap Review
  4. SiteWelder Review
  5. Smugmug Review
  6. Conclusion – pending (and no, it won’t be another Smugmug article :-)

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Advanced Smugmug Customization by Barb Gates

 

**** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****  **** WARNING ****

THIS ARTICLE HAS BECOME TOO OLD AND OUTDATED. I now use Zenfolio exclusively for my personal portfolio and http://ronmartinsen.com now only points to my Zenfolio site. Click here to read my Zenfolio review and learn why I feel it’s the best service available now.

**** WARNING **** **** WARNING **** **** WARNING **** **** WARNING ****

 

Barb Gates - Smugmug Superhero
During the process of doing my Professional Web Hosting Roundup investigation, Markham Bennett of Smugmug put me in touch with Support Hero Barb Gates (shown above). At Smugmug they have a really cool  gallery of photos of the Smugmug Superheroes and I totally understand why now – people like Barb rock! She bent over backwards to help me under a compressed schedule to get my smugmug site looking like a cool custom site.
I’m taking this short diversion from the series to show you how it was done before I dive into the review later this week.

First, the Easy Way (by Ron)

At the time I was beginning my review, the easy way didn’t exist. A typical default smugmug site might look like this:
smugmug default look - ronmart.smugmug.com

Easy Customizer

However, Smugmug was working hard to make things both easier and more powerful. The answer? – Easy Customizer. Here’s a short video demo of the Easy Customizer in action:
Afer few simple clicks of customizations using its cool new Easy Customizer the default site can be updated to look like this:
smugmug easy customized look - ronmart.smugmug.com
Pretty cool, huh?
However, for as cool as that is, it still looks like a consumer level template site. The rest of this article is geared for the web programmer who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get some killer results.

Now for the Power Users in Barb’s own words…

Customizing SmugMug can be as simple or as advanced as you want. All up to you. Pretty much anything goes, and you can completely change the look & feel of your site with some CSS and HTML. Advanced hacks are available via JavaScript to also change some of the default functions, text, etc.
Most all of your customization will live in the CSS, Custom Header and Custom Footer boxes inside your customization panel.
CSS stands for “Cascading Style Sheets” and controls the look and formatting of your site. SmugMug uses default CSS for each theme. With customizing, you can override the default CSS and use your own. You are able to change the colors, fonts and layout of your page. All of this goes in the CSS box in your customization panel.
Your HTML lives in the Custom Header and Custom Footer boxes. Here is where you can add a navbar, header banner (logo), and custom footer. You then use CSS to change the color, position, fonts, etc., for each.
Your HTML and CSS live in harmony. The HTML creates the elements, and the CSS styles them.
You can use JavaScript “hacks” to change certain default functionality of the site. There are two sections for JavaScript - top and bottom. You want to use the Bottom JavaScript box most of the time, as scripts placed in the Top JavaScript box will slow down the loading of your pages.
Site-wide customization can be found in the account holder’s control panel, under the Customize tab. Here’s a short video flyover of the site-wide customization for Ron’s test site:
For this example, I customized http://ronmartinsen.smugmug.com/ to look like this:
Ron Martinsen Photography
Let’s start with the basics:
  1. Banner/Logo
  2. Navbar
These both live in the Custom Header box. We use individual Div ID’s for each. Those Div ID’s will be used in the CSS to position, change font, color, etc.
The following has been placed in the Custom Header box for the above site:
<!-- Begin Header and Navbar -->
 
<div id="RMHeader">
 
 <div id="RMLogo"><a href="/"><img src="/img/spacer.gif" width="300" height="55" border="0" /></a></div>
 
 <div id="RMNav">
  <ul>
    <li><a href="/">home</a></li>
    <li><a href="/galleries">portfolio</a></li>
    <li><a href="http://ronmartinsen.blogspot.com" target="_blank">blog</a></li>
    <li><a href="/gallery/7973047_UNC2k">contact</a></li>
  </ul>
 </div>
</div>
 
<!-- End Header and Navbar -->
Now, to style and position the banner and navbar, the corresponding CSS for the above, goes in the CSS box:
/* BANNER */
 
#RMHeader {position: relative; width: 943px; height: 60px; margin: 0 auto;}
 
.homepage #RMHeader,
.category #RMHeader,
.subcategory #RMHeader,
.filmstrip #RMHeader,
.journal #RMHeader {margin-top: 50px;}
 
#RMLogo {
width: 300px;
height: 55px;
background: url(/photos/517708344_ZGVQ5-300x55-1.jpg) no-repeat;
}
 
/* NAVBAR */
 
#RMNav {position: relative; float: right; margin-top: -8px;}
#RMNav ul {list-style:none; margin:0; padding:0; font-size:10px; font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;}
#RMNav li {float:left; padding:0; margin:0;}
#RMNav li a {text-decoration: none;
padding: .1em .4em;
color: #4f4f4f;
background-color: none;}
 
#RMNav ul li a:hover {
color: #0677a1;
background-color: none;
}
For the footer, I have added the following into the Custom Footer box in customization:
<!-- Begin Footer -->
 
<div id="RMFooterWrapper">
<div id="RMFooter">copyright (c) 2009 - ron martinsen photography - all rights reserved</div>
</div>
 
<!-- End Footer -->
To style the footer, and position it, I have used the following CSS in the CSS box:
/* FOOTER */
 
#cobrand_footer {display: none !important; width:943px; margin:0 auto;}
#cobrand_footer .nav,
#cobrand_footer .text {font:8pt verdana, arial, sans-serif; color: #404040; margin-top: -5px; }
#cobrand_footer #footer {width:943px; text-align:left; font:8pt verdana, arial, sans-serif; color:#404040;}
 
#RMFooterWrapper {width:943px; margin:0 auto;}
#RMFooter {font:8pt verdana, arial, sans-serif; color: #aaa; margin-top: -4px; float: right;}
For this particular site, I have changed the default width of the homepage (typically 750px) to accommodate a background image behind the slideshow.
Some CSS is required to accomplish this. This CSS is in the CSS box is the customization:
/* HOMEPAGE */
 
#homepage {width:943px;}
#homepage #breadcrumb {display:none;}
#homepage p.note {display:none;}
#homepageTools {border: none; text-align: center;}
#feeds {display:none;}
.cartlink_footer {display: none;}
#userName {display: none;}
#userHome {display: none;}
#galleryTitle, #categoryTitle {visibility: hidden;}
.albumTitle .nav {color: #666 !important; font-size: 7pt !important;}
 
#breadcrumb .nav,
#breadcrumb .title {color: #aaa; font-size: 8pt; font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;}
 
/* BIOBOX */
 
#ssContainer {background: url(/photos/517878808_X2UFX-O.jpg); width: 943px; height: 615px;}
#bioSS {padding-top: 33px;}
#bioBox {width:943px; height: auto; margin:0 auto;}
#bioBox .boxBottom,
#bioBox #userBio {padding:0;}
#bioBox .photo {display:none;}
#bioText {display: none;}
#userBio {text-align: center;}
This accomplishes several things:
  1. Changes the default width of the homepage to 943px, the width of the background image
  2. Removes the default breadcrumb from the homepage, which includes the account holder’s name
  3. Removes the feeds from the footer
  4. Removes the shopping cart link from the footer
  5. Removes the default gallery box title
  6. Centers the slideshow in the biobox
  7. Adds the background image for the slideshow
  8. Removes any text that has been added into the bio
Some other CSS I have added includes: changing the background color of the site, adding borders to the images when hovered over, changing the title colors, making the box top backgrounds transparent, and removing the keywords listed for individual photos:
/* GENERAL */
 
body {background-color: #fff;
font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
color: #aaa;}
 
a:hover img.imgBorder,
.imgBorderOn {
border-color: #0677a1;
}
 
#photoKeywords { 
display: none; 
}
 
.title {
color: #0677a1; 
}
 
.box {background: transparent;}
.boxTop {border: 0;}
These particular tweaks are all optional, and will depend upon how you wish to set up your site.
On this site, we have created a separate galleries page. The default setup shows your galleries on your homepage. Since I have created a navbar that links to the galleries, I need to hide the galleries on the homepage, and create a separate page for those. This requires both CSS and JavaScript to accomplish this. We will start with the JavaScript. This is placed in the Bottom JavaScript box in customization:
/*============================*/
/*== Virtual Gallery Pages ===*/
/*============================*/
 
function hasPath(sPath)
{
re = new RegExp("\/" + sPath + "(\/|$)");
return re.test(window.location)
}
 
if (hasPath("galleries"))
YD.addClass(document.body, "galleries");
That creates the galleries page. To now hide the galleries, and other elements, from the homepage, and show them on the new galleries page, I added the following to the CSS box in customization:
/* SEPARATE GALLERY PAGE */
 
.homepage #galleriesBox,
.homepage #categoriesBox,
.homepage #featuredBox {
display: none;
}
 
.galleries #bioBox {
display: none;
}
 
.galleries #galleriesBox,
.galleries #categoriesBox,
.galleries #featuredBox {
display: block;
}
 
 
.loggedIn .homepage #galleriesBox,
.loggedIn .homepage #categoriesBox {
display: block;
}
The above CSS allows the galleries to be seen on the galleries page, and not on the homepage. However, there is also CSS included that will allow the account holder, when logged in, to see their galleries on the homepage, which makes it much more convenient for adding galleries, adding images to created galleries, etc. The resulting page is http://ronmartinsen.smugmug.com/galleries. It has been linked to in the navbar as Portfolio. That is part of the HTML in the Custom Header box discussed earlier. You can name that page anything you wish.
This account holder wanted the thumbs on the gallery page centered. This works if you only intend on having a certain number of thumbs. Gallery thumbnails will center themselves as you add more galleries; however, if you intend to only have, like in this case, three galleries, they can be centered on the page. I used the following CSS in the CSS box for this:
/* CENTER GALLERY THUMBS */
 
.miniBox {
width:125px;
height: 125px !important; 
padding:0 0 5em 0; 
margin:190px 90px 0;
} 
 
.miniBox .photo {
height:auto; 
_height:1px;
} 
 
.miniBox .albumTitle, 
.miniBox .private {
width: 100px; text-align: center;} 
 
.albumLarge {
width:160px; 
height:  160px !important;
padding:0 0 5em 0; 
margin:130px 40px 0;
} 
 
.albumLarge .photoLarge {
height:auto; 
_height:1px;
} 
 
.albumLarge .albumTitle, 
.albumLarge .private {
text-align:center;
width: 160px; text-align: center;
}
To keep the galleries page clean and uncluttered, I have also used CSS to remove the updated date and time (which is a default setting) underneath the gallery thumbnails. The following CSS was added for this:
/* REMOVE DESC AND UPDATED TIME */
 
#categoriesBox .miniBox p.description,
#galleriesBox .miniBox p.description,
#featuredBox .miniBox p.description {display: none;}
 
#categoriesBox .miniBox p.updated,
#subcategoriesBox .miniBox p.updated,
#galleriesBox .miniBox p.updated,
#featuredBox .miniBox p.updated {display: none;}
This account holder wanted to use the filmstrip viewing style in his public galleries. You are able to force a certain viewing style in the gallery settings, which I have done. Let’s take this gallery, for example http://ronmartinsen.smugmug.com/gallery/7923208_3y7Uh. To make that gallery clean and sharp, a lot of the default elements of the gallery have been removed, using CSS. I have removed the size picker under the images, the album navigation, and the fullscreen slideshow. I have also changed the color, size, and font of the navigation above the filmstrip. The account holder also wanted to change the arrows. Images were uploaded to a gallery, and then linked to in the CSS to change the default arrows. The following was added to the CSS box in customization to accomplish this:
/* FILMSTRIP VIEWING STYLE */
 
.filmstrip #sizePicker {display: none;}
.filmstrip #albumNav_bottom {display: none;}
.filmstrip #albumNav_top .nav {color: #aaa; font-size:10px; font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;}
.filmstrip #albumNav_top .title {color: #aaa; font-size:10px; font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;}
.filmstrip .play_slideshow {display: none;}
#filmstrip #leftMove {
background: url(/photos/518609615_ba4nL-O.png) no-repeat;
}
#filmstrip #rightMove {
background: url(/photos/518609616_oPqzH-O.png) no-repeat;
}
Since I have styled the banner/logo and navbar on the homepage to fit the new width I gave it, I needed to make some tweaks to the default SmugMug viewing style, which fills the browser. I wanted the banner/logo in SmugMug viewing style to be to the far left, and the navbar to be to the far right. I added the following CSS to accomplish this for the SmugMug viewing style:
/* SMUGMUG VIEWING STYLE */
 
.smugmug #RMHeader {width:auto; padding-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; padding-bottom: 10px;}
.pageNav {color:#0677a1;}
#smugmug #displayPhoto {text-align:center;}
#stylebar {visibility:  hidden;}
.smugmug #RMFooterWrapper {width: auto;}
.smugmug #RMFooter {margin-right: 15px;}
.smugmug #RMNav {margin-right: 10px;}
.smugmug #cobrand_footer {width: auto;}
.smugmug #cobrand_footer .text {+margin-left: 15px;}
I also wanted to remove the lines in the SmugMug viewing style that separate the header, footer, and images, for a clean look. The following CSS was used:
/* LINES */
 
.top_border {border-top: none;}
.bottom_border {border-bottom: none;}
.right_border {border-right: none;}
.left_border {border-left: none;}
.journal_entry {border-bottom: none;}
I’ve styled the comments box in the galleries to match the colors of the site. The following CSS was added:
/* COMMENTS */
 
#comment {margin-bottom:10px; border:0;}
#comments .box {border:1px solid #ccc;}
#comments .boxTop {background: #ccc; border-bottom:1px solid #fff;}
#comments .boxBottom {background:#eee;}
Instead of the default buttons, this user wanted them changed to not include borders, smaller text, different color, etc. The following CSS was used for this:
/* Buttons */
 
.buttons, .smbuttons { 
color: #aaa;
background-color: #fff;
border: 1px solid #404040;
}
 
 
.sm-button {
border-top: none;
border-bottom: none;
font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
font-size: 9pt;
background: #fff url(/photos/517900816_fPZ7y-O.png)  repeat-x;
}
 
.glyphButton .first-child, .yui-menu-button button {
background-image: url(/photos/517900816_fPZ7y-O.png);
}
.sm-button button, .sm-button a {
color: #aaa; font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;}
.sm-button {
border-left: none;
border-right: none;
_border-left: none;
_border-right: none;
~border-left: none;
~border-right: none;
}
 
.sm-button .first-child {
border: none;
_border-left: none;
~border-left: none;
_border-right: none;
~border-right: none;
}
I also created a gallery for the account holder’s contact information, which is linked to from the navbar. When doing a mostly text gallery, I like to keep those galleries very clean, so I have used CSS to remove the navigation (breadcrumb), page navigation, and also to style and position the text in the gallery http://ronmartinsen.smugmug.com/gallery/7973047_UNC2k:
/* CONTACT GALLERY */
 
.gallery_7973047 .pageNav {display: none;}
.gallery_7973047 .nophotos {display: none;}
.gallery_7973047 #breadcrumb {display: none}
 
#contactText {color: #666; font-size: 8pt;}
#contactText a {color: #666; font-size: 8pt;}
#contactPic {width: 200px; height: 300px; border: 0;}
#contactContainer {width: 200px; padding-top: 55px; padding-left: 35px;}
That’s it for the CSS, Custom Header and Custom Footer boxes in the customization.
I have added several JavaScript “hacks” to accomplish various tasks. The following is in the Top JavaScript box:
1. Remove the pipes (separators) in the footer:
/*============================================*/
/*============= Remove Pipes in Footer =======*/
/*============================================*/
 
YE.onAvailable("cobrand_footer", function() {this.innerHTML = this.innerHTML.replace(/\||what are feeds\?/gi, '');});
2. Remove the text bubble when you hover over images:
/*============================================*/
/*======= Remove Text Bubble on Hover ========*/
/*============================================*/
 
function delHover() {
oLst = YD.getElementsBy(function(el) {return (YD.hasClass(el,'imgBorder') || YD.hasClass(el,'imgBorderOn'))},'img');
for (i=0; i < oLst.length ; i++) {
if (oLst[i].title && oLst[i].title != '') oLst[i].title = '';
if (oLst[i].alt && oLst[i].alt != '') oLst[i].alt = '';
}
}
YE.onContentReady('bodyWrapper', function() {if (!YD.hasClass(document.body, 'smugmug_ajax')) delHover()});
onPhotoShow.subscribe(function(){YE.onAvailable('mainImage', delHover)});
3. Stop the Filmstrip viewing style from auto scrolling:
/*======================================*/
/*== Stop Auto Scrolling in Filmstrip ==*/
/*======================================*/
 
filmstripMove = 0;
One other JavaScript function was added to the Bottom JavaScript box, which changes the default text in the navigation (breadcrumb). The default is to show your “displayed as” name. You might be displaying your full name, first name, nickname, etc. This account holder wanted that changed to “Home”, which was accomplished with the following JavaScript:
/*============================*/
/*== Change Breadcrumb ==*/
/*============================*/
 
var objElement = document.getElementById("breadCrumbTrail")
if (objElement != null) {
var str = new String(objElement.innerHTML);
str = str.replace('>Ron Martinsen<', '>Home</a><');
objElement.innerHTML = str;
}
Final tweaks include adding a favicon and changing the browser title. I have also added information to remove the IE print toolbar. This was placed in the Head Tag box in customization:
<script language="javascript">
   1: document.title="Ron Martinsen Photography"
</script>
<meta http-equiv="imagetoolbar" content="no">
<meta http-equiv="imagetoolbar" content="false">
 
<LINK REL="SHORTCUT ICON"
HREF="http://bygates.googlepages.com/rmfavicon.ico">
It should be noted that .ico files cannot be uploaded currently to SmugMug. The file, however, can be uploaded to another site, and linked to in your customization, as I have done above.
In your navbar, you can link to any external site, also. For this user, I have added an external link to his blog, which opens in a new tab or window when clicked.

Conclusion

I was super impressed what Barb was able to accomplish in a very short period of time. I know it looks daunting, but she pulled this site together in about a day (in addition to doing her day job!!!!). Be sure to go check out the new Easy Customizer and Site-wide customizations so you pimp your site!

Special Offer for Blog Readers (Coupon Code: SmugRon)

If you haven’t used Smugmug before, you should AT LEAST try out the free trial. Should you decide to join you can get 20% off your first year membership when you use the coupon code SmugRon.


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