Exploring SmugMug

So after my recent post about my struggles with Flickr 1, I had several people suggest I give SmugMug a try. They have a fourteen day free trial, so I decided I didn’t have anything to lose. I set up a free account and posted my first photos.

I’ve spent some time exploring the service and wanted to share some of my first thoughts.

My Key Features

SmugMug service doesn’t hit all of my desired features. I can manually license my photos with a Creative Commons license, for example, but there’s no way to search for CC content through the site. Given SmugMug’s business model seems to be partially centered around users selling photos, as much as storing them, this makes sense.

There is an iOS app, but it only has very basic functionality. Inside the app there is no way to see statistics, and only contains an extremely simplistic way to search for other SmugMug users to follow 2. Viewing technical information for the images I’ve uploaded is not possible, nor am I able to alter image descriptions or keywords. The app is also a bit buggy, as it likes to open in portrait mode, which is a bit of an issue on my 12.9 inch iPad Pro. I’ve currently deleted the iOS app, but will likely reinstall it in case I want to upload images to my SmugMug account from Lightroom Mobile. All in all, it’s a bit disappointing.

Adobe Lightroom integration, however, is excellent.

Integration

SmugMug provides an excellent Lightroom plugin to upload photos to the service. This can be installed via Adobe’s Creative Cloud file sync feature, and SmugMug provides a good howto video to get the plugin installed an configured. It works much like Lightroom’s Flickr plugin. Collections can be set up under the plugin’s container and published to the site.

As I explored the myriad of options for the service I noticed something fascinating. SmugMug can be set for photos to be uploaded at Digital Negatives (DNG) or even as the original Raw files 3. As SmugMug offers unlimited storage, and the ability to easily make uploads private or public, the ability to upload DNG files would make it an ideal off-site back up for my best photos 4. This is a fantastic feature!

Community

Unfortunately, the community aspects of SmugMug feel a bit hacked on. While views are tracked, and other users have the ability to leave comments and rate images, there isn’t an easy way to set up a group of people I follow on the service 5. My friend Jamison also set up a home page, and I couldn’t figure out a way to automatically be notified when he uploads new sets. I can copy an RSS feed to use in something like Flipboard for individual galleries but there doesn’t seem to be a way to create a feed for all publicly published photos on an account 6.

I’ve always enjoyed the community aspect of Flickr, and have been given good encouragement from photographers on the site. SmugMug is missing that aspect of the experience for me.

Usability

Despite some odd locations for certain settings 7, SmugMug is very usable. The customizable options are varied, and the ability to drag and drop photos between folders and galleries is quite nice. Photos may also be reordered via drag and drop in the organizer interface. I was even able to handle most of these actions using Safari on my iPad Pro, this is not always the case for web apps!

SmugMug appears simple, and that’s part of it’s beauty. There is a great deal of power under the simple interface.

One thing I simply cannot stand, however, is the need to use flash to view the service’s presentation of statistics. In 2016 that’s an archaic option, and with many browsers encouraging users to move away from flash, I hope SmugMug moves to an HTML 5 solution in the near future.

Conclusion

While my experiment is very early, I am beginning to figure out some of the various nuances of SmugMug’s service. I do wish some of the community features were easier to use, and am somewhat saddened by the lack of Creative Commons as an official licensing option 8.

At the same time the ease of organization, tight Lightroom integration, and the ability to upload DNG files to the site make SmugMug an incredibly intriguing option. Taking this up as my primary photo sharing site would change my workflow somewhat, but it may be worth the effort. I could also keep a minimal presence on a site like Flickr, on which I could upload a number of Creative Commons licensed photos for the community to discover and use.

SmugMug has certainly given me some things to consider.


  1. Or, more accurately, Flickr’s owner, Yahoo. 
  2. As you’ll see below, I can’t find even this rudimentary feature in the web interface, which I find extremely odd. 
  3. I convert all my Nikon Raw files to DNG on import. 
  4. Or, all of them? 
  5. There is a way to identify friends and family in the Account settings, but it’s hidden under privacy settings. You can set up friends, who may or may not reciprocate. Unreciprocated friendships become “fans,” which is probably an accurate sociological description, but it’s still a rather clunky implementation. 
  6. Ironically, SmugMug users can provide links to their accounts on other photo services like 500px and Flickr. 
  7. Like putting friends in the “privacy” section. There is a reason for this placement, friends and family can be allowed to bypass password protected portions of a user’s site. I just find it to be odd location. 
  8. As my friend Jamison points out, most people don’t even know what that is. As I use so many Creative Commons images, I do. And feel bound to support the license which benefits me. 
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