SmugMug review – perfect for image-focused websites
SmugMug is a platform, fully focused on photography. It can help anyone make a website, sell online, and store images – all in one spot. With this list of features, SmugMug sounds like a pretty fun option, for both complete beginners and seasoned pros.
SmugMug tries to solve all of the problems a photographer might run into. It's a photo organization platform, allowing you to easily upload and arrange all of your work. It's an eCommerce platform, matching you with a photo lab, that will do all the hard work for you. And it's a website builder, with which you can make a custom photography website in just a few minutes.
When for this SmugMug review, I signed up and made my own website (which I'll happily show later!), I had a few hiccups, but overall, enjoyed the ride.
SmugMug can be tricky to use, and even has a few quirks related to the pricing and design customization. But at the end of the day, it fulfills all the promises that it gives. For busy photographers, looking to have a solid online presence, SmugMug can be a lifesaver they've searched for all along.
Oh yeah, one more thing – this SmugMug review is quite big. So you can click here to read the full conclusion. Or not – and read everything I have to say in its entirety.
|Ease of use||Takes a while to get used to|
|Templates||Limited selection of templates|
|Business features||Simple, reliable photography features|
|Performance||Just about meets the industry standard|
|Current deal:||Get up to 38% OFF SmugMug!|
Pros and cons of SmugMug
- Great integration with photo storage tools
- Full Lightroom integration
- Good photo management and organization features
- The entry plan reduces design freedom to a minimum
- Only 26 templates
- Not very intuitive; could be more user-friendly
SmugMug is a website builder aiming to help photography enthusiasts to share their works online. But which photography-based features are incredible and which are lacking?
|Photo and video upload||You can upload both images and videos to your website by either dragging or dropping individual files onto the “Upload” section or by selecting folders.|
|Photo and video backup||SmugMug can be used for photo and video backup – it offers unlimited cloud storage, a simple upload process, and privacy.|
|Work protection||As a user, you can select who can view your photos and videos. SmugMug also offers watermarks and right-click protection as well as password protection for photos, galleries, and pages.|
|Gallery creation||Galleries can be created during the uploading process, but a single gallery can hold only up to 5,000 photos and videos.|
|Sharing options||You can share individual photos and videos or entire galleries by copying their links. It’s also possible to share individual photos and videos to social media accounts. For monetizing your work you can get a “Buy this photo" link.|
|Social media integration||Your site visitors can share your photos on their social media directly from your SmugMug website. You can also add social icons with links to your Facebook or Twitter pages.|
|Events/bookings||When creating events, you can add in a required registration or set your event to be visible to certain participants. However, booking through SmugMug is not possible.|
|Selling options||You can sell your photos using SmugMug by selling digital downloads or utilizing SmugMug’s many dropshipping options.|
|Blogging||There is no built-in blogging tool, however, you can link a WordPress page to your SmugMug website.|
SmugMug offers 4 paid plans for its users, ranging from $8 to $50 a month. These prices, however, can seriously decrease – you'll get a discount, ranging from 29% to 38% if you choose to pay for 12 months in advance. There's also a free 14-day trial available, letting you test our platform's services with no monetary risks involved.
Now, let's have a look into what these 4 premium plans are:
|Basic||Unlimited photo storage and a personalized website: Get up to 38% OFF SmugMug!||$$11.00/month|
|Power||Drag-and-drop builder tools, personal domain, full customization||$16/month|
|Portfolio||Sales tools and watermark protection – perfect for monetizing your photos||$34/month|
|Pro||Custom pricing and client management tools, ideal for businesses||$50/month|
Now – which one should you pick for your picture perfect website? Let's have a look.
The "Basic" plan ($11.00/month) is a good and affordable option for absolute beginners. It allows for:
- Unlimited photo and video storage
- A simple photo website
This is a good way to share images with your friends or clients. However, this plan doesn't allow for a fully customized website – nor it will allow you to connect your existing personal domain to it.
This plan has serious limitations. You'll only be given access to one and only SmugMug theme, which looks like this:
The editing will be quite limited as well. There will only be options to pick a light or a dark theme, and many of the more intricate website-editing options I'll mention later, simply won't be available.
If you first use your 14-day free trial, you'll be given access to all of the templates and all of the features. So, don't get too attached to your fancy theme. If you want to go for the Basic plan, this is pretty much how your website will look like.
And this is why I consider this plan unusable for professionals. For personal users, such a place to upload and share images might be sufficient. But that's about it.
If you are looking to create a professional portfolio website, the “Power” plan ($16/month) is a great option to start. "Why?", you may ask. Well, I'll have you know that this plan:
- Allows to use a custom domain for the website
- Unlocks all drag-and-drop design tools and templates.
It still doesn't include any eCommerce features. But if you want to have a fully customizable website, flush with all of your art, this is an option I fully endorse.
Curiously enough, while I endorsed the previous plan for portfolios, this plan ($34/month) the one SmugMug offers itself. I can see why. After all, this plan:
- Adds eCommerce functionality
- Allows to use print-on-demand, fulfillment services
- Has watermark protection.
This is the plan you should pick if you're interested in selling online. This plan makes it possible to sell digital photos and videos. On top of that, SmugMug collaborates with professional printing labs – which adds the possibility of selling prints on your website.
So, why the "Portfolio" tag, then? Well, it probably has something to do with the watermark feature – which should be crucially important to artists. So much, that I was actually surprised to see it under such a massive paywall.
If you are looking for a way to establish your own brand, the “Pro” plan ($50/month) adds advanced eCommerce features to make it easier for you to meet your goals. For example, you can:
- Include customized pricing per client.
- Enable coupon system
- Brand your orders as you would like and offer gift-wrapped packaging.
It's easy to tell – this is a plan for serious business stuff. If you're focused on the products with the images, rather than the images themselves, you'll be right at home.
Now – before we close this part for good, let's talk about reducing these monthly fees by a considerable margin. I mentioned this earlier – you can make your SmugMug smaller if you choose to pay for a year in advance. Here's how all 4 of the plan compare price-wise.
|Plan||Full price (monthly)||Full price (yearly)|
As you can see, paying yearly can save you up to $170 a year. And while the monthly prices are slightly higher than the industry average, they go down considerably like that.
So – if the monthly plans look a bit steep (and they are), consider making a bigger investment, as it'll pay off in the long run.
Not before using that 14-day free trial, of course!
The best plan to choose if you’re looking to sell your photos or merchandise would be the Portfolio plan since it offers integrated sales and order fulfillment tools. However, if you want to use your site as a personal site to show off your work, I’d suggest the Power plan – with this plan, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best features SmugMug can offer.
Is SmugMug easy to use?
- The setup process – the initial setup process is simple. The whole dashboard is intuitive, making the whole experience uncomplicated.
- Building your website – if you’re using this platform for the first time it can get somewhat confusing, however, after a few hours, everything becomes much clearer.
- Managing your website – various editing options are separated between Customizer and dashboard. I enjoyed the Organizer capabilities.
The user-friendliness of any platform plays an important role in how good the product is. For Webflow, some things are more challenging than others. It makes sense – after all, this platform tries to be many things at once.
Trying to combine a genuinely useful photo management tool and a website builder, SmugMug does seem complicated at first. Simply put – I had issues doing things I was able to easily do on other website builders.
But it's not like SmugMug doesn't have some very obvious functionality. It does have pretty much everything – it just took me longer than usual to find it and make use of it.
This is the test website i ended up making for this SmugMug review. Click the image in order to visit the page!
This is how everything went down:
Getting started with SmugMug
Getting started with the SmugMug is very simple. Once on the product's website, I simply followed a green button to get started – this automatically gave me a 14-day trial of the most advanced Pro plan, with no credit card details needed.
And then, a few credentials (first and last name, email, password) later, I was asked to pick out a preferred theme.
Then, I was immediately asked to upload some pictures. Checks out. It's a photography platform, after all.
And then, bada-bing, bada-boom, SmugMug took my preferred theme, the pictures I uploaded, and put them together into one demo website.
This was the editor I found myself in. Everything was already set up, and I could focus on building and crafting my photography website.
You gotta admit: that's both fast and easy.
SmugMug site editor
SmugMug tries to be both a website builder and a photography management platform. Understandably, this not only makes it powerful and capable but also just a tiny bit confusing.
But that's okay – let's start from the very beginning.
Everything about my website could be managed on the side menu. This is where I found some site-wide options to manage my logo, menu, social media icons, and a carousel – the main things that are in this specific theme.
The "Content" section is responsible for all sections that can be added to the website. There are over 30 different section options available. That includes:
- Several different types of photo displays
- Various navigation tools and interface elements
- Video embedding
- Google Calendar
- Google Translate
- Wufoo Form
- CSS/HTML code embedding
Each element can be added by dragging and dropping it on your preferred part on the site.
Each of the edited sections can be edited further by clicking on them, and editing the provided options.
The editing capabilities of each element are quite limited. The selection of elements is limited, too. I can't drag the elements within the section: but honestly, there aren't many sections that even have elements worth dragging. The editing menu for each section gives just about enough options to slightly tinker with them – choose what images go where, and what buttons do I want to be displayed. In terms of actual editing, my hands were tied.
There's considerably more freedom in trying to do site-wide design changes. Each template has a solid selection of various "themes". They differ from one another in used textures, color schemes, and fonts.
I was also able to try and make (and fail) themes myself!
The background menu allowed me to pick a background for the specific page I was editing, by choosing between inheriting the site-wide option, or picking some images.
And finally, the layout option was there for choosing the sizes of margins, sections, and sidebars, as well as the general layout shape.
Now: there's one more thing I'd like to complain about.
I didn't particularly like the Pages system. My website, and the template I chose already had some pre-made pages. However, they're not actually pages. I haven't had any pages created, and the Menu option actually included a bunch of custom links.
And since they weren't connected to any existing pages, they lead to 404 Not Found pages instead.
Adding and editing pages was a bit of a drag. I had to make my pages manually in the dashboard. Then, on the editing menu, I picked that the link will lead to "Page I Choose", and finally, I was allowed to pick the one that I needed.
And then, in order to customize a specific page, I had to go back to my dashboard, find the page that I created, and open the Customizer from there.
That's just a bit unintuitive and uses way too many clicks.
Overall, the SmugMug Customizer is neither all too powerful, nor too customizable. It tries to minimize the possible design mess-ups – and it does – but at the end of the day, I found a few things that could've been done better.
SmugMug's site editor is barely a third of the battle. The dashboard is where you'll be spending most of your time. And at first, everything might seem just a little bit overwhelming.
When you land on the SmugMug dashboard, you are going to see several tabs available in the top menu. These are “Upload”, “Photos”, “Organize”, “Photo Site”, and – if you're using one of the eCommerce-capable plans, “Selling Tools”.
The “Upload” button is how you upload your photos on the platform ("Could've guessed that one," you scoffed). Once you click on it, you are going to see several options available.
You can either create a new gallery, upload your photos in an already existing one, or even upload several folders at once. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the bulk upload feature as it saves time and energy when building a photography website.
Additionally, you can install an upload app (for both Windows and Mac OS computers), or you can use Lightroom, Dropbox, or Lightroom, Flickr, Amazon Drive, and your mobile phone to add photos to the galleries.
Honestly, there's everything. Whatever photo editing flow you use, you can easily integrate SmugMug to it. This was certainly one of the highlights of this SmugMug review.
The second tab, “Photos” is where you get an overview of all the photos uploaded to the platform.
Furthermore, as your library grows bigger, the search bar at the top becomes increasingly useful. There are also options to choose different filtering and sorting options to find the right pictures.
Now – the Organize tab is where you'll be able to make and keep track of all pages, galleries, and folders that you have.
Yes, this is where you need to go to make your website a page. It's right here, under the option for "Web Page".
A separate organization zone for all the pages and photographs is actually a pretty nifty idea.
Different pictures will have different purposes – some of them might be for displaying on one of your pages. Some might be for your specific clients, and others could be there for printing and selling. This is where you can set up various preferences.
There's plenty: Basics allow you can add a description of the galleries, as well as keywords, and the featured image. The Security and sharing tab is for changing access to your galleries. Photo protection is where various image protection tools can be turned on – these include the right-click message protection, watermarks, and turning the download buttons on or off.
Furthermore, the Social tab serves to change sharing settings and to enable or disable comments. The Shopping tab allows choosing whether someone can buy the photos. There are also gift-wrapping settings, as well as personal delivery information that can be added. If you are looking to sell your images, you will spend some time setting up this tab.
Last but not least, the Appearance tab is where you can choose between different SmugMug gallery styles, change thumbnails, cover image, sorting order, and many other gallery appearance settings.
The Photo Site option will send you directly to your website, and allow to edit it with the Customizer.
And for some of the more monied people out there, the final option will be the “Selling Tools” tab.
This tab features all of the selling tools the platform has to offer. You can manage price lists, coupons, packages, events, branding, and manage finances. Also, you get a clear overview of your sales history. It is the go-to place for managing all your selling settings.
Overall, SmugMug might be a little bit complicated to use. Some things, like making and editing pages, are limited. And as for website editing, you simply don't get all that many things that you can do. And while photo upload and organizing tools are certainly excellent, there are some things that can be improved.
- How many templates? – the platform offers 26 templates, all heavily focused on the images.
- How do they look like? – all templates feature a minimalist design and highlight the images on all devices.
- How much do they cost? – nothing, but the Basic option only gives access to the Classic theme. For other templates, pick a Power plan or higher.
SmugMug offers 26 templates to its users. You can happily use them all – as long as you use a Power plan or higher. Here's what they look like!
They're pretty good – focused entirely on images, and keeping the rest of the website elements as minimal as possible.
However, the Basic plan limits you only to this theme: which is quite similar to other options, but also lacks some of their flair.
So yeah – I'm not falling head over heels here. SmugMug templates are alright and will do a good job displaying your lovely images to the lovely visitors. There aren't too many of them, though. And I'm still slightly bitter about the fact that 25 out of 26 templates are sitting under a paywall. Enter at your own risk.
SmugMug business features
- Selling online –a $32/month Portfolio plan is required in order to sell online. The dashboard allows you to easily set all the relevant features for your store.
- Marketing and SEO – SmugMug comes with SEO-optimized websites. Advanced marketing features are available on a $50/month “Pro” plan only.
- Analytics – the platform comes with in-build analytics and statistics. Visitor behavior monitoring is also included.
This part of my SmugMug review will solely focus on the platform’s business features. These include eCommerce, SEO, analytics, as well as social media integration followed by email marketing.
After spending a lot of time with these features, I liked what I’ve had the chance to see. Let’s explore them one by one.
You can use both of the eCommerce-capable SmugMug plans to sell your photos and videos as digital downloads, or sell their rights. You can also get them printed on wall art, paper prints, photo books, and various little keepsakes.
SmugMug will act as an intermediary between you, the buyer, and the photo labs – you just have to pick what products do you want to sell, and the buyer will receive them once they purchase. You won't need to handle anything or do any shipping-related chores.
Basically, there's plenty that you can do to monetize your art, with you doing as little as possible.
What makes the platform really shine is the Price List feature. With it, you can select a set of galleries, or photos and customize their pricing. The platform will provide you with a Starter Price List, so you can get the idea of what it is.
Furthermore, you can click on the “Create New” button to make your own customized Price List.
You first get to choose some basic settings such as picking a lab partner and determining the currency. If you have to experience selling, my suggestion is to leave things here as they are – the prices here will be optimized for both good value and profit.
The next section, on the other hand, is where things get more interesting.
That is where you choose what your Pricelist is going to include. Therefore, you can accurately determine what products your visitors are going to be able to get. The platform already features straightforward pricing data, but you can customize it to your liking.
When it comes to Price Lists, there is a big change between the “Portfolio” and “Pro” plan: with the lower-priced plan, you can only set one Price List to be active sitewide.
Contrarily, on the $50 plan, you are going to be able to keep as many Price Lists active as you like. Making it possible to completely customize your galleries, their prices, and what they offer.
Also, a very important feature that is available only with the “Pro” plan is collaboration.
You can share access to your site with other people, enabling you to work with a team.
To conclude, the platform lets you sell online quite well. It's going to be really useful for photographers who don't have a lot of experience selling and just want a simple, automated way to monetize their art.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Visibility of your website is essential for your organic traffic. SmugMug offers some basic functionality when it comes to SEO – but there isn't much.
To start off your optimization journey, you should first head over to the account settings. (Hmmmm, that doesn’t make much sense, does it?)
You can find the settings in the top right corner of the SmugMug dashboard – under the Discovery tab.
Here it's very simple to add and edit homepage meta descriptions and meta keywords. These are the crucial elements for making your website discoverable, and looking good in the search engine results.
Also, turn Google search visibility on, as well as SmugMug search visibility. This is also the place to add the site meta title and verify the site’s ownership with Google Webmaster Tools.
Taking these steps will immediately grow your website’s authority, as Google and other search engines will be able to index your website.
However, that is not all, as there's one more thing to consider. In the Organize section, it's possible to add SEO keywords, featured images, and meta information to galleries, folders, and photos.
It isn't much – but enough to make a difference. If you don't have a massive deal of experience in SEO, just making sure everything's turned on and named properly should be perfectly fine.
One of the features that SmugMug offers is detailed analytics. I like what I saw in this department. You can acquire plenty of information about your visitors on the platform, making it easier for you to improve conversion rates.
For those curious about such data, just head over to the account settings, and click on the “Stats” tab.
Here, the platform shows total views, gallery trends, gallery details, photo trends, popularity, and referrers. An overview like this clearly shows how each of your photos is performing. Over time, you can learn what kinds of images do well in terms of views and sales. That can help you drive more sales to your online photography store.
For instance, clicking "Details" next to the Photo Views will lead you to this page:
You can see photo views, comments, share emails and see the number of your uploads. But you can go much, much deeper than that. On top of SmugMug's default feed, you'll also get Google Analytics implementation as well as StatCounter support.
These two tools will greatly help you deeply understand your visitors’ behavior.
Overall, I liked what analytics were included with SmugMug. There are plenty of tools that you are going to be able to use to grow your photography eCommerce site.
SmugMug enables you to add a contact form to your website. With this feature available, you can start growing your newsletter list. With provided permission by the users, you can use their contact information to add them to your newsletter.
All of your email contacts will be seen in the “Contacts” tab in the Account Settings. Sadly, there is no way to add contacts through an exported file: they will either have to sign up for contacting on your website, or you'll need to add them one-by-one manually.
However, I really enjoyed that you can choose which contacts are going to have special access to specific galleries. That’s a great way to offer unique images to some of your newsletter members!
Overall, looking at SmugMug business features, I have no issues calling them "basic". But that's in no way a criticism! SmugMug doesn't offer too much – but if you're looking to sell your images as digital downloads, or prints, and need the easiest way to do it, SmugMug might very well be the solution.
Website builders aren't usually very fast. And for SmugMug, which heavily relies on displaying a lot of images at once, I expected the load times and the overall site optimization to be a little bit lacking.
In order to see how good or bad SmugMug is in terms of optimization, I ran my very own test site through GTMetrix, which measures the page's and the overall platform's speed.
For this, I ran two tests. This is how the website looked with only a few images and one carousel:
And this is what the performance looks like when I positively STUFF the website with pictures.
That does look worse, but really, SmugMug performance is actually quite good. It does take around 2 second to even see the website load, which might irritate some of the less patient users of your site. But overall, a 3 second load time is exactly meeting Google's recommended threshold for websites. And so, website's load time on SmugMug should not be a problem.
This SmugMug review explained a few things. For you, maybe I ended up explaining this SmugMug isn't the answer you've been looking for all along. Well then, let's try again huh?
These are some of the top alternatives to SmugMug – and here's why.
Wix has over 700 templates, all available to each of the users. Some of them are photography-related, too – so you can try and replicate SmugMug's photo-friendly look. And while it's not a photography-based platform, there are plenty of excellent features and plugins for printing, dropshipping, and digital downloads. It might take a while to get used to – but as a platform, Wix is incredibly versatile and powerful, so give it a shot.
Squarespace offers excellent templates that focus on visuals. Which rules, if you're a photographer. On top of that, this platform binds all of the sales, marketing, and website building features together in one simple package. If you wish to have a wonderful-looking photography website and sell a few things in the process, Squarespace is for you.
If you want a portfolio website, Zenfolio will be an easy-to-use and affordable SmugMug alternative. The only photographer platform on this list, Zenfolio has actually just released its new Portfolio platform. I tried it, I reviewed it, and it rules. So, if a portfolio's what you're looking for, give it a spin.
SmugMug review – final verdict
SmugMug can be a great option for both amateur and professionals. It is a platform specifically aimed at photographers who want a simple design for their eCommerce website with plenty of business and marketing features.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for more customizability, this platform's totally not for you. There are only 26 templates available, and you can't edit all that much. Even after getting all of the advanced editing features, available with the more expensive plan. And the platform is so unique, it will require a bit of work before you can learn the ropes and glide through it with no issues.
That being said, I see what SmugMug is trying to do. Some people will love it as a photo storage and sharing platform. Some will use it to run a business and sell their work: either as digital downloads or as prints. And finally, some will aim straight in the middle, doing a little bit of both, or maybe just using it to make a portfolio website.
SmugMug offers something for every type of photographer. If you want a simple, photography-centered solution, and can live with some of the platform's quirks, SmugMug will be a great companion.
And of course – if you wish to make a SmugMug review of your own, check out the available free trial. It's 14 days, with no credit card required!
Is SmugMug worth the money?
SmugMug may be a little expensive. But it's worth the money, especially with the discount on the annual plan. This makes building a simple photography website rather cheap.
Does SmugMug support RAW files?
No, SmugMug supports JPG, PNG, and GIF files only. RAW files will not be uploaded.
Which is better, SmugMug or Zenfolio?
Both SmugMug and Zenfolio offer very similar photography-centered features, such as limited-access galleries and photos and right-click copy protection. The main differences between the builders are the SEO options and the price – Zenfolio is the better option in both categories with better SEO tools and lower prices.
Does SmugMug compress photos?
Photos will not be compressed if you choose not to. There is an option to keep the photos at their best possible quality and original resolution.
Can you edit photos in SmugMug?
SmugMug allows to add a watermark on the pictures, as well as add titles, add color effects, crop, rotate, and do other basic level photo editing.
Is SmugMug safe?
SmugMug is secure and easy to use – it is a great option to store photos and videos because of its automatic backups and unlimited storage.
Is SmugMug free?
SmugMug does not offer a free plan – the cheapest SmugMug option costs $11.00 a month.