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Goodbye Flickr, hello SmugMug

After working with Flickr and Adobe Portfolio, here are some thoughts on why I chose SmugMug.

Two years ago I wrote about how I chose Picturelife to backup my photographs. The service was good, the value for money was good too, but Picturelife was a small company that, as its users were informed by e-mail sometime around mid-2016, was planning to shut down soon.

The team at Picturelife had been kind enough to offer me 20GB of free storage data in response to my article about them, right around the time I began using their product. Needless to say I had invested my time in it and had close to a year’s worth of photographs backed up when I first heard the bad news: not only was Picturelife shutting down, but I also had no way of retrieving my photographs.

I did not like what was happening, but none of us users had a say in this anyway. While I am not attached to my photographs in a manner that would leave a deep wound in me should I lose them, I certainly do value them immensely. I had happened to, for some weird reason (in hindsight), also save these photographs to my Flickr, so Picturelife shutting down did not bother me at all.

Shortly afterwards, I got a pleasantly surprising e-mail: SmugMug was offering a way for Picturelife customers to transfer their old photos to SmugMug’s servers and download them from there. They could make use of SmugMug’s 14-day trial period to do so for free. If SmugMug was an individual, we would decisively call this philanthropy.

Whether SmugMug’s intention was to draw new customers or whether they genuinely wanted to help people out without hurting their own profits is fodder for another debate, but what they did was an excellent halfway point. People would get their photos back and SmugMug would have a new bunch of potential users testing their product out. I was not one of them, but I was impressed. I had heard a lot of good things about SmugMug, but to see this in action was like watching the proverbial icing being poured on a cake.

Sometime in December of 2016, Yahoo! got hacked. This would be the second time in two years: five-hundred million accounts compromised the first time, one billion the next. Not the sort of improvement you would want to see. This got me thinking about whether keeping my Flickr account was worth it. As a platform, Flickr had seemed stagnant over the last few years; as a place to store photographs, Flickr seemed to be resting on its laurels. Flickr was good, but there were better options in 2017.

All of this came at an apt time. Following my trip to Europe I had ended up with tens of thousands of photographs that were painfully hard to upload without giving them more time than I could spare. Flickr did not make things easy: I had let my Pro account lapse on purpose and Flickr made its desktop batch uploading programme a “feature” of the paid account. So, as I outlined in my penultimate article of ’16, I was looking for a solid re-working of my photography workflow that would streamline the process and be at least as effective as my current approach while also being considerably more efficient.

Not long after, I realised I had two options before me: Zenfolio and SmugMug. I had long been looking at the former and hoped to join someday, but never saw it as much more than an overblown WordPress site. I did end up trying it once about a year ago and found out that I was wrong, but I did not see what Zenfolio could do that I could not do with a combination of my personal website and Flickr. With Flickr out of the equation now I realised that WordPress was inadequate as a photography portfolio that could be setup and maintained easily. It could be done, but it would demand time and effort while not being as easy as a dedicated photography management solution.

To be honest, I opted for SmugMug primarily because its Power account gave me more features than the lowest tier Zenfolio account for the same annual price. For my use and requirements SmugMug offered the best package in terms of cost and features, and, as I would soon realise, tools and user experience. But as I worked to set up my portfolio, it became clear that even if Zenfolio had a free tier, I would still go with SmugMug.

If I had to describe SmugMug in only two words, they would be ‘powerful’ and ‘convenient’. I am not a fan of the name, but that does not stop me from recognising that one of SmugMug’s strengths is that it offers tools that are easy to use while not being useless, as so many easy to use things are. The backend, where so much of the management goes on, works smoothly despite having several photographs to juggle around. The options offered on my Power account, while understandably less than those offered on higher tiers, are more than enough for my requirements: a decent platform on which to showcase my work with the option to sell prints being a helpful add-on rather than a core requirement.

As much as I hate to admit it, the fact that SmugMug offered to help save photos belonging to users of another company, with whatever small restrictions, makes me trust their commitment to keeping my own work safe. Undoubtedly, I will be backing my work up elsewhere, in private, and certainly somewhere not called Flickr, but SmugMug has so far been, at least, a peace of mind. It works beautifully, it looks wonderful, and it has all the capabilities I need. SmugMug is flexible and thoughtfully built and when you use the product, it shows.

It would be no exaggeration to say that I have never been this happy with the way I manage my portfolio before, or the way it looks. Adobe Portfolio, which I used to use before because it comes bundled with my Creative Cloud subscription, erred on the side of not providing enough free cloud storage space. In this day and age, 2GB is a joke. I could use Behance, and I had to, to workaround the storage limit, but Behance, for some weird reason, seems to keep getting blocked by my ISP every other week. The point is, Adobe Portfolio is a good alternative but keeps holding itself back for absolutely no reason at all.

You can visit my portfolio now (or through the permanent link at the top of this page) and take a look at a small selection of my photographs, made over three years from 2013 to 2015. More recent works will be updated as and when I get to developing newer photographs, so, if you like what you see, bookmark the website and keep re-visiting it for new work that I will be putting up over the course of this year. And, as always, to my readers and viewers: thank you for all your continued support.

Read more essays in the journal