SmugMug vs. Shutterfly Pro Gallery

In the Beginning:

I started selling event photos right around two years ago. When I made the decision to do it, I needed to act pretty quickly. I'd been doing primarily contract work and I'd had no experience with the ins and outs of event sales.

As I went to look for that first service to use (I sure wasn't going to go make the prints, then mail them – a logistics nightmare), I went with a pretty common name at the time – Shutterfly. They had a great reputation with fulfillment of personal users' orders, seemed to have a good price structure, and I knew early I needed the pro level with the unlimited storage. I pulled the trigger and was pretty happy overall with the service I received.

There were some issues early that I wasn't too happy with – but I was hopeful that Shutterfly would respond to the input from their pro usrs as I felt that my suggestions were going to be the same things that other pros want: 1) better customization to get the look/feel of Shutterly's site to match the look of a Pro's "main" site; 2) The ability to sell image downloads online; and 3) the ability to put bib numbers into the system so that events w/ bib numbers could easily find their photos.

As Time Went by:

After some discussion with the head of the pro gallery for Shutterfly some things did change. They launched a forum for Pro users to discuss things and to receive news about what Shutterfly had in the works. They launched a carry over from the shutterfly personal sites for the pro users – a more attractive "main" page that would only let you post galleries - but not let you sell images from those pages – you still had to funnel folks to the usual pro gallery pages. Changes came, slowly and not in areas that meant the most to me.

Finally – a month ago – about 4 weeks before I had to make a decision – they announced in an email that they were going to open up the ability for customers to buy digital images. But this, like the landing page, left me wanting more. Their catch? Customers could only copy image files over to their personal Shutterfly accounts. They could not download a file themselves.

This makes sense in one way – the photog will know that the user can't get the full res file and can't mis-use the file and not pay royalties.  On the flip side – it isn't getting the customer what they really want – the file. Perhaps I put a wee bit too much faith in my customers; but I do think I may not offer full res images for all my events – some of my better shots may only be avail as prints – but I do now have options.

The Search Begins:

Well – with none of my three key things addressed, I began a search a few weeks back to review other options. Since I launched with Shutterfly – I had seen write ups about numerous other photo sharing services. Some have since gone under (I read about it) others I either dreamed up or just can't find, or they went out of business again too. One that struck me as a nice option was a service that had you pay for storage as you added data – but that you would never pay for that storage again. Seemed like it may have been better than $200/year (Shutterfly's rate) or other renewal fees.

Speaking of fees – Shutterfly will waive your renewal fee (of $200) if you exceed a $2,500 of profit via their site – which is a nice perk if you can hit that level – but I don't make event sales the main component of my photography. Contract work is a much more lucrative avenue than event photography and I do the event work more to give back to the velodrome and cycling community – not as a main moneymaker.

I soon (from web recommendations and those from a few friends) looked into SmugMug, the free 14 day trial had me setting up a prototype site with SmugMug.

Short version – I'm going to stay with SmugMug and the "shop" link above will take you to my new sales site. I've posted a few galleries, and will post both view only and sale galleries there moving forward. I've also posted a HD time lapse movie that I did as a testing of their video hosting capabilities.

All About Branding:

The fact that my site is now uniform, that my site, blog, gallery and sales site all have the same style banner, uniform header links, etc – is the biggest early win. Take a look at these two examples – which one looks more professional? The first is a Shutterfly pro gallery – the first page you see after entering the gallery – the second is what my new SmugMug site looks like.



Which one do you think uses the common larger monitor sizes more efficiently? Both screen shots were from a 1280 x 1024 monitor. The SmugMug site does a great job with resizing and adjusting the size of the preview and thumbnails without having to re-load the page. The Shutterfly site just looks old school.

The customization process was easy to get the major things done, but I did have to lean on my geeky side (years in the IT industry) to be able to get down to the details. I will most likely do some posts on where to find some of the trickier things. The custom watermarks? Really easy, and I think a great touch to the site.

More Than Just a Pretty Face:

The larger selection of print formats, high quality Giclee prints, panorama printing options, framed canvas prints, and so on, and so on, and so on!

Digital downloads – and (tho I most likely will never use it) – the option to sell commercial use license downloads as well. The "personal use" downloads come in three resolutions – 1meg, 4meg and original resolution – and I can set prices for (and choose to offer or not) each of these sizes. As for the commercial license download – I'd use a stock photography for my stock stuff, and I want to keep my finger on the commercial use of my editorial and other photos.

Video posting as well – the "pro" level with SmugMug gets you 720p HD file hosting for files up to 5 min in length.

Compatibility w/ some mobile devices as well – I'm far from an iPhone a-holic, but the fact that there is a way to view galleries and hosted video on an iPhone (and most likely the iPod Touch – tho I've not tried that yet) has me wondering if I can get an iPhone to work off my blackberry server… hmmm….


I'm stoked about SmugMug so far – I'll soon (I hope) see how their payment structure works (shutterfly was great on this – prompt bank transfers every month). I also have some prints coming in from the pro lab from SmugMug (tho you can choose to get prints from a highly rated pro-sumer lab), I'll let you know how well that works too. Till then – I'll be fleshing out my new shopping site – arranging the galleries that show on the main page.

Hey – if you want to give SmugMug a shot – you can get a discount by clicking hereand then signing up. Oh, and don't hesitate to ask setup/config questions – more than happy to help.

Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “SmugMug vs. Shutterfly Pro Gallery”

  1. Great review. I am researching and started to lean towards SmugMug, but wanted to hear a personal point of view. I’m sold – it will be SmugMug for me. Thanks for a great review. It was extremely helpful.

  2. Hello! I enjoyed reading your review. I am currently signed up for a trial account with smugmug and looking into all the customizations possible before I commit. Is this whole site now on smugmug? I’m pretty good with HTML, but don’t know much else. I’ve looked at the customization links on smugmug and feel like I need more. Is there a good resource online somewhere that you may have found? I have 8 more days of my trial before I have to pay. Thanks for your time!

  3. Dorene,
    Since I wrote this, SmugMug has added a few new features to their site which makes me even more glad I switched. Coupons, and packages… after almost a year, I’ve yet to have an issue with printing quality, order timing etc… SmugMug does great work. I’ve been assisting a fellow shooter get his website going on SM – – all his race updates as well as his photo print galleries are via SmugMug – he does photo mug sales too – and has been shipping worldwide w/ very happy customers. But I digress…
    To answer your question. There were two different help sections of the SmugMug help that I used. The customization stuff helped some; getting the add in called “fire-bug” for Firefox helped me find which specific css tags I needed to change to get my colors to all the little detail places; and lastly (but not leastly) the help email at smugmug… click that help link and send them an email… they are correct when they say their support heroes will be back in touch quickly with great info.
    I’m glad you found the review helpful, and I guess thanks for the compliment about asking if this whole site is on smugmug…
    To be honest – it is on four different servers. SmugMug handles the “shop” link in my header; this blog is a TypePad blog that I took a swing at customizing a year or so back – I need to re-visit to clean up some category nav stuff; the main page and other pages (well – not the “gallery” link) are all on one of my servers which is Microsoft Windows based; and finally, the gallery is run on another server that is linux based – to run the fluid galleries gallery. Luckily I knew enough about flash on a page that I could put my header above their stuff and make it look the way I wanted…
    With customization to all four sets of servers, folks won’t ever notice (hopefully) that they’ve switched servers as they visit this site…
    Let me know if you have any other questions.
    – Will

  4. Hi – excellent review and just what I was looking for! I’m setting up a sales site for a small kids non-profit, and it needs to be easy to use. How does Smugmug stack up against Shutterfly in ease of set up and use?

  5. Vaughn – I’ve not been in the shutterfly site for a while now, but I was reviewing their signup recently and didn’t see much (if any) change to their system.
    The catch 22 here is that Shutterfly is simple to setup because they don’t (or didn’t) have many things you could do to modify/change in your “pro gallery” area. You could create sections and sub-sections, make some password protected, etc; but it was all pretty basic stuff.
    As for uploads, etc – I like the SmugMug method of having a few different ways to upload via a web browser, and now they offer plug-ins or are integrated directly with popular photo editing software. During this off season I’m going to try their Lightroom direct upload plugin. Great to be able to save a step or three in the process; when doing this over a week long pro bike race, or even a local event, every step saved adds up quickly.
    SmugMug has a few different ways you can use it. Think easy, medium, and advanced. The easy is to pick one of their templates and you’re off and running. Their medium method gives you easy ways to change details within your site. The advanced allows you to (as I did) thoroughly customize to the point that most folks woluld never know they’ve left my “main” server to view images on SmugMug’s servers.
    SmugMug’s online help is amazingly detailed, and their “support heroes” are aptly named; Quick to respond with good answers.
    SmugMug also has great “social networking” components (note the “tweet” and facebook “like” buttons below each pic), as well as having the option to enable visitor comments for your photos.
    Also – since this review, SmugMug has added packages, personalization of packaging, and coupons. They’ve also recently added a feature called “printmarks” – a way to have a digitized signature appear in a corner of a print. I may explore this as a way to add an event’s logo to event photography. I know triathletes love to get pics from every event, and to have the logo/date on them is a plus. While on Shutterfly – they were slow with new features and when some were released, they didn’t work well with
    Again – I’ve not really dug into Shutterfly of late, but I don’t know if they have these features…
    Let me know if you have other questions.
    – Will

  6. Smug mug is a good site until it comes to paying you for your sales of under 500 dollars then it is a pain in the ass ,, I bn with Smug for about 8 years and with the recession like it is, I need to get paid each month regardless if i make 500 bucks or more or only 10 bucks or more .. if you are under 500 you got to search out a toggle button in your pro folder and click it to pay you after the 8th of the following month ,,,

  7. I use both. I have been doing calendars for many years with Shutterfly and recently ordered the same one from Smug. The quality of the Shutterfly calendar product continues to be far superior. The print quality from Smugmug was not at all up to par.

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