Review of the New SmugMug

My New SmugMug Site 
(4:3 Screen)
I love SmugMug.  I've used it for years, and I've always believed it to be the best photo-hosting service around. I was using Flickr before, but I hated the Flickr look--white background, ads, and the sets and collections thing never really made much sense to me.  So I bought a SmugMug account and never looked back.  A couple years ago I put a lot of effort in to customizing my SmugMug site.  I combed the internet for html code to paste into various sections of my site to make it look more professional--a clean interface with a banner, slideshow, and a menu to take you to my galleries. I was very happy.  So you can imagine my concern when SmugMug announced that they were overhauling everything.  All my customized work would would be wiped out when the new SmugMug took effect.  I was more than just a little apprehensive about the transition. But I'm proud to say that they got it right in just about every way possible.  My favorite photo-hosting service is now even better.

What Makes the New SmugMug Great
I love the new SmugMug for several reasons, but I'll limit myself to just seven.  These are the features that have me hooked on SmugMug.

I mentioned before that I had spent hours scouring the internet and SmugMug help forums looking for code to make my sight look more snazzy.  There was a lot to find, and the SmugMug help forums had a lot to offer, but not knowing web programming, it took hours of work over several weeks to get my sight looking the way I wanted.  And if I wanted to change something, I had to make sure that I didn't break the code that I'd already pasted into the site.  When I began playing with the new SmugMug, I found that none of this extra work was necessary.  They offer several great looking templates to choose from, and just about everything is customizable.  I created my new sight in well under an hour, with all the customizations that took me weeks to do before, and I didn't have to paste in any code. And I can make as many new looks to my site as I want.  I can create a new one, keeping the old one live, try it out hidden from public view, and see if I like it. Then I can make it live whenever I want.  I can save multiple of these and switch between them at will.

Here's a Possible New Site I'm Working On
(4:3 Screen)
SmugMug now has a drag and drop photo-organizer. The organizer view lets yous see your entire hierarchy of folders, and you can drag and drop photos between these folders. You can delete photos you don't like any more, and you can add photos from your computer as well.  I have lots of old photos on my site. My favorite type of photography right now is wildlife photography, so I'm always looking for new species to photograph.  When I photograph a new species, even if I'm unable to get a great photo, I still sometimes upload the photo to SmugMug.  I want to show the photo on eBird or my blog as photo-evidence that it was in a given location.  As time goes by, I have no reason to keep them anymore, but they're still clogging up my site.  The organizer lets me comb through my folders and delete photos or even just hide them from public view. I need to get working on that.

Organizing Photos in SmugMug (16:9 screen)
Lightroom Plugin
The Lightroom plugin works great. It duplicates my folder structure on SmugMug, and it lets me sync photos both ways.  In other words, if I delete a photo on SmugMug, that change will be reflected in the gallery folder in Lightroom (the original photo will still remain on my hard drive). To upload photos from Lightroom, I just drag the photos I want into the SmugMug folder I want, and it takes care of uploading them to my site.

SmugMug Plugin for Lightroom 5
Smart Folders and Galleries
I love smart folders and galleries.  I use a lot of keywords in Lightroom, and SmugMug can use them to populate folders and galleries.  For instance, I always tag my wildlife photos with species and location.  I tag landscapes with location and subject (trees, flowers, etc).  Then, using these tags, I create smart folders to organize my photos by my keywords.  For instance, I have a folder Animals, and inside that folder I have five folders: Insects, Spiders, Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians. Inside Insects I have four folders: Butterflies & Moths, Dragonflies & Damselflies, Grasshoppers & Catidids, and Flies & Bees.  Within Butterflies & Moths, I have galleries for all the butterfly species I've photographed.  So when I tag a photo "Zebra Swallowtail," it automatically shows up in that gallery.  I upload all my photos directly to a folder for the date I took the photo (such as Daily Shoots | 2013 | 08-29).  I let smart folders take care of the rest.  The same Zebra Swallowtail butterfly photo will appear in the gallery for the species and the gallery for that date, for the location of the butterfly and the name of the species.

Smart Galleries Populated by Lightroom's Keyword Tags
Mobile App
The great folks at SmugMug have purchased the SmugFolio app and made it their own.  It's now just called SmugMug, and it's a great, free app. You can set it to download your photos to your tablet or phone for quick access, but I don't do that. I have way to many photos in my account for that.

SmugMug on Kindle Fire HD (captured with my cell phone)
Mobile View 
Your SmugMug site also looks good on mobile browsers.  So far I've only encountered one issue  I've placed a pretty long menu bar at the top of my site, and on my phone it appears vertically and takes up a lot of space on my phone's browser (Google Chrome).

No Ads
Not a single one. Need I say more?

Room for Improvement
With these features, SmugMug is really in a different class of photo-hosting sites than you'll find with either Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket and pretty much every other site I've looked at extensively.  But there is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to photo-sharing.  Here's my list of improvements for SmugMug.

  1. No Free Account: There's no free option with SmugMug. You can't try a free version and then realize its worth paying for a full version.  You either pay to join or you use Flickr (or something else).  It's no wonder that most people host their photos elsewhere. The minimum charge for SmugMug is $40/year, which is pretty cheap for what you get, but just the thought of needing to pay to host your photos is offensive for some.
  2. Social Interaction:  SmugMug lags behind Flickr, and probably several other sites, in their social components, especially interaction and social network integration. SmugMug has far fewer users than Flickr.  If you have photographer friends, they are probably on Flickr, but they are probably not on SmugMug, so SmugMug simply can't compete when it comes to social interaction with other photographers.  I still maintain a Flickr account for this very reason, and with my minimal efforts there, I get more interaction than I do on SmugMug.  SmugMug could also improve their ability to share photos and galleries to Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
  3. Smart Folder Sluggishness: With the old SmugMug it used to be that when I uploaded photos with tags, the photos immediately populated all the folders they were supposed to populate.  Now it seems to take a fair amount of time, and sometimes I have to go into the gallery's rules and refresh them.  I suspect this is a temporary glitch left over from the overhaul of the interface, and in fact, I've already seen improvement.  But I'd love for it to be instantaneous again.
  4. Blog Integration:  This may be out of SmugMug's hands, but it would be great to make it so that when you click on a photo on my blog, it could open up the photo to full size (or full screen) without taking you to my SmugMug site, or at least have a button that puts you back where you were.