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Reviews and expert opinion SmugMug

Abi Carter Abi Carter Website Development Expert

SmugMug claims to be an all-in-one solution for photographers looking to set up an online portfolio and sell their work. For the most part, it does exactly that.

Although customization is a bit limited, SmugMug’s monetization options are simple and useful. And SmugMug’s unlimited storage is virtually unmatched at this price point – allowing it to easily stand out from the crowd.

Overview

Does SmugMug’s Targeted Focus Make It a Perfect Fit or Just Limited?

Whether you’re snapping pictures for play or profit, as a photographer you’ll need an online portfolio. SmugMug has focused exclusively on this niche, offering an all-in-one solution loaded with features for photographers and including e-commerce tools.

So it must be the obvious choice for you, right?

The thing is, all major website builders pay attention to the photography niche, and they’re often pretty good at it. They offer slick portfolio templates and intuitive site editors. So do you really need a builder that’s only for photographers?

I tested SmugMug with that concern in mind, and I have to say – it definitely challenged my initial skepticism. I discovered that even though SmugMug struggles in the templates department, it has a lot of unique and practical features for photographers that other builders don’t.

For example – SmugMug offers unlimited photo storage and partners directly with print shops to make selling your work hassle-free.

But while I’m definitely impressed by SmugMug, it’s not perfect: not only does it have relatively few templates, but site customization is a bit limited too. So read on to find out who I recommend SmugMug for, and whether you should look elsewhere.

Keep in mind that SmugMug is available all over the world (though only in English), and comes with a 14-day free trial for the hesitant.

Templates

4.1

SmugMug Has Good-Looking Templates – Just Not Many Of Them

SmugMug offers 26 well-designed, mobile-responsive templates (that it refers to as “designs”). They look good, with a minimalist vibe that puts images front-and-center. As portfolio templates, they all fulfill the purpose of making your photos look as good as possible.

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Most SmugMug templates are equally good. Hover over to see one of my favorites.

A library of 26 designs might sound small compared to the template selections of larger competitors (Wix, for example, has hundreds of templates), but that’s because SmugMug is just targeting a specific niche.

So while it’s not an enormous template selection, there are enough options to suit most areas of photography – from food and lifestyle photography to family portraits, and plenty in-between. You can also freely switch between different templates without losing your edits.

However, there’s a downside to SmugMug’s template offering: 25 of these layouts are only available on the three highest-tier plans. If you opt for the cheapest plan (Basic), you’re stuck with the Classic template as your only choice.

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SmugMug’s Classic template is okay, but looks a bit like a Facebook profile.

It’s the same story when it comes to customization. You can make some edits to your Classic design on the Basic plan, but for the full range of options – including the ability to upload custom fonts, make HTML or CSS edits, and more advanced color selection – you need to upgrade to a higher tier.

With that said, the full range of customization options isn’t huge, even on the more expensive plans.

You can add content blocks (like text blocks, galleries, or videos), and move them around with the drag-and-drop editor, but you can’t resize them or reposition photos within content blocks. Most customization settings are for site-wide changes, rather than individual page elements.

The good news is that all SmugMug templates are automatically optimized for different screen sizes, so your photos will look good on any device. SmugMug’s editor lacks a mobile preview option, but because the templates are already optimized for mobile, it’s not such a big deal.

Explore SmugMug Templates

Features

4.8

SmugMug Offers a Lot to Make Life Easy for Photographers

The selection of content blocks you can add to your site is a bit basic. Aside from images, you can add: videos, text blocks, visitor comments, forms, HTML/CSS, search boxes, keyword clouds, maps, and Google calendars.

Other features on offer include:

  • SEO tools: You can make basic SEO edits to things like page titles and meta tags.
  • Built-in stats and analytics: So you get tons of information on your site’s visitors.
  • In-app editing tools: Lets you to make tweaks to your photos in the SmugMug app.
  • Password protection: You can restrict access to sensitive galleries so only certain clients can view them.

But when it comes to photographer-specific features, SmugMug has a lot to boast about. Let’s look at some of these in greater detail.

Photo Storage Galore (Plus Security)

Unlike most competing website builders, SmugMug provides truly unlimited photo and video storage (with zero image compression). You can upload photos up to 200MB each and 1080p videos up to 20 minutes in length.

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SmugMug promises some amazing photo storage features – and for the most part, it delivers.

If you use RAW files for your photoshoots, SmugMug has an optional RAW file management tool. It starts at just a few dollars a month for 512 GB (which is enough to host roughly 12,000 RAW files). It’s safer than relying on a hard drive, which could fail, and also streamlines the process of publishing RAW photos on your site.

Higher-tier plans let you protect your images by adding custom watermarks and disabling photo downloads.

For added security, SmugMug only ever displays a lower-resolution preview of images, with the full-size image stored securely on the server for when a visitor makes a purchase. (You can disable this, if you prefer to display full images.)

E-commerce Features for Selling Photos

SmugMug also makes selling your art easy, with just a 15-minute online store set-up process. SmugMug partners with print labs around the world, so you can sell a variety of objects – not only prints, but albums, mugs, aprons, playing cards, and more.

Because SmugMug connects you directly to suppliers, you can avoid the overhead costs of keeping a large inventory, and steer clear of the stress of making the prints yourself or sending all the packages.

A 15 percent markup is added to your sales, but SmugMug is very transparent about this.

You can start selling from the first tier, which is a relatively low price point compared to other builders’ e-commerce plans. However, you get more tools on the two highest tiers (Portfolio and Pro), like a bigger selection of print products, custom shopping carts, and separate client galleries.

With the Basic plan, you can only set one pricing structure across your whole website, whereas the Pro plan lets you assign different price lists to different galleries – which is useful if you decide to charge a higher margin for wedding shoots, or offer discounted prints to a friend.

Apps for Working on the Go

SmugMug’s mobile apps let you view, organize, edit, and secure your photos on the go. It’s handy if you’ve had a long day out shooting, and don’t have time to edit everything on your computer before it goes on your site.

SmugMug Review - Abi
Whatever device you’re using, SmugMug has an app for it.

You can also use the mobile and desktop apps to automatically upload photos from your phone or computer to your SmugMug account. Even if you don’t have any signal, your photos will automatically continue uploading when your connection resumes.

Lightroom Plugin

If you often use Adobe Lightroom, SmugMug’s Lightroom plugin could save you a lot of time. Once the plugin is installed, you can create and manage your SmugMug galleries from within Lightroom itself – even if you’re offline.

Plus, you can make sure that any gallery you create within Lightroom is automatically uploaded to SmugMug. Even better, if you decide to tweak a photo, those edits will automatically sync with your SmugMug gallery.

See full list of features

Ease of use

4.5

Easy Photo Uploads and E-commerce, but Editing Can Be Clunky

Most leading website builders prioritize ease of use, and this is where SmugMug struggles a little next to the competition. Some tasks I found to be super simple, while others were harder than they needed to be. Here’s how I got on:

Uploading Photos

Uploading your photos to SmugMug is simple and easy, and a setup wizard walks you through the process. Anytime you want to add more photos, you simply navigate to the “Photos” tab in your dashboard and click the green upload button.

smugmug-photos-upload
Uploading photos to SmugMug is as easy as you’d expect it to be.

After that, you are presented with multiple upload options. You can choose to upload files individually or in bulk from your computer, or to import straight from online photo-hosting services like Dropbox, Flickr, Google Photos, and Amazon Drive.

You can also import photos from your phone or tablet using the SmugMug app, as described earlier. You can then use SmugMug’s built-in file manager to organize them into galleries and folders, and even apply basic crops and edits.

Once your photos are uploaded, you’re presented with a list of options for your new gallery. I have to say, the first time around, the array of choices was a little overwhelming: I had to make decisions on everything from album viewing settings and photo sharing to shopping settings.

However, I soon realized that the settings can be easily returned to and updated at a later date. So while it’s a bit intense at first glance, the overall process is very easy.

Customizations and Edits

Customizing my website design took a little bit more getting used to. At times, I felt like things didn’t work the way I expected them to, and certain settings weren’t where I wanted them to be.

For instance: my initial site template included a menu with links to “Contact” and “About” pages, but it turned out those pages didn’t exist yet. So when I clicked on them, I was taken to a 404 error page.

The solution was to exit the site editor and use the dashboard to create the pages, which felt counterintuitive.

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Making edits with the site editor isn’t as simple as I would have liked.

Luckily, however, SmugMug does have an initial setup wizard that guides you through the basics of the editing screen with hints and prompts, and there’s a super-useful Help Center to solve any lasting troubles. It wasn’t long before I got my head around everything.

Setting Up E-commerce

Setting up your website to sell photo prints and products is much more straightforward. Because e-commerce functionality is built-in, you don’t need to add an online store section to your site. Instead, if you’ve enabled it, your visitors can click any picture on your site to see purchase options.

To set up selling, you need to navigate to “Selling tools” from your dashboard and create a price list for your photos. If you’re new to this, SmugMug will helpfully suggest a pricing structure that balances competitive margins with profit.

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If you’re unsure about your price list, you can let SmugMug handle it.

The price list set-up has a lot of options, which can be intimidating at first, but they’re mostly self-explanatory. You primarily need to choose what kinds of products you want to sell, set your profit margin and currency, and then you’re good to go.

Once you’re done with that, it’s like I said earlier: your site’s visitors can click on any of the photos covered by your pricing structure and choose to buy it. Depending on your plan, you can decide whether you want this pricing structure to apply sitewide or only to a specific gallery.

See if SmugMug is Right for You

Support

4.9

Highly Responsive Email and Live Chat Support

As I mentioned above, I ran into a couple of points of confusion during my testing, so on a few occasions I turned to the support center for help. And I’m pleased to say SmugMug actually offers pretty dependable customer support, in my experience.

First off, the most basic level of support is a searchable database of help articles, which cover everything from security issues to advice on selling prints. SmugMug also has a collection of video tutorials and the SmugMug School, which provides advice on running a photography business.

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I found the articles on SmugMug’s Help Center to be comprehensive and useful. 

If you can’t find an answer with those resources – or if you just don’t like sifting through articles – you can turn to either email or live chat support for help. The live chat hours vary, but emails are picked up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 364 days a year (you’ve got to give them Christmas off, bless them).

I know – next to instant messaging, email support sounds a bit lame. What if you have a client emergency at 5 AM? Filling in a contact form, crossing your fingers, and waiting for a reply does not sound reassuring.

smugmug-email-support
Contact forms fill me with dread. They scream, “You’ll wait forever for a response.
Well, it wasn’t 5 AM, but I sent off an email and sat back, waiting for my prejudices to be proven right. 10 minutes later, a response landed in my inbox! John’s first email didn’t fully answer my question, but when he responded to my follow-up question within another 10 minutes, he put my doubts to rest.

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Bless you, John, for putting my doubts about email support to rest.
After that, I wanted to see if the live chat was similarly responsive. On my first try testing the live chat, I was connected immediately to a “Support Hero” called Jen. She answered my question about SmugMug’s cancellation policy quickly and honestly, and didn’t at all sound like a bot.

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I was impressed with Jen’s honesty. No sales talk here.

Since everything seemed too good to be true, I tried again in the name of research. This time, I was number 1 in a queue, with an estimated wait time of two minutes.

But less than 30 seconds later, Josh joined the chat. It took a little longer for me to get an answer to my question, but to be fair, it was a more complicated query, and he was patient when replying to my follow-up questions. No complaints here.

Pricing

4.1

No Free Plan, but Plenty of Choices Otherwise

Instead of a free plan, SmugMug provides a 14-day free trial, and thereafter four different paid plans. While some of the competition, like Wix and Weebly, offer limited free plans, SmugMug is better if you’re willing to invest in your website – and planning to make money from it.

In addition, you can save quite a bit by signing up for an annual plan in advance. All major credit cards are accepted, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover.

As for what you get once you’ve subscribed – all plans come with unlimited photo storage, SEO tools, stats and analytics, and basic e-commerce tools.

smugmug-pricing-help
SmugMug helps you choose a plan by having you select your top features.

However, the Power plan (the second tier) is the bare minimum for a professional website, because it lets you connect a custom domain name. It also has more advanced customization options, and allows access to the full selection of templates.

If you want more powerful e-commerce tools, you’ll need to upgrade to the Portfolio plan (third tier). It allows you to sell thousands of prints, products, and digital downloads. Plus, you can customize your shopping cart and the backprints on your physical products.

Only the most expensive plan, Pro, lets you take full advantage of SmugMug’s suite of e-commerce tools. With it, you can add customizable price lists for specific galleries or images, photo packages and coupons, and even send your products with branded packaging and thank-you cards.

Cancellations & Refunds

If you change your mind about your subscription, canceling your SmugMug account is a quick and simple process. Simply navigate to your account settings by clicking your profile icon in the top right-hand corner, click the Subscription tab and click “Proceed” under “Close Account.”

account-cancellation-procedure
Closing your SmugMug account is easy – but be careful before you cancel.

A word of warning though: SmugMug doesn’t let you cancel your auto-renewal ahead of time. You simply shut down your account there and then, and if you’ve still got time left to run on your current subscription, that’s just bad luck.

For instance, if I paid for an annual subscription on January 1, 2021, and then decided to cancel on March 1, I would not be able to use my account for the remainder of the year; it would just disappear immediately. And a refund would not be offered for the unused time.

It’s an unusual policy, but you can always set a reminder to cancel your subscription later in the year – or pay on a month-to-month basis.

Comparison

How does SmugMug match up to the competition?

WixCompare4.9Compare
SquarespaceCompare4.8Compare
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SimpleSiteCompare2.5Compare

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SmugMug REVIEW: BOTTOM LINE

SmugMug makes monetizing your photos a breeze. It takes care of payment processing, printing and shipping, so you can just get on with your art. Plus, unlimited photo storage makes SmugMug a great solution for anyone looking to build an expansive portfolio.

SmugMug does have some flaws compared to its larger competitors – customization is more limited, and sometimes the interface can be clunky. But those are minor issues, especially compared to the benefits of having so many unique features for photographers.

FAQ

How do you create a website on SmugMug?All you have to do is sign up for SmugMug’s free trial. Then, upload your favorite photos, choose your preferred template design, and you’ll have the bare bones of a website to get started with. You can finish off the job by customizing your site’s design, adding more photos, and setting up e-commerce options.Is SmugMug worth the money?For photographers looking for a hassle-free, all-in-one solution that will take over all aspects of e-commerce from payment processing to posting, SmugMug is a great choice. Its photography-specific tools and unlimited photo storage also make it a good option for portfolio websites – especially large ones. But if you just want to build a small portfolio site, you may get more value for your money with other website builders. Check out our list of the best builders for photography portfolios for more options.Which SmugMug plan should I choose?It depends on what you’re hoping to get out of the platform. If you just want a place to store all of your photos, you can use the Basic plan. But for professional purposes, you’ll likely want a custom domain, and that means subscribing to at least the Power plan. Or, if you’re serious about making money from your photography, you’ll want the full suite of e-commerce tools included in the top two tiers – especially the Pro plan. Before you commit though, be sure to visit our coupons page to check out the latest deals.Does SmugMug have a free trial?SmugMug has a 14-day free trial that you can use to make sure it’s right for you. If you decide to cancel your account following the trial, the process is simple and hassle-free.What is the best website builder for photographers in 2022?Offering beautiful templates and gallery layouts, as well as robust e-commerce tools to help you monetize your art, SmugMug is one of the best website builders on the market for photographers. However, if you’d like slightly more advanced customization options, or want a builder with a smaller price tag, there are plenty of good alternatives. Read our guide to the best website builders in 2022 to find out which is right for you.

Abi Carter Abi Carter
Abi has worked as a writer, editor, and content marketeer for more than five years. When not glued to her laptop, she whips up calorific baked goods, writes terrible short stories, and searches for new dogs to follow on Instagram.

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