The background: This is a post for my fellow photographers. Both Smugmug and Zenfolio are online gallery sites that allow you to host client galleries and sell prints, among other things. I am not paid by or affiliated with either of these companies, though I will get a credit if you do sign up for Zenfolio with my 10% off referral code, APF-N7N-C1V.
I was a loyal Smugmug user for over five years. I stuck with them even when I found things annoying with their interface, but they told me many times (starting almost three years ago now) that they were about to do a large overhaul of the entire interface. The overhaul never came, and yet I stood by. Just this month, I did a trial run of Zenfolio and haven’t looked back since.
The short version: Smugmug has all the features you’d want and the team is full of awesome, nice people, but the user interface is simply terrible and creates more work for the photographer and mess for the clients as well. Zenfolio has all the same features and a few more that have surprised me in their simplicity. Until now, pricing was one of the chief advantages that Smugmug had over Zenfolio, but since Smugmug just emailed all its users tonight about its rate hikes, it is now more expensive, which adds just one more reason to switch.
Want to know more about my sweeping generalizations? Here’s a detailed rundown on some of the things that drove me crazy in Smugmug:
Galleries. In order to set up the galleries, you can template certain settings, but let’s say you want to set a password for each of the galleries too. Then you have to set up the gallery first, upload the images if you wish, and then go back into the gallery settings [Enter the gallery, Tools, Gallery Settings, scroll down] in order to set the password. Then you have to hit save, which brings you back to the gallery. If you want the gallery to still display a thumbnail instead of just the blank locked gallery icon though, now you have to go: [Select an image, Tools, This photo– More, Feature] in order to select that image as the thumbnail.
Favorites. I often want clients to be able to select their favorites– images for a wedding album, for instance. However, (1) guests can ONLY select their favorites when you set up the galleries as part of an event. (2) The events are under [Tools, Account Settings, Business, Making Money, Events (yes, that’s five clicks– see the screenshot below)] instead of accessible from the gallery pages, from which you’d logically be organizing your galleries. (3) After your clients select their favorites, they can’t sort through or organize their favorites. It only displays the images in the order favorited.
Events. Besides the unwieldy setup for the events, once you have the event set up and your clients’ friends and family visit the event, let’s say you want to email them all a reminder to purchase prints. Well, there is a list of all the guests, but in order to send them an email, you have to (1) paste in your email template (which does not get saved from event to event). and (2) you have to manually hit send to each end every email down the guest list. So if there are 30 guests, you hit those links 30 times. There is no way to just send one email to all of the people on the list. (See below with the envelope icons for each individual email to be sent)
More on Emails. It you want to collect the guests’ email addresses, you set the registration to mandatory. However, you can’t just have it give a simple verification for them to enter their name, email, and the password. Guests have to give their information, then go to their email and actually open the email for a link to get access to the galleries. A huge percentage of clients were lost just in that process and either couldn’t figure out how or just never bothered to come back to even look at the photos, let alone purchase any prints. (See above with all of the “Awaiting first visit” listings.)
Coupons are almost as convoluted as events. You have to go through the same five clicks under [Tools, Account Settings, Business, Making Money, Coupons] to get to them. And even more annoyingly, there is no way to template the coupons or even duplicate an existing coupon. So you are left to recreate the same one for different clients over and over again.
Low Res Proofs. If you choose to upload low res proofs but simply replace the images with a retouched high res version before it sends off to printing, as many photographers do, the clients will still see a low res warning telling them the images are too small to print high-res.
And these are just a sampling of my complaints about lack of usability in Smugmug. Taken separately, they may just be annoyances, but if you just imagine the amount of time I have wasted doing ridiculous things like clicking 15 extra links for every gallery I set up over the course of five years, I am smacking my head a bit at how long I let it all go on. More importantly perhaps, when I think of the number of clients who turned away at the convoluted event registration system or were simply lost with how to order prints because the Buy button wasn’t very prominent, I really smack my head about the amount of money I’ve also lost out on along the way.
Now, for a look into Zenfolio and how they’ve dealt with these same issues:
Galleries, Favorites, and no Events. Galleries in Zenfolio are organized in a folder system with galleries, collections, and groups. Once you have the galleries set up in their groups, you can also change the settings for an entire group (such as setting the password for an entire wedding) instead of doing it individually for each gallery. Or you can also override the group settings in each gallery if you want. The organization is logical and flexible. Plus, all of the gallery settings are available on the right hand side as a sidebar, which eliminates the bulky system of buried settings links that Smugmug has. You might also notice that this eliminates the need for Events, because you can have the same function with the groups of galleries you set up. Also, guests can easily log in with just their name, an email, and the password (if you set one). Plus, they can mark their Favorites once they’ve entered their gallery– no need for an extra page to set up. And they can rearrange their favorites too.
Emails. Zenfolio can collect all those guests’ emails automatically and tag them with the galleries they viewed. Plus, they have a built-in email system for contacting your clients (shown above). This is great for duplicating template emails notifying clients of their galleries or emailing every guest tagged with a certain wedding to remind them to buy prints. The emails are sent from your email address, they’re neatly formatted, and you can even schedule them to go out on a later date if you’d like, so you could schedule all your reminder emails in one fell swoop.
Coupons are easily templated.
Low Res Proofs are not a problem. And the process for replacing the images before sending them to print is also more streamlined.
As for Pricing, Smugmug just announced its rate hike so prices as of today, 9/1/12, are now:
Smugmug: Portfolio $150/yr (which does not include selling prints!), Business $300/yr
Zenfolio: Premium $120/yr (and you can still sell prints), Premium Business $250/yr
I am currently on Zenfolio’s Premium plan. But please visit the sites directly for their latest pricing information and more on what those tiers include.
The Bottom Line:
User Interface design makes all the difference. Zenfolio clearly has it, while Smugmug does not. The two services share many of the same features, but using Smugmug’s broken system has really worn on my workflow over the years, while using Zenfolio for just a couple weeks has not only made my life easier but also increased my sales. Zenfolio is a better product through and through.
Try it for yourself. Both companies offer free trial periods so you can give it a test run. They also both offer world class customer service, so if you run into any questions, I’m sure they’d both be eager to help. If you do join Zenfolio, use my referral code for 10% off: APF-N7N-C1V.
If you are considering a migration from Smugmug to Zenfolio, you might want to look into Upload Junction which should be able to do some auto-migration for you. I haven’t tried it, so if you do, let me know how it goes.
About Anna: I am a wedding photographer (Anna Wu Photography) and videographer (Seaglass Cinema) based in San Francisco but always running off on adventures all over the world. Come say hello and like my page on facebook to keep track of other photography tips and reviews!