It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at the photographic tools available that don’t relate to the actual taking of the photos.
The other week I decided to sit down and test out what I consider to be the 3 majors players that handle the following:
- Client Delivery
- File storage
- Gallery Management
- Products, License, eCommerce
As many of you would know, unfortunately most of our time as photographers is taken up by doing the administration and post processing side of photography. So these sorts of tools that help to make life easier for us get a big tick in my book.
I know there are plenty of others but with a quick Google search these were the top 3 that kept showing up.
I’m going to start off with the all important website and portfolio. You see these services provide a quick and easy way to display your photos. One simple upload and your photos will be turned into web ready versions and displayed how you have selected.
The uploading of files are pretty standard across the three. They all feature a Lightroom Exporter plugin which is available free to download. Photoshelter goes one step further offering a standalone uploader app which works great. Of course all 3 feature a web-based uploader which like all other web uploaders works well but not as good as a software based solution, especially if your uploading a large amount of files.
The design of the generated Website/Portfolio is pretty important. To be honest I was completely surprised by my findings, and just goes to prove, don’t judge a book by its cover.
I assumed that SmugMug would have the best templates/themes for their pro customers. If you look at their website it’s pretty cool looking, fitting in with a lot of the recent web design trends. Well I couldn’t be more wrong. SmugMugs themes were absolutely terrible, in my opinion. They looked old and clunky, think back to Windows 95. Their saving grace is the fact that the themes can be completely customisable with some knowledge of HTML and CSS. Or you can pay someone to do it for you, which seems to be the norm for the people I know that use SmugMug. Smugmug does have a customiser that is pretty easy to use but the whole layout is just a bit boring, and your work deserves better.
After quite a bit of playing around I was able to get the front “home” page looking like this. Which isn’t to bad but it definitely isn’t beautiful, and things go down hill from there.
I’ve long criticised Photoshelter for what considered to be terrible themes, but now looking at them they are still bad but not terrible. Photoshelter has the ability like SmugMug to completely customise the layout using HTML and CSS along with some pretty nifty short codes to display special Photoshelter code. With very little knowledge you can create a clean simple layout for your photos in a matter of minutes. Photoshelter also has the added bonus of having a relationship with Graph Paper Press who create wordpress themes for photographers. Some of their themes are compatible with Photoshelter making it a pretty easy integration into your blog. I also know that Photoshelter are in the process of releasing a whole new lot of themes, not sure when they will come out they seem to be very tight-lipped about it but it should be soon.
I’ve done a bit of custom CSS just to change the background to completely white in Photoshelter but apart from that it’s a standard theme. At least when you navigate through the pages everything fit in well together and the album designs are basic but functional.
Lastly Photomerchant. I think they have the best out of box themes and templates available. As soon as you sign up for your account you are taken on a walk through wizard which gets your website setup. While Photomerchant doesn’t have a complete customisable templating system it does give you some great options including custom pages, multiple sliders ( you can actually do some pretty cool effects with multiple sliders on one page). The album layouts are pretty cool offering you some nice looking solutions to display your work.
I opted for black just for something different. No custom css or html code was required to create this in under 10 minutes.
Both SmugMug and Photomerchant are mobile friendly, which in this today’s world is a must as so much of the internet is browsed on some kind of mobile device.
So it’s all about managing your images, sending them your clients and displaying your work for sale. This needs to be easy and flexible.
SmugMug’s gallery management follows the same line as their themes. It’s clunky time-consuming and old-fashioned. It’s one of the few websites that I’ve had to think about how to add a photo to a gallery or create a new gallery. I’m sure it’s something you could learn to live with but really I would have expected it to be easier to use.
SmugMug does have the ability for private galleries which is perfect for those that want to deliver your files to your clients digitally.
Photoshelter’s gallery management system used to be a bit of a nightmare, but their recent updates have made it an absolute pleasure to use. It all makes perfect sense, it’s quick and intuitive.
Photoshelter’s implementation of client delivery is second to none. Not only can you hide the gallery from the website, you can password protect it, directly email those with access with the url to the gallery and set download permissions for individual users depending on what you need.
Photomerchant’s galleries are easy to use and like Photoshelter you have the option to allow certain people permission to view and download. Again perfect for anyone who has to deliver their work. With Photomerchant you don’t have to think it’s all pretty straight forward.
All three offer image protection and automatic watermarking.
Products, Licensing and eCommerce
You don’t need to be a landscape photographer to take advantage of these inbuilt eCommerce features.
Smugmug’s implementation of eCommerce features is terrific. Not only do they make it very easy to set up. You select the products you want to sell and decide a profit margin. Simple, of course you can go in a customise anything you want or opt for a self fulfillment option if you want to handle the printing yourself.
What I really like about SmugMug is you can opt to send your own labeling from their printers. That way you can continue with your branding right through to the customer delivery. Very nice feature!!
Photoshelter is what you would expect. Not quite a refined as SmugMug but nice all the same. You decide if you want to self fulfill the order or let Photoshelter handle it. You add your products and packages set some prices and away you go. Unfortunately Photoshelter don’t have an option to add your own labeling which might make people lean towards self fulfillment so that you can continue branding and send your marketing along with your delivery.
Photomerchant again is nice and simple. It comes with some standard pricing models already created and you can easily apply a set percentage markup to all products or edit them individually. I haven’t been able to locate anywhere that lets you brand the direct fulfillment of prints so I guess it’s much the same as Photoshelter in that respect.
I have to say that all 3 handle eCommerce very well. It’s a painless experience and if you want to look at getting into offering print to your customers this could be the easiest way to get into it without any hassles.
This is probably the biggest contributing factor in your decision. Any of the other flaws that I have mentioned I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with some kind of workaround.
SmugMug has 3 packages on offer, Basic, Power and Pro. If you want to sell anything than the Pro option is for you coming in a $150 per year. For that you get Unlimited photo storage, unlimited HD videos (that’s something that no other service offers) and of course the ability to sell your work.
Photoshelter is the most expensive with their “Standard” account coming in a $329 per year. You get 60GB of secure storage and all the Photoshelter features. The Pro Photoshelter just increases the storage space to 1000GB.
Photomerchant’s Plus+ account is $19 per month or $228 per year. You get unlimited photo storage and all of the Photomerchant features.
The final word
If you think I’m going to tell you which one is best well I hate to disappoint you but I can’t. Taking to consideration all of the elements it’s hard to pick a clear winner. I am currently using Photoshelter and I think if I was to choose again I was definitely have a look at Photomerchant.
I want to point out quick that Photomerchant since signing up have sent me emails every couple of days with links to various tutorials on how to set up. It’s kind of like a walk through wizard. No it’s no annoying it’s actually pretty cool and I’ve come across some helpful hints as to how to get the best out of my Photomerchant account.
All 3 have a 14 day trial offering you a chance to try out all of the features to see what suits you the best. My recommendation is sign up for all three and have a test, see which one fits your workflow and take it from there.