Not feeling very smug.
October 9, 2012 1:18 AM   Subscribe

Desperately seeking alternatives to SmugMug. Emphasis on password-protected galleries, the ability to proof photos and seamless customization (so as to integrate with a pre-existing Wordpress-backed portfolio).

I paid for the top-of-the-line SmugMug package less than a month ago with high hopes. I wanted to give my clients an opportunity to login and privately go through photos from a shoot and pick their favorites electronically (photo proofing). That's what I wanted SmugMug to do and that's what it kind of does.

But the whole thing basically looks like shit and is a pain in the ass. Frankly it makes me look bad to my clients. It does not play well with my Wordpress-backed portfolio - it's like the two aren't on the same planet. Let's not even talk about navigating through the SmugMug admin panel and managing events.

For example: if a client wanted to browse my site and then jump to a private SmugMug gallery, the client would enter a password on my site, and then register with SmugMug and enter a password on their site as well. It's just shit and I'm done with it. That's just one of many nuisances. Big picture, I would rather use something that lets me customize fully and host pictures locally.

So are there any alternatives? I don't need to sell prints. Before you say it, I also tried and hated Zenfolio. I am looking at things like ProPhoto, Pictage, RedCart, ProofPress, and ProofBuddy. Has anyone tried any of these, or is in the same boat I'm in and knows of anything?. Please hope me.
posted by phaedon to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm. Zenfolio and Smugmug both seem to polarize people - you'll love it or you'll hate it. I'm on Zenfolio right now, and despite being well out of their normal service range (South Korea), I've found it to be a good tool for the job. I do wish there were a few more offerings there (notably, a printer in Southeast Asia), but I've been able to customize it as much as I'd like. My clients don't have to create a Zenfolio account (AFAIK)...

Without knowing how long ago you tried Zenfolio, it sounds like you've tried half a dozen services - the biggest ones out there and then some - and are still unsatisfied. May I suggest a fresh look at them now, or consider the costs of working with a web developer to create exactly what you've been dreaming of?
posted by chrisinseoul at 7:07 AM on October 9, 2012

I'm not sure which features these sites have, but you could check out Imgur, Imageshack, Photobucket, and Flickr. Those, along with the two others already mentioned, seem to be the major image sharing/storage sites.
posted by Dansaman at 10:34 AM on October 9, 2012

Best answer: I feel your pain. I've been struggling with this for almost a decade. My background is in design and user experience, so when I transitioned to photography full-time, I was horrified by the mediocre proofing options available. Like you, I hated the designs, the clunky customer experiences, and the simple idea of allowing another company's branding to intermingle with my own. So I decided to roll my own solution.

I started with my individual print sales website (i.e. not client or event related). I spent months behind my computer, building and testing my own custom store. Everything was integrated perfectly the way I wanted it. And then I started making sales. Yay-hooray! Then I realized that I had to fill the orders, myself, which became an enormous burden. And then bugs in my code would pop up when I was least expecting: like at the beginning of a trip to Japan for 3 weeks, when I wouldn't be able to login and fix 'em. Or my server admin would reboot the server and suddenly my order intake emails would stop. I once discovered that there was a six-month period when customers were prevented from completing their purchases, but nobody had ever emailed to complain. Who knows how many sales I lost during that time?

When I got into event photography, I needed a reliable system that could handle thousands of images at a time, week after week. Like above, I began rolling my own solution. Coincidentally, my print site hiccuped that exact week, which sent me over the edge with frustration. That's when I decided to exhale... let go... and try delegating to a third party. (The horror!)

I've now been with Pictage for six years (I hesitate to name them, as this already sounds like a cheesy infomercial. I'm not paid for mentioning them, and I'm not endorsing them, specifically, just reinforcing the value of delegating to a full-service third party). It's a love-hate relationship. It's much more expensive than I'd like. When I look at my bills, I cringe at how much it costs me. But then, like clockwork, something happens that justifies it for me. If I get an order for hundreds of prints, I no longer dread filling the order -- I'm overjoyed with the realization that all I have to do is... get paid. I don't have to order the prints, I don't have to ship the prints to the client, all I have to do is receive a check (direct deposit!). And if a print is damaged or the customer isn't satisfied, it relaxes me to know that somebody else will take the initiative to handle it for me. The customer service is something that helps me out a lot. I frequently receive calls from grandmothers who aren't terribly proficient with the internet. I can simply connect them with the company's customer service team who then holds their hands through the checkout process.

That customer experience angle applies to me as well: I don't have to worry about my store going down when I'm on vacation, I don't have to worry about staying on top of software patches, and I don't have to worry about design and user testing. When I look at how much it costs me, I justify it by reminding myself that I'm hiring much more than just a proofing gallery: I'm hiring a customer service team, a professional lab, server techs, and a design team that has access to the behavior metrics of thousands and thousands of buying customers when they make their design choices and recommendations. They also do a lot of R&D when it comes to email marketing -- some photographers loathe the idea of another company emailing their clients, but it's proven to be quite fruitful for me.

Letting go and settling for everything that annoys you is an enormous obstacle. And it might not even be the right answer for you. But try some others and see if you can find some peace by looking at it from another angle. Don't think of it as either/or. Think about what kind of opportunities exist in keeping things noticeably separate... and how you might be able to leverage a church and state type of arrangement for your own benefit.

Also: ExposureManager and Photoshelter are two additional options to explore.
posted by Hankins at 10:37 AM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks. I wrote this question late last night in the middle of a SmugMug hangover. I will give PhotoShelter and Pictage a really good look. Personally I am hoping ProofPress has a successful launch, even though I don't know who is behind them. I love my own portfolio site - built off of a robust custom WP theme - and I want to keep going in this direction ideally. I mean shit, there's a back-end right there, why not use it?

chrisinseoul - I am not at all a fan of SmugMug/Zenfolio's MySpace approach towards customization.
posted by phaedon at 11:04 AM on October 9, 2012

Response by poster: Hankins - it's really a testament to the landscape that there are only 3 responses to this question. I decided to opt for a Photoshelter trial. But I'll let you know if I come across something better. Feel free to stay in touch. (And if I may ask, do you use Pictage along with ShootQ?)
posted by phaedon at 10:53 PM on October 9, 2012

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