I have been working on some alternatives to Smugmug over the last 24 hours since I finally bit the bullet and decided that it is time to go, as I explained here yesterday. What I am seeing is that the sites are basically breaking down into two categories, showcase and warehouse. While my experience doesn’t really mean anything, it is interesting to see how picture storage has changed over the years. I started with Smugmug, I stayed with Smugmug, and now that I am looking for those specific things I am looking for, it is interesting to see how other sites have taken on the industry.
Alternatives seem to break down into two categories, Warehouses like Flickr or Zenfolio, or showcase sites like 500PX or Deviant Art. The big difference seems to be in bulk upload, tagging and management of the pictures on the site you are using. So I will break the down by what I have discovered, if you want to share your opinion by all means feel free to comment.
Please remember the reason for why I post pictures on line, it is to get feedback, meet new people, see what others have done that might be useful to helping me grow as a photographer.
Flickr and Zenfolio both seem to behave much like Smugmug does with bulk uploads, bulk editing of tags, names, alt tags, and other ways to help a search engine find your pictures. I like the bulk editing that I have not been able to find or use on Smugmug even if they had it.
Flickr and Zenfolio also have some very nice sharing options that Smugmug is missing. Both will share to Pinterest, Zenfolio shares to G+ (which has rapidly become another home to showcasing pictures, there are a lot of very active very wonderful photographers on G+), all will share to Facebook and twitter. Smugmug only shares to Facebook and Twitter bypassing two very hot ways of sharing pictures. Flickr and Zenfolio will do individual sharing or total gallery sharing. These options are extraordinarily important to me to have.
Custom Price Lists – Flickr does not seem to do this in any other way that through Getty Images, so they are missing an important revenue stream. With the new CEO, maybe we will get lucky and get some commerce going on Flickr that bypasses Getty which is in a totally different orbit for most photographers on the planet. Few if any have the name or reputation for being part of Getty. Zenfolio much like Smugmug allows for custom price lists and markups. It also has a deeper product base than Smugmug does, you can put your pictures on everything from Kitchen Aprons to single prints. Zenfolio has a much richer and deeper product line that will add a differing product base for photographers.
Setup and Use, both Flickr and Zenfolio are stupid simple to set up. Much like your camera, your web site is a tool you should know intimately. If you need customer support for simple functions, like it sounds like Smugmug is providing a lot of tier one “how do I upload a picture” support that is bleeding them dry, go with Flickr and/or Zenfolio.
Zenfolio has some options that are found nowhere else in terms of bulk warehousing. The blog feature is critical if you want to have good hits from a search engine. You can discuss a picture (remember search engines need words to properly categorize what your picture is about along with the Alt Tags) in the blog, link to it, and get more search engine goodness by being a prolific or good blogger. Maybe a picture a day with descriptors of what that picture is about. I can live without Zenfolio’s guest book, but some might like that functionality.
I am finding that the audiences are different on each site; to appeal to different audiences you want to be represented across as many sites as you can afford. Flickr comes in at 30 bucks a year for all you can eat, while Zenfolio comes in at a price point of 120 dollars a year for what I need. Your needs might vary, but that is a heck of a lot less for all you can eat Zenfolio than the 300 dollar Smugmug. The ability to truly tag, alt tag, and describe your pictures is something that search engines need. I find that when I tag pictures adequately I usually end up on the first page of Google Image Search rapidly. Both Flickr and Zenfolio seem to be deeply integrated with Google Images, which is a primary way that people find pictures. Smugmug not so much, usually my Smugmug pictures end up beyond page 10 in an image search for an event in favor of Flickr people.
Showcase sites like 500PX and Deviant Art really have few if any true bulk (and by bulk I am talking hundreds of pictures at a shot) upload, editing, tagging, or other functions that are not extraordinarily painful to use. Showcase sites are really about showing off your best work, or the work you love the best, then pointing those users to your bigger galleries on the bulk warehouse sites. DA, Imagur, 500PX, and other sites like that are really geared around one picture, one upload, heavy on the descriptors so that search engines can find it.
I have been a member of DA for two years now, and find it very easy and wonderful to use with a beautiful community. I barely use Imagur because it is mobile only, and while I do a lot of mobile work, it is such a pain in the ass to upload to Imagur then to Facebook then to G+ that the steps are too many for me to take. I also hate working on the mobile screen unless it is an Ipad or bigger. 500PX has turned into an interesting experience, and one that I am starting to like. I treat 500PX like a showcase site (which is not necessarily true with DA), and I do compare my pictures with others on 500PX.
500PX feels snooty cow, I am a “professional photographer” go away your bugging me kid, but if you aspire to be an excellent photographer, learning from professionals and their work is a great way of approaching the problem. It is worth uploading only the very super best of your stuff to 500PX and see if anyone notices. I have only six likes on 500PX, but those are real likes from real photographers, they mean more than 100 likes over on DA or on Flickr. That means I appealed to a real photographer that is super important if you want to grow in your art. You did something right, and a snooty cow photographer stopped long enough to like your work.
The breakdown then is going to be for my alternatives, Flickr and Zenfolio for bulk warehousing needs, DA and 500PX along with G+ and Facebook for sharing the pictures I truly love. Then point people off to my bulk sites so that consumers can see the whole nine yards when it comes to pictures.
Remember that Upload Junction can move your pictures from point A to point B, but it might not be 100 correct in the move. If you are moving I would recommend downloading all your pictures from Smugmug (or indeed any site when you are considering a move), then using an automated tool like Upload Junction to see what crosses over and what does not. All this depends on your gallery settings (private/public), password protection, watermarking, and other issues that go along with being a photographer.
Let me know what you think.
Facebook, Flickr, Getty Images, Google Images, Smugmug, Twitter, Web search engine, Zenfolio