After I accepted the assignment as the faculty yearbook sponsor, I had to learn the art of photography fairly quickly. I invested in gear that would allow me to do the job, furiously began reading books to help me improve my technique as well as share that knowledge with my students, and slowly became proficient in my new found hobby and workplace responsibility.
However, after a few weeks I began running into a problem. My four year old laptop computer simply didn’t have the disk space to store the archive of photos that I was accumulating. I was also well past the two gigabyte limit set by my workplace system administrator.
Short of spending hundreds of dollars on a few extra external hard drives or spending over a thousand dollars on a new laptop, the best solution that I could muster was to select an online photo archiving service. Fortunately for me, there are many of these available and many of them are free.
Hands down, the most well known service out there is Flickr. The user base is huge, and it is backed by internet giant Yahoo. You can upload 100MB of photos a month for free. Their photo groups are an incredible resource as well. Tens of thousands of people critique and evaluate photos, and dispense and discuss advice every minute. Unfortunately there are drawbacks. The 100MB limit is pretty shallow. With today’s modern cameras you’ll be pushing it to add more than twenty pictures in a month. The free service also limits your ability to categorize and organize your pictures; you can only have four sets. Perhaps most audaciously, Flickr doesn’t offer access to your original files unless you pony up some cash. They hold your original files hostage and only offer lower resolution, degraded versions unless you pay for their “Pro” account. The bottom line is that for the service that I desired, free Flickr was not an option. I would have to pay. But then I asked myself the next question, “If I have to pay, is Flickr really the best?”
After a little research, I decided that the answer is an adamant “No!”
SmugMug pages are infinitely customizable and sport an infinite disk space limit. Each page can be given different themes, and if you’re a geek you can even modify the CSS. You can have as many sets as you like, and and people with Power and Pro accounts can store video online. There’s also an option for a custom URL (mine is photos.cullenhartley.com). Plus, if you’re ambitious, you can sell your prints for a profit.
The only drawback of SmugMug is that you have to pay, and the price is nearly double what most photo services charge. Whereas Flickr costs $25 a year (for only slightly improved functionality) SmugMug charges $40. For the advanced features such as full length video and site-wide customization you’ll pay $60. If you want to sell your prints online, you’ll pay $150.
But even if you opt for the most expensive option, you’re getting what you pay for. No other mainstream site allows you to sell prints with the potential to earn profit. No other site provides the extreme flexibility and amazing storage options that SmugMug offers to its customers. Moreover, it is easy to look past the high cost. Had I decided to purchase two external hard drives (one for storage and one for backup), it could have easily cost me $300, and I would be the only person that could access the photos and content. Now, I have access to a full featured website that allows me to keep backups and share photos with the world.
This service is also ideal for schools that want to make their photos available online for students and parents. I have several galleries that I’ve uploaded for my workplace this school year. As a matter of ethics, I don’t make any money from these pictures. However, if a large school created a policy that allowed school photographers to upload and sell pictures to parents and students, it could potentially add an additional school revenue stream and provide a service that would allow parents to save a lifetime of memories. Some might scoff at the thought of selling pictures of students, but yearbooks, newsletters, and class photographers have done this for years. There’s no reason that this practice should not move into the digital arena.
Do you want a discount on the cost of SmugMug? If you sign up for a SmugMug account, you’re welcome to use my discount code. By signing up, you get $5 off the cost of the account, and I get $10 deducted from my next renewal fee. Please enter the following discout code when you purchase your account: wASFesjLdNPtM