Monthly Archives: August 2008

Zenfolio vs. SmugMug: Part 3 – Overall Thoughts

Update: My 11 Month Follow-Up Posted!

While I would have loved to spend much more time evaluating both of these photo hosting services, my two-week evaluation period for SmugMug is up. Therefore, I’m going to give an overall impression of both services and give my final choice for my needs.

I must say — both services offer great features and are superb options.  In the end, my choice came down to my specific needs as both an aspiring amateur photographer who wanted to be able to easily distrubute photos to friends and family and as a stock photographer.  As always, an evaluation of both services for your particular needs would be prudent.

Zenfolio offers a great interface for the end user.  It’s intuitive, easy to use and looks great.  There are many options for the look and feel of the site and everything is smooth and refined.  However, at current it’s not possible to fully integrate the site into your own theme or your own site.  As far as printing goes, Zenfolio uses Mpix which is touted as one of the premier print shops for online printing.

SmugMug allows for complete customization of your site.  This is a huge plus.  They also allow for the sale of digital files.  Also, the interface for the photographer isn’t quite as refined.  There are a few things which really bother me.  However, SmugMug has really grown on me as far as their capabilities and customization.  I’ve found it’s very easy to setup unlisted galleries and password protected galleries as well as custom pricing.  It’s not a perfect interface, but very very well done.

Recommendations

And now, for my recommendations and my personal choice.  For an amature photographer who wants secure, unlimited hosting of their photos and the ability to allow users to print what they want, Zenfolio is easy to use and you can have a great looking site in no time.  Uploading out of Lightroom 2 is fantastic thanks to Jeffrey Friedl’s export plugin and overall, it’s very simple and functional.  This all comes at a very attractive price.

For a full time photographer or stock shooter, I would have to recommend SmugMug.  Digital photo sales are perfect for stock photo sales.  The uploading is just as easy thanks again to Jeffrey Friedl’s Lightroom 2 plugin and the customization can make your site look fully integrated or, if you choose, you can use the SmugMug page as your official homepage. All of these features come at a cost though and you’ll be paying a $50 premium.  Still not much for a business website however.

For my uses, I would have to say that SmugMug is worth the extra cost.  With minimal effort, I was able to use my WordPress style sheet from this blog on my SmugMug site and it looks almost the same as this site.  Nothing’s perfect, and I would like to spend some more time overcoming a few shortcomings but I feel that I’m going to really enjoy SmugMug. I’ll be posting more details of how I use SmugMug in future posts!

So, without further ado, here is my SmugMug site!  There isn’t much there that is public but there are numerous unlisted galleries which I will be giving out to family and friends in the near future!

So… if you’re interested in joining SmugMug, you are welcome to save $5 off an account there using my referral code of cbGIGu2TvRQWM!

It’s official. After giving Zenfolio another try, I decided that for my uses, I would officially switch to Zenfolio. Full story here!

Shooting Stock Photography

I feel it would be remiss if I did no apologize for the long time between this and my last entry.  However, with my acceptance to Alamy and my testing of SmugMug, I’ve been somewhat preoccupied.  In fact, I’m somewhat amazed at just how much time stock photography takes!

While Alamy doesn’t have overly difficult requirements to meet as far as image uploading goes, they do ask for a few simple things (once you understand them).  They require at least 48 megabyte uncompressed files saved in a high quality JPEG format.  They also ask that the files have no sharpening applied to them.  In my opinion, the hard part is finding technically perfect images which Alamy won’t reject due to image softness.

As an Adobe Lightroom user who shoots in the Nikon RAW format of either my D50 or my D200, I find this rather easy to accomplish.  Both of these cameras have an approximate 2/3 ratio of short edge to long edge.  For example, my D200 takes photos of 3,872 pixels by 2,592 pixels.  The D50 has a similar ratio.  Knowing this, if I resize the photos for the longest edge to a length of 5,128 pixels, my photos will be approximately 5,128 by 3,418 pixels or 17,527 pixels.  Given that a JPEG format has 8-bits of data per channel per pixel, that brings the file to around 50 MB.

Under the Lightroom export settings, I simply tell it to resize so that the longest side is 5,128 px and to export using the highest quality JPEG compression.  I’ve never had a Quality Control rejection using these settings.

It is important to note a few things.  First of all, the resulting JPEG will be around 6 – 10 MB.  This is because JPEG format uses compression.  That is just fine.  This is where a lot of people get hung up.  Second, if I’ve cropped the photo at all, the size may not be correct.  In these instances, it’s important to verify the actual uncompressed size of the final image.

After hearing a lot of people have problems with this process, it occurred to me that I hold very high standards when it comes to my Alamy workflow.  I won’t use any original files which need drastic cropping.  Even taking just a little off the side of an image will result in a drastic loss of pixels.  Also, I ensure that the photos are perfectly in focus and sharp.  So far, I’ve not had any problems so I guess it’s working!

I haven’t forgotten my SmugMug vs. Zenfolio debate either.  I’m currently in the process of evaluating them and will definitely be posting more information in the next day or so as to how it’s shaping up!

I’ve been accepted by Alamy!

As of this morning, I’ve officially passed the Alamy guidelines and quality control checks and I’m officially represented by Alamy!

I suppose I should back up a little.  I’ve been getting more and more into shooting “stock” photography.  What this means is that I submit photos I’ve taken that may be of commercial interest to stock agencies.  They market the images and sell them and the photographer is paid a commission.  There are two major approaches to stock photography — microstock and macrostock.  Essentially, microstock groups images quite cheap, generally on a subscription basis.  Graphic designers, PR firms and other parties purchase the rights to these images and use them in however they want (or as stipulated by the license agreement).  Money can be made by selling large quantities of images.

Macrostock, on the other hand, deals with generally very high quality images which can have tighter restrictions.  Images rights are purchased for a specific project.  Information such as size of image and production run are all factored in and the buyer is allowed to use the image for the specified time frame.  Alamy is one of the major players in the macrostock marketplace.

For more information, Wikipedia has a good description of stock photography.  Alamy themselves have a good description of exactly who they are.

In order to get accepted by Alamy as a contributor, one must submit four photos for quality inspection.  If any of the four aren’t perfect, they reject the whole batch and you have to start over again.  Judging by some of the forums I’ve read, this can be a somewhat troublesome task.  Thankfully, I didn’t have any trouble so I either got lucky, or my photos are better than I thought.  Now that I’ve been accepted, I can submit larger batches of photos (which still have to pass random spot checks for quality) and I can begin hopefully, selling images.  Time will tell how well this plays out!

As I write this, my images are in the queue to become publicly viewable within 24 hours.  With that said, the logo below is a link to my Alamy home page and should begin to have pictures listed very soon!

Stock photography by Mark+Wood at Alamy

Since this is a numbers game (the more photos I have for sale the more I’ll sell), I will continue to upload so this page should have more and more photos as the weeks go by!

I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted if I make a sale!

Zenfolio vs. Smugmug: Part 2 – Price and Workflow

For those following along, this is part two in my quest to determine which online hosting service I will choose for selling photos.  Part 1 can be found here.

Update: Part 3 and 11 Month Follow-Up now posted!

The main purpose for me to subscribe to a photo hosting site is to allow users to purchase my photos and get them printed and delivered to their door with minimal work on my part.  For this to fit into a business model, it’s necessary that I can set my prices so that I can at least break even — if not make a profit.  What this means for me is that I will need to subscribe to something above the basic hosting packages offered by both Zenfolio and SmugMug.

In order to accomplish this with Zenfolio’s service, I would need to subscribe to the Premium Plan as shown on their site here.  This package would allow me to use my own domain name, as well as set whatever prices I wanted.  While I’m not out to make a lot (if any — especially for friends and family snapshots), I would like to think my time and effort are worth something.  Pricing for the Premium Plan is $100 for a full year.

On the other hand, to accomplish this with SmugMug, I would need to sign up for a Professional Account as shown here.  This package would also allow my own domain name.

Both services offer unlimited photo hosting as well as unlimited bandwidth.  The major feature differences I can see right now from doing a direct comparison is that SmugMug allows digital downloads (with prices I choose) as well as CSS customizable themes.  On the other hand, Zenfolio is $50 cheaper.

Workflow

Workflow between the two services seems to be pretty much a wash.  There are Adobe Lightroom export plugins by Jeffrey Friedl for both (Zenfolio Plugin and SmugMug Plugin).  I’ll be sure to evaluate how they work during my trial period.  This is a key workflow issue for me since I really don’t want to be forced to upload photos individually due to the quantity of time it would take.

As soon as I’m sure I will have the time to properly evaluate the full feature list, I will be sure to sign up for trials and give more in depth critique / comparisons.

Also, I want to thank Mark MacAskill from SmugMug for commenting on my previous post.  I’ll be sure to check out he features he mentioned once I get a trial account.

Photo Hosting: Zenfolio vs. Smugmug

Update: Part 2 and Part 3 of the review.  Also, 11 month follow-up posted here!

While I plan on selling most of my photos via stock photography site such as Alamy, there are times where I’m sure I’ll need to be able to host photos for sale which perhaps aren’t stock related.  Not that I have such an occasion at present, but if I were asked to shoot an event I would like to be able to put up proofs, allow people to order and accept credit cards.

There are a few serious considerations here.  First off, I have no interest in storing any contact or credit card information myself.  In today’s digital era where identity fraud / theft is a threat, I really don’t want to be responsible for the safety of other’s personal information.  For this reason alone, I want to find a solution where I can allow a professional third party to accept the credit cards and shipping information.

Second, I want a solution which included the option of automatic print fulfillment.  This way, I’m not required to manually order prints for clients and ship them.  In this way, sales can occur with minimal intervention on my part, and clients will get maximum quality at fair prices.

Third, I want a well integrated solution with my current web site.  I don’t want the site to look obviously different and I want to be able to customize it to suit my needs.

Fourth, and possibly more important once I start becoming serious about this, is that I want to be able to set different pricing options for different galleries and have the ability to password protect these galleries.  Why?  Well, I think that a photo from a wedding which requires time and effort to retouch and careful preparation should cost the customer more than a casual snapshot I might put up for friends and family where I really am not interested in making a profit – only allowing them to order prints if they so choose.  With regards to password protection, I feel that privacy on the internet is key.  If people don’t want their wedding photos available for all to see, I feel that I should be able to give them the option to have them password protected.  Same with friends and family.

There are numerous solutions available to photographers.  Zenfolio and SmugMug both come to mind as two of the major players in this market.  They both offer print fulfillment and they both have numerous themes to choose from.  I’ve done a fair bit of research into the pros and cons of each, but I really feel that I’m going to have to take them both for a trial spin (I know Zenfolio offers this options and I would assume SmugMug does as well) and see for myself.

Right off the bat, looking at the different sites created with both options leads me to believe that Zenfolio has faster galleries which seem to have a better interface.  However, they only offer themes and no full customization of the look and feel.  SmugMug sites on the other hand seem a bit slower to load.  However, they are really customizable and seem to offer a truly integrated solution.  I’m going to attempt to keep my initial impressions unbiased as I go forward with this so I’ll be sure to continue to blog about any and all findings!  Yes, I’m that much of a dork.