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.