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Smugmug vs Flickr

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I’ve spent the last several days doing the time consuming chore of reformatting and redirecting all the old images on my site that point to Flickr and my self hosted photos, to Smugmug. I mentioned this on Twitter and I’ve gotten a lot of questions as to why I’m leaving Flickr and my self hosted site for SmugMug. So I figured I’d explain everything in as much detail as I can. The more I investigated it, SmugMug really is a no-brainer for me. However, I also understand why it wouldn’t be for everyone.

Like most people, I began using Flickr as my photo hosting solution because it was free, easy to use, and well known. If you own a point and shoot camera and just take casual photos, Flickr is great. The 100mb limit for storage each month is more than enough for most people. In fact, since I’ve started using Flickr, Facebook has surpassed Flickr in the total number of photos stored. Facebook, like Flickr, is free and easy to use if you want to share photos with your friends.

Eventually I found it necessary to increase my storage limits on Flickr and I purchased a Pro account, which is $20/year. $20/year is honestly a great deal considering you get unlimited everything. The real power of Flickr however, is the huge community of people which use it. There are millions of members and thousands of groups. For a period of time I was submitting my photos to groups and getting tons of people to look at them. Eventually, participating in groups grew tiresome. Some groups have hundreds of photos submitted every day and most of the people who comment on your photos are only doing so because the group rules require you to comment on 2 or 3 photos for everyone you post. It was all sort of hollow and fake.

Nonetheless, even if you don’t participate in the Flickr groups you can still get value just hosting your images there. As I became a better photographer and had more images, however, there were several things about Flickr which began to bother me.

1) Flickr is the #1 place to steal images.

Tons of blogs and websites take images off of Flickr so they can use them. That doesn’t bother me so much, but when people link back they provide the links back to Flickr, not my website. In fact, Flickr is an incredibly closed system and they don’t like to link out or promote the websites of its members. You get one link in your profile which is usually well hidden. The search engine in Flickr makes the process of finding the images you want to steal almost trivial.

I don’t usually mind if people link to my stuff. If I post a video, I don’t care if everyone in the world embeds it in their site. It is pretty clear who made the video and I put my URL in every one. Even sites which steal my RSS feed don’t bother me so much because it is easy to prove I was the original author. Photos are different however. It is hard to trace ownership of a photo. I realize that if you put photos on the internet you sort of have to live with that to a certain extent, but there are things you can do to limit it.

Flickr has no option for restricting access to the original size files. It is all or nothing. Either you make every version of an image private or you make them all public. Also, they don’t have any watermarking capabilities built in. Many of the people who have become really big on Flickr, like Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, have either left Flickr or seriously scaled back their involvement. If you want to have any sort of protection on your images, Flickr isn’t the place to be.

There are many blogs which survive on using the photography of other people. I think those sites are extremely lame. They usually ignore creative commons notices and treat everything on Flickr as being public domain. Moreover, even if you did want to put your images up with a creative commons license with attribution, almost all attribution ends up going to some Flickr nickname with links pointing back to Flickr. You have no control over how you get attributed.

SmugMug provides a great amount of control over your images and how you can protect them. You can put watermarks on images and you can block access to images above a certain size. In today’s internet world, the easiest thing to do to protect your images is just avoid Flickr because that is the one stop shop for people who want to take them.

2) Flickr has zero customization.

Your Flickr page is what they give you. For the most part, every Flickr user page looks the same. They don’t even offer themes you can use to change the background color of your page. In Flickr, you can’t easily provide links to your website and you can’t add links to other sites you might be on like Twitter or Facebook. Flickr is its own world and doesn’t want people leaving the reservation.

What I want is for people to visit my website and my photo hosting solution to be integrated into my site. Flickr does nothing to facilitate this. Smugmug goes way out of their way to do this. Not only can you customize your SmugMug page however you want, you can also map your own domain name to SmugMug to make the integration seamless. Once it is up and running, travel-photos.Everything-Everywhere.com will point to my SmugMug page and it will have the same basic design as my website.

3) SmugMug makes it very easy to sell prints

Eventually I’d like to try to bring in some money selling prints. SmugMug makes this very easy to do. There are a wide range of photo sizes and products you can buy and they also have multiple printers you can choose. Because it is so customizable you can design your store how you want. They handle all the processing and send you a check later. You can order prints from Flickr, but you can’t really set up a store.

4) SmugMug has great customer service and a great community

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to who uses SmugMug is a serious photographer and loves the company. The user base is only a fraction of the size of Flickr’s, but the quality is much higher. The company is active in the user forums and are very quick to respond to customer service questions. Flickr isn’t very innovative. The service hasn’t changed very much since they were purchased by Yahoo.

5) Smugmug allows for easy image resizing.

Most people might not list this as a big deal, but I really like it. I can take any image from Smugmug and re-size it to any size by just putting the size I want in the URL. It is that easy. In the future if I ever want to change the size of my daily photos to something larger, I just need to do a search and replace on everything and change …600×600.jpg to …1000×1000.jpg. That is pretty nice. Flickr only allows for images of a few defined sizes.

Summary

If you only own a point and shoot camera and just want a place to store images online to share with friends and family, I’d recommend uploading everything to Facebook. This is the best way to share with people you know and Facebook will store unlimited photos for free (as of now).

If you are a bit more advanced and want to talk with other photographers and share your work with them, then I’d give Flickr a try. Flickr’s biggest strength is its large user base. Facebook has overtaken it as the largest photo hosting site, but it is still pretty big. Every photographer should have some sort of presence on Flickr if only to take part in groups.

If you care deeply about how your images are displayed and you want maximum control over your portfolio, I’d go with Smugmug. It is more expensive, but it is worth it. If you are a photo blogger, I’d strongly recommend Smugmug.

  • 33 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. This is a topic that’s close to my heart… Take
    care! Where are your contact details though?

  2. Julio Moreno says:

    I know this post is old, but I have two questions:
    1)
    I was wondering why you don’t upload the pictures to your site itself (self host). I use WordPress.org and I’ve never been limited in the amount of things I can upload. Is these a downside to self hosting that I am missing?
    Usually, these days, I just watermark my images with my website URL on the bottom.
    2)
    I noticed your pictures have a special custom watermark on the bottom. How did you design this watermark (or who designed it for you and how much is it). Also, do you need a special program to upload custom watermarks?
    Thanks!

  3. Bridgette says:

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  4. Whats up this is kind of of off topic but I was wondering if
    blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding know-how so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

  5. I know it’s been a few years since you posted this, but I’d love to hear if you feel the same way about SmugMug after a few years of use.

    After a great deal of speculation, I opened a Flickr Pro Account several months ago as opposed to Smugmug. The main reason was that Flickr was cheaper and had a larger community. But I completely agree with you about the security aspect. A month after putting a few hundred images up, I painstakingly took all of them down, resized them to be much smaller, and watermarked all of them. I feel that my images are safer, but I’m not proud showing them off.

    You’ve rekindled my interest in SmugMug, and I might just now take the leap.

  6. Smugmug is the best online sharing photo tool I ever used.
    Beside the fact that it stores your photos in full size and that it offers really unlimited storage, it can be upgraded with tons of community tools (upload from right click, …).
    It starts at 39.95$/year for non professional accounts, but even at 39.95 it is really unlimited storage.
    Living 6000km from my family, smugmug is a must have to share moments in pictures, also as a part time professional photographer smugmug has been very useful sharing and promoting my work.

    You can even use this coupon on the smugmug coupon field in the sign up form to get 5$ off the price : 7Ppmk1PbRiBVQ

    Strengths:
    – Full size pictures
    – Really unlimited storage
    – Great themes
    – Easy to use
    – Nice interface
    – Community creating addons (upload from right click, screensavers…)

    Weaknesses:
    – It is not a photo backup tool as you cannot bulk restore photos from galleries, you have to order DVDs from smugmug.

  7. Humm… I just joined SmugMug and I was unsure about the prices, because I found the yearly rate for pro slightly high… but after selling a good amount of photos in the first week, it has already paid for itself.

  8. Todd Eddy says:

    You didn’t really say why you didn’t go with self hosting. Although I guess you mentioned all the things smugmug can do. Gallery2 can do a store and stuff I think but I think you still have to track things yourself.

    I looked at smugmug and honestly the thing that bothered me the most is the title of the page would be something like “bob’s cool photos – powered by smugmug” and to drop the powered by smugmug part you have to be a pro user ($150/yr as of writing)!. Granted there’s a hack that can do that but not sure how happy it makes the smugmug people. I’m fine with giving them credit at the bottom but if I want to have a gallery that seemlessly fits within my site I don’t want the powered by thing in the title of the page. Minor, but it’s what kept me away from it.

    • Gary says:

      I did use Gallery2.

      1) It was just too much effort and the time spent constantly having to customize it made it more expensive than SmugMug. $150/yr is a deal compared to what I ended up having to deal with, with Gallery2. The time I had to spend on it just wasn’t worth it.

      2) My Gallery2 experiment was a disaster for SEO.

      3) The space it took on my web host was over 20gb and the hosting costs made it unappealing to continue. I know there are webhosts that have unlimited storage, but moving 20gb of stuff, especially when I was dealing with international internet connections, was something I didn’t want to do. I had been using Flickr as a backup while I was using Gallery2, so moving my stuff from Flickr to SmugMug was painless. They have tools that don’t require moving photos to the desktop.

      Other sites like Zenfolio might be great, but I’m satisfied with SmugMug. I have so many photos and links on my blog that switching photo hosts would be an enormous cost for me. I have thousands of links I’d have to change by hand and I just don’t want to do that again.

      • Todd Eddy says:

        Just do a search and replace for links :)

        Yeah I’m really good with technology. My site is hosted on a server I bought myself and tossed in company’s datacenter for free. So disk space isn’t a concern and “getting my hands wet” wasn’t an issue. I dropped gallery2 for similar reasons and use zenphoto now. The database behind the scenes is much cleaner, links are more seo friendly, not as bloated as gallery2. Definitely not for everyone but I’m sure there’s some people that read this that may like self hosting a gallery.

        • Gary says:

          Search and replace doesn’t work when every photo has a unique ID on each system and there is no mapping from one to the other….and I’m dealing with different sizes and links to pages where the photos are hosted sometimes.

  9. @pompoB says:

    No matter how good SmugMug is with a logo and a font like that I couldn’t even look at it for more than five secs! :)

    Isn’t that font Micro$oft Comics…something?

    I urge you all to look at Zenfolio.com again..it’s killer!

  10. Goggo says:

    thanks for your great article.
    i also moved from flickr to smugmug from above factors.
    i repent it!!!

  11. Elliott Ng says:

    Great review of SmugMug vs. Flickr vs. Facebook. I use Flickr for the stuff I want to share and SmugMug for the stuff I don’t. I’m afraid I don’t really know how to use Facebook. :) Guess I should start putting some photos up there for my friends!

  12. Gary says:

    There is a firefox plugin called Smugglr which will automatically take your Flickr images and import them to Smugmug.

    With Smugmug, you can map your domain name to your account there so you can make photos.UncorneredMarket.com and have a similar looking photo gallery.

  13. Audrey says:

    Thanks for going into all the details of why you made the move. It’s one we’ve been thinking of for a while. It gets so annoying to find out that even when you’ve taken the efforts to physically copyright your image on Flickr, people will crop the copyright out and think that just because they linked back to your Flickr account they’ve done nothing wrong and get indignant when you ask them to take down your image from their website.

    What’s holding us back from changing is that our own photo gallery is linked to Flickr (via API) and I’m not sure if smugmug has a similar API. Also, there is finding the time and a strong enough internet connection to upload all of our photos. How long did it take you do move all your photos over to smugmug?

  14. Todd Eddy says:

    What made you choose smugmug over other hosted sollutions like zenfolio? I’ve been trying to compare them for a while because gallery2 is such a hog. Ultimately I just went with zenphoto.org (self hosted). The conversion from gallery2 is a pain but zenphoto is pretty nice and their template engine isn’t too hard for me. Although I’m also a php programmer and sysadmin at work, so I know my way around a computer.

  15. Gary says:

    1) Technically you are correct. You can rip off any image on the net. The reality of how people go about doing it is that they usually search on Flickr first. There are a lot of images and it is easy to search for whatever you want. Also, Smugmug offers a fine level of control over what photos you let the public see which Flickr does not. If you are on Flickr

    2) You might not go directly to my photo site, but having a place I can send people to see just my portfolio of images is important to me. If someone does find my images via my photo host, I want them to be able to find my blog easily. That is trivial in Smugmug and very hard on Flickr. I’d be embarrassed to send someone to Flickr as a professional photographer.

    3) I’m not talking about editing photos. I’m talking about using a photo for online use in multiple sizes. For example, my daily photos are currently 600px wide. If i use an image in an article it is 240px wide. In the future I’d like to move my daily images to 1000px wide. Smugmug can do that on the fly. I upload one image and it does the rest. This is great for blogging, Flickr only gives you set sizes. This isn’t really editing per se. It is just formatting for web usage. I do not use any online tools for editing. I do everything in Photoshop.

    4) The big change I’m doing now is redirecting the links on my blog. I’ve actually had a Smugmug account since December 2007 and have had all my online images there since December of 2008, so I’d say it has stood the test of time as far as I’m concerned. Other users have been on the service even longer.

    I know there are other services out there beyond Smugmug and Flickr, but I can’t speak to those.

    All I can say is that I have been using Flickr for a long time now and I am very satisfied with Smugmug. Much of what I want to do with Smugmug I haven’t done but will be rolling out later this year.

  16. Joe says:

    You make some good points, but I just don’t really see where you’re coming from. Here’s why:

    For one thing, any image on the Web can be saved to a client machine and, from there, used. Watermarks on those images can be reversed. In short, there’s no technical solution for the kind of protection you’re looking for. Unfortunately, it falls to you to be vigilant about protecting your property because there’s a technological arms race going on, one where the ability to protect documents (of any sort) is usually bested by the people that want to abuse or lay claim to them. This pattern isn’t going away any time soon and SmugMug is something really, very special if they do.

    Second, I understand what you mean by flickr’s lack of customization, but why is that relevant? I’m not going to read your blog on flickr or smugmug — in fact, you’ve said that you want people to NOT go to these sites at all. I guess I don’t understand why this is important.

    Third, flickr assumes that you’re uploading files that are ready to be seen. If you want something rescaled, it’s up to you to rescale it before you add it to your account; similarly with cropping, watermarking, color balance and so on. Personally, I wouldn’t want to use online tools, even if they were available: The speed and quality of my local tools (e.g., Lightroom) are better than that and besides, there are plenty of pictures in my collection that aren’t going to land on my flickr account. I wouldn’t want to have to upload those pics just so I could edit them.

    And finally, you just signed on for an account, no? Have they stood any test of time yet?

    I do understand where you’re coming from with regards to printing from your online account — it’d be nice to send my folks pics from my latest trip. Then again, if were doing a lot of printing, I’d have local tools, a good quality monitor and a local print shop with a good reputation — one that’ll print on archival quality paper using archival quality inks.

    Thanks for listening. From my vantage point, SmugMug vs. Flickr is a stalemate.

    -Joe

  17. @pompoB says:

    Gary

    It sounds like you never checked out http://www.Zenfolio.com. I have been using that for over 2 years and love it! $100 a year for a complete hosting/ecommerce solution. If you use this referral code you get a $5 discount DDF-YT7-EYG http://www.zenfolio.com/

    My site is here http://www.nolaPIC.com

    What Zenfolio it is not is a social network site so as far as that is concerned, if you need/want the sharing, bookmarking form within don’t waste your time :)
    I deleted all of my shots from Facebook too BTW

    Good Luck!

    Pompo

  18. Steve says:

    From the current Facebook ToS:

    1) For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account (except to the extent your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it).

    Do you want to grant Facebook a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license ” to your images?

    This has always been the case with Facebook. When I read the ToS 18 months ago I deleted every image I had posted.

    • Gary says:

      You got me on the Facebook thing. I checked myself and thought they had changed it. I stand corrected.

      • bruleeblog says:

        I believe the version that was highly protested was the one where Facebook would own copyright over everything forever and ever. Either way, I know a few people who have stopped posting photos on there at all do to their ToS.

        I’m still using Flickr for now, but I slap on a watermark on every photo with my blog url, and use a locked Webshots account for private photos that I want to share with family and friends.

  19. Steve says:

    Neither flickr or Smugmug are respected the professional photography community. They’re an easy (free) option. Your own site, your own portfolio is what pros consider, not your flickr stream.

    Facebook? Come on. Do you really want to give rights to Facebook by uploading your images?

    If you care deeply about how your images are displayed and you want maximum control over your portfolio… start your own site. Software is available and easy to configure. Why deal with a company that can change policies or close?

    • Gary says:

      1) Read the ToS for Facebook. They put up those changes and took them down 2 days later after the uproar. As of now, the do not have any claims on your copyright.

      2) I have tried self hosting for over a year. http://everything-everywhere.com/Photography/
      It is a giant pain in the ass running my own photo hosting for over 6k images online. Where you get “smugmug isn’t respected” is beyond me. There are loads of pros on Smugmug. In fact, I can’t think of too many pros who are doing their hosting when there are solutions out there that are far cheaper than anything you can do yourslef. Because Smugmug allows for domain mapping, many of the sites that you think are self hosted are probably hosted by Smugmug or another hosting service.

    • Karaface says:

      “Neither flickr or Smugmug are respected the professional photography community. They’re an easy (free) option.”

      Smugmug has many pros who host their photos on the site, including one of the top wedding photographers, David Jay. Also, Smugmug is not free, it has no free option like flickr. All Smugmug accounts are paid or on 14-day trials.

  20. Dan says:

    Interesting post. I didn’t realise smugmug was so customisable. I too wanted my travel photos embedded in my site, so I wrote a custom application that pulls them in from flickr using the collections API. It works, but isn’t great and lacks several of the features that I would like. I think I’ll take a look at smug mug tomorrow.

  21. I use Photoshelter for many of the same reasons. They have a powerful backend, lots of space, and tons of customization. It is a great service.

  22. danielle says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter. :) Wasn’t there something in the news recently that Facebook allows third party to use any and all pics posted on FB unless you find some obscured option to opt out? Might want to be careful with that.
    Personally I have a flickr account, but don’t use it much. I upload some stuff I want to share with friends, but I don’t participate. I just use it as a hosting service. The serious stuff I have on microstock sites and my own personal photo site.

    • Gary says:

      Facebook changed their policy after posting that, so it isn’t an issue as of now.

      Smugmug is very open and up front about the fact that your stuff is your stuff. It is at the core of their business so I’m not too worrried about them changing their terms of service.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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