A portfolio is a must for any visual artist: graphic designer, animator, videographer or photographer. It presents potential clients with quick overview of the artists best work and sets the expectations of what to expect. It helps to visualize the vision and experience of the artists into 8-10 pieces of work.
I as a photographer decided to build and maintain online photography portfolio so that my clients can see my best images. And not just the images but also post-processing skills which I have built over time.
And are there plenty of choices one has for online portfolio? Yes. Way too many. But after reviewing some of them I was able to distil the options to two which I decided to consider: Smugmug and Zenfolio. The good part is that both offer 30 days evaluation period during which one can test the features of each offering and take them for a “test drive”. At the end as all things in life, it comes down to making a decision.
For me the choice was Smugmug based on my needs and features which I think worked better for me. Here is the list of some of the decision considerations:
– Smugmug offered a complete customization (can write your own HTML and CSS, customize the headers and footers of the page, many menu options, custom HTML contact, info pages, etc) which is what I needed to tailor my website to my vision and needs
– Smugmug had much better website site-index (this is what search engines read to understand the website organization and crawl it, then add the results to their index). if you are planning to offer services and make money from the website, then you need to be placed higher in SE results and site-index helps
– There are more than 20 website themes on Smugmug to start with (you can stay with the default themes or use them as starting point and change to your taste and needs) as base foundation and them modify and customize. Having choices is better and having more choices is best in my view. I used one of the templates and them changed the background color, fonts, layout to come up with the final look for my photography website
– Smugmug offered access to up to 6 professional photo labs (including one I like BayPhoto. Zanfolio uses MPix which is also good choice) which my clients can order prints from. Again, lots of options is best as each client might have used one of the 6 labs in the past and feel comfortable with the prints quality, so the whole experience is better
– Smugmug customer support is more responsive (during the trials of both I had questions on how customize the templates and fount Semugmug support answered within 1 hour while Zenfolio took more than 6 hours)
– Smugmug picks up the image tags you assign in Lightroom and adds them to each image you upload. You can also add hyper-keywords to each image which are later being picked up and indexed by the search engines. This allows your images to be available in the images search for certain search terms (family photographer, baby pictures, etc). Gold when you need clients to find you online.
– Smugmug has up to 12 levels of gallery hierarchy (you can have Portraits (first level) : Headshots, Baby, Family (second level) : Headshots Male, Headshots Female, Baby Newborn, Baby One Months, Baby Two Months, etc (third level) etc. useful if you want to sell prints and need to organize your images by themes in different dimensions.
– Website customizations are available from grin Smugmug forums and many users have already shared examples of their layout customizations and HTML / CSS code.
– Smugmug offers a hierarchical organization of site layouts. On the top level there is a content that will appear on all pages, followed by a gallery specific content, and on the bottom there is a page specific content. Each level can be customized and edited for the greatest flexibility in site customization. It’s bit more complicated than Zenfolio layout organization but once one understands it, is is quite easy to build and customize the site and pages.
– e-commerce on Smugmug allows much more customization and greater control over the pricing and offers much more merchandize options. For a starter,Smugmug offers much more print options of paper type, framing, gallery wrap, canvas, etc. – using photo sharing site on mobile devices is a must nowadays. I tested on both Motorola DROID and Apple iPhone mobile phones as well on Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tables. Some of my images were not displayed correctly on iPhone when using Zenfolio but on Smugmug the image rendering was working flawlessly. While using Smugmug the images appreared sharper on Galaxy Note tablet compared to Zenfolio. Each Smugmug gallery has an option to apply default sharpening on all images from the gallery which I guess made the difference.
– The new Smugmug interface was recently released and new set of tools were added to further customize these templates and add in basic elements to further customize the front page or galleries: slideshow, HTML and CSS boxes. Adding to the website is as easy as drag and drop into the desired position and later customizing all the settings by drop down menus.
– Optimization for all three user devices: tablet, browser and mobile devices. Rendering is adjusted for each screen size and I find the images and text are scaled down very accurately. Some long titles in the menu options wrap on mobile screens but it still looks very well.
– Social networking integration has been added to Smugmug by having complete set of customization to add and modify blog, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter links. These links can be added on both the front page, galleries and on each HTML page which makes is easy for your clients to share the site and pages with their friends.
– Lastly, Smugmug offers website usage statistics for the views per site, gallery and individual pictures which is useful to understand the visits and views of your galleries and site as overall. And if this is not enough or granular, there is seamless integration with Google WebTools and Google Analytics. Registration code is easily pasted into a designated field without having to modify any code or meta tags.
Decision however depends on how comfortable you feel on customizing photo sharing website and do you really need to do it. Zenfolio offers out of the box with less customization option, while Smugmug offers powerful customization but needs HTML and CSS, web design knowledge for customization (out of the box is fine).
Whichever you decide to pick, look for discount promo codes. Most photo sharing websites offer promotions and why pay more. At the time when I made my choice, Smugmug was offering 20% discount. Bu so did Zenfolio as well. The market for photo sharing sites is very competitive and saturated so the competition is heating up and companies are offering sign-up discounts.
To see my photo sharing site and photography portfolio using Smugmug, visit: http://www.trifonanguelov.com
Think differently? Agree or disagree? Drop me a line or more in a comment section…
Trifon Anguelov Photography
Portrait and Wedding Photographer in Mountain View, CA, 94040