A home for my photos

My reasons for moving to SmugMug

I have been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. My first experience with digital photos was purchasing a CD of my pictures, to accompany physical prints, when having film developed. I started using digital cameras with the Sony Mavica, which saved images to a 3.5” floppy disk, and purchased many cameras over the years. I am now using a Canon 5D mk III, Fuji X100s, Canon S100, and Nexus 6.

I do not consider myself to be a professional photographer, I am a hobbyist at best. My photos are focused on family, friends, and the things I enjoy (cooking, whiskey, etc).

I have tried numerous approaches to storing and sharing photos: Free web hosting, Apache server with photo directories, Gallery project, Flickr, Facebook, Google+, Google Photos, PHP scripts written by friends, and numerous versions of my own software.

Flickr was my favorite hosting option for a long time, I was a paid member (Flickr Pro) for approximately two years. I transitioned to Google+ when it was released but there have always been small issues that prevented me from being truly satisfied.

I decided to re-evaluate photo hosting options and determine if there is a better solution for my needs. I considered seven services during my evaluation: Google Photos, Facebook, Amazon Cloud Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Flickr, 500px, and SmugMug.

Accessibility & Organization

My family and friends must be capable of finding my photos. I do not want to require anyone to sign up for a service so this means I need a shareable URL. I prefer to have a custom URL on my domain (ex: photos.schrier.cc) so it is memorable and continues to work if I switch to another service.

I am very impressed by Google’s automatic tagging but I expect, and want, the ability to add keywords, titles, and annotations to my pictures for detailed organization/searching. Google Photos does not provide a public per-user landing page at this time, it is only possible to share individual collections using a non-discoverable URL.

Flickr doesn’t support free-form tags but the functionality is easily achieved using sets.

Amazon’s Cloud Drive doesn’t support searching or adding photo metadata. Microsoft’s OneDrive supports tags, and filtering by a single tag, but it does not appear to be part of the search options.

SmugMug and 500px support custom domains, tags, and albums. I’m very impressed with SmugMug’s ability to filter by multiple tags so I can quickly link to photos featuring both of my children.

Storage

My wife and I have accumulated 600GB of photos over the past 16 years. We are selective about what is uploaded and typically downsize images before uploading to Facebook or Google Photos due to storage quota.

I frequently find myself re-uploading images in full resolution so friends and family may purchase large prints (8x10” or larger) and use the pictures as wallpaper. Most of my photos are licensed under a Creative Commons license so an original quality image (16–22MP) is preferred.

Google currently offers 15GB of free storage; photos up to 16MP are considered free with Google Photos if using the “High quality” setting. I prefer to use the “Original” storage setting so my images are not downsized or modified; this requires using storage quota for the entire image. It is possible to purchase additional storage: 100GB is 1.99/month, 1TB is $9.99/month, and higher options are available.

» Facebook does not have a quota but they downsize the image to 2048x2048 and discard the original.
» SmugMug offers unlimited storage for $60/year.
» 500px offers unlimited storage for $25/year.
» Flickr offers 1TB for free but has a hard cap and contains Ads. An ad free account costs $50/year.
» Amazon includes unlimited photo storage with Amazon Prime ($99/year).
» OneDrive currently offers 15GB but has announced unlimited storage for Office 365 subscribers ($9.99/mo)

Collaboration / sharing

It is common for multiple cameras to appear at social gatherings; it’s frustrating to have photos from a single event sharded across multiple accounts/galleries. Facebook solved this with collaborative albums and Google+ events allow attendees to upload photos. Sadly, both solutions require every attendee to have an account and use that specific service.

SmugMug offers two forms of sharing: custom (key protected) per-album URLs that allow visitors to upload images (without an account) and an “assistant” password (if you have the expensive business account). The per-album upload URLs are incredibly useful and can be disabled once everyone has uploaded their pictures. Personally, I do not mind sharing my SmugMug password with my wife given that the scope is restricted to our personal photos.

The other services do not support collaborative albums.

Visitors should be able to download one, or more, images from an album. Google Photos and OneDrive make it very simple for users to download an entire album. SmugMug provides the option for gallery owners to generate an album download link which can be forwarded to others; it is not possible for visitors to easily download albums on their own.

Design

Many of the photo hosting websites utilize a minimal design and focus on the user’s photos. I find it nice that SmugMug, and 500px to a lesser extent, provides the power to completely customize the layout and content of your gallery.

Facebook, Flickr, OneDrive, Cloud Drive, and Google photos force you to use their design which includes additional navigation items, and headers, that may not be appropriate for all visitors.

API

I am a developer, it makes me incredibly happy when services provide an API. I find myself writing, and publishing, simple tools when a feature I want is missing.

The Flickr API allowed me to use a third-party program and download my entire library with original image quality. SmugMug maintains a list of third-party applications to help users achieve various goals.

SmugMug, 500px, Flickr, Facebook, CloudDrive, and OneDrive offer APIs with various levels of abilities. Google Photos does not provide an API.

Lightroom integration

Adobe Lightroom is my preferred application for importing, developing, and exporting images. It is incredibly nice when services provide a plugin to support quick publishing.

SmugMug, 500px, Flickr, and Facebook all support publishing from Lightroom.

Per-image license definition

Many of my photos are licensed under a Creative Commons license. I chose to maintain the copyright on my family photos to reduce the likelihood that my children’s photos are used for advertising or other inappropriate content.

Flickr does an excellent job allowing users to specify a default license and set the license of images on upload. This information is used for search and clearly displayed.

Other services fall short on being able to set or display a license on a per-image basis. Most services don’t provide a way to specify the license for images at all.

Conclusion

Each service has benefits, and drawbacks, but SmugMug fits my needs the best. I have purchased a year of SmugMug service and established my personal photos at photos.schrier.cc.

I understand that services are designed to target the largest number of users; my specific desires means I am not the target user for many of these services. I have discussed my needs with the Director of Google Photos and I plan to re-evaluate the service when, and if, it includes features that support my needs.

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