Looking for a Flickr Alternative, Part II

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Welcome to Part II of our “Looking for a Flickr Alternative” series. In this second and final part, we’ll look at three options geared more towards photographers who intend to make a living off their work, or who want greater control over the way their images are displayed.

The three services we take a look at in this article are paid-only options, with no free accounts. All have free trials available, however, so you can see what you’re getting into before you shell out the bucks to get an account.

One caveat – none of these services is going to be a replacement for Flickr’s community and social features, but if you’re a photographer who uses Flickr to only display or store your images, then the sites mentioned below are worth a look.

SmugMug

Pro accounts at SmugMug enjoy a great deal of customizability
Pro accounts at SmugMug enjoy a great deal of customizability

There are three types of accounts you can sign up for at SmugMug: Basic, Power, and Pro. All of them include uploading unlimited photos, unlimited traffic, and a host of ecommerce functionality to make selling your prints pretty darn easy.

The Basic account, which starts at $5/month, or $40/year, gives you the core set of features; you can upload your images, use a theme to customize the look of your portfolio, and sell your images. Folks looking for a low-cost, robust option to just store and showcase their images will find that this option covers just about everything they need.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Pro account, and this is what users wanting maximum flexibility and customizability will want to sign up for. Apart from the standard themes that you can use to define the look and feel of your image galleries, you can use  HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to further edit your SmugMug site. SmugMug also has a list of approved and Certified Customizers that can give you a completely tailor-made site.

Pro account holders can also set custom pricing for their images, set up passwords for their assistants to log in and perform admin tasks, apply custom watermarks to their images, and sell products from the three labs that SmugMug works with – Bay Photo, White House Custom Color (WHCC), and EZPrint.

Many of SmugMug's tools are menu-based
Many of SmugMug's tools are menu-based

Power and Pro users can also use SmugMug to display 1080p video clips up to 20 minutes long each – and sell digital downloads to their customers, too.

SmugMug’s upload and organizational tools are powerful, and may require just a bit of attention to get used to. Aperture and Lighroom users can upload to SmugMug directly from within their applications, and there are plugins for iPhoto as well.

The plethora of tools takes some getting used to, but once you do, you’ll appreciate the power SmugMug puts in your hands to organize and display your images.

All in all, SmugMug provides a very comprehensive end-to-end solution for photographers who want a single place to store, showcase and sell their work.

Zenfolio

Zenfolio users can also add a huge dose of customizability to their sites
Zenfolio users can also add a huge dose of customizability to their sites

Zenfolio and SmugMug offer many similar features. Like SmugMug, there are plugins to upload photos to the service through Aperture and Lightroom, and like SmugMug, you can organize your images into galleries, control permissions, sell your work, and customize the look and feel of your portfolio.

If you think the two services don’t differ at all, you’d be mistaken. The aesthetics and functional methodology of the two sites is very different. Organizing and editing of photos in SmugMug, for example, is done more or less through the use of menu options that appear on your gallery pages when you’re logged in as the admin user. Zenfolio, on the other hand, has a completely different method, and drops you into a separate “Edit View” that bears no resemblance to your front-end site.

Some users that have administered their own WordPress or other blogging systems before will find this paradigm somewhat useful, perhaps more powerful than SmugMug’s offerings. Zenfolio also offers a slightly longer laundry list of customization options to their basic account holders. Their focus is more on individual photographers doing their own customization, and they don’t have SmugMug’s system of approved Certified Customizers either.

Zenfolio uses an entirely separate "Edit View" for customization
Zenfolio uses an entirely separate "Edit View" for customization

Zenfolio’s has a more tiered set of account offerings than SmugMug. Those needing just showcase functionality can chose either the Basic or or Unlimited plans, which don’t give you the ability to sell your work, or to brand your Zenfolio account with your own identity, logos, etc.

That functionality is reserved for Premium and Premium Business account holders only, who have far greater flexibility in setting prices, can create a client access page, use custom watermarks, and have access to the MPIXPro lab, among other things..

DIY-ers and tinkerers will likely revel in Zenfolio’s extensive list of features, and the site does provide some very clean designs and templates as a starting point.

Photoshelter

Photoshelter users have 10 themes they can chose from
Photoshelter users have 10 themes they can chose from

Of all the services I looked at, Photoshelter had me scratching my head the most. Unlike SmugMug or Zenfolio, Photoshelter doesn’t offer unlimited storage of your images – at any level of subscription. It’s also the priciest, with plans starting at $9.99/month and going up to $49.99 per month. It seems to offer the least amount of customization options, too – only 10 templates to chose from.

So why include it in this list? Well, I decided to do so because of three key things.

  1. SEO: Of all the sites, Photoshelter is the one that offers the most tools for Search Engine Optimization for photographers. The excellent blog at blog.photoshelter.com also offers a steady stream of business and SEO advice to photographers.
  2. Turnkey: While it’s easy to be up and running on SmugMug and Zenfolio as well, Photoshelter’s focus seems to be – and this may be just my impression – on turnkey image hosting and display. Indeed, the service seems avoid offering a bunch of features in order to make launching your portfolio a lot easier and simpler. The important things are still customizable from the base templates, though; the size of your images on-screen, and the size and positioning of text on-screen.
  3. Customer Loyalty and Service: The few folks who use Photoshelter that I’ve spoken to rave about the service, and its customer service. Photoshelter also claims that customer support is one of their highest priorities.

Photoshelter also offers some nice tools for selling rights-managed images (essentially, stock images) from your own site, rather than use a stock agency. If you’re, say, an editorial photographer, and have a steady following for your images, it would make sense to sell them through your own Photoshelter site.

Bottom-line: Photoshelter is worth a look for photographers who want a turnkey solution, but don’t need SmugMug or Zenfolio-like levels of customizability.

Conclusion

Flickr is getting a makeover, according to BetaBeat
Flickr is getting a makeover, according to BetaBeat

There are a number of options for photographers to display their work online today, and these three are just a fraction of those options. Flickr itself may still be a viable option; even as I write this, Betabeat is reporting that Flickr is about to overhaul its service. The new improvements seem to bring it closer in line with Google+’s way of displaying galleries, which is a good thing.

But whether Flickr undergoes a resurgence or thrashes about in death throes, the value of not putting all your eggs in one basket cannot be understated. Plus, if your Flickr account is growing, with thousands of photos in your account, then perhaps it’s time to start thinking about monetizing your work. For that, one of the services mentioned here would be an excellent choice.

For what it’s worth, I went with SmugMug. I love BayPhoto, the lab that they use, and I really like the way SmugMug allows you to hire a professional to customize your portfolio site.

So take a look at what SmugMug, Zenfolio, and Photoshelter have to offer, and let us know which one you end up with (if any) in the comments below.

UPDATE: Deborah from Photoshelter contacted us with some additional info about Photoshelter’s offerings. She made some solid points, which I believe should be considered.

1) The service has a premium fee because we offer more features than any of the other services you compare. We offer full image archiving of file types like JPG, RAW, TIFF, and PSD, and no file size limits. The “unlimited” services cap file type at JPG and cap file size.

That’s true – the other services don’t support RAW or PSD files, except as add-ons to the base services

2) In addition to our 4 main integrated print partners, we have a print vendor network that lets you print with over 200 printers worldwide, or invite your own favorite specialty printer. This is a big differentiator.

This is a great point, and should really be featured much more prominently in their product descriptions.

3) We have file delivery tools built in, including inbound/outbound FTP and trusted client access to get images to clients in a hurry. The file delivery tools are what makes our working photographers rave about us.

The FTP delivery is a great point – none of the other services offer this.

It would appear that Photoshelter has more to offer users than an initial look at the service would indicate. We thank Deborah and the crew at Photoshelter for bringing these points to our attention.

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