Your landscape photography could be a lot better than it is. If you’re honest, you know that there’s room for improvement. The question is, what will help you grow and develop the most?
I have been using various forms of website for my photography since I caught the bug around 2008. Initially, I experimented with having a simple portfolio site built by a web designer friend, but I quickly got frustrated with having to rely on someone else any time I wanted to update my site or portfolio. I soon discovered WordPress and its ability to operate not only as a blog, but also a powerful portfolio site complete with galleries and even e-commerce via plugins. My self-hosted WordPress website served me well as my main site for awhile, but when I discovered PhotoShelter, I realised what I was missing out on. The ability to upload full-resolution images to a powerful portfolio website that doubles as a backup archive was a no-brainer for me. Instead of replacing my main site, I use my PhotoShelter archive and WordPress site simultaneously, which has a number of advantages, including the ability to maintain this blog.
PhotoShelter is only one of a number of companies offering a range of website and portfolio services for photographers. There is also Squarespace, Livebooks, Zenfolio, and SmugMug, just to name a few. As I only have experience with PhotoShelter and SmugMug, and they seem to be the most popular portfolio website providers, they are the two I will be comparing. After being a PhotoShelter customer for a number of years, I recently decided to give SmugMug a try. This was for a number of reasons, which I will get to. Firstly, a summary of the two photography portfolio website heavyweights:
PhotoShelter is based in New York, USA, and has over 80,000 photographers using the service. They offer three levels of membership – Basic, Standard, and Pro. Their Beam sites were launched in 2013, which finally offered responsive HTML5 websites that adapt to various screen sizes, including mobile devices. There are five Beam templates and ten classic templates to choose from. Depending on membership level, e-commerce can be set up via one of many print vendors, self-fulfilled printing, or stock licensing. PhotoShelter also offers huge value to photographers in the form of market research, interviews, and free photography business guides.
SmugMug is a family-owned business based in California, USA. Their membership options are very similar – Basic, Power, Portfolio, and Business. They also launched fully responsive HTML5 sites in 2013, known simply as ‘New SmugMug’. There are 70 customisable templates available to choose from. SmugMug’s e-commerce options depend on your membership level, offering print sales with few options right through to fully customisable pricing schedules, branded packaging, coupons, and a choice of print labs. The service also boasts 24/7 customer support via their ‘SmugMug Heroes’.
- PhotoShelter – Basic: $9.99/month, Standard $29.99/month, Pro $49.99/month.
- SmugMug – Basic $5/month, Power $8/month, Portfolio $20/month, Business $35/month
- Photoshelter – Custom sales profiles, worldwide print vendor network, allows self-fulfilled printing, image licensing available.
- SmugMug – Custom sales profiles for Portfolio and Business only, limited to four print vendors in US and UK, does not allow self-fulfilled printing, image licensing available.
- Photoshelter – 10 classic templates, 5 responsive ‘Beam’ templates.
- SmugMug – 70 responsive templates.
- PhotoShelter – Basic 10GB, Standard 60GB, Pro 1000GB
- SmugMug – Unlimited
- PhotoShelter – Basic 10%, Standard 9%, Pro 8% of total sale.
- SmugMug – 15% of profit on sale.
Digital File Delivery/Download
- Photoshelter – Simple to share file or gallery download link directly to email with password option. Can choose image size/format.
- SmugMug – No option to send download link via site, but can have gallery download link sent to your own email and share that link with others. Link only valid for two weeks. No option to choose image size/format. Original image files only.
- Photoshelter – 9am-6pm EST, email and phone support
- SmugMug – 24/7 email support
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been using PhotoShelter for my archiving, portfolio, print sales, and delivery of files for a few years. I’ve been pretty happy with the service for the most part, but have always felt it has fallen short in a few areas. When PhotoShelter introduced their responsive Beam websites in 2013, the resounding response seemed to be “finally!” C’mon, 2013? And to launch with only four templates to choose from is too little too late in my opinion. Since launching Beam a year ago, they have added another template, bringing the grand total to choose from up to five!
I also do not understand PhotoShelter’s decision to stick with limited data storage. I have a Standard membership, which offers me 60GB of storage. Admittedly, using that all up hasn’t become an issue yet, but as my image files and collection continue to grow, this will quickly become one. Why should I then have to pay extra to use more storage?
PhotoShelter allows the use of custom domain names which can be used with self-hosted domains or subdomains (portfolio.rowansims.com instead of rowansims.photoshelter.com for example). This is a great option for those who use their own domain for a blog, etc. My beef is that PhotoShelter only uses a custom domain for the front page instead of the whole archive. When you visit portfolio.rowansims.com, you will stay there until you click on an image or gallery and find you’ve been redirected to rowansims.photoshelter.com. Some might argue this is not a big deal, but it’s important for me to have consistency between my main WordPress site and my portfolio site.
The final straw for me, though was when I recently visited Google Analytics to check my site stats to see once again, despite significant personal effort in the SEO department, that my PhotoShelter site’s search engine visits were dismal. PhotoShelter makes a lot of noise about their SEO, but I have experienced very little benefit from it. I know that there are many things that contribute to search rankings, but given the age of my site, and the effort I’ve put into SEO, this is unacceptable in my opinion.
So, I decided to make the most of SmugMug’s free 14-day trial and see how it compared to PhotoShelter. After setting up my site, importing my archive from PhotoShelter using Smugglr, and setting up my print profiles, I decided to sign up with a Portfolio membership. Here’s what I like:
- It’s cheaper. $20 per month instead of $30.
- There are a lot more templates to choose from, and they are far more customisable without coding with HTML or CSS.
- I can use my portfolio.rowansims.com subdomain and my entire SmugMug site will use that subdomain.
- Unlimited storage.
What could be improved and would make the decision a no-brainer:
- Self-fulfilled printing supported by SmugMug and streamlined through the same shopping cart. This is a big one for me as I am a New Zealand-based landscape photographer, and most of my customers are here in NZ. I sell large framed and canvas prints, and SmugMug’s print labs are all based in the US and UK, meaning shipping large prints is exorbitantly expensive. Self-fulfilled print sales would enable me to use my local print lab and offer free shipping in NZ.
- An option to deliver files or galleries to customers directly from within Smugmug.
In terms of SEO, only time will tell how my search engine stats will compare between my PhotoShelter and SmugMug sites. Initially, they are looking pretty healthy considering how new the domain is. I’ll update this post when I have more info on that front. One of the inconveniences of moving from PhotoShelter to SmugMug, or vice versa, is that I have to go back into my blog posts and update all the image links. Both services allow users to embed images directly into blogs and other sites, but I have developed a practice of uploading 800 px image files directly to my WordPress site and linking to the image on PhotoShelter rather than embedding the images. This is mainly so that in a situation like the one I currently find myself in, my images won’t all suddenly disappear from my blog the second I close down my portfolio website. I’m quietly stoked that I had the foresight to do that now, as it will make the transition a lot easier and less painful. I’ll be leaving my PhotoShelter site up for a little while until I’m satisfied that all the links have been changed and the connection between my main site and my SmugMug site is seamless.
UPDATE: After more than three months with my older PhotoShelter site and my new SmugMug site running simultaneously, my analytics show that my SM site has had over three times the number of search engine hits as my PS site. This confirms my suspicions that all the noise PS makes about their SEO is just that. I don’t know why, but as far as I can see from these stats, SmugMug wins the SEO battle by a mile! CLICK HERE FOR 15% OFF SMUGMUG.
The truth is, the needs of photographers varies as much as our jobs, and therefore what one photographer needs from their website is going to differ significantly from the next. This post serves only to illustrate my own experience of using the two services. My intention is to help guide photographers to make the decision that is best for them by giving them a side-by-side comparison of PhotoShelter and SmugMug. Whether you are a current or past user of one of these services and thinking about jumping ship, or have never used either of them and you’re thinking about joining up, my advice is to make the most of the free trials that both companies offer. Try one or try them both and see what works for you. I would be surprised if one of their membership levels doesn’t serve your needs.
If you have experience with PhotoShelter, SmugMug, or both, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If I’ve missed some valuable info or this review needs updating as they update their services, please also hit me up by commenting below or sending me an email. If you want to sign up for one or both free trials, please support this blog by clicking on the images above.
Since then, the New Zealand-based landscape photographers have been in hiding, working on their newest offering to the photography community, Loving Landscapes: A Guide To Landscape Photography Workflow and Post-Production. As with their first, this book has been published by Digital Photography School (dPS), one of the top photography blogs and publishers of fantastic photography resources. As the name implies, this ebook builds on the knowledge and skills gained from Living Landscapes by exploring the world of post-production workflow. If there was one area in Living Landscapes that I felt was too brief and needed expanding upon, it was the digital darkroom. Not surprisingly, Todd and Sarah have exceeded expectations with this monster. It’s packed with 200+ pages of New Zealand landscape photography gorgeousness and post-production genius. No matter your choice of workflow weapon, this will be an invaluable resource. Let’s get into it.
The book is divided into 12 chapters:
- Image capture
- Computers and backups
- RAW workflow for landscape photography
- File management in Lightroom
- Organizing your images in Lightroom
- Outputting your images from Lightroom
- Single-exposure post-processing
- Single-exposure post-processing walkthrough
- Other Lightroom tools and features
- Single-exposure techniques
- Photoshop for landscape photographers
- Multi-exposure workflow
The first couple of chapters are pretty self-explanatory. They really just cover a lot of the techniques and tools required to get the best image possible in-camera and store files safely. They briefly outline everything from correct exposure, sharpness, dynamic range, and histograms to the use of tools like tripods and filters. Any photographer not confident in the area of capturing landscape images would be wise to purchase Todd and Sarah’s first ebook Living Landscapes. No digital photographer can ignore the need for a solid backup system. There are countless stories of photographers losing everything due to hard drive failure. Chapter two outlines Todd and Sarah’s very robust backup system, which you would do well to beat.
Chapters 3-6 get into some more meaty workflow goodies with a discussion of why Todd and Sarah use a RAW workflow (and why you should), and then an introduction to using Adobe Lightroom (LR). Although there are many alternatives, some better than others, there is a good reason why Lightroom is the industry standard. Loving Landscapes refers to LR extensively, but of course if you already use something else you will still be able to use the principles taught in this book. I have been using LR for my workflow for a few years, and I wholeheartedly agree with Todd and Sarah that nothing else even comes close. Chapters 4-6 will introduce you to the process of setting up a solid cataloging and file-naming system, and importing, managing, and outputting from LR. Getting started on the right foot with your image library will save you a world of pain later on, and the process is relatively easy to work through even if you already have a decent collection of images.
Moving into the image post-processing, chapters 7-10 look at techniques to edit single-exposures in Lightroom. These chapters progress very naturally from an overview of the develop module to a real image processing walkthrough, and a look at more advanced LR tools and features. The process is very helpfully aided by the provision of one of the RAW files that Todd and Sarah have included in the Loving Landscapes package. This section really displays the power of LR. I’m constantly amazed by what LR can do with a single-exposure image, and it just keeps getting better. Todd and Sarah do well in these chapters to give you a really solid knowledge-base and the skills to be able to use Lightroom’s develop module in a very precise and effective way. Although there is a discussion on presets, this will give you what you need to express your creative vision very intentionally, rather than relying on someone else’s. Although they acknowledge that there are some LR tools that they just don’t use, no stone is left unturned in their discussion of the develop module. The only section I didn’t feel fitted well here was chapter ten, which explores some of the more creative forms of landscape photography like impressionism, zooming, camera spin, and long-exposure photography. Not that these aren’t valid forms of creative expression, they just seemed like they would’ve fitted much better into Living Landscapes, as they are photographic techniques, rather than post-processing techniques.
In chapter 11, things step up a notch with an introduction to editing images using Adobe Photoshop (PS). As previously mentioned, what can be done in LR now is quite incredible, but it has it’s limitations. This chapter does a great job of illustrating the tools that are available to the landscape photographer in PS. Photoshop can be daunting to the novice. It’s still daunting to me now! I find the best way to think of PS is as a huge box of tools that can do many different jobs, but most people will only ever use a few of those tools in very specific ways. A designer, videographer, and illustrator will all use PS very differently to the way a photographer will. Even within the photography field, different specialties will use PS differently. A fashion photographer won’t use it that same way as a landscape photographer. That being said, it’s worth mentioning that this ebook is really only an introduction to PS. The major strengths of PS over LR are in the areas of making selections and cleaning up images; healing, cloning, etc. Sarah takes you through a few examples of the tools they use, how they use them, and do a comparison of their results in PS vs LR. They really are convincing. LR mostly does a great job, but the few times it falls short, there is always a way with the right tools and knowledge in PS. The PS novice can quickly and effectively learn to use these tools to improve their images with practice, and once you realise it’s not that scary after all, you’ll be like Alice in the PS rabbit-hole!
Last, but certainly not least, is a look at multi-exposure workflow. For reasons I will let Todd and Sarah explain, sometimes we need more than one exposure to create the image we envision. Whether it’s to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image, a stitched panorama, or a composite image, there will come a time when you want (or need) to combine multiple exposures. I mentioned in my review of Living Landscapes that I wished this had been discussed, and now I can see why it was omitted. It’s not a subject you can quickly breeze over. Todd shares his techniques for manual blending of images using selections, and luminosity masks, and Sarah introduces you to blending exposures by tonemapping using Photomatix Pro software. Again, they’ve provided RAW image files so you can follow along with them as you work through the book. There are as many techniques to do this as you can point a stick at, so bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list.
On the whole, I am very impressed with Loving Landscapes. It’s a very good resource for landscape photographers who are relatively new to the workflow and post-production side of the craft, and there is so much great content that even those who have been at it for awhile will undoubtedly learn something new. Todd and Sarah write in a very straightforward and easy-to-understand way, throwing plenty of their personality and great kiwi humour in to keep things light-hearted. Their work and reputation speak for themselves, and we are very lucky to have them share their wealth of knowledge. There are few photographers of their calibre that are willing to share their post-processing techniques so freely. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. No matter where your landscape photography is at, I’m convinced that your work will benefit from Loving Landscapes.
It’s available for $29.99, or you can grab both of these Landscape Photography ebooks as a package deal and save $20. Hit the banner below to read more:
UPDATE: This camera has gone to a happy new forever home!
After a lot of research and consideration, I’ve decided the time has come for me to sell my trusty Nikon D3s. This amazing camera has served me very well. I bought it when I was working as a wedding photographer, and it served that purpose better than I could’ve hoped. Since then I have moved on from weddings and portraits and focus my lenses mainly on landscapes. Again, the camera hasn’t let me down. It has performed impeccably no matter what I’ve thrown at it, whether shooting stills, timelapse, or video. Hence the reason why my decision to sell it has been such a difficult one.
I love this camera, but as my needs as a photographer have evolved, so must my gear. Basically it comes down to this: this camera is big. It’s a full frame professional DSLR body. It has a vertical grip built in. It has space for two CF cards (part of the attraction for a wedding photographer who can’t risk having a memory card fail). The size isn’t cumbersome, in fact I like the size in my hand. It feels solid and reliable. It doesn’t get blown about in the wind while sitting on my tripod. It’s not that I don’t like the big body, but the more travel I do, whether here in New Zealand, or internationally, the more I notice the size. I’m increasingly envious of people who have space in their carry-on for anything other can their camera gear (no I’m not going to trust thousands of dollars worth of gear into the hands of baggage handlers).
If you’re in the market for a professional full frame camera body, you will do well to go past this one. Of course you could splurge on the brand new D4s, but if you would rather spend half the NZ$8000 that it will cost you and still get an amazing camera, hit me up. This particular body is in great condition. It has a couple of small scratches on the top of the pentaprism, but otherwise is pretty much as new. Has been regularly cleaned by ProGear. Shutter count is at only 21,400 actuations (a fraction of the 300,000 rated).
- Nikon D3s Full Frame Camera Body
- Sandisk Extreme 16GB CF Card
- Lexar Platinum II 8GB CF Card x2
- Lexar Professional 4GB CF Card
- Nikon MB-30 Remote Shutter Release Cable
- Inca Card Reader
All up this gear would be well over $7500 new.
I’m asking $4500. Make me an offer. I’ll be all over the country for the next few weeks, so if you want to view it, let me know and I may be in your area. I’m based in Mount Maunganui. Feel free to contact me if you would like to view and have a play.
Just a quick post to let you know about the latest ebook from Digital Photography School. This latest in their “Photo Nuts” series is titled Photo Nuts and Gear, and is written by Neil Creek. As the title suggests, it’s all about one of my favourite subjects – photo gear. It’s essentially an in-depth buyer’s guide to all things photography from camera bodies and lenses to tripods and camera bags. Here’s a sneak peek at the book:
You can get all the juicy details by hitting THIS LINK and grab the book while it’s still 33% off. It’s only $15 and comes with Digital Photography School’s usual 60 day refund guarantee.
Gina has returned to publish her second ebook with Digital Photography School – Portraits: Lighting The Shot. As the name suggests, this ebook builds on the basic principles she taught in her first book and adds lighting to the mix. Of course there in no photography without light, but this ebook will take your understanding of what can be done with carefully thought-out light to the next level. I’m sure you’ve all heard the rants about how “natural light it better” from the haters. That’s fine. If you want to limit yourself to only ever shooting natural light portraits, be my guest. If you want to level-up your portrait photography skills by learning how to light your subjects well, you can’t go past this book!
The ebook is broken up into sections; The Rules, The Gear, The Way, The Style, and Building The Shot. They’re pretty self-explanatory. “The Rules” lays out ten foundational rules that Gina shoots by. A lot of it is basic rules of photography and business that would apply to any photographic specialty. Many of these apply to me as a landscape and nature photographer, as they would to a wedding or event photographer. The one “rule” here that I suspect would be controversial would be #8 (use a light meter), but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
“The Gear”, again as the name implies, delves into the gear of the portrait photographer. Everything from camera bodies and lenses to tripods, gels, light meters, and remote triggers. Of course, no portrait lighting resource would be complete without covering lights in magnificent detail. Gina covers continuous lighting, speedlights, studio and battery-powered strobes, and mono-blocks. She outlines their common uses, their pros and cons, and suggests examples at different budgets. She even throws in a few MacGyver hacks for the ingenuitive photographer.
Things start getting juicy in the third section “The Way”. This part of the ebook starts to unpack some of the more technical aspects of how light behaves and some of the differences between natural light and flash. It also covers things like how to make artificial off-camera flash look natural, how to use fill flash to complement natural light, and shutter-speed considerations. It includes helpful information about things like shooting at different times of day and weather conditions. The last part of this section on shaping light I found particularly helpful, as it identifies and compares a number of different light modifiers (softbox, umbrella, scrim, beauty dish, etc), how they work, and when to use them, all beautifully illustrated with Gina’s stunning portraits of course.
“The Style” shows you how to put all this technical knowledge into practice and begin creatively expressing your vision. It introduces little touches that can take an image from good to great, like using lens flare and catchlights in your subject’s eyes. It includes a great part on lighting more than one subject, and even groups, which if you’ve done before is not easy! This section really leads you into some of the decision making that will help to define your individual vision and style, something that is relevant for all photographers, beginner or seasoned professional. The practical examples in the final section “Building The Shot” bring it all together to show you how a real-life photo shoot can look and how different subjects call for different decisions. It looks at how to balance light, add lights individually and selectively, and use mood to create dramatic, eye-catching portraits.
Overall, I think Gina’s book would be an incredibly valuable resource for any portrait photographer no matter their level of skill or experience. It’s available for $19.99, or you can bundle it and grab all four of Gina’s other Portrait Photography ebooks and save 38%. Hit the banner below to read more: