Can anything ruin your travels like than coming home with crappy photos? I know – no photos at all. What will really rip your undies is if it could’ve been avoided if you were better prepared. You don’t need a lot of gear to take great travel photos, but a few extra things in your camera bag can help you prepare for whatever your travels might throw at you. These are a few travel photography accessories that I’ve found are well worth the insignificant extra weight and cost.
Lens Wipes – $11
These little beauties are tiny, weigh nothing, and will clean your lenses far better than a microfibre cloth (although I always carry one of them too). The alcohol in the wipes will clean just about anything off your gear that a lens cloth will often just smear around. You can also use them to clean the LCD on the back of your camera, your glasses, even the screens on your devices. As an added bonus, you can sniff them for a cheap buzz (kidding).
Camera Strap – $67
I’ve been using sling-style camera straps by Blackrapid for years, and I can’t imagine ever having a camera hanging around my neck again. A sling-strap distributes the weight of your camera over your shoulder instead of your neck and leaves the camera sitting on your hip where your hand conveniently lives. Perfect for long days of walking around exploring a city when you don’t want to carry your whole camera bag. My strap has a little pocket for little goodies like memory cards or lens wipes.
Memory Card Wallet – $17
When my spare memory cards aren’t in my camera strap pocket, they live safe and secure in my Think Tank Photo Pee Wee Pixel Pocket Rocket Memory Card Wallet. Yup, that’s what it’s called. It has space for four CF cards and three SD cards, although these days I’m all SD. There’s even a space for your business card in case you throw it as somebody and they’re nice enough to try to find you to return it.
Power Bank – $49
I have been accused of being a little obsessed with gadgets, and I can’t really argue. In my defence, I don’t own any gadgets that I don’t use. The problem with gadgets is that they need electricity, which can be in short supply when travelling. I’m lucky enough that all my gadgets can be charged via USB, including my camera (thank you, Sony).
I don’t go anywhere without my Anker PowerCore 20100 power bank now. I have the 20,000mAh model, which is enough to charge my phone six times! It has two USB outlets, meaning I can charge multiple gadgets or devices at the same time. That’s if my girlfriend hasn’t already drained it.
Headlamp – $29
My favourite times of day for photography are from about an hour before sunset to an hour after sunrise. That gives me a little light at either end and whole lotta darkness in the middle. If I’m photographing sunrise, I’m walking to my location in the dark. If I’m photographing sunset I’m walking back from my location in the dark. If I’m photographing the stars or milky way… you get the idea. I’m often out in the dark.
A headlamp is invaluable for not only getting to and from locations in the dark, but also seeing what you’re doing while keeping your hands free. It’s also great for illuminating the foreground to find a focus point and for light-painting fun. The Petzl Tikka Headlamp isn’t the cheapest option, but mine’s still going strong after a few years.
L-Bracket – $49
I don’t know how long I tolerated trying to shoot vertical images with the camera flopped over onto the side of my tripod ball-head. When I heard of the wonders of an L-bracket, I was like a man possessed. I had to have one. An L-bracket essentially gives you the ability to connect your tripod to either the bottom or the side of your camera. It’s lightning fast and means that when your camera is vertical, it sits on TOP of your tripod, rather than hanging off the side.
There are expensive brands that will sell you one specifically for your model of camera, but the universal ones work just as well and won’t cost you a limb. I use the 3 Legged Thing Universal L-Bracket as it came discounted with my tripod, but there are cheaper third-party options.
Card Reader – $17
Plugging in and importing each of your memory cards individually at the end of the day is for people who get paid by the hour. A card reader will make the process far simpler and quicker. Different models will accept different card types, so check what you need first. I still use my Kingston Multi-Card Reader from when I used both CF and SD cards. As I only use SD and microSD cards these days, I would go for the Anker 8-in-1 Portable Card Reader.
Remote Shutter Release – $18
If you are photographing anything that requires your camera to be on a tripod, I would recommend using a remote shutter release. Why put your camera on a nice, sturdy tripod only to shake it around with your big, gammy hands? You can use 2-second delay, but if you’re wanting to play with long exposures and astrophotography, a remote shutter release is a must. It’ll take your shaky mitts off the camera and also allow you to leave the shutter open well past 30 seconds.
I’ve used Neewer’s models for years, but rarely use mine these days thanks to my camera’s ability to connect to my phone, which now acts as my shutter release (thanks again, Sony). I still keep the shutter release in my camera bag as a backup though.
Filter Hive – $29
The debate over whether filters are necessary for photography anymore rages on, but until software can accurately replicate what you can do with a polarising or neutral density (ND) filter, I will continue to carry those precious, magical pieces of glass around. If you use filters (and you should), you’re gonna want to put them somewhere safe.
I use the MindShift Gear Filter Hive MINI. It holds four filters, and I know they’re safe from getting scratched or broken. Nothing is completely safe, though. If something can break, I will find a way. So far they’ve remained intact while safely in the filter hive.
After a few years of travelling with my camera gear and constantly working to minimise it, these are my must-have travel photography accessories. There are other things I haven’t mentioned like memory cards, spare batteries, and gaffer tape to silence any uninvited company, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that you need that stuff.
If there’s anything you think I’ve missed or anything you can’t live without, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
There is always room for improvement in landscape photography. The question is what will give you the best growth for your investments of time and money? Books, workshops, youtube videos? There are so many landscape photography courses available in different formats, how do you choose?
Every photographer wants to be a better photographer. Whatever your motivation – fame, fortune, or just the love of creating art – you want to get better at taking great photos more consistently.
The road is different for everybody, but there are a number of lessons every photographer must learn that lay down the necessary foundations that will take you past the beginner or intermediate photographer phase and set you up to find your own path.
There are many ways to learn these lessons. Read some photography books. Watch some instructional videos. Enrol in some classes. These are all great resources for learning photography, but how do you know what you don’t know? And where to start?
31 Days To Becoming A Better Photographer
You take a month-long online course that covers all of the photography basics and more. Digital Photography School (DPS) have put together a photography course called 31 Days To Becoming A Better Photographer, and it’s what you need to learn photography.
DPS has been teaching photography for a number of years now and has become one of the biggest photography blogs in the world. They’ve produced a fantastic collection of ebooks on everything from shooting portraits and landscape photography to post-production workflow. DPS has also started producing some pretty sweet photography courses, including 31 Days To Becoming A Better Photographer (31DBBP).
The 31DBBP Course
The course is taught by Jim Hamel, a photography instructor with more than enough teaching experience to know how to pass on his wealth of knowledge gained from many years as a professional photographer. He also taught DPS’s Night Photography course, which I haven’t had the opportunity to try out yet.
As the name suggests, 31DBBP is broken up into 31 lessons, or days. Of course, you can take it at your own pace, you don’t have to do a lesson every day. Each section includes an instructional video on the day’s lesson and an assignment, so you actually get up from in front of the screen, pick up your camera, and put the day’s lesson into practice.
I was expecting the lessons to be pretty basic, but I was pleasantly surprised to find them to be very thorough. Jim covers Photography 101 stuff like setting up your camera, exposure and composition early on, but then quite quickly moves into some more interesting and creative techniques like slower shutter speeds for motion blur and using flash.
I was also pleased to see he didn’t neglect to spend time on teaching post-processing, which is such an important skill for photographers to master today. Jim uses Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC to edit images in this course, which is the industry standard, although the principles can be applied to whatever photo editing software you choose.
Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC are incredibly powerful, so this is understandably not a comprehensive LR/PS course, but the post-processing lessons will give you a solid understanding of the software and the skills you need to edit your photos well. Jim covers all the basics including exposure control, local adjustments, colour-management, and finishing details such as noise-reduction and sharpening. He also includes some more creative post-processing techniques such as black and white conversions.
Should you buy 31 Days To Becoming A Better Photographer?
31DBBP is one of the most comprehensive beginner-to-intermediate photography courses I have come across. If you want to learn photography, learn how to edit your photos, or just improve upon the knowledge and skill you already have, you couldn’t do much better than this course.
Jim Hamel is a fantastic teacher who is easy to follow and breaks things down into easily understandable chunks of information. His passion and knowledge are very enjoyable to absorb, and really make you want to grab your camera and go out to put the lessons into practice.
The course comes with a 3-month membership in a closed Facebook group where you can ask Jim questions that you will inevitably have and share the images you create while taking the course.
Course files are available forever so if you decide you want a refresher in a year or two, it will always be available to view. As with all of DPS’s products it comes with a 60-day guarantee.
You can only get in on this course for the next TEN DAYS (until Feb 12). As if that wasn’t enough reason, DPS is currently offering the course for only $49, which is 75% off the normal cost of $199. You can join the 31DBBP course by clicking the banner below.
Do you have any questions, or have you taken the 31DBBP course? I would love to hear your thoughts and see the images you made in the comments below 🙂
I read a post this this week on one of my favourite photography blogs called “Five Books That Changed My Life as a Professional Photographer“. It was a great read, and one that I couldn’t agree more with. I have read and loved three out of those five photography books, and I would agree that they were life-changing for me as a professional photographer. The importance of continuing to educate ourselves as photographers cannot be understated in my opinion. In a world where most photographers these days are ‘self-taught’, reading blogs and books is vital. Especially if you want to work as a professional photographer. I highly recommend heading over and reading the above post.
VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography by David duChemin
Photography Q&A: Real Questions. Real Answers. by Zack Arias
The Copyright Zone: A Legal Guide for Artists in the Digital Age by Edward Greenberg and Jack Reznicki
The Designers Guide to Marketing and Pricing by Ilise Benun and Peleg Top
ASMP: Professional Business Practices in Photography
The last three of the five books in the list are going to be far more relevant to photographers wanting to work professionally, even if that just means part-time. The other two (VisionMongers and Photography Q&A) are going to be literary gold for anyone who wants to go deeper with their photography. I bought them both a number of years ago and have read them numerous times. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Reading this list got me thinking about the other photography books I’ve read that have impacted me. There are quite a few that have inspired me in some way or taught me something new, but there are three more books that I also cannot recommend highly enough. So, in no particular order…
1. “Understanding Exposure, Fourth Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera” by Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson’s Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera is, as the name very clearly suggests, all about the most basic and essential skill of photography – understanding light and how your camera interprets it. When learning photography basics, the interaction of light, aperture, and shutter-speed are some of the first things that beginner photographers need to get their heads around. Understanding Exposure goes so much deeper than these basic camera settings though. It takes the reader through many of the elements that can affect the image that you end up with on your memory card. One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn in my photography is that light is the single most important element in any photograph. Great light can make a very ordinary scene extraordinary, and ordinary light can make an extraordinary scene very dull.
This is the first book I recommend to any beginner or intermediate photographer. It covers everything from aperture, shutter-speed, and ISO to the use of filters, flash, and coloured gels. It even covers some of the more advanced photographic techniques like long-exposures and shooting star-trails. No matter whether your thing is shooting landscape or travel photography using natural light, or if you like to use flash to shoot portraits or products, Understanding Exposure will give you the knowledge to take better photos.
2. “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision (2nd Edition)” by David duChemin
Expanding on his first book, and one of my favourite photography books (VisionMongers), David duCheming continues on the theme of finding and expressing vision in Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision. David has become one of the most infuencial voices in the photography world by taking the focus off the all too common obsession with gear and placing it firmly on the art and craft of photography. This is summed up by his mantra of “gear is good, vision is better”. His is one of the few photography blogs that I read virtually every post. Often more than once. His perspective and approach are refreshing and understanding. His words are very much from the perspective of someone who is on the same journey as the rest of us. I often feel like he’s my own private mentor.
Within the Frame is part inspiration and part education. As a humanitarian and travel photographer, David has visited and experienced more places and cultures than most of us would dream of in our lives. The book is full of stories, practical advice, inspiration, and beautiful photographs that will help you find and define your own photographic vision, especially if your passion is travel photography.
3. “The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters” by Joe McNally
Like the previous books on this list, The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters was one of the first photography books I owned. I kept seeing Joe McNally showing up all over the place every time I watched or read something photography-related, so I started following him and quickly realised that he is one of the top photography educators in the world for a good reason. He not only has an incredible wealth of experience shooting some of the biggest names and for the biggest magazines in the world, but he has a rare ability to pass on knowledge in easily digestable ways. He simplifies the most complex techniques and concepts like few teachers can.
In The Moment It Clicks, Joe shares many of his photographs (some of which you will probably recognise) and then tells the story behind each image, including the technical info like the equipment and settings he used, how to set up a similar shot yourself, and the challenges and lessons learned from the assignment. The images alone are enough reason to buy the book, as it makes a great coffee-table book, but the wisdom that comes with them make it one of the most valuable photography books you can buy in my opinion.
What are your favourite photography books?
Whether you’re a beginner or advanced photographer, hobbyist or professional, there is always something new to learn or some new inspiration out there. What books have been influencial in your photography journey? They could be educational books like the ones above or inspirational like coffee table books. All the books above can be purchased as kindle or ebooks, but I highly recommend getting your hands on a real paper and ink copy. The images in a real photography book are worth the extra few dollars!
Having been an Android user for quite a few years now, I have come to love Google’s Photos app, and couldn’t imagine travelling without it. The biggest advantage for me is that the app backs up all my photos to the Google servers, giving me the peace of mind that all my images are safe. Images can be put into folders to separate events or locations, and if you can even allow it to recognise and group faces if that’s your cup of tea. Google has also put some pretty impressive image editing tools into the app. Along with a number of presets, it includes sliders that have been separated into categories named Light (exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, etc), Color (saturation, warmth, tint, etc), and Pop (whatever that is).
The great thing about Google Photos is that the web app (photos.google.com) works just like the mobile app. So if you prefer to browse, edit, or organise your photos on your computer, it’s no problem. The app is also very customisable and flexible. I have my set up to only back up when connected to WiFi so I don’t waste my data or get a huge bill when I get home from my travels. You can also select whether the app backs up the “Original” resolution images and uses up some of the many gigabytes Google gives you for free, or uses “High Quality” backups of up to 16 megapixels, which are free and unlimited. I love the “Free Up Space” function, which works by only deleting images from your device which have been safely backed up to Google Photos.
If you allow Google Photos to geotag your images, it makes it far easier to find them in the future. The app will also use that geolocation to automatically create folders and categorise trips for you if you want. As a travel photographer I find this feature incredibly useful. As with all things Google, the search function is insanely powerful. You can search by place, date, face, even type!
Best of all, Google Photos is completely free. If you already have a Google account (if you use Gmail or any other Google service then you already do), then you can just download the app and sign in. If not, it’s free to sign up. You can use it on your Android or Apple device.
If you’ve been immersed in the world of photography for any period of time you will have come across Adobe Lightroom. It is the industry standard for the management of digital images, and its photo editing tools are pretty insane too. In recent times Adobe has been aggressively pushing a cloud-based, mobile-friendly software model, and love it or hate that new direction, you can’t help but love Lightroom Mobile. It does almost everything that the desktop version does, but on your smartphone or tablet.
You can use it to edit images taken with your phone’s built-in camera app, or you can take images from within the dedicated LR Mobile app (including RAW capture depending on your device). You can also import any image into the app from your phone’s directory, which means if you have the ability to transfer images directly from your camera to your phone, then you can start editing them right there on location. Any collection that you create in Lightroom Mobile or in the desktop version can be synced so that you can view or continue to edit them anywhere.
The Lightroom Mobile app is free to download and use but if you want to use the premium features like syncing with Lightroom CC desktop and get free storage (up to 1TB depending on your plan), you will need to subscribe to one of Adobe’s Creative Cloud membership plans. If you don’t use Lightroom on your computer the free version will suffice, but if you aren’t, I’m not sure why because you get A LOT for $10/month. You can find out more on the Adobe website, or just download the Android or Apple version of the app.
Photopills is simply the most useful photography app I have ever used. It’s the only app on this list that you will need to pay for, and that doesn’t stop me enthusiastically recommending it. It is a landscape and travel photographer’s best friend. It’s a swiss-army knife. It makes planning and executing photos fun and painless.
The Photopills app has far too many tools and features to cover in any depth here, but I’ll give you a brief overview. The app helps you to plan photos and timelapses with insane detail by using geolocation technology. It will give you information about the sun, moon, and milky way. If you want to shoot sunset and twilight it will tell you exactly when and where (depending on your location) it will happen. If you want to try some astrophotography and want to know when and where the galactic centre will be on the night of a new moon to make sure the sky is dark, it will tell you that too. You can use the Augmented Reality feature to visualise the sun, moon, or milky way on your phone. You can also plan your photos in the plans manager and save them for later, meaning you can plan for a supermoon in a couple months time and all your info will still be there when the date rolls around.
Photopills has a number of calculators for the inner photography geek in all of us, like exposure, depth-of-field (DOF), hyperfocal distance, star-trails, long-exposure, and time-lapse calculators. Not all of these will be useful, depending on what and how you like to shoot, but some of them are bound to be helpful. It also includes a number of useful widgets that can give you the info you want at your fingertips, like saved plans or a list of info based on your current location.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what this insanely powerful app can do. You could spend $10 on far less useful stuff. I know I have. If you’re not sold on it yet, go read about all the cool stuff it can do to help you make amazing landscape and travel photos. Or just buy the Android or Apple app.
For me there is no better source of photography inspiration than the photo-sharing website 500px. I can’t think of a site that comes close in terms of the quality of photography and the algorithms used to feed me incredible images by some of the best photographers on the planet. 500px left Flickr in the dust years ago. Some of the most talented and hard-working photographers I follow I discovered through 500px. If I want inspiration, 500px will hit the spot almost every time.
The 500px app is no less useful. It is a vital tool for me as a travel photographer in finding locations and subjects, and planning my photos. I will usually create a gallery in the app and start searching for the location or area I am planning to visit, then as I find images of interesting places I save them to that gallery. Often I will save a whole bunch of images without looking at the specific details, then go back later and take a second look at them, noting the name of the beach or mountain or waterfall, etc. I use this information to make a shot-list in that area. I very rarely get to photograph everything on the list, but it’s a good starting point. If there’s a landmark or subject that I’m really interested in I can search again for that specific place and find more images to give me more inspiration and differing perspective.
I have used the app to help me plan a number of photography trips, including the American West Coast, Canadian Rockies, Australia, and of course New Zealand. I’ve even found it useful to find new locations in places I know well, like my hometown of Mt Maunganui, NZ. No matter what sort of inspiration or ideas you’re after, don’t go past 500px for helping to plan your next trip or location. It’s free to download the Android and Apple apps and to sign up.
When it comes to portfolio websites for photographers, SmugMug is one of the best. In my opinion, they are the best. I’ve written about this before in my in-depth comparison of SmugMug and PhotoShelter. One of SmugMug’s big selling points for me is their mobile app. There are many reasons I love this app, like being able to view and upload to my archive from anywhere or sharing images and folders to clients or social media from right inside the app. But the reason I really love it as a travel photographer is that I have my portfolio right there in my pocket everywhere I go. I can show my best work in all it’s high-resolution glory without any of the compression or downsizing you get with Instagram or Facebook. Galleries can be downloaded for offline viewing too, which is great if you don’t have data when you’re travelling or if you’re out of range of cell service.
Of course with the app come all the other awesome reasons to use SmugMug, like UNLIMITED uploads and storage, the ability to sell your photos with e-commerce, and a massive range of customisable portfolio templates that will make your website look badass. If you already use SmugMug, grab the Android or Apple app. If you aren’t, you can get a free 14-day trial and 15% off by using this link.
As promised, there are my five must-have travel photography apps. There are a whole bunch more apps that I couldn’t survive without when on the road, but these are the ones that make my life as a travelling photographer far more simple and stress-free. I’m always on the hunt for new apps to add to my ever-growing collection, so if there’s something you think I’ve missed, or if you have a question, feel free to leave a comment 🙂
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.
Screenshot of my PhotoShelter homepage.
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.
Screenshot of my SmugMug homepage.
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.