I’ve been using various forms of portfolio website for my photography since I caught the bug over ten years ago. Initially, I experimented with having a simple portfolio site built by a web designer friend. I quickly got frustrated with having to rely on someone else to update my site or portfolio, though. Fortunately, I discovered WordPress and its ability to operate as a blog and a powerful portfolio site complete with galleries and e-commerce.
My self-hosted WordPress website served me well as my main site for a while, but when I discovered PhotoShelter, I realised what I was missing out on. The ability to upload full-resolution images to a portfolio website that doubles as a backup archive was a no-brainer for me. Instead of replacing my main site, I used my PhotoShelter and WordPress sites together, which has a number of advantages, including the ability to maintain this blog.
PhotoShelter is only one of a number of companies offering website and portfolio services for photographers. Although they have their similarities, they vary in terms of features and cost. This comparison will help you decide which of the biggest three is best for your needs: PhotoShelter, SmugMug, or Zenfolio.
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.
There are nine portfolio templates to choose from. Depending on your 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. Their membership options are very similar – Basic, Power, Portfolio, and Business.
There are over 20 customizable 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 customizable pricing schedules, branded packaging, coupons, and a choice of print labs. The service also boasts 24/7 customer support via their ‘SmugMug Heroes’.
Zenfolio started with four friends with a love for photography and a background in tech. The service offers three plans – Starter, Pro, and Advanced.
Zenfolio serves over 100,000 photographers across the world in every genre from weddings, events, portraiture, family, babies, and pets to senior portraits, school & sports, landscape, travel, wildlife, and more.
PhotoShelter vs SmugMug vs Zenfolio: Comparison
- PhotoShelter – Basic: $12.99/month, Standard $29.99/month, Pro $49.99/month.
- SmugMug – Basic $7/month, Power $11/month, Portfolio $27/month, Pro $41.99/month.
- Zenfolio – Starter $7/month , Pro $28/month , Advanced $42/month.
- Photoshelter – Custom print and digital sales profiles, worldwide print vendor network, allows self-fulfilled printing, image licensing available.
- SmugMug – Custom print and digital sales profiles for Portfolio and Pro only, four print vendors in US and UK, does not allow self-fulfilled printing, image licensing available.
- Zenfolio – Custom print and digital sales profiles for Pro and Advanced only, nine print vendors in North America, UK, and Australia, allows self-fulfilled printing, image licensing available.
- Photoshelter – 9 customizable, responsive, mobile-friendly templates.
- SmugMug – 21+ customizable, responsive, mobile-friendly templates.
- Zenfolio – 13 customizable, responsive, mobile-friendly templates.
- PhotoShelter – Basic: 4GB, Standard: 100GB, Pro: Unlimited. Support for JPG and TIFF files. No support for video files.
- SmugMug – Unlimited storage. Photo files limited to 150MB. Video files limited to 3GB/20min. JPEG, GIF, PNG, and HEIC files supported.
- Zenfolio – Unlimited storage. Photo files limited to 36MB for Starter and 64MB for Pro and Advanced plans. JPEG, TIFF, GIF, and PNG file types supported. Video files limited to 2GB/20min.
- PhotoShelter – Upload from web, desktop, FTP, Lightroom, Photo Mechanic.
- SmugMug – Upload from web, mobile app, desktop, Lightroom, Luminar, Aperture, Dropbox, Flickr, and more.
- Zenfolio – Upload from web, Windows desktop, mobile app, Lightroom, Photo Mechanic.
- PhotoShelter – Browse, search, share, and download images. Deliver to clients and upload from mobile.
- SmugMug – Display and share portfolio, manage galleries, upload images, view offline.
- Zenfolio – Display and share portfolio, upload images, deliver digital downloads.
- PhotoShelter – Basic 10%, Standard 9%, Pro 8% of total sale.
- SmugMug – 15% of profit on sale.
- Zenfolio – 9.9% of total sale.
Digital File Delivery/Download
- Photoshelter – Simple to share file or gallery download link directly to email with password option. Can choose visibility, image size/format, and duration.
- SmugMug – Gallery download available as .zip file. Link only valid for two weeks. No option to choose individual images or size/format. Original image files only.
- Zenfolio – Galleries and files can be viewed and downloaded via mobile app. File sizes can be enabled or disabled as needed.
- Photoshelter – Mon-Fri 9am-7pm EST email and phone support.
- SmugMug – 24/7 email support. No phone support.
- Zenfolio – 24/7 email support, Pro and Advanced plans: live chat, Advanced plan: phone support Mon-Thurs 10am-3pm PT.
I used PhotoShelter for my archiving, portfolio, print sales, and delivery of files for a few years. I was pretty happy with the service for the most part, but always felt it fell short in a few areas. My frustrations were:
- Limited data storage. I used a Standard membership, which allowed 100GB of storage. With the larger megapixel count of modern cameras and a growing portfolio, I don’t want to have to think about how much of my storage limit I’ve used.
- PhotoShelter allows the use of custom domain names which can be used with self-hosted domains or subdomains (portfolio.yourdomain.com instead of yourdomain.photoshelter.com for example). This is a great option for those who use their own domain for their blog, etc. My issue is that PhotoShelter only uses a custom domain for your front page instead of your whole archive.
- PhotoShelter makes a lot of noise about their search engine optimization (SEO), but I experienced very little benefit from it. There are many things that contribute to search rankings, but given the age of my site, and the effort I put into SEO, my search traffic was disappointing.
PhotoShelter vs SmugMug
I decided to make the most of SmugMug’s free 14-day trial and see how it compared to PhotoShelter. I went with a Portfolio plan, which is the closest option to PhotoShelter’s Standard plan. This is what I liked:
- It’s cheaper. $27 per month instead of $30.
- There are a lot more templates to choose from, and they are far more customizable.
- I can use my custom domain and my entire SmugMug site will use that domain.
- Unlimited storage.
- Better SEO. After having both portfolio sites running simultaneously for a few months, SmugMug won the search engine battle by a mile.
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 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.
SmugMug vs Zenfolio
I’m now in the process of testing out Zenfolio to see how the service compares in the real world. So far I’m impressed, but I want to give it a few months to know for sure whether it’s worth moving my whole portfolio over from SmugMug. It’s a lot of hassle, but could be worth it for self-fulfilled printing alone.
I can’t help but Zenfolio they must be doing something right with over 100 thousand photographers using the service. Time will tell.
The truth is, the needs of photographers vary 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 compare the options and illustrate my own experience. 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, SmugMug, and Zenfolio.
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 all three companies offer. Try one or try them all and see what works for you. I would be surprised if one of their membership levels doesn’t serve your needs.
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I have used Smugmug for over 4 years now and have never had any issues with it. Currently I have 55,573 images on my site using 165gb there has been over 1.5 million images viewed over the previous year. All this as a Power user for $60 per year.
I can not fault their service and support. So enjoy your new relationship with Smugmug I am sure it is going to be a long and happy one.
Hi John. Glad to hear you’re happy with SmugMug. Sounds like you have an impressive collection. Do you use your portfolio site for sales or just to show your work?
Im always on the lookout for improved services and found your article in a comparison search. SM has been good for me although i dont use the commerce functionalities. No storage limitations and cost at 60 per year made it a no brainer. Their LR plug-in works the best of all of them in my opinion
Rowan, I’m from Australia and have an “power” account with Smugmug, Wanting to switch to Photoshelter because the shipping cost could be an obstacle for potential clients in Australia. You have mentioned Self-Fulfilled printing, can you elaborate a little about that. How does it work?
I’m very interested in this too, can’t seem to find a better online gallery solution than SmugMug but the shipping prices to New Zealand are ridiculous!
Yea it’s a catch-22. SmugMug customers have been asking for this for years, but they refuse to get on board. It’s really my only complaint and I know a lot of other people are very frustrated too. All we can do is keep harassing them about it!
Your comments on Photoshelter SEO are spot on. Their structure needs to change so that galleries and images are on your own domain. They are well aware of this going back to 2011 when myself and others raised it so I assume they have concluded that amending their architecture is just too complicated / costly.
I have accounts with Zenfolio, PS, and Smug. I really only use Zenfolio because they offer some back end stuff no one else does. But, their sense of design is so lacking. Smugmug has some good design, esp. for client proofing, but the Event landing page completely undermines the look of the rest of the site. Either scrap the “event” thing, or allow it be customized like the rest of the site. It’s just ugly.
Ha, ha – totally true Mark Tassoni – I had Zen many years ago, and now looking at their site I am in shock at how bad their aesthetics really are… just ugly, very ugly. They seriously need to reach out to people other than the elementary school photographers and the weekend little league photo shooters. I have a good friend that has been using it for years and won’t change cause the migration would be hell (understandable) but I look at his site and think… “man, it would be worth it… “
This is really interesting. I have used Zenfolio, but after a year canned it because of their lack of seo and limited design and convoluted e-commerce options. I also have a SumgMug account which I have never really used, and I have a basic Photoshelter account (I downgraded it from the standard). I like Photoshelter overall, however I never saw any SEO value from it and compared to other offerings I find them a bit pricey. Since I am on the basic I haven’t set my own domain up on it, but am rather shocked to hear it redirects to photoshelter.com for the archive. That is a big deal to me
For my current set up I have have my wordpress blog and I link all to my photos to my online shop at Fine Art America. I usually blog my images which helps my SEO and most people find me from my blog.
I know FAA receives either no mention or gets a bad rap (it’s mainly for artists and it’s a POD) but thus far it has worked for me. It has its limitations …for example the seo benefit there is also dire in my experience. The design leaves something to be desired. BUT it’s $30 a year, no image storage limitations and I can embed a shopping cart into my WP blog. So I drive people there from my blog.
I came upon this post because I was wondering about reactivating my Smug Mug account as an additional place to link to my photos for a portfolio. I have seen some nice portfolio sites from Smugmug. One of the drawbacks about WP is its cumbersome media gallery uploading options and its lack of integrated e-commerce. It’s SEO benefits however are great. Where I have sold my artwork on line people have found me via my blog. I also sell my prints and canvases offline in via a local gallery – so selling my work online comes second to selling it offline. Many of my clients seem to prefer purchasing offline.
But I think I could use Smug-Mug or PhotoShelter as a portfolio site, I know that I have yet to make the most of either. I have no images on my SM account and not that many on my PS account. I can’t make my mind up because both SM and PS have pros and cons, however I might as well upload my work to SmugMug to try it out. It was interesting to read your views.
Rowan, just read your article and found it VERY helpful in deciding to build my site in WP or try SM, how easy is the building interface for the SM templates? Is it similar to WP (easier or harder) I’m a photographer not a code web tech, that suff is like GREEK to me.
Hi Terri. SM have made building your site super simple and user-friendly. You don’t need to know any code and their customer support is fantastic if you get stuck or have any questions. Happy to help 🙂
Thanks, I’ll give it a try.
Also, you can use this link to save 15% off your SmugMug membership: http://j.mp/1BoatG6
Thanks for the info! I’ve been a Photoshelter customer for years but have the same gripes as you. My SEO practices for both my WordPress site and Photoshelter site are the same, yet my traffic to Photoshelter is only 10% of what it is to my WordPress site.
Glad to know you’ve seen an increase in traffic and are happy with the service!
Now if we could only convince them to allow self-fulfilled prints.
Thanks for your comment, John. Seems to be a very common complaint. Have you made the switch to SmugMug, or just considering it?
This was a great help. I’ve been looking for a review from somebody who has used both Photoshelter and Smugmug. I have SmugMug now and have been considering moving to Photoshelter before I fully invest in putting my library on SmugMug. It seems to me that they are aimed at very different clients. Photoshelter looks customized for folks wanting to license their own images for stock and SmugMug is better for folks who want to sell art or other prints from their work (albeit not great for worldwide fulfillment). I guess you could argue that both serve their purpose well, and you might actually want to use both if you just had the cash to burn.
Glad it helped Kevin. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the licensing vs printing comment. I still don’t really understand why Smugmug refuse to get on board with a better licensing sales system and self-fulfilled printing, but it’s been requested for a long time to no avail, so I doubt it will change anytime soon. Good luck with whatever you decide.
I just read your blog post comparing SmugMug and Photoshelter. First I should say that out of shear frustration I just cancel my smugmug account. I have used SmugMug for many years and its never been easy for me. I have made several attempts at re-building my SM website since they changed over to the new format last fall. I just cannot seem to do it â€“ it is not user friendly to me. Any difference in ease of building and modifying your website in Photoshelter compared to SmugMug? It has been very frustrating. I guess I am asking if PhotoShelter is easier?
Thanks for the comparison, Rowan. I have been with SmugMug a couple of years but like what I see on PhotoShelter. One appealing factor is getting access to more (local) printers. I operate out of Canada and even for us the shipping costs out of the USA are high. I think I will try the two in parallel for a while using the 14 day free trail from PhotoShelter.
I actually had a SmugMug for years and switched over to Photoshelter a few years ago. It is true that the SEO analytics are much better for SmugMug, but I really needed the option to self fulfil prints and to send digital files to people. As I sell prints and portraits, I can add all my albums, books, cards, gift certificates or whatever for sale where in SmugMug you can’t. It looks pretty enough, and I really use it for my archive. I wish they would update a few things, but I’m happier with Photoshelter than I was with SmugMug for sure because of that!
Thanks for your comment Allison. Interesting you say that because I have been contemplating moving back over to PhotoShelter for exactly those reasons. I honestly believe I’m losing sales due to my costs being so much higher without self-fulfilled printing. SEO is a big one, but the majority of my print sales come through my blog site or social media, so I don’t think SEO alone is enough to keep me.
Found this post through a Google search. I’m just setting out on my photography journey and the amount of information is overwhelming. This article and subsequent comments has given me clear and concise information and for an Australian based photographer it seems that PS may be the way to go for me.
Hi Mark, glad to be able to help you figure out which service will serve you best. If you decide to use PS they offer a free trial: http://mbsy.co/cqZQs. Good luck!
Hi Rowan, as a photographer newly looking into creating my site this is a great article for me, thanks! Could you please explain to me, what is the advantage of the Smugmug site over your original arrangement, using wordpress? I am not sure I understand any advantages. It sounds like before, you had your images hosted and selling prints commission free, fulfilled by a lab of your choice, and now, you are paying Smugmug a large monthly fee, plus 15% of all your sales, AND your customers are getting screwed with high shipping prices. How exactly is this a good deal for you?
Thanks for your comment. To be honest I’ve been asking myself the same question!
Thanks for your review. I have used Smugmug but not Photoshelter. I have been thinking about going back to a service (use Muse and Lr galleries now) but was debating about Photoshelter and Square space. You’ve made the choice one step easier for me, thanks again.
Hi, Rowan! Loved reading your blog. Informative. I am a hobbyist photographer but I want to start selling my photos. I currently have Smugmug Basic plan but since I can’t sell my photos with the Basic plan, I was looking into trying Photoshelter since I don’t have a large collection of photos. I’ve been taking pictures since 2008 but never thought of selling my photos until now. I am a full time, stay-at-home Mom that would like to earn a little bit of cash. Anyway, I’m gathering up the photos I want to sell and will start the trial with Photoshelter. Wish me luck. I have really enjoyed this article. Thank you!
I using photoshelter already 5 years. Very happy with my website although there is not much option for showing video on the main page (they have just one option for a page with embed Vimeo acount) I would love to know if SmugMug do have more option to show videos.
I am thinking to join either services. Even though I prefer the interface of Photoshelter, the Smugmug SEO is a major factor for me, so thanks for your input.
I had Smugmug for ages then I moved to PS for mainly the â€œdatabaseâ€ side of stuff. I like the back-end but not the limited web designs. Also, they donâ€™t look great on a phone. And I too couldnâ€™t figure out why the Google SEO seemed hopeless. Now Iâ€™m on the verge of going back to SM again! Just need to figure out how to do the NZ fulfilment you mentioned. Maybe there is a 3rd option that combines the best of both?
I’ve basically given up on SmugMug ever offering self-fulfilled printing, so I offer prints to NZ customers through my self-hosted print store (https://www.rowansims.com/portfolio/). I would prefer to just have one print store, but it’s the best arrangement I can come up right now.
Just wondering if you are still using SmugMug or have reverted to just using WordPress/WooCommerce? If you were to deliver large amounts of downloadable files like event photos, what would you use? I’m going to be updating our website to use WooCommerce with WordPress for selling prints and hopefully self fulfill the prints but thinking of using something like photoshelter/zenfolio/shootproof/format (there are so many!!!!) to deliver event photography pics. The more comments I read from people like yourself the more times I seem to change my mind 😛
Really good article though!
I use a combination of woocommerce and SmugMug to sell prints these days. For delivery of large batches of files SmugMug works great. PhotoShelter also works well, but I haven’t used the others so can’t comment on them. It can be confusing trying to find the right service for your needs. It’s worth making the most of free trials to help decide. Glad to hear you found this useful. All the best Barry 🙂
I had a wordpress.com blog (not “.org”) and used livebooks for my portfolio for many years. SEO and print sales were pretty good. Livebooks was changing a couple of years ago in a way I didn’t like so I decided to go to PhotoShelter and also went from wordpress.com to wordpress.org. I linked the two with a landing page with a three image slide show and just “Home, Blog, Portfolio, About and Contact” across the top. The landing page never changes and has no word conten other than “Home” etc.
I think that is my problem. Google lands there and sees there is nothing there but three rotating images. I don’t think google thinks much of this so the SEO has been very low since i did that. I’ve been meaning to change, but haven’t gotten around to it.
Might that be a problem for you and some commenters?
so it’s been a while since this was written, judging by comment age, still finding PS to be the clear winner?
I have a PS account, but not opposed to looking elsewhere, as I’m not exactly tickled with the 8 format options they offer.
Yes, it’s a while since I first wrote this, but I update it regularly, so it’s always relevant. I wouldn’t say PS is the clear winner. There are some things that PS definitely does better than the others, but it really depends on your needs. The very limited number of templates is a big downside, I agree.
do you know if Zenfolio or Smugmug has an option to automatically sync selected folders? I.e. I make some edit, write edited photo to the same folder and expect it to be uploaded to online gallery. It can be done by some third part app, but it should work on the go – without manually selecting new files to upload. I will apreciate any suggestion.
Do you mean folders on your computer or inside software like Lightroom? You can do that in LR quite easily using a plugin.
Thanks Rowan for your reply. I mean folder on computer. I look for solution for simple online backup. Ecommerce functions or seo are not important for me.
Hi, Being a SmugMug user for 7 years, I felt they were making thing worse for users. SEO is one of them. They would disallow the crawling of gallery images and after many months of research had found and they told me they blocked images from being indexed.
The only way to get gallery images indexed where to embed them into HTML so after 7 years I had enough, but still kept with them. Until their new lightbox was introduced, hiding all buying info behind a menu. Well, that was it, I was off.
Now with Photoshelter, been with them 4 months, I guess. Well I picked them after they told me they have an all-new website coming out, was shown examples and with the pro looking layout for image sales ad info I went with them. Their website as it is right now is terrible, If you a multi-subject photographer like me, then you will hate Photoshelter but as I said I,m holding out for their new layout.
Photoshelter is so outdated tho, you can’t add info, you can only change a few links, it feels like a site from the late 1990s. I,m only staying to find out what their new site will be like, if I find it’s not what suits me I will leave.
I went to make my own WordPress site but now host would take my amount of images, stating i would be a Dedicated hosting plan which costs an insane amount of money.
So it feels hard work to get a suit that’s suits and one that will keep up to Googles updates.
Hello, how was your experience with Zenfolio?
I am a legacy Flickr user who would like to explore selling prints and licensing images, and I am also exploring the trials of SmugMug, Photobucket and Zenfolio. I’m interested to hear what what platform you settled on as a veteran and pro photographer. Thank you!
Hi Michael. I actually only use this website these days. I’ve tried and used each of the services here over the years, and they all have their pros and cons, but I feel I can do what I need with just a WordPress site and a few plugins.
Thanks, Rowan. I’ve made the same decision. I’m pleased to see how WordPress has evolved and it looks to do everything i need to get started.