3 Photo Tools for Power Users

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SmugMug: Showing photos at their best

Click to Zoom: SmugMug doesn't only display your photos, but offers elegant tools for resizing and creating galleries as well.
It's not enough to simply show off your photos -- not if you take any kind of real pride in your photography skills. You want all the images to look their best -- and for that, you don't want to simply depend on whatever shrink-it-down algorithm the free sites use. But the debate over which photo-sharing Web site is best for serious photographers can become as heated as the debate over who makes better digital SLRs.

Solution: I'm quite partial to SmugMug, and here's why: Its algorithms for displaying images at different sizes show photos at their best.

Yes, there are better sites for community, such as Flickr, Picasa or Photo.net, but SmugMug's chosen niche is actual photo display. That's what first attracted me to the site, back in the days when I was hand-coding my own photo album pages and manually resizing pictures for thumbnails and Web-friendly larger versions.

Resizing is an art -- certain settings will make a photo look better than others when its dimensions change. I'm impressed by the way various sizes of photos appear on SmugMug.

And I do mean various sizes: The site gives you links to eight different versions of each photo, and you can control the size of the picture you'd like visitors to see. "We even auto-adjust the image to fit the size of the visitors' monitor/Web browser window so they get the best experience with the largest images possible," one of SmugMug's support staff e-mailed in explanation.

SmugMug offers some elegant tools for sharing. The site automatically creates embed code for small, medium and large versions of each photo -- both HTML and BBCode (used for forum and blog comments) -- that you can easily copy and use elsewhere. There's also a wizard for generating RSS feed URLs.

You can send e-mail through SmugMug to tell friends and family about your latest uploads. In addition, you can track who opened your message and if they clicked on the link (assuming recipients don't have an e-mail client or browser privacy functionality that blocks such tracking). There are also plenty of stats available for how many times galleries and photos have been viewed.

SmugMug had power users in mind when it developed its tools for creating galleries (which SmugMug calls albums). In addition to a conventional gallery where you upload photos directly, you can create "smart galleries" that include or exclude photos based on rules. Those rules can include characteristics such as keyword tag, geography (SmugMug supports geotagging), date taken or date uploaded. Add another photo later that meets a gallery's criteria and it will automatically be included in that gallery, even if you manually sent it somewhere else; upload once, and a photo can appear in numerous other galleries automatically.

You can also "collect" photos from your friends' SmugMug galleries (or any photos that have been made publicly available) into a gallery of your own, where they'll display with the appropriate credits and links back to the originating galleries. (Account holders can turn off collecting capabilities on their own accounts.)

There are some community tools within SmugMug as well: voting images up or down, commenting and the now-obligatory Twitter and Facebook buttons.

Galleries can be made public, "unlisted" or password-protected. You can group a number of unlisted galleries together into a "sharegroup," so it's simple to send a single link to several private galleries.

There are also a fair number of user-created apps, such as plug-ins for Adobe Lightroom and Apple's iPhoto, and tool kits for a range of programming platforms such as Java, .Net, PHP, Python and Ruby. SmugMug encourages this work by offering a top-of-the-line Pro account free for a year if you code a public app using the SmugMug API.

All these features are available with SmugMug's Standard ($40/year) account. A Power account ($60/year) lets you also display HD video (although clips are limited to 10 minutes), as well as customize the look and feel of your albums with HTML, CSS and JavaScript (all accounts can choose from dozens of available themes). And the Pro account ($150/year) adds the ability to sell photos and photo gifts.

SmugMug's viewer interface isn't always easy for newcomers looking at photos for the first time -- for example, the slideshow button can be hard to spot at first glance. However, it's certainly no more difficult to figure out than Facebook.

If your No. 1 priority for photo sharing is finding and building community, SmugMug may not be your best option. Likewise if you're looking for the lowest prices on prints and photo gifts -- in that case, you might want to shop elsewhere. But if you're interested in showing photos off to their best advantage, SmugMug is definitely worth a look.

Have your own favorite photo-sharing tool or service for power users? Let us know in the comments below.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook or by subscribing to her RSS feeds: articles | blogs.

This story, "3 Photo Tools for Power Users" was originally published by Computerworld.

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