Battle Royale – Flickr vs. Smugmug

Josh | Dec 22, 2009

I spent a year with a pro Smugmug subscription. When it came time for renewal, I decided to make the switch
over to Flickr. In my year with Smugmug I had uploaded somewhere around 1500 photos. It would be no easy task to
migrate this number of images between services while maintaining their organization and associated metadata. So why do it and is it really worth it?

The target audience of Smugmug seems to be professional photographers. This comes out most in the degree of customization offered by the service. Of the most of technical of these is their support for CNAME DNS configuration. This means that you can buy your own domain name and point it directly at your Smugmug account. They also give you the ability to completely change how your account’s pages look by editing various sections of raw HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

If you’re a professional photographer looking for a simple way to offer a branded online presence, Smugmug has you covered. Employing both DNS redirection and full template customization, photographers can end up with a fully customized photography website without their clients ever even directly realizing that Smugmug is the platform under the hood.

Another difference with Smugmug is the ability to set mark up prices. While both sites offer web to print photo services, only Smugmug offers the ability to mark up the price of images and control which images sizes are available. If you only want to offer low resolution thumbnails available for free and charge for the high-res versions, then this is easily doable too. This is great news for professionals looking to turn a profit on their hard work.

In contrast to the flexibility of customizing how your Smugmug pages look, when you’re using Flickr, you know it. Every page on Flickr looks like a page on Flickr. In order to do any of this with Flickr, you need to already have your own website and call into their own API. This allows you to access your photos and include them in your pre-existing website. Smugmug does also offer its own API in case you want to integrate your Smugmug assets into an existing website.

So what is the final verdict? Both sites have a lot of features in common. Each also has its own pros and cons worth considering. For me, the biggest decision point is this – most of the people I know use Flickr (aside from the few using Google’s Picasa). Flickr is also more of a social site with its various groups, pools, and other community-focused features. Meanwhile, Smugmug does offer a wider range of features geared towards the professional photographer aiming to make money off of their craft. If that were my living, I would probably choose Smugmug over Flickr. At least for the moment, I’m more interested in sharing with my
friends and exploring my hobby than on selling my work. So for now I’m sticking with Flickr – at least until my year is up.

On a final note, what was it like to migrate photos from one service to the other? Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to transfer from one silo to the other. I didn’t feel like writing any code to do this job either. Luckily, the core of my workflow is Adobe Lightroom and a wonderful developer has written export plugins for both Flickr and Smugmug. It’s still a chore since you have to upload everything again, but many of your metadata settings will still be applied. The plugins are also the best way to get any future content into either service. They’re donationware, which means you’re requested to make at least a small donation to the developer. However, the savings in having a publishing tool integrated into your workflow is well worth the price.