Photo archaeology: How to organize, upload, and share 20 years of photos

By Ben MacAskill, Head of SmugMug Customer Success

As head of Customer Success at SmugMug, and an employee for almost 13 years, I’ve seen my fair share of large digital projects from customers over the years.  Recently however, I spearheaded my own photo archaeology project at the very special request of an individual needing some unique assistance. It seemed like a daunting task at first: 500 GB of images (over 130,000 images, to be exact) needing to be organized and uploaded. I also came into the project blind — no idea what the content was and where it was sourced — but in the end, had 65 organized galleries uploaded to SmugMug in less than a week. If you’re facing a project that seems overwhelming, I’m here to tell you it’s not. Let me show you how I was able to do this and how you can as well.

One of the first hurdles that many fear to tackle when dealing with a large image organization project is how scattered the image locations most likely are. In my circumstance, they were scattered like the wind: 100 photo CDs, seven hard drives, 30 photo libraries, and 30 floppy disks. And that’s just the digital images! I also had seven boxes of prints and several reels of film to include as well. In total I was dealing with 20 years of precious family photos. To make the process as easy and uniform as possible, gather together everything you might have to tackle.

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20 years of photos — quite the journey back into time

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A fraction of the storage locations of the 500 GB of images

Once you’ve collected all of your image sources, it’s time to begin uploading. It took me two long, 12-hour days of centralizing to one location on my computer for 500 GB worth of data. While tedious, you will find your rhythm and become a repetitive machine by the end. I suggest listening to some music while you work to help ease the boredom. If you have files on old technology, such as floppy discs, Zip discs, etc, but no longer have the proper computer equipment to access them you will need to buy a portable disc drive for whatever older technology your images are stored on. I purchased what I needed very easily and cheaply online — there are lots of online vendors that can assist you with this after a quick Google search.

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The grand total of all digital images

Now, for the heavy lifting portion of the project. Just kidding! Adobe Lightroom and SmugMug’s Lightroom plug-in will do all of the heavy lifting for you. I suggest you let Adobe Lightroom build the catalog and also delete any duplicate photos overnight — then in the morning when you wake up you will find the majority of the organization done for you. Why use Lightroom? It’s an easy way to simplify your workflow. It saves time by managing your SmugMug site directly, allowing you to create Folders and Galleries through its Publish service. It also is perfect for easy image retouching. If you are unfamiliar with Lightroom, you can find out more about how it uploads and sync photos to SmugMug here.

Now that we have a gorgeous catalog without duplicates, we will begin uploading to SmugMug via our Lightroom plug-in. You can learn how to install (or update) the Adobe Lightroom plug-in here. I highly suggest you set your privacy settings before uploading, in case you might have anything sensitive or personal in the photo library. I decided to catalog the images by year to make the family history easily searchable and recommend the same if you are dealing with a similar project spanning many years.

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Adobe Lightroom and SmugMug’s Lightroom plug-in make organization and uploading a piece of cake

In regards to the seven boxes of prints and video reels — I sent them to our friends over at ScanDigital to digitize. It was quite a large amount and took them a month to complete, but they sent completed work in batches via hard drive during that timeframe. There is no metadata attached to these photos, so these photos will require some manual organization, but it is far from taxing. A big thank you to them for doing a stellar job. If you would like to check out their services, they are offering a 20% discount to SmugMug customers with the code SMUGBLOG.

In the end, I had 65 searchable galleries with very little manual organization on my end — I barely broke a sweat. But SmugMug offers much, much more than a digital storage solution for your family photo archive. It’s a wonderful way to share moments with friends and family far away. Our privacy options allow you to decide who can see your precious intimate memories. Our photo tagging solution allows you to add keywords to photos and galleries, allowing for quick search and discovery. We also have many wonderful photo partners to choose from when it’s time to print out key memories for home display or gifting. SmugMug isn’t just for photographers — it’s for all memory makers.

Anyone with a little time and patience can organize and share decades worth of family photos, or any large image collection. I hope this inspires you to tackle your own personal project that you’ve been procrastinating. Photos are meant to be showcased and shared, not hidden in a box in the attic.

How to Become the Neighborhood Sensation with Halloween Photos

By Chris MacAskill, SmugMug co-founder
Years ago we faced a Halloween dilemma: do we just pass out Snickers bars and bore everyone? Scatter a few plastic skeletons and cobwebs like everyone else? Enter an arms race with the guy a few blocks away who spends days turning his house into a Hollywood Horror Show? Where does he even store all that stuff?

Instead, we set up some lights on the driveway and shot photos:

The thing is, Smartphone cameras don’t do well in the dark.  So parents bus their kids to our neighborhood to get their annual Halloween photos:

Even the cool kids need to score Instagram likes:

Here are some things I’ve learned from 7 years and thousands of photos:

  1. The Big Thing is to have a Very Big Light front and center.  I am usually on knees or bum, and the Very Big Light is above me.  I use a 60-inch softbox.  One reason for a big light in the center is that, on zero notice, Very Big Groups will form:

The big, centered light keeps some faces from being lost in the shadows.  And it casts very soft, flattering light that adults love.

  1.  Get a very wwiiiiiddddee backdrop.  I chose black because, well, Halloween.  Black anything will do: bedsheets, paper, whatever.  You can move it back from the subjects far enough that it’s really black and is never seen in photos.

This is what happens when the group is too big for the backdrop:

  1.  Knee pads.  Ow, my knees.  I like to get the camera down to the children’s level.

  1.  There will be witches, Darth Vader, and black-hatted villains.  If you can add a flash or two behind and to the side, you’ll actually be able to see black costumes and hair without them blending into the backdrop.

  1.  Smoke!  Smoke machines are cheap on Amazon and just a few puffs add a bit of awesome:

  1.  A zoom lens.  I love prime lenses and wide apertures for dreamy shallow depth of field.  But during Halloween, you’ll shoot a small child dressed as a pumpkin and 30 seconds later you’ll shoot a large group of teens.  I use a 24-105.
  1. JPEG, not RAW.  I set my white balance for the flash and it never varies.  I set my exposure at manual because the camera will give different exposures for people in white versus people in black if I try auto exposure.  There’s no issue with dynamic range, so RAW only slows everything down but doesn’t improve quality in this case.
  1.  Tether!  I use Lightroom to display the JPEGs on a monitor as I shoot them.  It’s great entertainment for people in line.  And when people see the photos, they’re sold on your photo booth.
  1.  Hand-out cards to tell your fans where they can download their photos.  I send them to http://halloween.smugmug.com.

Have an amazing time!  It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

PIX 2015: Inspiration, Demos, Von Wong, Oh My!

Join SmugMug for two days of photography inspiration and hands-on learning at PIX2015, a brand-new conference organized by the good folks at DPReview and Amazon, on October 6 and 7 in Seattle. At PIX 2015, you’ll have the opportunity to hear inspirational talks, take part in photo walks, get hands-on demos of new photography gear, and of course, connect directly with SmugMug. Plus, we’re giving away awesome prizes! The expo is free – just grab a pass and come on down! More details below on the three ways you can get in on the fun.

Two Days of Creative Inspiration in McCall Hall

On Tuesday, October 6, at 11:15 a.m. SmugMug customer and master photographer Benjamin Von Wong will give an exclusive talk, titled “From Ordinary to Extraordinary,” as part of the “re:Frame” series of inspirational talks, taking place in McCall Hall of the Seattle Center. You may know of Von Wong’s boundary-pushing art from previous SmugMug collaborations such as the superhero-themed photoshoot on top of a skyscraper in San Francisco or the sweat-drenching photoshoot that helped “ordinary” people look like Olympic athletes.

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Alternatively, you may have heard about the nearly $2 million he helped raise for the treatment of Eliza O’Neill, a 4-year-old girl suffering from a terminal, degenerative genetic disease called Sanfilippo syndrome. He’s a creative force to reckon with, and we hope you’ll join us in person to hear his talk. Attending any talk in the re:Frame series costs just $10. Browse the full schedule of talks and purchase your ticket here.

Want to connect with Von Wong in person? You can do so by visiting our booth (for free) at Booth 11 in the Exhibition Hall.  Simply register for a free expo pass here.

Free Demos and Giveaways at Booth 11

Find us in Booth 11 in the Exhibition Hall of the Seattle Center!  The Exhibition Hall is open on Tuesday, October 6, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Wednesday, October 7, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. We’ll have a daily prize giveaway, plus special show swag for people who register at our booth.

Panel Discussion on Photo Privacy

DPReview, in partnership with leading thought leaders, will host a panel discussion called “Protect Your Privacy Online.” SmugMug’s Director of Customer Support, Ben MacAskill, will take part, bringing 12+ years of perspective on the changing attitudes around online privacy. If you’re interested in hearing the discussion, please visit the Exhibition Hall Stage on Tuesday, October 6, at 3 p.m.

Hope to see you there! Pick up your passes here.

Pictage customers, here’s a big SmugMug hug.

Dear Pictage Customers,

The SmugMug Family is sincerely sorry to hear that the Pictage photo platform will be shutting down at the end of September. As fellow photographers and another service that has operated in the same space for over 13 years, we can appreciate how much of a shock and how much uncertainty you might be feeling right now. We also know your primary concern is making sure your photos and your livelihood are safe. Selecting a new company to host your photos and make them look beautiful is your number one priority—and we want you to know that SmugMug is here to help.

Who to trust with your photos and your business is something we know you take very seriously. That’s why every photo you upload to SmugMug will have a home on Amazon Web Services (the Gold Standard in storage, security, and reliability with a 99.99% uptime). Also, we never alter your photos during uploading, so pixel for pixel, your image is saved exactly the way you uploaded it—every time.

SmugMug is a family-owned and operated business, made up of passionate photography enthusiasts who work tirelessly day in and day out to create the world’s number one photo storing, sharing, and selling tool.

Some of the standout features we think you’ll love are:

  • Unlimited Storage
  • 24/7 Support
  • Uploading photos from web, mobile and Lightroom Publish
  • Beautiful galleries and mobile-friendly designs
  • Selling tools and full integration with four top photo labs
  • Fair pricing plans
  • Consistently reliable service (99.93% uptime)
  • Friendly tools for building pro personalized websites in minutes

We realize you have many options when it comes to selecting a new home for your photos, and we hope you’ll consider SmugMug when it comes time to make the switch to a new service.

And right now, we want to welcome all Pictage users to the SmugMug family with a 25% discount on your first year’s subscription. Go ahead and start your free trial now! (Clicking this link automagically applies the discount when you subscribe.)

Finally, if you have any questions about our service, please contact us at: Hug@smugmug.com for our dedicated Pictage help center. 

We look forward to welcoming you and your photos to their new home,

The SmugMug Family

Show Us Your SmugMug Smile at Photoshop World 2015

Join SmugMug for three days of creative adventures at KelbyOne’s Photoshop World Conference and Expo, the world’s largest Photoshop, Lightroom, and Photography conference of the year, August 11–13, 2015, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Come out and be inspired by world-class educators, network with your fellow photographers, and show off your smile in the SmugMug booth for a special gift!

Take our class

Be sure to add SmugMug’s platform class, “Showcase, Share, and Backup: Why Your Photos Need a Website,” to your itinerary. Learn everything there is to know about building a beautiful photography website from award-winning landscape photographer Aaron Meyers.  Aaron is an expert at creating stunning photographs and, as a SmugMug Product Manager, beautiful websites to display them. He’s a former aerospace engineer but now limits his explorations to chasing light in remote locations on planet Earth. Join us August 12 at 9:30 a.m. in Tradewinds C/D. Don’t have your Photoshop World ticket yet? Grab a full conference pass here.

Visit our booth

You’ll find us at booth 217 in the expo hall.

Drop by for one of our SmugMug demonstrations or to talk with Nick (Beardly), Seth, Ann, and Aaron to find the answers to all your burning SmugMug questions.

Get cool stuff

We’ll have some special show swag for any visitor that shows us their “Smuggy.” Take a selfie with Smuggy, our logo, post it to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #SmuggyPSW, and then bring that selfie to our booth. We’ll reward you! If you’d like to visit the expo only, please do so on SmugMug. Just print this expo pass and present it at the door. Need more convincing? Watch our SmugMug Film on our friend Scott Kelby, the man behind KelbyOne and Photoshop World, to see why he’s an inspiration to photographers everywhere.

See you there!

Benjamin Von Wong: How to Make Everyday People Look Badass

When you combine the imagination of Benjamin Von Wong with the photographic enthusiasm of SmugMug and the MacGyver-esque ingenuity of SmugMug’s facilities genius, Daniel Petrosian, you end up with a lot of chaos and cool photos. Von Wong’s persistence to coax the best out of his everyday models resulted in portraits that awed the models. Many had no idea a “beast mode” existed within themselves.

Learn more about the magic behind creating athletes out of SmugMug employees with the right lighting, motivation, and a bit of rain.

Step 1. Lights, Location, and Rain Rig

How did the idea for this shoot come about?

Von Wong: SmugMug President and Co-Founder Chris MacAskill, aka “Baldy,” wanted to fill up the SmugMug gym with awesome photos, and I happened to be in town, so he commissioned me. He wanted simple black-and-white shots, but I had to put that special Von Wong spin on it.

The day began quite normally: setting up lights, backdrop, and rain. Things started getting exciting a good hour and a half later when—I don’t know what happened! I think word spread that the photos were turning out great, so Baldy ended up coming out himself to see the photos and start filming.

It started off really small, and it expanded from there into full-out awesome.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong

 

What made you think rain would be perfect for this shoot?

Von Wong: I think rain, in a sense, symbolizes hardship. We wanted to make people look like they’re working out and putting forth an effort, and everything’s harder when it rains outside. You don’t want to go out. It’s just crummy and grimy. From a metaphorical sense, the rain adds a really nice dimension.

Then, from a photography standpoint, it suddenly adds all these nice beads of water dripping down skin, which looks really nice.

It’s one thing to have this idea, and it’s quite another to control weather.

Von Wong: Yeah. In my mind it was pretty easy to make a rain rig, which is essentially a glorified sprinkler system distributed along a longer cross section. I talked to people who were smarter than me—Daniel and Brent—and explained what I was looking for. We basically had one day, and they just pulled it together with about $20.

Photo by Kerry Ellis

 

How did you go about making it rain?

Petrosian: We brainstormed a little bit, trying to think simple and low-tech. Things were happening so fast, we didn’t have time to rig up something sophisticated. Think simple, and things usually work out. And we thought PVC pipe and sprinkler heads might do the trick. So we went to Home Depot.

We bought different kinds of sprinkler heads to test them out and see what the flow was like, how fast the water would come out, and how we could control it. After some experimenting, we ended up using brass/copper old-school sprinkler heads.

We connected them together using PVC pipe and plumber’s glue, and then we just connected a hose to it and made it rain!

Photo by Kerry Ellis

 

So now that you had rain, how did you go about photographing it?

Von Wong: With water, just like smoke, you photograph its reflections by backlighting it. Water looks really good when it’s backlit. We needed two hard bare-bulb lights to light the droplets, and a black background so the drops would show up. For the foreground, I used two big parabolic umbrellas. Any large, directional light source would work to bring in our characters so they’re nicely lit without rough shadows.

It’s a basic four-light set up. With the subject in the middle, you have two lights coming in from the back and two bigger, softer lights coming in from the front.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong

 

How did you get rid of the ambient light?

Von Wong: We initially wanted to do this indoors because, ideally, if you want to freeze water droplets, you need a short flash duration. If you want a short flash duration, the flashes have to be at lower power. And that’s usually done in a darker environment.

We thought about shooting inside the gymnasium by putting down a big tarp and pumping out the water with a shop vac, then we kind of stared at each other and said that’s going to be way too much trouble. So we went with Plan B: a shaded area outside underneath a tree.

I ended up shooting at 1/1500th of a second at F/5.6 or F/4.

Step 2. Motivate Your Models

What was the biggest challenge during the shoot?

Von Wong: This wasn’t a professional athlete photoshoot. We were taking average people who hardly have any photoshoot experience and trying to make them into something more. To show them like they’ve never been shown before. The true magic of the shots comes from people doing something they had never imagined they would before.

And that wasn’t achieved just by taking a single shot. It was achieved with this very persistent pushing of people and getting them to try different things until they were comfortable in front of the camera. Pushing people to get the best out of them. That’s where most of the work happened. If you look at the video, you see me trying to encourage people, pushing them, making them feel good about themselves.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong

 

Tell me a little bit about trying to coax the best out of people.

Von Wong: You don’t always know what a person’s capable of doing. In my experience, the best way to find out what they can or can’t do is to simply ask them to do a variety of different things. It doesn’t matter what they actually do, whether it looks good or not, you just keep throwing ideas at them.

Along the way, as things are getting better, you say, “Wait, I really like that. It’s looking great over there. Put your arm a little higher. Let’s try another angle.”

Getting out from behind the desk to look fierce are (from left) Michael Shostack, head of online marketing; Katherine Cheng, head of community; and Pablo Ceron, product manager. Normally nice, approachable, and with sunny dispositions, these portraits reveal it’s probably better not to cross any of them, just in case. Photos by Alexandra Zielinski

It’s a continuous conversation to keep people busy. If you let them think too much about what they’re doing, sometimes it feels ridiculous. What looks good in camera might not feel natural in position. Not every pose I came up with worked. Actually, a lot of them failed. We took about 2,000 photos that day. But that process of working through things, people start to trust you.

A photoshoot is one thing, but the other aspect to it is the experience. All those who participated really felt like they pushed themselves and found a side of themselves they had never showcased before. That’s very important.

Photo by Michael Shostack
Photo by Benjamin Von Wong

 

Step 3. Process and Print—BIG

Can we talk a bit about your post process?

Von Wong: It was relatively simple because all we wanted to do was convert the images from color to black and white. There’s a beautiful little button in Lightroom called “B&W” that does most of the work for you. That got the shots 90% done. Because we had taken the time to set up great lighting and good location, we got the photo right straight out of camera.

What did you do for the other 10%?

Von Wong: There was a little tweaking of highlights, shadows, and clarity to make the image pop a bit more. The rest was cleaning up water droplets that were too dense in certain areas, like on the face, using healing and cloning to get rid of distractions. There was a little dodging and burning using curves to highlight different muscles and carve things out.

It was very simple—about 20 minutes per image for the post-production.

We love HUGE prints here at SmugMug. Were these tricky to print larger than life for a gym environment?

MacAskill: Our gym lives inside an old machine shop, and the available wall space—above the mirrors and equipment—curves. Even the ceiling is curved. So we needed a material we could print on that would, most importantly, look amazing, but also bend to fit the curved walls and stand up to the gym’s environment. And be large enough, of course.

We ended up printing each image with an Oce Lightjet at 68” tall on Kodak Endura semi-gloss bonded onto 1/4″ sintra, which is a lightweight PVC foamboard. We thought about adding a thin polycarbonate laminate over the prints to ruggedize them, but the prints ended up being hung so high we didn’t think they’d get exposed to sweat or medicine balls. So we didn’t laminate them. But it was a perfect option had we hung the photos any lower.

Photo by Alexandra Zielinski

What did you love most about this shoot?

Von Wong: The greatest compliment was all those who didn’t participate were upset. I thought that was great. A lot of them felt like it wasn’t really their thing, but when they saw how the others’ photos turned out, they were amazed and sad they hadn’t done it themselves. That’s the best compliment you can get.


Check out an extra tip from Von Wong on how to achieve a similar look with a bucket of water and two speedlights!

Find Benjamin online:

Pro Tip: 7 Reasons You Just Lost a Sale

While you’re here at SmugMug, we want you to succeed. It’s in our blood, as we’re photographers ourselves and everything at SmugMug was borne out of our very own needs to capture the world.

Our Support Heroes often get questions from pros wondering why customers aren’t buying their prints and downloads. So here are some top fixes we’ve found to help cure those lackluster sales.

1) Buying Isn’t Enabled

This is pretty key, but is buying enabled in your galleries? By default it’s on, but just in case you should always look to see if the button in your galleries says “Buy” or “Owner Buy.” If it says the latter (or if you log out and don’t see a Buy button at all), buying is disabled for guests. Owner Buy is useful for those of you who don’t want to sell, but still may want a buy a print for your own living room.

How to fix it: Open your gallery settings and look under the “Shopping” tab. The shopping cart toggle is right at the top of the list, so be sure that’s set to ON.

2) Your Pricing Isn’t Set Up

Maybe people are buying your photos at-cost, with no profit to you? This is the nightmare of some photographers, so be absolutely sure that you’re not sitting there accidentally giving away those photos. Fortunately at SmugMug, Portfolio and Business users can literally set it and forget it with Pricelists, so you can set your markup, sit back, and just let the money roll in.

How to fix it: Visit your Pricelists manager, found in your Account Settings > Business tab. Add in products to your default Pricelist, fill in a few numbers, then save it. All galleries on your site with buying enabled will now reflect those prices to your fans. Business account members can create multiple Pricelists and can apply them to different galleries. Find out more info on our help pages.

3) Nobody Knows You Exist

If you build it, will they come? On the internet, the answer is “No.” Even coding up the most beautiful site won’t make magic if no one on the web is talking about you. So take that first step and share the link, post photos to social media, and create buzz so that Google (and potential new clients) hears about you.

How to fix it: You can copy the link to your site, a gallery, or even a single image right from the address bar in your browser. Or use our handy Get a Link feature. Also, check your site-wide privacy settings and fill out your site metadata so that relevant, descriptive words show up when people search for you.

4) Your Clients Got Totally Lost

The architecture of your site is more important than you may think it is. We’ve covered this in the past, but we can’t stress enough that you should make the content you want surfaced as visible as possible. When in doubt, give your clients a direct link to the gallery containing their photos, so they don’t wander off and get lost.

How to fix it: You can Get a Link to share a gallery or a photo. Have multiple galleries to share? Try Sharegroups (which can also be protected with passwords), or Events & Favorites. The latter is worth its weight in gold for pros, because it lets clients tag the images they love best.

5) They Couldn’t Reach You

What happens when they have a question that only you can answer? How much do you charge? Are you available for a September session? Can they hire you? You’d want to be sure that your email address is available front and center. But we’re surprised at the number of websites we see where this info is hidden, buried, or just plain not included. It’s no wonder sales are slow!

How to fix it: Fill out your SmugMug Profile (found in the top right corner of your logged-in header) with your contact email, then be sure to add a contact link to your menu bar. We won’t expose your email address to spammers, but will send messages from the SmugMug contact form to you. Here’s more info about crafting an effective menu bar.

6) They’re Just Downloading the Photo

Why pay for a photo when you can get it for free? If this thought makes you cringe, then we rest our case. Because SmugMug users come from all walks of life, lots of family use the free download feature to share photos with friends and family. But as a pro, you’d probably prefer cash, so you should double-check that the pictures you’re selling aren’t open for the picking.

How to fix it: Check your image-protection settings to be sure that Originals aren’t enabled in your galleries, which allows any viewer to save a full-res copy to their computers. You can also flip on Right-Click Protection to foil them further.

7) They’re Scared of You

Even if you’re not particularly warm and fuzzy by nature, it pays to be friendly in your most public space. Practice good marketing mojo, and this will be reflected back in the quality of client that hires you. Imbue the text around your site with your own voice and personality, and be sure to guide them each step of the way towards browsing more, reaching out to you, and buying a print.

How to fix it: Our top three picks for warming up your site are (1) your Right-Click Protection message, (2) your gallery description field, and (3) your About page. We’ve always recommended making your Right-Click Protection message helpful, not threatening. The gallery description shows up over your photos and is the first thing they see when they open it, so be sure to greet guests and give them step-by-step instructions on how to buy photos. Combined with your own heroic story on a custom About page, you’ll get fans checking out in no time.

Good luck and happy selling! If you’ve found your own way to troubleshoot slow sales and aren’t afraid to share your tips with fellow pros, we’d love to hear it

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Link roundup: