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.


20 years of photos quite the journey back into time


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.

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: for our dedicated Pictage help center. 

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

The SmugMug Family

5 Easy Ways to Ready Your Website For a Busy Year

Now’s typically the time of year when you step back and re-evaluate your life. Whether or not you follow tradition (or break it), it’s always a good idea to think about your photography, your goals, and how you want to get there in the coming months.

Today we debut 5 easy questions to ask yourself to help you check your SmugMug site and be sure that it’s ready to face the next wave of photos, fans, and fame.

Read how to reboot your site for success »

Note: Some of these tips are only possible in current SmugMug, so if you’ve been with us since before July 30, 2013 and haven’t upgraded your site, preview the latest version of SmugMug now. You’ll get free access to a slew of incredible new features, because they’re already included in your subscription.

Other Ways to Stay in Control

If you’re super excited to take the tidiness to the next level, here are two more great articles we recommend bookmarking to help you sort your photos and stop the headache.

As always, our Support Heroes are here to help if you have questions. We do way more than just tell you where your Account Settings are – remember that we’re photographers, too, and we’d be thrilled to help you achieve your goals for the year. Talk to us!

Smug Tip: We’re Your Holiday Newsletter’s Best-Kept Secret

This year, skip the stamps and go digital for the family newsletter. Your SmugMug account is the perfect way to share a beautiful, personalized, ever-changing array of memories from the year that’s easily shared with friends, family, and everyone you wish.

Not only do you gain precious extra time to put it together (fab for busy holiday preppers), but you can go way beyond text with a custom SmugMug newsletter page. Think: Video, slideshows, maps, the whole shebang! And it’s interactive, letting your friends and family click through your content, leave comments, share and more.

Our SmugMug family newsletter, digital-style.

How to Build Your Newsletter

First, we’ve built a sample holiday newsletter from SmugMug and put it right here. Take a look and we’ll break each piece down for you below.

Creating a custom holiday newsletter can be done as many ways as there are snowflakes in Siberia, so these tips are just a guideline. Feel free to experiment with different content and layouts until you get something you like. The sky’s the limit! 

  1. Create a Page. If you plan on making your newsletters digital each year going forward, we suggest actually going a step further and creating a whole new Folder called “Family Newsletters.” From there, you can create your Page and name it by year.
  2. Choose a Theme. Since we’re specifically creating a holiday newsletter, try Winter, Flurries, Blizzard, or Snowflake for that seasonal feel.
  3. Plan your content. Think through the highlights of your year and how you want to present those memories. Would you like to add in a block of thumbnails that viewers can click? Or would you prefer to display them in a slideshow? Do you have any videos you’d like to share of school plays, memorable sports wins, or your annual vacation?
  4. Add your content. To do this, you may want to Collect just the photos you want into a special, unlisted “Newsletter” gallery, so you can easily drop it into the page and not have to select lots of photos from many folders around your site. This also keeps fans who click through to see more from getting lost.
  5. Tell your story. Use Title and Text blocks to greet guests and tell them every detail about your year. Remember that you’re never confined to just one block, so you can break up your text and let it flow down the page around the different photos and other content.
  6. Make it shareable. Don’t forget to add a Social Buttons box at the top or bottom of the page so your viewers can share it with other loved ones you may not be able to reach.
Dress up your newsletter page or gallery with a festive holiday theme.

Have a Basic account? While the ability to create custom Pages and use the more advanced Content Blocks are available only with Power accounts and up, there’s plenty you can do. Customize your SmugMug homepage to include all the Content Blocks that tell your story, or create a new gallery and Collect your best photos from around your site to illustrate all the great things you did this year. Your Gallery Description field is the perfect place to greet your guests, and you can use the photo Title and Caption fields to expand on what happened in each and every photo.

Key Smug Features to Use

The Multiple Photos content block is a great option for displaying select photos from your year.

We’ve just barely skimmed the surface of what you can do, so here’s a list of Content Block options you’ve already got to build the best digital newsletter your family has ever seen.

  • Custom Pages. Why stop at one? If an epic story needs to be explained, link out to a second, third, or fourth page so your fans can read all about it. We love photo blogs!
  • Themes. If you’re in Australia, snow may not fit the holiday idea like it would in Canada. Your account comes packed with dozens of beautiful themes, so don’t be afraid to be different.
  • Text and Title blocks. These are key. You could let your photos speak for themselves, but we prefer tradition on this one.
  • Maps. If you’re a globetrotter who loves to geotag, embedding a map is a wonderful, interactive way to show your family where you’ve traveled this year.
  • Slideshow box. A space-saver. For those who don’t prefer the endless scroll, the Slideshow content block is a great way to show off big, beautiful photos one at a time. You can even customize the playback speed, transitions, and much more.
  • Animoto video. Video clips are a fabulous addition to any newsletter, since paper versions can’t do this at all. But if you’re not sure your shaky vacation clips are up to snuff, you can still create an engaging, professional, beautiful video from your content with Animoto. They’ll do all the work so all you have to do is drop it into your page. Find it in any gallery under Buy > Other Products > Create a Video.
  • Galleries box. An easy way to feature your best galleries of the year, all around your site.
  • Comments. Will grandma love this year’s newsletter? Drop in a comment box so you can find out!
  • Social share buttons. Because you may not have the email address of your second cousin twice removed, the one you hit it off with at your niece’s wedding. But somebody in your network will.

Tip: Pair Your Newsletter with a (Real, Paper) Card

Even if you go digital on the newsletter, you can (and should) still turn your best photos into a beautiful holiday card. SmugMug’s got tons of gorgeous, personalizable designs that complement any photo you’ve ever taken (we’re willing to bet on it).

And since you can write your own words in them, a photo card is the perfect opportunity to debut the link to your newsletter. 😉

We just think the digital newsletter idea gives you much greater creativity and flexibility when it comes to your memories since you can add, change, and update the content your family sees.

Happy holiday planning, and we’d love to see your own creative examples of family newsletters this year! Tweet us a link, send it to our Support Heroes, post it to our Facebook wall, or just leave a comment below so we can check it out.

Links to love:

New Video Tutorials to Help You Get the Most Out of SmugMug

Did you know SmugMug has a huge library of totally free tutorial videos available 24/7, 365 days of the year? It’s true. We’ve stashed all our webinar archives, tutorial videos, and great playlists on YouTube, the most popular video community on the web, so you can sit back and become a Master SmugMugger in no time.

Even better – we’re always adding new tutorials based on your requests. Today we feature eight brand-new videos, each of them under four minutes so you can get informed and get back to taking great pictures.

And because we’re rolling into the season of giving, remember that we’ve recently released a  “How to Buy Prints and Downloads” video ( a short version and a full-length version), perfect for any SmugMuggers looking to help their friends, their mom, or their clients place orders without a hitch.

You can view the complete list of videos on our up-to-the-minute help page, or from our YouTube main page.

If you don’t see a video that you can’t live without, just tell us via email or in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


Take Your Smiles Further on World Smile Day

Since today is World Smile Day (and we love to smile), we thought it was perfectly appropriate to share a few tips we’ve written that help you better create infectious grins throughout your circle of fans.

Keeping your smiles safe, sharable, and profitable:

Start smiling more… with photography:

Inspirational smile-grabbers (AKA People who get to do this for a living):

Enjoy the day, and don’t forget to capture it in pictures!

The Smilers at SmugMug