The Daredevil: Yes, You Can Think Inside the Box
Name: Whitney Chamberlin
Position/Title: Cultural Engineer/Owner
Name of Company: Smilebooth
Market: Unique Booth Photography for Events, Parties, Weddings, Celebrations
Bragworthy Factoid: Left a $250,000/year corporate gig to help people create their own images in the Smilebooth
Websites: www.smilebooth.com and smilebooth.smugmug.com
- Seeing his formula mimicked exponentially over the past 8 years
- Atlanta, GA booth rentals alone topping $200,000 in revenues
- Making $30-40,000/year on his own local events
- Growing his own company to 5 photographers, each with a Smilebooth
- Simple gallery hierarchy that lets event-goers browse by location
- Social media marketing: ability to quick-share images; place to view and discuss images as well as buy
- Seamless integration with their own site
- Large, beautiful image display
A booth is born
In his former life as a brand manager and marketer, Chamberlin spent his time bringing back iconic Nikes and wallowing in indie music. He was creative and successful, but something was missing. “I was making amazing money but what I did didn’t have an end—what was I really doing?” he says. “Here I’m making people genuinely happy, just by putting something there for them to do.” The Smilebooth idea bloomed when he started joining his wedding photographer wife Jesse on weekend jobs. “I was in the giant corporate world during the week and my wife was shooting weddings on weekends. It was a bummer,” Chamberlin says. “I used to lose sleep worrying about [all the guests] being photographed. I said, I’m not going to walk around begging—it wasn’t my style. So I built the first photo booth out of plywood and a makeshift computer. It worked great.” He continues to refine the booth and grow the business—who hasn’t hopped into a Smilebooth at a party and let loose, usually with hilarious results?
Putting the “mug” in SmugMug
Smilebooth milks every drop of revenue from SmugMug’s tool set by exploiting the social aspect of photo-sharing. Citing SmugMug’s excellence at showcasing multiple images and large, beautiful displays, Chamberlin says he links directly to SmugMug from his own site so that customers can view and discuss their images on SmugMug without any extra clicks. Chamberlin likes having an online place to do event postmortems. “Then you can say, ‘I was at this event, come view my photos!’” he points out. Furthermore, Chamberlin has been known to build clients their own SmugMug account so they can collect revenue from events themselves. “Some of our brides were a bit iffy on using the Smilebooth,” he says. “I said I could discount their Smilebooth by $300-$400 and make them their own SmugMug account with Smilebooth images. She can set [the price]. It’s enticing for the budget bride.” There’s a silver lining for the vendor as well. “As a rental business, I don’t really need [the revenue]; print sales are an amazing added bonus.”
And the Gods smiled on them
Chamberlin’s original venture has exploded into a diverse international enterprise. In addition to Smilebooth rentals and his own company’s shoots, he manages an affiliate network and continues to produce booths for purchase. Seamless integration between his site and SmugMug, along with advanced customization, lets him manage his diverse business arms and maintain a unified look and feel. To his delight, the Smilebooth concept has proved nearly recession-proof. “We created the first one eight years ago and growth has been spontaneously amazing. I used to get emails from photographers every week saying how do you get these shots in a photo booth?” he says. “We haven’t had any hiccups. The only challenge is getting photographers to stop interacting with everyone and let the Smilebooth do its job.”
Shooting inside the box
The main lesson Chamberlin brought with him from the agency world was the ability to channel anticipation without meddling. Although letting drama and creativity unfold naturally is second nature to him, getting professional photographers to do the same is more difficult. “For a while, I was frustrated with copycats,” he says. “Then I thought, why not build booths for them, because they’re not going to do it right. I created a whole other business, and that’s what I’m excited about right now, because I didn’t think people would get it.” Smilebooth has spawned many imitators, but Chamberlin thinks his team’s ability to let action happen without intervening sets them apart. “I’m not one to hide the feather boa and silly hats, but that’s not our esthetic,” he points out. “You are the creative. [In the booth], you can be creative with nothing in your hands or something physical in the room, instead of bringing the same props everyone has. Custom-made props? Awesome. Relevant props? Great.” Jesse’s classical training came in handy, he notes, citing her general knowledge of cameras and lighting as key. Typically, his team demo’s the freestanding booth and clicker for one person. Jesse avoids posing subjects, often just advising them to be themselves. “She has a photographic gift beyond the eye,” he says of her charisma and ability to help subjects let loose. “That’s what makes her an amazing photographer. How everything feels with the photo booth is basically that same feeling.”
No more “pasteurized” photos
Yes, the Smilebooth is addictive—and the results speak for themselves, all over Smilebooth’s SmugMug galleries. “People don’t get out,” Chamberlin says. “It’s like that ‘Risky Business’ moment where you’re sliding across the floor in your socks. People regain their childhood when they’re in front of this thing.” Chamberlin’s captured grandmothers flipping off the camera, dads hugging sons, and lots of devious teenagers smiling about something they shouldn’t be. “People get excited about doing their own thing in front of the camera instead of being told what to do,” he says. “The game of anticipation is really simple. When you’re in a group and one person has the wireless clicker remote, it’s exciting—it’s unbounded and limitless. You can push the button thousands of times or just once, and there’s a roar of laughter, because it’s a real moment, not a pause—not a tight, confined scenario.”
Interested in seeing how great Pros use SmugMug?
No matter what we dream up and do each day here at SmugMug, we’re a family business to the core. Husbands, wives, fathers and moms and kids, we work together and help each other out. We take that pretty seriously.
The True Meaning of “Brave”
That’s why when we heard that there was a little boy named Sam who was undergoing treatment for acute myeloid leukemia, we had to find a way to show our support. His mom put out a call for superhero photos to pin to his hospital room wall and help Sam understand that he’s got LOT of friends out there.
That’s where we jumped in.
We’ve printed up our full gallery of our Smuggy Heroes and sent it over to the Children’s Hospital in Wisconsin. We hope that you’ll don your favorite cape, snap a pic and do the same.
How You Can Help:
Snap a pic of yourself wearing a superhero t-shirt, holding up their logo or just striking your bravest pose. Print it up and mail it to:
Sam Sommer, E582
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
P.O. Box 1997
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201-1997
Let’s all cheer for Sam and support his bravery in beating cancer!
Change isn’t always hard!
A while back we made the announcement that we were giving SmugMug Pros access to bigger and better things: New labs, new products, new features. And to access the new stuff, you had to migrate your gallery- and photo-level pricing over to the new system of Pricelists.
We initially posted a deadline in March but we confess it’s taken us, uhhh, a smidge longer than we expected to move everyone over. We’re almost done now.
So, here’s a quick view on Pricelists, how they work, and why they’re good for you.
Pricelists: Your Hub for Pro Pricing
Pricelists are the ONLY place you’ll ever need to go to set and apply your Pro pricing. Create them, choose your favorite pro print lab and then add in the products you want to sell. After you set your prices, apply the Pricelist to your galleries (or files) and you’re all done.
Want to switch labs on an existing Pricelist? Since each lab offers a unique variety of products, you’ll have to create a new Pricelist each time.
And, remember! Digital downloads have a new base price of
$0.49 $0.01 per file and $.99 per gallery when you sell via Pricelists, plus digital download orders with subtotals under $10 incur a $0.50 processing fee. You can create a coupon or zip up a gallery download if you want to continue offering them for free.
Certain features like access to new labs WHCC and Loxley Colour, multiple currencies, Photo Extras and other brand-spanking new features are ONLY available once you’ve migrated to Pricelists. So for maximum money-making mojo, be sure you’re locked, loaded and ready to roll.
See For Yourself
If you’re still using our old system and prefer to be in control of your destiny, see how to painlessly migrate to Pricelists here. Otherwise, sit tight and we’ll do it for you.
And you can review all the details on how Pricelists work on our help pages. As always, our Support Heroes are ready and waiting to hear from you if you’re stuck, confused or just need a little encouragement.
See you on the flip side!
You want a blog to go with your website. Seems simple, right?
Maybe, but you wouldn’t believe how often our Support Heroes often get questions about how to do this on SmugMug. If this sounds like you (or were just thinking about it), then you’re in luck.
First of all, why WordPress? It’s great for frequent updates and extra SEO, and it’s a great complement to your SmugMug portfolio, proofing and print sales. Here are three different ways you can have both a Smug site and a fabulous WordPress blog… the best of both worlds!
As an extra-special bonus, we’re giving one very lucky photographer a lifetime membership to the ultimate SmugMug-friendly WordPress portfolio site: Photography BlogSites. Read further for info, and scroll to the bottom see how to enter.
1. Joined With a Link.
Our friends over at FastLine Media are pros at creating custom SmugMug sites with beautiful blogs. Owners, brothers and pro photographers Justin and Brandon recommend setting up your SmugMug site like a portfolio, displaying only your best photos to keep your audience captivated. Your Smug site will contain text pages (About Me, Contact, Pricing, etc), a few public portfolio galleries and your unlisted client galleries.
It should also contain a link to your blog. A simple WordPress blog linked from your site is the perfect place to post photos and write some thoughts about a recent event you’ve shot. You get to share more photos publicly than just the one or two images you add to your portfolio, but don’t have to go as far as sharing every photo from your clients’ private galleries. Your blog becomes an extension of your portfolio, and you get to decide how much.
The benefit? Like SmugMug, WordPress has great SEO benefits. If you shoot a wedding at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, you could make the title of your post, “Jack and Jill’s Wedding at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay.” Due to the magic of WordPress, those keywords in your blog title automagically appear in the browser title and meta description. Booya!
As a bonus, see how to make SEO work for you on SmugMug.
And did you know that:
- You can just copy and paste the URL of your photo (or video) from your SmugMug gallery and drop it into your WordPress editor. It’ll automagically embed itself at the perfect size.
- You can encourage more sales using our easy Buy Links. Grab one now from Get a Link, and copy and paste the code into your WordPress editor. When fans click the photos on your blog, we’ll pop up the shopping cart so they can easily buy a print, gift or download. (Just make sure the shopping cart hasn’t been disabled in your gallery settings.)
2. Go DIY.
Did you know that we have a huge list of useful apps that our customers have written for you? Our code-savvy fans have built all kinds of tools to help you post videos, slideshows and galleries to WordPress. And more. Take a look at the full list here on our Hacks and Apps page, and scroll down to “WordPress.”
Disclaimer: We do our best but we can’t guarantee every product or provide support for the third-party apps on that page. Questions? Contact the app’s developer. Most of them are great folks who love to hear from you.
3. Be No-Brainer Beautiful with Photography BlogSites.
We’ve posted about our friends over at Photography BlogSites before, but it’s worth another mention. They are hands-down one of the easiest ways on the web to create and maintain a beautiful WordPress-based portfolio site that comes with a matching blog. They handle the heavy lifting. You enter the content, you write the posts. You can even apply one of their gorgeous themes with a click, customize it to taste and have it port over to your SmugMug site, too.
Here are some beautiful examples. See more here!
Get Set Up for Life With This Giveaway.
Our friends at Photography BlogSites are ready and waiting to give one fortunate pro photographer a lifetime pass for their very own blogsite. (Regularly priced at $399/year)
How to enter:
- Like our Facebook page HERE.
- Like Photography BlogSites’ page HERE.
- Leave a comment below this post telling us which of their four coffee-flavored themes is your favorite.
We’ll pick a random winner and announce it here on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012. Good luck!
*** UPDATE: We have a winner! It’s Brigette from Outer Focus Photos. Congrats, Brigette and we’ll contact you with keys to your brand-new website. Thanks to everyone! ***
And remember that even if you aren’t the winner, you still win: Simply sign up for a membership and authorize the connection to your SmugMug account. Photography BlogSites automatically applies a $50 discount off your first year of beautiful blogging, just for being Smug.
Happy blogging and good luck! Don’t forget that if you’ve got questions about building your own Smug site + blog, our customization heroes are always happy to help.