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SmugMug Films: Mastering Illusions with Joel Grimes

April 23, 2014 2 comments

This week we’re debuting Joel Grimes as our next SmugMug Films subject. As commercial pro and Photoshop wizard, Joel has found great success following his creative dreams and leading workshops worldwide on how he plans, shoots, and polishes those incredible images. Watch the film now and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel to see each new episode as we post them.

When it comes to creating masterful illusions, Joel Grimes is happy to share what it takes to succeed in the art and photography world: hard work and passion. The bravery to be yourself at all times doesn’t hurt, either. Learn how he applied these truths to his own path into commercial photography.

Tell us a bit about how you got started with art and photography.

I’ve always had that side to me, even when I was a little kid. In grade school, we’d have art projects, and I would be in heaven. Then in seventh grade, I think it was, I had my first official art class. That was the ultimate. I was like, “Wow, every day I get to do art and actually receive a grade.”

When I got to high school, we had a program where you could do photography. I just thought, “This is really cool.” I ended up staying in the program my sophomore year, and then my junior and senior years. By the time I was a senior, I was the photo teacher’s assistant. But I still didn’t understand starting it as a career.

When I got out of high school, I ended up working for an outdoor store downtown. One day a man came in looking for a waterproof container. I asked what it was for, and he said it was for transporting film. I said, “I’m a photographer, too!” I had just spent every dime I had on this new black-body camera, which was the first: the Canon EF. At the time, I thought it was like buying a ferrari. It was just so amazing.

Turns out he was the head professor of photography at Pima Community College and asked if I’d thought about taking any photography classes. They had just started a new semester at the college, and he said if I really wanted to get in his class, he could pull some strings. I said yes!

What I didn’t know is he had a waiting list of 80 students for that class. His name was Lou Bernal, and he was the most inspiring educator I’ve ever been around. He really launched me into thinking about photography, not only as a possible career but as an art form. From that point on, photography really became an all-consuming passion.

But I still didn’t understand photography as a career. Like, do I do weddings? Do I do editorial? After college I ended up sharing a studio with a guy who was a natural at marketing. He really taught me a lot about selling myself. With his guidance, I ended up going after the commercial advertising arena. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

I look back and never thought I’d get to where I am. It’s just amazing. I feel very blessed.

What inspires you first when you go about creating an image? Do you see the full concept or does a background or subject inspire you first?

In songwriting, people ask, “What comes first: the melody or the lyrics?” It’s the same with photography. For some people the melody comes first. Some people get an idea and put it into lyrics. It’s really a mixture of both.

I think about an idea, but most of the time it’s kind of a discovery process—it’s found moments. Found ideas that aren’t too thought-out, meaning I don’t create a plan for what I want to end up with. I have an idea stylistically, but it’s not as scripted as people think.

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

I always tell people there’s two things I’m not and two things I believe I am. I’m not brilliant and I’m not a creative genius. I do have a passion for the creative process, and I work really hard at it. I put in the time.

You can be brilliant and a creative genius and produce nothing in your lifetime. But if you have a passion for the creative process and you work very hard, great things follow.

When we’re in school learning photography, many people think, “I’m not brilliant at it. I’m not as talented as my friend or my classmates.” That’s what I thought when I was in school. But in the end, having a passion for the creative process will out-trump or outwork and outperform the brilliant creative geniuses. Don’t worry about if you feel like you don’t quite get it. Just keep practicing. Keep working at it. Keep putting in the time. And then explore.

What gets you up at 4:30 in the morning to photograph the sunrise? Being brilliant? Being a creative genius? No. It’s passion. I can’t wait to see what this morning will bring. And those are the people who achieve great things.

Your process relies more on finding the right feel for the moment and less on the technical, but do you have go-to light setup—somewhere you start before tweaking?

You have to, especially when you do commercial shoots. You have to know the basics of achieving a soft light or a harsh light. How to light one person or ten people. It’s all about solving problems.

When you’re in a commercial scenario, you can’t just play and hope it will all come together. I’ve walked into a room with a client standing over me, and I’ll say we’re going to shoot from this angle with lights here and our subject here. Within 4 minutes I have it figured out. And they ask, “Are you sure? Can we try over here?” And I say that won’t work because there’s cross light and you have a big pipe in the background. That comes from just having walked into a room a thousand times. Time and practice.

I can teach everything I know about lighting in 30 minutes, but it takes 20 years of practice to understand how to apply that lighting. Unless you practice it over and over again, you’ll never be able to walk into a situation and build the shot.

I try to create light that could be a real-life scenario. So I use cross-light, like Rembrandt did, which is a simulation of what could be a true environment. I can simulate sunlight with one big light source. I can do a three-light approach with two edge lights and one overhead light, like if I had two windows to each side of me and a little bit of fill in the middle. That’s a pretty rare scenario, but it’s true. It can happen. I actually like to do that three-light approach because it builds depth and it looks a bit gritty.

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

I use my light to create a certain feel. It is a representation of what could be real and true, but it’s really about creating the mood.

How do you coax your subject to deliver the shot you’re looking for?

Personality plays a role in how I approach my subjects. Some photographers are animated, coaxing their subject to crack up and smile and do all sorts of crazy things. Others will walk over and move the subject’s arm, their chin, their hand. My personality is to watch the subject as I ask them to try different things. Suddenly they’ll do something and I’ll say, “Oh! Can you do that again?”

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

I’ll give an example. There’s a shot I took of the rapper Mustafa. He’s got his shirt off underneath a leather coat, he’s in a tunnel, and he’s right in your face. The light’s perfect on his face and his hands and he’s coming right at you. He was actually a bit reserved when he came in. As we started to work, he was standing there, and it wasn’t really working. As I watched him, he started pulling on the jacket. I said, “That’s cool, what if you spun and held your jacket out like that?” He did, and that’s our shot. I had no idea that’s where we were going to end up. But because I saw him tugging on the jacket while I was moving lights, I thought it might be a cool shot.

That’s how the process works for me. I don’t overscript or overthink it. I let everything take its course.

Within this commercial realm, do you have a favorite type of shoot you like to do?

Sports figures make unbelievable subjects because they’re superheroes. They make great subjects. But I also like photographing real people. I love faces. I love personalities. I love characters.

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

For example, I met a guy named Steve Stevens in New Orleans. He’s got these really cool sunglasses on and he’s kind of looking off to the side with New Orleans in the background. He was my ride from the airport to the college where I was speaking. While he was driving, I was thinking, “This guy is perfect!” So I asked if I could bring him in to do a portrait during my demo. I end up getting this great shot and everyone thinks I cast this guy from hundreds of people. But it’s an everyday person. I just make them look larger than life.

Could you tell us a bit about a shoot that’s most memorable to you to date?

Before digital, I was doing commercial ad work and some corporate work and shooting with a large-format, 4×5 camera and sheet film. Very slow and very meticulous. A large power utilities company was doing an annual report and I was called in to the creative pow-wow meeting with the CEO, art director, and everybody. They wanted to do something different that year, so I pitched the idea of doing a series of portraits of the customers—the end users of electricity—in black-and-white large format. I knew I was really pushing it, but they let me put some samples together and come back. And they ended up going for it. I went to 24 countries with that 4×5 camera. China, Brazil, Argentina, Kazakhstan. It was just heaven.

We can really hear the joy and passion in your voice, and you obviously have a lot of fun doing this. Do you have any challenges?

Generally, as human beings, we tend to want to follow, not lead. If someone paves the way for us, we’ll follow that path. The hardest thing for me, and I think for most people, is that we get inspired by others’ work and we think we want to be someone else. We want to be that photographer, we want to follow their lead. The problem is if you follow others, you always blend with the masses. But if you follow your uniqueness and stick with what you do best, you’ll stand out.

It’s scary to hang your hat on something that’s just you. It opens the door to criticism, and nobody likes to be criticized. So we avoid criticism at all costs, and we follow others. The hardest thing for me is to stay true to who I am. Yes, we need to be inspired by others, but every day I have to wake up and be Joel Grimes, not somebody else. When I teach, I always tell people, “Be yourself.” You’re unique. One of a kind. There’s no one on the planet just like you. And when you work from your uniqueness, you’ll rock the world.

What do you love most about being an illusionist?

Taking something that is everyday and adding excitement. For the most part we tend to go to work, get a coffee, go to our desk, do our task, go home. We want to experience something that’s outside the everyday mundane. My job as a photographer—as an artist—is to create things that take people out of the everyday and submerge them in something that’s a bit of a fantasy.

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

Being an illusionist is really being an artist and honing that craft to a point where people believe it. They believe that girl is that beautiful. That guy is that strong. They look amazing. Larger than life. Lighting and Photoshop play into that formula. Some people say that’s not right, but every photograph is a manipulation because you choose the lens, you choose when to take the picture—when to create that moment. Everything’s a representation of reality. It’s my job as an artist to take that representation and make it even more fantastic. That’s fun. To me, that’s part of being an artist.

Could you talk about how you refine the illusion in post-process?

It’s part of the creative process. You take the picture and then you have to finish creating it. Some people think Photoshop is cheating. But as an artist, it doesn’t matter how much I create in camera or in Photoshop. In the end, when I present that image, does it work? Is it a reflection of my artistic vision? That’s what’s most important.

So I blend the two together. I solve some problems in Photoshop that I couldn’t do in camera, using blending modes, working on multiple layers, masking, all that. When I’m teaching, some people say, you know, if you lift your left leg and put your finger on the Alt key, there’s a shortcut. And I say, okay, but right now that’s not important. What’s important is I’m getting to where I need to to be.

Photo Courtesy of Joel Grimes

Photo Courtesy of Joel Grimes

Over time I’ll learn that working with smart objects is a better way to work than not. And adjustment layers are less destructive. I learn all those little things as I go. There are people who can run circles around me in Photoshop, but in the end, people really like the end result I achieve.

Any favorite tools in Photoshop?

One of the things I teach a lot is to work from a RAW image, bring it into the RAW converter, manipulate it there, and then open it as a smart object in Photoshop. This way, when the image comes over, it’s still tied to RAW. That gives me very little destruction.

The problem most people face when they start in Photoshop is they destroy their image. There’s a thousand ways to destroy your image, lose bit depth, lose pixels, lose tones, detail, all that. The number-one rule: minimize destruction. Smart objects and adjustment layers are the single two most important things to have in your workflow to minimize destruction.

Any advice for those looking to get into creative photography?

To be an artist, you have to put your neck on a chopping block. It’s impossible to survive as an artist in this industry if you can’t overcome rejection. The biggest thing that keeps us from moving forward is fear of rejection. You may get lots of praises, but you’re not always going to get a good critique. And a negative critique is like a knife stabbing you in the back, with an added twist. It hits right in your heart.

As human beings, we don’t like to be criticized. It hurts. And it keeps us from moving forward and taking risks. But you can’t let one person steal your dream. That person may not have any authority whatsoever in truly understanding what you’re doing, but it still derails you as an artist.

It’s like country western versus rap. If you’re a country western singer and you present your demo to a rap record-label company, they’re going to wonder what the heck you’re doing there. They’re going to boot you out the back door as quickly as they can, right? And you feel rejected.

But were you really rejected? No, because you gave them something they don’t have any interest in. As artists, we present our work to people who sometimes have no interest in what we’re doing. And when they say they aren’t interested, we take it personally. It’s like selling country western to a rap label.

Criticism will come. It’s guaranteed! Don’t take it personally.

Anything we didn’t ask that you’d like us to know?

Hard work will outperform talent any day of the week. Put in more hours than the person you’re competing against. Practice, practice, practice, and great things will follow.

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Find Joel online:

 

Categories: Art, photography, Tips, Users

SmugMug’s Brand New Refer-a-Friend Program

April 21, 2014 Leave a comment

When we started SmugMug 12 years ago, it was a labor of love created between father and son and shared by word of mouth among family, friends, and neighbors. Through the years, photo lovers have touted SmugMug’s great features through conversation and email, creating a trail of beautiful websites that bridge one family to the next.

We knew it was time to make some big changes so we could better say “Thanks!” to all of you who’ve shared SmugMug with those you love.

“What’s the new Refer-a-Friend program?”

When you refer someone to SmugMug, you’ll earn 20% of their account value and your friend gets 20% off their first year. You’re basically splitting a 40% discount two ways. Just be sure they use your unique referral code at signup.

The referral credit you earn will automagically be applied towards your next SmugMug renewal, or credited towards your next Gift of SmugMug.

You can always see how much credit you’ve earned in your Account Settings, under the Stats tab.

“What does that  mean for me?”

Your friend must use your unique referral code for you to get credit. To find yours, log in and visit your Account Settings > Stats tab to see your personalized referral details, and your credit balance. Copy the link and pass that along to your friends, or you can just grab the code itself and ask them to paste that in when they sign up for their new account.

Math example: Say your friend signs up for a full SmugMug Business account, which is normally $300/year.

  • You’ll get 20% – or $60 – of that amount put on your account to apply towards your next renewal or your next Gift of SmugMug.
  • Your friend also gets $60 off their first year at SmugMug, dropping their signup cost to only $240.

“But I don’t have any pro photographer friends!”

SmugMug is not just for full-time photographers! Photos are a part of all of our lives, no matter what type of camera you have and how often you’re taking pictures. Whether you’re a wedding pro, a business owner, a family guy, a world traveler, a writer, a student or if you just love life in any way at all, you’d probably appreciate a safe, beautiful place to keep (and archive) your photos online.

We’ve shared some beautiful examples here.

Let’s not forget that everyone on SmugMug gets 24/7 white-glove support by our team of amazing Support Heroes (who are everyday people just like you), so there’s no excuse. And whether you’re Regular Joe or a Smokin’ Hot Pro, every print order that comes from our labs is covered by our 100% money-back guarantee.

Your life is worth sharing. Take pictures of it!

“How do I know how much credit I’ve earned?”

You can check to see your referral credit balance at any time in your Account Settings, then click on the Stats tab.

Check out the full Refer-a-Friend program terms and conditions, as well as our updated help page.

To everyone who’s referred people to our family and helped us grow: Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We literally could not have come this far without you!

You Can Win a Slice of the SmugLife

To celebrate today’s announcement, we’re giving our U.S. friends a chance to come on down and be a SmugMug VIP:

GRAND PRIZE. In December 2014, we’ll choose one lucky, random SmugMug referrer to come visit SmugMug HQ and get the full VIP treatment. (Max 100 entries per person.)

Monthly prizes. Every friend you refer to SmugMug enters you into a monthly drawing for a sexy, slow-mo capable GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition, or a $400 Amazon Gift Card. Drawings occur at the end of each month from May through November. (Max 10 entries per person.)

What does it mean to be “VIP?”

  • Airfare and 2 nights hotel accommodation in San Francisco, CA
  • A tour of our print-covered global headquarters in Mountain View, CA
  • Your favorite meal cooked by our in-house chef (touted as the best in Silicon Valley)
  • A chance to talk with the people who built the features you know and love
  • A full face-painting session where you’ll become the superhero of your dreams (like these)
  • Your portrait taken by our President and Co-founder, Baldy (and a big print to keep)
  • A helicopter tour and photowalk around San Francisco with Baldy & friends

Check out the official promotion rules for the full terms and details. We can’t wait to have you over!

* Unfortunately due to international contest rules, this contest is only open to U.S. residents.

6 Smug Features You Didn’t Know You Had

April 21, 2014 3 comments

There’s so much to SmugMug that even those of us who’ve been members for years have trouble summing it all up in a single elevator pitch. So it’s perfectly possible for you to have never known some of the great features that are (even now) lurking in your galleries.

Here are a few of our favorites.

1) Smart Galleries

Your galleries can automatically display photos that you choose.

Lots of SmugMuggers use our Collect Photos feature. But did you know you can set your galleries to automatically collect certain new photos you upload to your site? You do this simply by defining Rules and making your gallery a Smart Gallery. We’ll do the rest.

Smart Galleries are perfect for curating pics for your homepage slideshow, populating individual player galleries from team photos, displaying your newest snaps, and so many more applications we can’t even listen them all. Try it now!

There’s a lot you can do with just your keyboard.

2) Keyboard shortcuts

SmugMug’s easy to browse with one hand. Really! When you’re viewing a gallery you can hit the following keys to open the Lightbox and change the image size that you’re viewing. Here’s the list:

  • Left/Right Arrow = Prev/Next Photo
  • Shift + Left/Right Arrow = Prev/Next Page of Thumbnails
  • A = Bring up Lightbox view, Autosize photo
  • S = Lightbox, Small
  • M = Lightbox, Medium
  • L = Lightbox, Large
  • 1 = Lightbox, XL
  • 2 = Lightbox, XL2
  • 3 = Lightbox, XL3
  • O = Lightbox, Original
  • X = Exit Lightbox

Give it a whirl, and bookmark the help page in case you want to refer to this list later.

3) System Pages

Just 3 examples of totally customizable system pages already included in your SmugMug account.

You may not realize that you’ve got a few very special pages up your SmugMug sleeve that you can access by simply typing in these words to the end of your SmugMug URL:

  • 404
  • Date
  • Keyword
  • Password
  • Popular
  • Search
  • Browse

These don’t appear in your site-wide organizer because they can’t actually be moved around, but you can customize them with text, your logo, and other content blocks when you have a Power-, Portfolio-, or Business-level account. Perfect for adding your warm and sunny personality to every corner of your site.

Check out some previously published tips and ideas for making these system pages your own.

4) Opacity Slider (Power and up)

Find your opacity (alpha) sliders in your Theme’s “Advanced” tab.

You can run with any design right out of the box, but one of the best benefits of SmugMug is the ability to deeply customize your site. And there’s so many options available to you, like the ability to change the color – and opacity – of different sections like your header, sidebars, body, or footer.

Just like how rugs define a space in your room, so do these areas of your page. Setting a section color and changing its opacity (or “alpha”) goes a great way toward making your custom themes stand apart from the crowd.

Don’t be shy: dig into your Themes, click that Advanced tab, and get playing!

5) Filename display

Display your filenames for easy previewing in your sitewide Organizer.

The Organizer may be the best thing we’ve launched since sliced bread, but did you know that you can toggle the display of filenames under your thumbnails? This is a handy trick to see exactly how your images are being sorted. Combined with the browser function Command+F, you can quickly find any file in any gallery.

Find it in your sitewide Organizer, any time you’ve highlighted a gallery and have the photos displayed in the preview pane on the right. The toggle button is the little square with the line under it at top right (shown above).

6) Multiple Designs to Create and Use (Power and up)

This user has created 5 totally different looks for their SmugMug website and can swap them with a click.

You can customize any number of our site designs and swap between them whenever you wish. We’ll save them all in your account and you can access them when logged in, any time you click Customize > Choose a New Site Design. No extra charge!

This is perfect for indecisive photographers who can’t decide if they want a huge background slideshow or an organic collage of their portfolio pics on their homepage. It’s also great for festive folks who shoot calendar-based events and want to serve up a different look every season.

Just remember that when you switch designs, customizations like content blocks won’t transfer between them. However, new pages, galleries, and any other content you add (A.K.A. stuff that’s visible in your sitewide Organizer) will.

Tip: If you do create multiple designs, we recommend that you give each design a unique, descriptive name so you always know what it is. “Copy of Isis” is not very helpful. “4-Column Homepage (White Theme)” is.

We hope you dig deeper into your SmugMug sites and discover something new that makes managing your memories easier and more fun.

Enjoy!

Links to love:

Archiving and Keeping Your Phone Photos Safe

April 9, 2014 4 comments

In your busy life, the camera you usually have is the one in your pocket: Your phone! The photos you take with it are the easiest and most “real,” but they’re also the most difficult to get safely archived and online.

Don’t let your best memories die in a digital graveyard! It’s simple to get them out of your phone and safely up into SmugMug where you can cherish them for years… no matter how many times you drop, dunk, or destroy your device.

Today, we’re reminding you to do this often, so you’ll never be left grieving over the loss of your priceless mobile memories.

On iPhones and Android

If you have an iPhone or Android phone, it’s a no-brainer: use our Camera Awesome app. It’s a camera, editing suite, social hub, and backup service all in one, so you’ll never need to exit the app (unless you want to)!

How to do it: Download the Camera Awesome app. Tap the little gear icon at top left to open the settings and connect to your SmugMug account. You can then use the app to take all the photos and videos you want, edit them, and, when you’re ready, upload them to your account.

  • You can also upload photos taken via other apps as well as your phone’s default camera through Camera Awesome, since we’re all about equal-opportunity backups.
  •  If you choose, you can set ALL photos and videos that you shoot with Camera Awesome to automatically back up to your gallery as you shoot. Or opt to send them only when you’re connected via WiFi.
  • Alternatively, you can choose to save photos from Camera Awesome to your phone’s photo library and manually upload them to your computer’s hard drive (and to your SmugMug account!)

Hot tip: If you’ve taken a photo and for some reason can’t find it in your photo library, our Support Heroes use apps like iExplorer to find and access every file on your device.

Backing up on other phones or apps

If you aren’t using Camera Awesome, your phone should still allow you to access your images manually, so you can upload them to your SmugMug website for safekeeping.

We won’t go into specific steps for how to do this, since you’re probably already familiar with the process of plugging in your phone to your computer. You may even already use manufacturer’s software to download your photos to your computer and they may even offer to put a copy of your photos into existing free services that you use, like Dropbox or Facebook. This is a convenient option, but we recommend taking two more seconds to also drag your files into SmugMug, too.

Why? SmugMug’s the only service that’s completely unlimited to use, and we won’t squish or resize your images. Storage is already included in your subscription fee, and you can retrieve everything using the built-in backup feature.

We’ve got several really great ways for getting your files into SmugMug; use the one that works best for you. We like using the default browser drag-and-drop window, with the option to automatically skip or allow duplicate files.

If you walk away remembering nothing else….

… be sure it’s this: Please download and back up your photos on a regular basis so if your phone should ever get lost, stolen, or go on the fritz, you won’t miss a single memory that you’ve recorded. We’ve all had this happen to us, and with SmugMug you can retrieve thousands of lost memories with a single click.

Happy snapping. And don’t forget to back up!

Categories: Images, photography, SmugMug

Making Watermarks Easier Than Ever for Pros

April 3, 2014 9 comments

If you haven’t already heard, we recently released some new options to the way you apply watermarks to your images, but we’ve gone ahead and taken it one step further.

In the New SmugMug, you can now create, choose, edit and apply your custom watermarks all from a single location. Gone are the days of choosing your logo image from within a gallery, then tweaking it in your Account Settings.

Your New Home Base for Watermarks

You’ll still open your Account Settings to see your watermarks alongside your other pro branding tools. But now you’ll find a gorgeous, brand-new, edge-to-edge interface with a large sample photo in center, and all your watermarks in a column down the right-hand side:

Click any of your watermark previews to try it on for size. Or click the “+ Create” button at top to select a new graphic (that you’ve already designed and uploaded) for use as a fresh new watermark.

There’s even a handy button at the bottom to change the sample image to something brighter, darker, or vertical. This is a great way to get an idea of how the orientation or brightness of a photo will affect how your watermark looks.

 

And as always, you can hit the universal wrench or trash icons under each of your existing watermarks to edit and delete them, respectively.

Check out our updated help pages to get the complete details about watermarks and how they work. You’ll also notice that we’ve changed the way you edit Printmarks in exactly the same way, since Watermarks and Printmarks are very similar features.

Watermarks, in a nutshell

New to Watermarks? Here are a few important things to know:

  • New custom watermarks default to size Large and up. You can specify a different minimum size in the settings.
  • Watermarks are nondestructive, so your prints won’t include them.
  • Watermarks will need to be re-applied to your photos to display any changes you make.
  • You can have as many different watermarks on your site as you wish.
  • Watermarks are available on Portfolio and Business accounts only.

About SmugMug’s Printmarks

And if you’ve never used our Printmarks feature and are intrigued to try it, here’s a quick rundown of what they are:

  • Printmarks are like watermarks for the physical prints you sell.
  • Although we recommend you use large graphics to ensure your Printmarks print well, they are limited to covering a small fixed percentage of the print area.
  • Printmarks are great for applying your artist signature, a team logo, or a wedding date to your prints.
  • If you change your mind, Printmarks can be removed during Proof Delay.
  • The Printmarks feature is also available on Portfolio and Business accounts only.

So if you were looking for an excuse to freshen up your Watermarks and Printmarks, now’s the time! We hope that these changes make it more enjoyable and easier to manage the nuts and bolts of your photography business.

Let us know what you think! And, as always, stay tuned because there’s always more good stuff coming down the pipes from Smuggy HQ.

Links to great pro business tips we’ve shared:

 

Behind the Build: SmugMug’s Color Picker and Why It Works So Well For You

March 28, 2014 1 comment

Have you ever wondered about how a particular feature at SmugMug came to be built? Thousands of happy photo lovers log in and tweak their websites every day, but there’s more to the site than just the buttons you hit. So we’re going to take you behind the scenes and shed a bit of light on how we dreamt up – and sweat over – the details that you’re probably using every day.

Today we’ll take a closer look at the color picker – that little box that pops up when you’re tweaking your Themes, font colors and other hues in your personal palette. Think it’s just a clear-cut click and run? No way!

The Impulse

Ye olde Easy Customizer on legacy SmugMug

Years ago, back when the “easiest” option to personalize your site was the Easy Customizer, our lead engineer had an idea: What if we could shorten the amount of time people spent picking colors that matched? What if we built a system that automatically knew the best complements to the hues you liked?

Best of all, what if we could just make it visual, easy process instead of forcing people to squint at code, risk mistakes and break their websites?

This is how you customized color in legacy SmugMug

We wanted to take the work out of customization and make it fun for you to create something beautiful. So we coded up something bigger, better, and a whole lot smarter.

The Idea

The color picker is more than just a pretty swatch:

Custom themes in the New SmugMug: Just click once

You’ll find it any time you open up and edit a Theme. Take a closer look and notice that when you click on any point in the square, we’ll automatically pick a contrast color, text color and any other subtle elements that show up best based on the color you’ve chosen.

Whether you love dark or light, you don’t have to stress about choosing the best tones that will catch the eye. Text is automatically easily readable, and you probably won’t even notice that we’ve picked almost a dozen other elements as highlights. The amount of contrast needed on these secondary colors should be just perfect to avoid your viewers getting jabbed in the eye by something too dark, too bright, or too loud.

Example of a dark theme and light accent colors

Example of a light theme and dark accent colors

How it Works

When you pick a color on the swatch, we consider that a mid tone and map out similar colors both brighter and darker than that, with just the right amount of contrast between each. We’ll then assign numbers to different parts of your SmugMug site (like your text, the background, your buttons, the border colors around your images, etc) from 1 to 30, and so on.

As a result, your SmugMug site becomes a big paint-by-number, and each spot gets filled in with the colors we’ve calculated. The best part is that in doing this, we’re automatically writing the CSS in the background for it all, so you don’t have to.

If you’re the codey type and want full control, you can always override our choices by clicking on the color choice box and choosing your own. Or by using your own CSS, of course. But it’s definitely not required – just let our systems do the heavy lifting for you!

Unique Challenges to Overcome

While the above theory sounds great on paper, it required quite a bit of tweaking before we shipped it onto your sites. So we spent time adjusting the algorithm to be sure that everything looks good 100% of the time… no matter what color you pick!

Here were the two biggest challenges we encountered:

  • Users choosing medium-tone saturated hues from the color picker resulted in themes that looked garishly bright and super contrasty. Why? Choosing bright colors like kelly green throws off our calculations of complementary colors. We had to temper this and build special algorithms to deal with bright hues like that.
  • The art of calculating complementary shades is not the same when working with dark themes as it is for light themes. As you go from black to light, there’s a point in the middle where the math flips. Case in point: A light border shows up nicely on a dark background, but dark borders look best on light backgrounds. So how do we anticipate where in the spectrum that happens? This took additional tweaking to fix.

See It in Action

So we invite you all to go and play with your Themes, click around and watch what happens when you choose your favorite colors in the picker. Because Power, Portfolio and Business accounts all have the ability to create (and edit) as many themes as you wish, we encourage everyone to get playing and witness all the beautiful, effortless possibilities our color picker creates for you.

 

Release Notes: Watermark Improvements, Gallery Privacy Tweaks and In-Line Info Editing

March 25, 2014 32 comments

Wondering what’s new at SmugMug? Here’s the latest on the most important and noticeable changes you’ll see around your site.

The Privacy Name Tweak

We’ve made a small change to the names of your various gallery privacy options. Instead of “Public,” “Unlisted,” and “Private,” you’ll now see the following, designed to remind you who gets to see your gallery at each setting:

  • Public
  • Unlisted (Anyone with the link)
  • Private (Only Me)

Remember: This doesn’t affect the functionality of these privacy settings, so there’s no action needed on your part. We just wanted each setting to be crystal clear to everyone in one glance.

Limit Watermarks to Larger Sizes

If you’ve ever wanted your big, beautiful photos watermarked but don’t want your gallery’s photo tiles showing it, this one’s for you! You’ll now find a new option in your custom watermarks manager that lets you set a minimum display size onto which they will be applied.

For example: Suppose your homepage displays your photos in grid format with “Medium” sized thumbnails. If you don’t want your custom watermarks showing on them, you can set the “Smallest Size” setting for your watermark for Large and up.  Clean thumbs, FTW!

Plus, the SmugMug default “Proof” watermark will now only apply to “Large” display sizes and up.

As always, changes you make to your custom watermarks don’t automatically show up across your site. So if you want to begin using this feature, be sure to re-apply watermarks to your photos in bulk. (Hint: Your site-wide organizer can help you with this.)

Add or Change Titles, Captions, and Keywords On the Fly

You can now quickly add or edit your photo details (title, caption, and keywords) in the new SmugMug while you’re browsing your galleries, all without opening a gallery menu or the site-wide organizer. Click on the little pencil icon that appears when you mouse over the area under your pics to open a quick editor. Then type in your text.

Find it here:

When clicked, you’ll see this:

This simple text editor will appear in galleries of SmugMug and Journal styles, as well as in any Lightbox in all gallery styles.

Hot tip: This also works on mobile, so you can tidy up your site without being tied to your desk.

Other fixes and improvements:

  • Maps  now allow you to use your mouse scroll to zoom in and out.
  • We’ve combined your photo map and your photo info (EXIF) panels for a single, clean info panel.
  • We’ve dramatically sped up the amount of time it takes for us to generate custom image sizes that you request.

That’s all for now. More soon!

The Non-Photographer’s Guide to SmugMug

March 12, 2014 Leave a comment

SmugMug was born and bred by photography lovers, but this doesn’t mean that SmugMug can’t be great for everyone. SmugMug is an awesome place for people from all walks of life, and we feel strongly about photography being an essential part of your life — no matter what you do.

So what’s the benefit of a photo website for people who don’t “do” photography? Easy! A beautiful and safe place online to keep everything that’s important to you. Whether you’re a mom, a student, a lawyer, a small business owner or a chef, your photos (and videos) are how you get your message across to other people.

If you or someone you know didn’t think you were pro enough for SmugMug, here’s a list of reasons why we think we’d still be a perfect fit.

Spitfire Coffee in New Orleans, LA

1) You can show off big, beautiful photos.

From XS thumbnails to edge-to-edge huge, SmugMug is based on huge, gorgeous photos that show off every pixel of what you do. Even if you’re not a photographer, big pics have a place: as a background image on your homepage or in a sample gallery that shows off your cooking, your offices, your portfolio of what you do best. No matter what your profession or what you love to do, we’re pretty sure that it’ll look great in pictures.

2) Build completely custom pages for anything you want.

Custom web pages let you create anything you dream up on your new site: price sheets, About Me, directions to your storefront or anything else you want your visitors to know about you. Fun facts? Easy! Lists of your favorite vendors? It’s a snap. Here’s a little tutorial that shows you how to do this via our easy drag-and-drop design, so you can build any page you can imagine.

20×20 Studio‘s beautiful portfolio website

3) Automatically get easy-to-read URLs.

In addition to being able to grab your own custom domain, you can make sure any page on your website has an easy-to-read link. We call them NiceNames:  easy, readable, search-engine-friendly URLs that make it drop dead simple to tell someone where to find your website, even if  you’re not at your computer. Pssst: they look great on business cards!

  • Example: http://www.macaskillphotography.com/Newborn/Diego-4-Months/

Martin Sundstrom Design‘s beautifully branded website

4) Tie together every page with your brand.

Whether you’re the head of an internationally-reknowned restaurant or you just love the colors blue and green, your website should reflect your brand. SmugMug gives you dozens of one-click themes to match virtually any mood, and the ability to create your own if you don’t find what you love in the list. And if you’ve already got a logo designed for you, set it across all of your galleries and pages so your visitors know that you’ve got your act together.

Here’s a page that shows you how to do this, and you can take a look at some beautiful examples of uniquely branded sites right here.

5) Never have to worry again about site stability & bandwidth.

Once you’ve done all the work of building your new website, the last thing you need is for it to max out when too many people visit! Not at SmugMug – we’ve always offered unlimited bandwidth and traffic because we believe that photos are meant to be shared. We’re backed by Amazon and use the most cutting-edge technology to be sure that your pages load blazingly fast, no matter where you or your viewers are. Want proof? Our site status page is always open to you: http://status.smugmug.com

Example of a family genealogy site. Learn how to archive here!

6) Complete flexibility in how to structure your site.

You can create whatever kind of site you want, from simple to complex to deep. SmugMug’s flexible organization lets you nest folders inside folders up to 7 levels deep, meaning you can organize your photos, videos and pages in a million different ways. And you can create as many folders as you wish, with more folders or galleries inside each to make the nested hierarchy of your dreams. Perfect for perfectly organized family history, your children’s lifetime in photos or anything else you do. Best of all, you can easily manage them with a clean, beautiful drag-and-drop site-wide organizer.

So what do you think? If you’ve got a website for a non-photography lifestyle or business, we’d love to see it! And if you’re still not yet sold, check the sites above to get inspiration and see what you can build.

Happy customizing!

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