SmugMug’s higher resolutions for 2016.

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It’s that time of year—when everyone begins their resolutions for the new year. Maybe it’s to eat healthier (for us that means upping our consumption of dark chocolate), travel more, or learn a second language. We asked our employees what their 2016 resolutions are and, of course, they revolve around the love of photography. Are any of these resolutions on your “to-do list” this year?

1. Family matters.

No matter how much we love them, for some reason we love to take photos of other places, things, and people (and food) instead of family. Last year, a group of six SmugMug employees made a pact to document the lives of their families. The rules were simple: one photo once a week, honest and unfiltered. Not only did they succeed, but they plan on continuing the project in 2016. You can check it out at Family Project.

No family living near by? Get creative with Facetime or Skype and take photos while conversing or have some fun with Photoshop and screencaptures.  You can also adopt a grandparent at a local retirement home or volunteer at a local animal shelter and take photos of your new wolf pack so they can find a furr-ever home. As Mr. Feeny said, you don’t have to be blood to be family.

2. Go for the gold.

So you’ve been working on your craft for awhile, and you think it’s darn good (and it is!). But maybe you get a hint of intimidation when you think of entering a photo contest and all the amazing competition you could be up against. Well, what your mom told you is true—the answer is always “no” if you don’t try! We believe in you; go out and kick some butt and enter a few contests with confidence! Don’t know where to start? Here’s a list of 2016 photo contests to get you started. And when you win that gold medal please let us know!

3. Make it official.

Despite the relative ease of filing a registration for copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, many photographers procrastinate. But with the agency now accepting e-registrations, it can’t get much simpler (a government miracle!). And don’t despair—you don’t need to register each photo individually! You can submit a group registration of either published or unpublished works (but you can’t mix the two—and they need to be from the same calendar year). For all the details check out their Circular on Pictorial Works.

Is copyright law confusing for you in general? Don’t worry, U.S. copyright law protects your works whether they’re registered or not. But registering your work is important if you ever find yourself going to court over an infringement. If you have lots of questions, the U.S. Copyright Office is more than happy to answer them for ya’.

4. Tag like you mean it.

Keywording photos can seem like a beast when you’re getting started, but luckily after a little love and time upfront, it becomes a much faster process. Think of all that time spent looking for “that photo” and let that light the fire under your butt! As an added bonus: it’ll significantly increase the possibility of your photos being discovered by others (also called SEO). After all, we shoot to share. Plus, when you add keywords you can easily create a ton of cool features on your site, such as creating galleries based on keywords, generating a map of all your photo locations (a favorite of world travelers), and much more. So what are you waiting for? Release the Kraken (of keywords)!

5. Click more.

You don’t have to go on an epic adventure, have a party, get up early for a sunrise on the beach, or rent smoke machines and flame throwers to take more and better photos. All you need is a little challenge to get your creative juices flowing. For 2016 why not give yourself a daily creative photo challenge? Make it as complicated or as easy as you like. One day shoot something green. Another day take a photo by placing your camera on the ground. The next day take a photo holding the camera above your head facing behind you. The next day photograph a sound. Giving yourself a little push every day can help get you out of your comfort zone and into the creative zone.

SmugMug’s 2015 survival guide for holiday photos and gift giving.

The holidays are fast approaching, and soon we’ll all be deep into the holiday shopping madness. Here’s SmugMug’s 2015 Survival Guide for Holiday Photos and Gift Giving! Do all your shopping from the comfort of your SmugMug account. Upload once—and send joy around the world.

Get ready to make a lasting impression. Whether you’re creating photo gifts for yourself, or a pro photographer looking to wow your clients, prints make perfect—and lasting—gifts. They’re personal, they stop time and make lasting memories, and they can be larger than life.

So, how do you go about making prints with all the great photos you’re displaying on SmugMug?

Start by selecting the photos you want to print. Once you’ve got your photos uploaded to SmugMug, it’s easy to add any image to the cart. One-stop shopping at its finest—just click that BUY button to get started. You don’t have to decide on the size of print or quantities just yet. There’s opportunity to adjust the items added to your cart later.

Once you select a photo, click the BUY button and choose a product category.
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Ordering is a breeze on desktop or mobile.

Tip: If the photos you want to print or turn into gifts are scattered throughout several galleries on your SmugMug site, you can gather them all together into a single gallery using the Collect tool or by setting a Smart Gallery ruleThat way, when it’s time to place your order, you can work from inside a single gallery on your site.

Consider the type of print you want to give. You’ve got four different paper types to choose from: Glossy, Matte, Lustre (the choice for portraits), and Metallic (particularly suitable to high-contrast scenes). You’ve got multiple standard, square, and panoramic print sizes at your fingertips. And, for that extra special someone, there are ready-to hang items such as box framed prints and mounted canvases.

Make sure your photos are ready for the spotlight. For you high-tech types, we’ve got all the nitty-gritty details you could ask for to prepare your photos for printing. BUT, rest assured that if you’re a low-/no-tech person, our great print labs will do the heavy lifting for you. All our labs offer a color correction service so your photos will be the best print that they can be.

Go beyond paper prints and wall art. There are great personalized gifts available from your SmugMug account as well. We’ve got mugs, puzzles, magnets, buttons, and much more.

Turn your photos into holiday cards. Send end-of-year wishes to family and friends by creating original cards right from your SmugMug photos. Choose between 5×7 folded and 4×8 flat varieties on beautiful heavyweight card stocks.

Make sure you order in time so your gift arrives on time. Check our shipping dates calendarand don’t forget that your prints and photo gifts need time to process as well as ship.

Perhaps our best gift suggestion (and we’re probably a little biased here)… Why not share your love of SmugMug with the people you love by Giving the Gift of SmugMugThis one’s great for last-minute gifts, and it’s guaranteed not to be re-gifted.

Happy Holidays from your friends at Smugmug.

Ring-Ring…Calling all photos, it’s the SmugMug magic uploading link.

Hello, it’s SmugMug and we’ve got a quick, easy, and secure way to get your photos from your phone onto your SmugMug site. It works like magic so we’re calling it our SmugMug magic uploading link. Now you can transfer all the those trip, party, or selfie photos you snapped from your phone right to SmugMug faster than you can say Abracadabra!

This handly little tool is a big help when you’re working with your SmugMug site on your computer and you realize that you want to add a few or even a gazillion photos from your phone right to a specific gallery. In just a few clicks, we’ll send a magic link to your phone via text message.

With that link, you’ll be able to move photos right to the gallery—and like magic you’re done and done!

Need all the details? Check them out right here.

Ring-Ring…here’s one more phone uploading thing. When you’re on the go and want to move your photos from your phone to your SmugMug site, another great uploading tool is our SmugMug app for iPhone or Android.

When it comes to uploading, let’s think outside the Dropbox.

Can we be frank for a second? Dropbox may be a convenient place to backup your photos and videos, but it’s not the best way to showcase, share or sell them. That’s why you have SmugMug, right? So now we’ve made it super simple to transfer your photos from Dropbox to your SmugMug galleries in just a few clicks—right from the SmugMug browser uploader.

Just select Dropbox in the uploader,

sign in to your Dropbox account,

select the photos you want to upload and, drop those photos on SmugMug like they’re hot!

Remember you’ve got unlimited, pixel for pixel secure storage with SmugMug so go on and give us all you got.

See how easy it is to free your photos from Dropbox’s virtual shoebox in the sky, right here.

Special Note: This feature currently doesn’t work if you’re on a custom domain. Custom domain support is coming soon, but in the meantime, switch your URL to your SmugMug nickname version (yoursmugmugnickname.smugmug.com) to get Dropbox to work correctly.

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.

Renee Robyn’s Top Tips for Creating Epic Digital Art

Photographer and Digital Artist Renee Robyn survived a devastating motorcycle crash that nearly left her paralyzed. Unable to leave her bed while recovering from the accident, she discovered a new way to express her boundless creativity without having to travel: digital composites. She’s now a critically acclaimed artist. Learn more about Renee’s inspirational story through her SmugMug Film, the latest in a series of stunning video shorts that we hope will inspire passion, ignite possibility, and encourage you to throw your own shutter wide open to the wonders of the world.

Below, Renee shares some of the tips she’s learned through years of “trying to make things suck less.”

Inspiration
Photo by Renee Robyn

1. Look for inspiration everywhere.
I read way too many fantasy books, and I probably played too many video games. When you’re creative, I don’t think the ideas come from you. I think they come from the universal ooze, and you channel them into existence. You bring something into reality that wants to be here and is looking for the right translator. Your job as an artist and as a creator is to take that content from something that isn’t tangible into something that is.

Look around—every single image is like playing with a Rubik’s cube. Turn things around and eventually you’ll find something that works. Look at draping and lines, colors, body shape, and personality. Take it all in and mash it together.

Immerse models in the story
Photos by Renee Robyn

2. Immerse your models and make them comfortable in the story.
When you’re doing portrait photography, it’s really psychology. You have to be able to communicate and make your subjects feel comfortable. Most women need to feel safe, and they need to feel heard. Most men like to feel strong and powerful. You have to consider these things because not everyone is going to behave the same way, particularly if they’re not comfortable in front of the camera. Experienced models are a different story, but not all of us shoot pro models day in and day out.

When it comes to composite images, your models can’t see what you see. You can show them the background pieces, the idea of it, and then tell them to imagine themselves running there. If I want to create a wonderful portrait, I’ll say, “Imagine you’re running through a field full of magical flowers,” and s#@$ like that. As soon as people start to imagine that, with the way neuroscience works, the brain starts dumping all these chemicals into the body and these tiny physical changes start to happen. And all these tiny changes are what will take their posing from good to great. You can’t tell someone, “Look sexy,” if they don’t feel sexy. It just looks awkward. Same goes for storytelling poses.

Leap of Faith
Photos by Renee Robyn

3. Photograph with the end story in mind.
I shoot most of my stuff on grey paper. For me, it makes it easier to isolate my subject for compositing later on. It’s not for everyone, because our styles are all very unique. I cringe at the thought of a green screen, but I know many digital artists who use them with great success.

Light for the environment you’re going to put your subject in. For example, in the “Leap of Faith” shot, I lit my model with an octabox on a boom overhead for a large, soft light source. But then I got shadows around the sides of her body, which is what’s going to happen when you flat light from the front. When you’re having something jump over the side of the building, though, sunlight will likely be reflecting from everywhere. If you put your hand out, you might see there’s a little bit of a highlight coming from beneath because something is reflecting. So I added two strobes, one to each side of her, and I bounced them off the wall to gently fill in those shadows a little bit. This made the final composite more realistic, since my lighting more closely matched the environmental conditions I was going to put her in. I actually will photograph my hands a lot when I’m in certain scenarios shooting backgrounds, just so I’ll have a record of how the environmental lighting behaves so I can work with it later with more accuracy.

Editing
Photo by Renee Robyn

4. Edit nondestructively.
Use brushes, masking, colorizing, liquefying, and, of course, layers. I like to use channels for color, masking, and doing luminosity adjustments. Those are the big ones. My motto, in photography and composite work, is basically push buttons until it sucks less. Try lots of things, and keep an open mind.

Zoom in really, really close, usually 300–400%, and start masking everything. I start with a 30%-ish flow brush, and I’ll change that a lot depending on where I’m working. And I’ll change the hardness of the brush a lot. I use brushes all the time, and I make many of my own as well.

Editing nondestructively always results in tons of layers. Make groups! Groups are awesome. Group that s#@$! If you build good organizational habits when you’re starting, it gets easier to keep track of what you’re doing once you start building more complicated composites.

Tools
Photo by Renee Robyn

5. Use the tools that work best for you.
My go-to tools are Photoshop, a Wacom tablet, and Nik Software. And I like to tether using Capture One version 8. I like to shoot tethered to my laptop so I can see really what’s going on. The screen on the back of the camera is really small, and you can’t really tell if anything is going to match the way you want it to. I can start lining things up more accurately when I shoot tethered.

Vanishing point
Photo by Renee Robyn

6. Make time to understand the basics.
Understand color theory. Understand vanishing point. Understand lighting and contrast. Then understand how to tell stories. Understand what makes great storytelling.

I took shortcuts when I was learning in my career, and it’s making things now a little bit harder for me. I have to go back and relearn those basics so I can make my artwork better in the future. Shortcuts aren’t really saving you much time. I think to be a really great artist, it helps to understand why color behaves the way it does. When you’re making images, colors are very important, regardless of what you choose to shoot.

There’s this really awesome book out there. It’s dry as f@$#, but if you want to learn color theory, it’s the best one out there. It’s called Interaction of Color, by Josef Albers. If you want to learn color theory, it’s awesome. It’ll probably take you a year to get through it because you read it for a little bit and you fall asleep. However, the guy knows his s#@$, and it’s fabulous.

Makeup basics
Photo by Renee Robyn

It sounds like a lot to take in, but anything we do that is a search to feed our creative souls often can be, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I often suggest taking classes that have nothing to do with photography. Creative writing, painting, sculpting, fashion, makeup, hair, sketching, even driving courses can all teach you things you can translate into your images. It doesn’t mean you have to go out and sign up for a two-year program at a high-end beauty college, but taking evening or weekend classes can just give you a different perspective on your existing process and teach you something you never thought of before.

The first time I sat down with a makeup artist and told her, “Okay, explain the basic stuff to me,” it totally changed my world and how I communicate to my teams.

Now, get out there, and be the most awesome version of yourself that you can be.

See more of Renee’s photos on her SmugMug print site.