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

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

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

Shiny, New Product Photos in the Shopping Cart

Do you ever find yourself about to buy your favorite photo, but hesitate because you’re not sure if it’d look better in a frame or as one of SmugMug’s beautiful, ready-to-hang print products? Well, now you don’t have to guess because you’ll see example images for each product before adding it to your cart.

Now, when you (or someone visiting your SmugMug site) opens the cart, you’ll see examples for each category of products to help you imagine how it’ll look in your home, office, or anywhere you want gorgeous art.

It looks great on mobile devices too:

When you choose a particular product and click the information icon, we’ll show you product images from a variety of angles so you’ll know exactly what to expect. We’ll even show you the back of the ready-to-hang products, so you’ll know how a product will hang on your walls.

And, of course, if you’re a SmugMug Pro selling specific products, we’ll always only show those products to your customers. Combined with other great pro features like coupons and packages, these product photos will help show off what you offer and boost sales.

Give the new product photos in the cart a thorough look over, and let us know what you think! We love feedback and are always looking for ways to improve your experience.

Note: This feature is available on New SmugMug only. Old SmugMug users will need to upgrade to try out the new shiny.

The Power of SmugMug’s Lightroom Publish Tool

If you’re a SmugMug customer, you’re likely a lover of all things photography. You love taking photos, you love sharing photos, and you might even love editing photos. But we’ll bet you’re not in love with the less-romantic bits: organizing, keywording, and getting your photos from the camera to your SmugMug site.

There are some powerful tools out there to help, and we have a favorite: Adobe Lightroom.

Not only does it simplify the process of organizing photos from camera to desktop (or device), it also works directly with SmugMug using our super powerful SmugMug publish service.

Our recently updated LR plug-in will now keep itself up to date automatically, and it works with the latest Adobe Lightroom CC and Adobe Lightroom 6 software. Make sure you’ve grabbed the most recent version of our plug-in to use our best—and most recent—built-in features, including Private Sharing and automatic plug-in updates. It even keeps Lightroom’s new facial-recognition tags in place!

Here’s three reasons why we think SmugMug and Lightroom users would love using our publish service.

Keep It Simple (All Accounts)
Simplify your workflow! If you use Lightroom to manage your photos on your computer, then you already know what a timesaver it is. But did you know you can also manage your SmugMug site without opening SmugMug? Import, cull, organize, keyword, upload, and share your photos all from one place.

The most recent update to the SmugMug publish service includes our hottest new feature, private sharing. When you create or edit folders and galleries from the publisher within Lightroom, you’ll be able to select visibility and access settings for those folders and galleries—without ever firing up your browser.

Collaborate on Photos (Business Accounts)
Combine the SmugMug Event Management Feature with the power of the LR Sync Hierarchy Tool.

Have your client, or your family, go through galleries you’ve added to an event and choose their favorite photos for a photo album or special edits. Use Lightroom’s Sync Hierarchy and Sync Photos buttons to add their favorite gallery, and its photos, back to your Lightroom catalog to edit.

Lightroom will recognize when you’ve made changes to those files and will mark them for republishing to SmugMug when you’re ready!

Proof Print Orders (Portfolio and Business Accounts)
You’ve just received your favorite “Cha-ching!” email from SmugMug: a new photo order has been placed from your Portfolio or Business account. You’ve used proof delay so you can review the order and make any final edits to the photos before sending them to the print lab.

When you edit those files in your Lightroom catalog, they’ll be marked for republishing, too. Press that republish button and send your final, print-ready photos off to your SmugMug site. Now you’re ready to release the order from proof delay and send it to the lab.

This barely scratches the surface of what you can do to manage your SmugMug account from within Lightroom using our plug-in. If you’d like the Ultimate User’s Guide to the Galaxy, er, to the SmugMug Publish Service for Lightroom, check back here soon. We’ve got a great follow-up post coming your way!

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!

5 More Currencies Added to Your Site

Great news for our worldwide SmugMuggers and their fans: we’ve added support for five additional currencies!

Now when someone buys a print, gift, or digital download from your site, they’ll be able to see the price in five more options:

  • Japanese Yen (¥)
  • New Zealand Dollars (NZ$)
  • Swiss Francs (CHF)
  • Hong Kong Dollars (HK$)
  • Swedish Krona (SEK)

We’re always hearing from SmugMug photographers (and their fans) that it’s easier to buy prints in a currency that makes sense to you. Here are full details about how currencies work at SmugMug.

“Can I use this on MY account?”

Yes! The new currencies are already visible in all shopping carts on all account levels, just like before. They’re available to you, the gallery owner, as well as to anyone who buys prints and downloads from your site. You don’t have to do a thing.

Tip: If you’d prefer people to not buy your photos, you can easily hide the Add to Cart button from your Gallery Settings.

How Conversions Work for Portfolio and Business Pros

Remember that you can select your base currency in the Pricelist manager. Your fans can pick one of the 10 currency options when they buy from you, but the prices they see will be converted from that base currency you’ve set in your Pricelists. Learn more about pro pricing and earning money through sales on our help pages.

We’ve got lots of info about prepping your files for print, marketing your work, and info about how the checkout process works.


Related Links:

A New and Improved Way to Add Prints to Your Cart

Over the years we’ve gotten so much great feedback from you, our customers, about buying and what your fans have reported back about the buying experience. So today is big news for you: we’ve remodeled the Add to Cart step to make it cleaner, simpler, and smoother for all!

To check it out, navigate to any photo you have for sale on your site and click Buy Photos > This Photo.

Instead of this:

Shopping on Old SmugMug, AKA: “Where are my glasses?”

You’ll see this:

SmugMug’s new Add to Cart layout. Ah, much better!

What Changed?

We’ve completely revamped the first half of the shopping process, when you’re adding photos into your cart. Here’s what’s new:

  • You’ll see a larger, prettier preview of your photo on the left. You’ll know for sure which pic you’re viewing.
  • There’s now an easier-to-follow item selection pane on the right. All the same products and options are there, and it’s much easier to drill down to what you want.
  • You’ll now adjust cropping in that same window as soon as you choose your print size. With borders and boundaries bigger and easier to see, there’s less chance something vital will get cropped out in your print.
  • All of this automagically scales to fit smaller screen sizes, making shopping on-the-go as easy as just a few taps.
Crop and adjust without changing screens.

How Do I Get It?

You’ve already got it! The updated design is already sparkling up all accounts on New SmugMug. So add a photo to your cart to see it in action.

Tip: Be sure to try it on an updated browser. If you have Internet Explorer 9 or below, you’ll still see the old design.

Click through to choose your print. You can step back at any time.
Speedy shopper? Look below to add a previous print size, lickity-split.

Shoppers on Old SmugMug sites will also see the old shopping design, so Preview your site in New SmugMug to check it out and use it yourself. However, you’ll need to Publish your New SmugMug site to let your fans and customers use it, too.

More Help & Info

The checkout part hasn’t changed with this release, but we knew you’d ask. :) It’s in the works, and of course we’ll share as soon as we’ve got something ready to show you.

For more info about what’s changed and how the new process works, check out our updated help pages. And if you have any additional questions, reach out to our fabulous 24/7 Support Heroes. We always love to hear from you.

Link Roundup: