Our very scary Halloween contest results.

You fantastic photographers responded enthusiastically when we announced our Halloween photo contest this October. With big-time cash prizes on the line, the submissions were varied and quite simply–awesome. We had over 5000 photos submitted ranging from epically spooky scenes that may fuel more than a few nightmares to the unbearably adorable unbounded excitement of first trick-or-treating trips.

Our fearless judging panel, which included Dracorubio whose jaw-dropping work always leaves us inspired, sifted through all the submissions and chose four distinct photographs that really captured the essence of our favorite holiday.

Grand Prize — Sarah Cruzdsc_4780-x2

2nd Prize – Julie Peveto
jpp_7088with-smoke-x2

3rd Prize – Richard Terborg
richardterborg_holymaryprint3-xl

4th Prize – Thomas Lieser
mirror, mirror on the wall

To see more of the great images from our Halloween contest, you can browse some of the top submissions here. A special thanks to all who participated! You helped make our Halloween truly memorable.

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.

Take the New Carousel for a Spin

After lots of requests by SmugMuggers with great taste, we can officially announce the newest in the lineup of customizable content blocks: The Carousel!

This beautiful new feature lets your fans have a more interactive experience with your site, allowing them to scroll forwards and backwards through your favorite photos. We loved this idea and are thrilled that so many of you reached out to us. It’s such a gorgeous and interactive way to showcase your favorite photos. Here’s how to use it.

Want to see it in action? Here are a few great examples to get you inspired:

Beautiful Scrolling on All Screens

The Carousel content block can be placed anywhere on the page you’re customizing, plus it’s powered by HTML5, so it looks beautiful on all modern browsers and mobile devices.

You can pull images from any gallery on your site, or hand-pick individual photos from anywhere. And like most other content blocks, you can tweak settings further to show/hide the navigation arrows, change the height of the box, and so on.

Bonus: You can optionally customize it more with CSS.

Find It Now on All SmugMug Sites

Every site using the New SmugMug can get started using the carousel today. Find it under the Content > Photo section of your customizer and drop it into any page or gallery on your site. (Basic users can drop it anywhere they wish on their homepage.)

Tip: Make sure the photos you upload and your Maximum Display Size are large enough to fill the selections you set in the Carousel block settings. If they aren’t, your images may vary in height within the display area.

We’ve seen carousel-style displays popular with fashion, sports, and commercial photographers, and we’d love to see how you’re using it for your photos. Post a link to your site in the comments below, or share it with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Related links:

Release Notes: Uploads Made Even Easier, Subscription Receipts, Original Filenames, and more

This time of the year most of us are pretty busy either with work, family, holiday prep, and all the other things that make this time of year so much fun. Here’s a few great new goodies we’ve released that you’ll love.

Drag Photos Directly Into Galleries

Adding new photos to your galleries is so easy, your camera can practically do it on its own.

You can still click the “Upload” button to fire up our in-browser uploader, but we’ve made it even easier than that: Simply log in, go to any gallery on your site, and drag photos off your desktop into the photos already there. The upload starts right away!

You can take a quick look at all the different ways you have to add photos and videos to your site… if this one doesn’t win you over.

Grab-Your-Own Receipts

Our Support Heroes get lots of requests from folks who need a simple subscription receipt for their records. Now you can do it all on your own, as many times as you want, with zero wait… even at 3:44 AM (supposedly the most common time to wake up in the middle of the night.)

Just look in your Account Settings > Me tab, and you’ll see a new section called “Receipts.”

Have fun accounting!

Zip Downloads Keep Your Filenames

Pros and label freaks, you’ll love this one: Now when you open your zipped gallery downloads, you’ll notice that the filenames are just as you left them (minus special characters.)

This has been a big request from a lot of photographers who offer gallery downloads of their photo shoots. So now clients can find exactly what they’re looking for, and they’ll correspond with the filename you gave it in your catalog.

Save-an-Email for Huge Zip Downloads

We’ve also given the email delivery gnomes a break by combining your zip download links into a one notification email. For galleries larger than 1.5 GB and/or 200 images, we typically split the download into multiple zip files. We’ll still do this, but send the links in a single email.

Pinch to Zoom on Your Phone

Need more detail when browsing photos on the go? Your mobile-friendly SmugMug site now allows you to zoom in and get peeping in on every pixel in your lightbox. (We’re talking browsing your site on Safari, not through our iOS and Android mobile apps which already let you zoom in.)

Miscellaneous improvements:

  • The Folder, Gallery & Pages Content Block now properly displays items in the same order as the Organizer when it’s set to display by “Organizer Position.”
  • Galleries in Journal viewing style no longer skip to the first image when the page is loaded and now display the content above the image. Links to specific photos in the gallery will also now jump to that image when you load the page.
  • When browsing a keyword gallery that has been limited in scope, buyers purchasing multiple photos are limited to only photos that fit within that scope.
  • Event details and settings should save properly again. Additionally, Favorites should save as expected when you clients click them.
  • The Flash uploader properly allows for replacing photos in Proof Delayed orders.

Enjoy the new stuff and keep snapping great memories this holiday season!

 Link roundup:

A “Pool” Party in Winter? That’s Guest Uploads for You

Quick tip for you holiday planners: Guest Uploads are your party’s best friend! With the season of cheer finally here, cameras will be snapping right and left. Use guest uploads to pool all your friends’ photos from the event and remember every antic in years to come.

Get started by looking in your Gallery Settings.

Here’s why you’ll love this handy-dandy feature that comes built in to every SmugMug account (even yours):

What it is: A way to let your friends and fans upload photos & videos to your SmugMug gallery. They can also browse that gallery and see what fellow event-goers have snapped and shared.

How to use it: Look under your gallery settings for the Upload Key and type something in the field. Choose something personal, because it’ll become part of the link you’ll share (and prevent strangers from randomly guessing the URL). Once you save it, we’ll give you a secret link to share. When guests visit that link, we’ll present our web uploader and they can drag their pictures in.

Why it works: After hosting the merriest party that was ever held in the history of holidays, do you really want to be chasing down your friends for their memory cards? Guest Uploads let them do the work on their own time. All you have to do is share the link… and be sure that somebody else volunteers their house for next year’s big bash.😉

Add an Upload Key so the URL is personalized to you… and safe from party crashers.

Quick-Thinking Tip: Print out the link and include it with your holiday party favors and thank you notes.

So whether you’re hosting your family’s Thanksgiving dinner, planning the office party, or are getting hitched this winter, be sure to capture every last smile!

  

Link roundup:

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

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

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

Our SmugMug family newsletter, digital-style.

How to Build Your Newsletter

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

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

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

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

Key Smug Features to Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to love: