SmugMug Films: Brent Gilmore — Just a dad with a camera

Brent Gilmore has worn many hats during his lifetime, but none so fulfilling as that of dad. He’s not only juggled his share of strollers, dirty diapers, and 1am wake-up calls, he’s also learned to balance his fatherly duties with those of the family historian. He photographs his family’s tender, wonderful moments and keeps them safe for his children and future generations. We chatted with Brent about how he’s mastered the busy roles of father and photographer and why he trusts SmugMug to keep those precious memories safe and secure. Watch our video with him and read his interview below.

What’s the most important lesson you learned from your mom about being the family historian?
There are no unimportant moments. Even the moments you think are unimportant can turn out to generate the most memories. Case in point, a picture I took of my daughter or my son may not be super special, but when they see them, they see a pair of shoes they were wearing. Or they see a toy they’re still very fond of. And that will elicit really amazing memories for them. For me, it’s not that great of a photo. But for her it’s almost magical. For him, it’s his truck. And the truck is definitely magical. I think the most important lesson is that there are no unimportant moments.

Cerie out on her scooter for the first time.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to become their family’s historian?
Shoot really wide. You can always crop. Sometimes when you’re photographing family, the primary subject can be things happening in the background.

We were looking through my old photos and talking about furniture that we grew up with, and there’s this random photo of me with this piece of furniture. This photo becomes relatively important because it’s got this piece of furniture in it, but to begin with, it wasn’t important—it’s very wide, and it’s not particularly interesting. But it now has a really interesting purpose. So shooting wide is really important.

And capture items that people will forget but they’ll want to remember. Whether hairstyles or Nike Airs from seventh grade. Or, “I remember that Trapper Keeper,” which is something I said just recently looking at photos my mom took on the first days of school. That’s one of the great things about documenting. It’s not just documenting an individual or an event, but the time and space that it took place in, which is really important for me and my kids. I get to relive that with them now, and I find myself setting up shots that have their shoes in it where otherwise I might have cropped above the knee. Things they’ll forget but they’ll want to remember.

Three Cousins

How do you balance being in the moment with capturing the moment?
You have to really be in the moment with the kids—with the camera. If they know you’re just trying to capture a photo, or if you’re in the moment and you stop to get the camera, they’ll stop what they’re doing, too. Kids are finicky that way. But if you can participate—run around the background, be on the floor, be at their level—then you can be part of the moment, and also capture that moment.

That takes practice, and also it takes the kids a little bit of practice, too. They might wonder why you always have that camera, then it becomes part of their environment, and they start to act normal with it. Otherwise, sometimes it looks artificial or feels artificial to the kids. As soon as something doesn’t seem right, they’ll stop doing what they’re doing. They don’t want to perform. The camera has to be out, it has to be accessible, it has to be a part of the environment.

Do you primarily shoot with a DSLR, or just whatever you have on hand?
You know the old quote, “The best camera is the one that you have with you.” The camera I shoot with primarily that’s not my iPhone is a DSLR. The kids are really accustomed to me having that all the time, and they’re accustomed to it being around the house.

My DSLR is gigantic, and the lens is gigantic, so it’s not always convenient to have it on a walk in the grocery store, or when going to go grab ice cream, especially with two. The iPhone plays a really huge part then. I have amazing memories captured on the iPhone that are irreplaceable.

Xavier The Explorer

Do you have any favorite go-to settings for your DSLR?
On the DSLR, I was a manual guy until I had kids. It took me about the first eight months of my daughter’s life to give up my hope of being a fully manual guy. Now I have it set on auto ISO, and the aperture wide open, so I just worry about shutter speed. That allows me to just pick up the camera, focus, and shoot in all the different types of lighting environments you’re going to have with kids.

The iPhone is amazingly great at capturing photos. I just tap on the screen to highlight the area where I want the light to be perfect. That’s typically a face, but iPhone does a really great job out of the box. I’ve been really happy with that. DSLR is the ideal and I try to have it with me as much as possible, but when I can’t, it’s the iPhone.

When it was just my daughter, we went to New York City for Mother’s Day and I took my DSLR. New York City is a smorgasbord of amazing things to take pictures of, and I used my DSLR the whole time. But with two kids, you can’t have them plus a double stroller in New York City and a huge DSLR. So the last two trips we took with the kids to New York City I just had my iPhone. Both times the photos were amazing.

Natasya, Cerie & Xavier

What’s the top tip you would give somebody who wants to start photographing their family but might be a bit intimidated by the hardware?
That’s one of the things my wife and I laugh the most about because, “Oh my god, such a beautiful photo. He must have a nice camera.” Right? If you have a really expensive camera and really fast computer for processing, that doesn’t automatically make you a great photographer.

Technology has made it much easier than it was in the past. Now with how ubiquitous cameras are, anybody can have access to a really simple camera. And if they really work at it, they can take great photos with anything they have around them.

On the other hand, there’s people who do want to step up to a DSLR. I think it can, at first, be very overwhelming. But just take it one step at a time: figure out your camera, then figure out how to develop, and then you’ll figure out how to present your photos.

You mention in your video that your mother documented everything carefully, and I noticed her handwritten notes on the back of your photos. How do you approach documenting everything you photograph?
Well, I won’t lie. It’s tedious. There’s no super easy way. I joke that our parents invented tagging. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t know who a lot of these people are in these old black-and-white photos. But there’s no easy way that I found to directly transfer the tags that are on the back of the photos to the digital age.

Getting them scanned in, and then going into SmugMug and putting those tags in does take some time, but it is extremely worthwhile. It is time well spent and for a couple of reasons. The obvious main reason is organization. You are able to find any photo, any event, any year, almost instantly. We’ll be at a family function and somebody will mention this birthday, or this piece of clothing, or that birthday cake that mom made of Big Bird in 1978 or whatever. They’ll mention something completely random and I can go to SmugMug and search my tags for things as generic as birthday, and sort through the photos to find this particular one. Or I can search Brent’s birthday, or 1978. The better you tag it, the easier it is to search and find. Everybody’s completely blown away with that.

Backyard Summer

These photos are so precious and important, why did you entrust SmugMug to keep them safe for you?
Yeah, it’s literally thousands of photos. One of the things that’s lacking in a lot of software companies is updates, improvements, and listening to user feedback. SmugMug has continually impressed me with the fact that they are growing stronger every day. The way I know they’re growing stronger is they’re making improvements to the service every single day. They could be operational improvements, things that make my life easier, things that make processing and organizing easier, or it could be graphical changes that just make it more pleasant to work in SmugMug.

The reason I trust SmugMug is because I can tell they really care about their product, and about the people that use it. When you’re looking for a partner you want to know that they’re going to be there. So you’re looking for that longevity and solidness, and that was one of the things that tipped me off that these guys are serious and they’re going to be around because they keep getting better.

Could you walk me through your process of getting your photos from your camera on to SmugMug?
It’s not particularly sexy: I take my SD card and import everything to my laptop, then I use Lightroom to do my initial processing and tagging. The thing that I think is probably the most helpful, and to me this is very sexy, is SmugMug’s plug-in for Lightroom. It is absolutely amazing.

With other services, if you upload a photo and you want to change something later, you have to change it on the computer and upload a new version of that photo. A lot of times you’ve already shared that photo, so links are broken and people aren’t able to see it. The thing that is amazing about SmugMug and the plug-in for Lightroom is that any change I make on my computer with Lightroom is instantly synced with SmugMug. It doesn’t change the links, it doesn’t break any of the sharing.

That happens frequently with my tagging. I’ll upload everything, send it out on Google+, and everybody is looking and commenting. Then I realize, “Oh, well I didn’t tag it with these certain things, or I didn’t put the geo location.” Everybody’s looking at the photos at the same time I’m changing them in Lightroom and they never know that anything was changed. It’s absolutely brilliant. Genius.

Watching the Rain

What about photos on your phone? Do you keep those on your phone or do you end up uploading those as well?
I don’t upload every single one. I typically upload the ones that are worthy of sharing publicly. That doesn’t mean that they have to be perfect, or even that I’ve developed them, it just means that for me they have to be relevant to the people that I’m sharing them with. I’ve used my iPhone to upload directly to SmugMug, and I’ll do that with really important things as an immediate backup.

I mentioned traveling to New York before. On one trip, we’d been there for four days and captured some really great moments. After we pause to take a couple of photos in Central Park, I go to SmugMug while we’re getting everybody back in the stroller, and I’ll upload those five photos and boom, now they’re backed up to SmugMug. I lose my phone, my phone gets stolen, my daughter throws it into a fountain—everything’s already on SmugMug, and I don’t have to worry about it.

Are there any other tools or features on SmugMug that you use the most?
Prior to SmugMug I would share photos through email and people would want me to email a higher resolution. With Smugmug, I don’t ever have to send anyone a photo. I just direct them to the gallery on SmugMug and I’ve got it enabled to be downloaded. They can download the entire album, they can download individual photos. It’s an amazing time saver for me.

Or they want prints. Tangible photos. Before, I had a workflow where I would visit my local camera shop and get them printed, and then input everyone’s address to send copies. The time and effort was a nightmare. Now I just enable the ability for people to buy these photos on my SmugMug site, so when anybody wants one or all the photos, they can buy them directly from my site. They can pay for them themselves and have them shipped directly to them. In terms of the tools that are really an amazing life saver for my photographs, being able to download the photos and buy the photos on SmugMug is amazing.

Five Years & Still Laughing

Do you think having prints is important?
We’ve got a sofa table behind the sofa with thirty 4x6s and 5x7s on there. Our entire fireplace mantle is filled with picture frames. Anywhere there’s open space, it’s cluttered with picture frames. And it’s important for a couple of reasons. One, we really like to relive these moments and memories all the time. Having them online, I unfortunately don’t have my laptop or phone open to SmugMug all the time. But I’m in my office right now, and I’m looking up at the wall with an amazing photo of my daughter kissing my wife’s pregnant belly. It takes me back to summer 2012.

The second thing really lends itself to the very first question you asked about taking pictures of kids. When they see every day the outcome of daddy having the camera out, they’re more willing to be participants when they know it’s going to be printed. I find that they’re much more cooperative in the process when they know it’s going to be printed and framed.

And how do you prepare your photos to ensure you get great prints?
I think a year and a half ago I would have answered about different crop sizes, and color profiles, and a bunch of nonsense, but now I print everything through SmugMug. I upload an uncropped, full-resolution version of the photo, and if I want a 4×6, 5×7, an 8×10, SmugMug does almost all the work for me. I just have to approve where SmugMug wants to crop the photo, or adjust if I want it to be a little bit different, and know with a few keystrokes and a few button pushes I can have photos on the way to the house.

How do you protect the more private memories from anyone you don’t want to have access?
This is one of the top reasons I use SmugMug; it allows me very easy-to-understand control over what people will see. Whether it’s Facebook or Google Photos or Flickr, a lot of times I’m not really sure what other people can see. They don’t make the privacy controls very easy. But SmugMug makes it super simple. I know what is private, what’s completely locked down, password protected, and nobody can get to but me. I know what’s shared with only the family, and I know what’s public.

I do use Smugmug for some really private, really tender moments with my wife and my kids, and I know and have confidence that they’re private.

Xavier - Month 4

For example, someone in Pennsylvania happened to find my site and was randomly typing in passwords on a protected gallery. Really good guesses. Every time he typed in a password, I was getting an email instantly from SmugMug saying, “Someone applied the wrong password for this private gallery.” It alerted me to the fact that someone was trying to log in to this private gallery, and it did it every single time this individual put in a wrong password. Which let me know this wasn’t a random thing; someone really wanted those photos and was not going to give up. I was able to very quickly change the privacy settings to where all my password-protected galleries weren’t publicly discoverable, they were hidden.

When this guy in Pennsylvania goes back to that particular page, he can’t see it anymore. He can’t even attempt to type in a password. Not only did the security keep this person out, but SmugMug alerted me to the fact that there was an issue and made it easy to change the privacy settings on the fly. It’s really quite amazing that SmugMug had my back in such a gigantic way.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Your photos don’t have to be perfect to be memories. That’s the thing I think people need to get over—just capture what’s going on, and it’s going to be really, really special. You have to just start taking photos. They’re going to be amazing memories. If you ask anybody to look back at the photos their parents took, they’re not technically perfect, but they mean a lot to them. It’s going to be the same for their kids. Capturing memories is important, and Smugmug makes it really easy to share them.


SmugMug Films: Trey Ratcliff lights his own path

Trey Ratcliff left a career in technology to pursue photography and exploration. His new path has led him to far-flung places around the world, and we at SmugMug were lucky enough to follow him to Morocco and see the world through his eyes. Watch his approach to his unique vision in our latest SmugMug Film at the end of this interview.

In Trey’s pursuit to create images that portray the world with all the light and color he sees in it, he’s been met with praise and criticism across the Internet. And he’s learned to ignore it, choosing instead to create his art only for himself.

How would you describe what you do?

I try to make the real world look like it really does to me: a fantasy. When you start taking photos in a certain way or of a particular subject, you go into a fantasy spiral that allows you to see more “truth.” I look for that thin veil between fantasy and reality—that’s my favorite area. I explore the tension between what is real and what isn’t, because secretly, I feel like the world is a giant fictional projection.

Burning-Man-Day-1 (1006 of 1210) (1)

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

I was born blind in one eye and with terrible vision in the other. I’m still blind in one eye, so I see the world in 2D. So I love to think about how to present a world that’s 3D in a 2D medium, like a photograph.

How does your partial blindness affect how you see the world?

One eye is more than good enough, and I call it The Gift! Every year we experience more of the world in 2D. Every month, in fact, we probably spend 1% more than the last staring at a phone or a laptop, which is 2D. We’re all learning to experience a 3D world in 2D—I’ve simply been doing that for 44 years. And that’s the challenge for all photographers, right? How do you successfully remove one dimension and still have a scene make sense?

I think the idea that you need to take a 2D photo of a 3D world really got me into HDR. It seems to me that “depth” is no more important to a scene than color or texture. Since you lose depth in a photo, I chose to make up for it with dramatic color and texture, which can do a lot to communicate the essence of a scene.

Lijiang at Night (1)

The philosophy of HDR is to use your camera to sweep through all the light available, dump the light into your computer, and then bend the light to your will. I love using technology to make beautiful things. It’s fun to break the rules—have fun with photos and find your own creativity through child-like exploration without rules.

My work became popular after I had the honor of having the first HDR photo ever to hang in the Smithsonian. That led to many more opportunities that I’m eternally grateful for.


What were some of those opportunities?

One day Mark Zuckerberg sent me a note through Facebook Messenger. I thought it was a joke. He asked if I wanted to come into the Facebook offices and spend the day with him. We spent a day together and talked about photography and art. He was so curious. It was a nice conversation. That led to more things, including this fun new thing we’re doing now: a few live shows a week on Facebook as we travel across 6 continents in 6 months.

Another time I got an email from Sergey Brin asking if I wanted to come into Google X. He pulled up an old video I made in Japan; I’d had a crazy idea to shoot the world at 300 FPS (10x faster than normal) but play it back at 30FPS. The result was interesting, and I was trying to explain stuff I barely understood to Sergey and his Google X team! That got me involved with Google and many of their projects.

The key to receiving these opportunities seems to be having an open heart, being totally vulnerable, and never taking anything too seriously. Having an open heart has filled my life with amazing people.

What work is most meaningful to you?

One of my most meaningful projects to me is the HDR tutorial I put together on my site. I never thought it’d be so popular. But I’ve found that sharing stuff I figured out along the way has been a great way to inspire others.

I used to think of myself as a “photographer,” and I still am, but I think I accidentally became a “teacher” as well. I have no formal training in teaching, but I don’t have any formal training in photography either! I figured it out along the way organically, and this became my teaching style.

What’s been your most challenging shoot to date?

Antarctica was very difficult. Camping on the mainland in the Dry Valleys was physically challenging, but it was rewarding, too. I felt lucky to fly on a CL-130 and land with skis on the sea ice. It was so amazing! I felt like a proper explorer from the olden days.

Day 13 - Sunny Valley - The Mighty Glacier

What are your gear “must haves?”

Currently, I’m between worlds. I’m mostly shooting with the new Hasselblad, but I have my Sony gear nearby and ready too!  A full list of all my gear is available here.

Do you shoot everything manually?

I shoot manually for maybe 30% of my shots. Everything else is aperture priority. That computer in the camera is really smart. With quick-changing lighting conditions, I let that computer decide the same thing I would have anyway.

What do you look for in terms of light and framing for your shots?

I prefer light that’s a bit confusing or dazzles the mind. If I’m surprised or transfixed by the light, it becomes a fun challenge to capture that feeling.

Deep in the Guangxi Province of China

How you go about capturing that feeling?

I listen to a lot of strange ambient and electronic music. That helps my mind disconnect the visual from the audio. This makes everything dramatic, and it feels like I’m moving around a huge movie set to find the most interesting photo.

And what about for storing, selling, and sharing your images?

I like using SmugMug because of its beauty and flexibility. It’s almost scary how much you can change to make your website uniquely your own. I was able to make my site look exactly like I wanted without needing to do any code or scripting nonsense. It’s nice to know that when people come to my portfolio, they see things exactly the way I want them to see them.

SmugMug has also made organizing way easier for me. I have a lot of photos, and I’m constantly re-organizing them. The order is really important to me. It’s very fun and fast to re-order my albums and move files around folders. It’s also given me a chance to get in there and clean up all the clutter that’s happened over the years.

For sharing, I use SmugMug in the background for my main blog. My blog is hosted on my own server, and I embed my images directly from SmugMug so anyone clicking on a photo will be taken to my SmugMug site to view the large image. I looked at the stats, and we have over 160 million photo views on SmugMug for the year!  I also get asked a lot about my in-camera settings before processing, so I use SmugMug’s API to show the embedded EXIF information whenever someone rolls over a photo on my blog. Since SmugMug already stores that information, I can just use their API to pull the info and show it to my visitors. This way they know exactly what settings I used on my camera to capture a shot.

Any advice for those looking to pursue a similar path?

Yes! Stop worrying about what other photographers think. They’re not your audience. Every minute you worry about impressing other photographers is time wasted.

When I first started posting my photos on the Internet, I got a lot of hate and negative feedback. So my advice to you is if you get any kind of hate, fight back with awesome. You create yourself through your art. Take photos that are interesting to you that very few other people understand.

An artist creates for the sake of creation. Self-expression is one of the most natural things about all of us.

What about advice for capturing the image?

The key is to see 100 interesting things per day and take photos of all 100. Then, in your workflow, choose the best 1, 2, or 3. This process and workflow is an end in itself.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Before I got into photography, I once called an investor in a new company, Michael Heisley. He was a lovely man, and I‘m sad he’s passed. At one point in my late twenties, I offered to sell him additional stock because I really needed money and thought that would make me happy. He said, “Trey, money will not bring you happiness.” At the time, I didn’t see it, but it’s quite true. That was the first step to letting go of myself. I’ve gone on many struggling steps since then and I’m still going down whatever strange path there is in this universe. I’ll make a book suggestion, okay? “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. Another great one is “A New Earth” by Eckhardt Tolle.

I get much more joy from pursuing my creativity in whatever direction it takes me. Find what you love and go after it. The right audience and support will find you as a result.

Transforming Our Support Heroes: Behind the Scenes with Hellgirl

Last week, our latest collaboration with photographer Benjamin Von Wong took our SmugMug employees to new heights—literally. I was lucky enough to be one of those employees, though I am the unlikeliest of models. How did I end up on that rooftop with my superhero colleagues? Read on!

“Kerry, it’s your turn. Step up!” the photographer called to me, excitement in his voice.

Step up where? This ledge:

Which was followed by this drop:

And this is the safety harness that was certified to keep me — all 300 pounds of me — from plummeting to my death.


All the other models on the photo shoot wore harnesses, too, and I saw with my own eyes how many safety precautions were taken to make us secure. Logically, I understood that nothing bad would happen to me.

But I just couldn’t shake the feeling: I’m 2 people in 1. I’m going to be too heavy to pull up.

All I could think was:

If I fall, I’m probably dead because I was too fat.

Somehow I managed to step up on the ledge, and the photographer snapped a few photos.

Check out the behind-the-scenes video of the photo shoot.
(Warning: Do not attempt on your own. The photographer is a trained stunt person. All models wore safety equipment.)

When we were done, all the other models were excited to see how the pictures turned out. After all, we were on a skyscraper dressed as superheroes, getting our pictures taken by world-famous photographer Benjamin Von Wong.

But I wasn’t looking forward to seeing my photo at all. I had this nagging feeling: I’m going to look like crap. I may be on a fancy photo shoot, but I’m still a fat girl.

Here’s how my photo turned out:

Hey, that isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be.

Actually … I kind of look badass.

How the heck did this happen? How did I get to be a model on an awesome photo shoot? Models aren’t fat girls like me. But here I was, on top of the world.

Just one year ago, I was at the lowest point of my life.

Self-portrait. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

My struggle with weight began right after college when a surgery on both feet left me unable to walk long distances for exercise. I ballooned up from a size 12 to a size 22.

I gained some experience after graduating and managed to get a great job writing for NASA. I had been there for 8 years when the phone call came from my boss:

“Kerry, I’ve got some bad news. I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go. Actually, you were supposed to be laid off yesterday.”

Me working from home. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

This job was all I’d known for nearly a decade. What was I supposed to do now? How was I supposed to pay for my house?

I hung up the phone and burst into tears. Here I was, a 35-year-old grown woman, and I felt like a scared 14-year-old again. Completely lost.

Me with Britta. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

I’ve never liked asking people for things, but when you lose your job, that’s what you have to do — ask everyone for help. After sending out hundreds of emails and posting to Facebook and LinkedIn, I heard about an interesting opportunity. Not a full-time job or anything, just a short writing assignment for SmugMug.

As a photographer myself (and longtime customer), I loved SmugMug and had been trying to get a job there for ages. Actually, they’d already rejected me once when I interviewed there 5 years ago. But no matter. This was a chance to get my foot in the door at my dream company, and I took it.

I completed the writing assignment for them, and the article somehow got the attention of Chris MacAskill, President and Co-Founder of SmugMug. It turns out he was the one who had vetoed hiring me 5 years ago.

He told me he’d made a mistake. Oh, and would I like to join SmugMug full time?

The next day, I packed up everything and moved straight to California to start my new job.

Me in my new office at SmugMug. Photo by

Within my first few weeks on the job, Von Wong was in town and SmugMug asked him to do a fun photo shoot for the employees.

SmugMug employee — that’s me! That’s how I ended up as a model on this phenomenal photo shoot.

The SmugMug family on the skyscraper.

The whole thing feels like a fairy tale, like something that only happens in movies. I landed my dream job and moved across the country. I felt on top of the world. But looking in the mirror, my outside didn’t match how I felt inside.

That’s why this photo means so much to me. It makes my outside match my inside.

It’s a reminder that, even when I was at my heaviest, I can look amazing.

Since this photo was taken, I’ve dropped a dress size. I’m eating healthier and working out regularly. If I could look amazing then, then I can continue to look amazing.

I went from rock bottom to a superhero literally on top of the world. How is this even real? This is the stuff of movies.

But this is my life now, and it’s pretty freaking awesome.


As great as this photo makes me feel, I almost didn’t write about it. I wrote and deleted this article 3 times before hitting publish.

The Internet is cruel. I’m already bracing myself for the comments people will make:

“She’s still fat.”

Or my personal favorite that’s been popular lately — “Why is she promoting unhealthy habits?”

It’s not about celebrating being unhealthy. It’s about loving yourself so you can continue to work on yourself. If you start the journey from a point of hate, that’s where you’re going to end. You may lose the weight, but you’ll still hate yourself. The root problem is still there — that’s why so many diets fail.

Start from a place of accepting yourself, so you love yourself as you continue to make progress.

Photography by Benjamin Von Wong. Read how he pulled off this photo shoot on his blog.

Media Requests
You may quote or republish this article and its photos on your own publication—please credit and link back to the original.

Find more photos from the photo shoot on Benjamin Von Wong’s blog and the behind-the-scenes video.

Pros, Your Fans Are Gonna Love This

While we’ve had tutorial videos and archived webinars forever, today we’re happy to show you the latest additions to our library: How to Buy Prints & Downloads.

Two New Videos for You to Share

Pros have often asked us for tools that will help sell more prints, gifts, and downloads, because occasionally your fans need a little extra push. So we’ve created a long-format tutorial (7:58) and a short-format tutorial (4:52) showing your fans how to add photos to the shopping cart, understand those framing and cropping options, and check out. Here’s the short version:

We hope that you’ll share these with your clients, or even embed them into your site so that they’re viewable at any time. Tip: Use Customize > Customize Site and drop a YouTube video Content Block onto the page. You can get the video link above.

Here’s to smoother sales at SmugMug!

P.S. Did you know that we have a 100% guarantee on all items ordered through your SmugMug galleries? If you or your customer are not happy for ANY reason, we’ll fix it or replace it for free. We mean it.

Links you’ll love:

Tell Your Story with SmugMug and Animoto

We believe that photography and videos go hand in hand, and that creating videos should be easy and fun.

You already know that SmugMug offers a place for all your photos to call home. Did you know how easy it was turn those photos into a stunning, professional-looking video that you can share with friends, family, and even clients?

Organize, Upload, and Animate with Jared Platt

Our friend, photography educator and portrait pro Jared Platt put together this 20-minute tutorial that shows you how easy it is to unite three simple services to save time and create stunning photo projects on your own.

Jared teaches you how to:

  • Quickly catalog and edit your photos in Lightroom
  • Publish them to SmugMug
  • Use the Animoto Builder to create a video

Best of all, you’ll see how the videos bring more visitors to your site, ultimately allowing you to share more of what you do with your fans.

“What’s in it for me?”

Take a look at some of Animoto’s examples to see what you can do, and why people everywhere love the convergence of photo and video. Best of all, SmugMug subscribers can try Animoto now and get 20% off any Animoto membership.

Here’s to shooting and sharing all the beautiful moments you’ve captured!

Essential Underwater Photography Tips from Sarah Lee

Water photographer Sarah Lee (recently featured in a behind-the-scenes artist profile for our SmugMug Film series) grew up in Hawaii, surfing and swimming competitively. One day, while at a swimming competition, she was handed a camera and hasn’t looked back since. She finds inspiration in the unpredictability of nature, creates art that captures the interplay of people, water, and light, and uses photography to find beauty in the chaos. If you want to take the plunge into underwater photography, check out Sarah Lee’s essential underwater photography tips below, plus get a close look at her underwater photography gear kit.

Underwater Photo Tip #1: Ask your models to channel their inner ballerina or yogi and trust them. Open body posture is key. This photograph was taken of adventure model and soul surfer, Alison Teal, somewhere in the warm waters of Fiji.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #2: I find it ideal to photograph people underwater in the late morning between 8-11am because you’re going to need a lot of natural light being underwater. Though, on occasion it’s fun to experiment with different times of day. This photograph was taken during the last hour of the day, probably in the presence of a few sharks too shy to make themselves known.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #3: Skin tones look the best within 1-5 feet of the surface. Beyond that, you start to lose the warmth and reds in their skin tone.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #4: Lately I’ve been using an Outex, which is a silicone water cover. It’s rad because you can use different lenses in it, and it has a tripod neck strap. It’s worked really well underwater in lots of different situations.

Photo Credit: Mark Tipple


Underwater Photo Tip #5: You don’t always need a fancy camera or underwater setup to take a good photo. This photograph was taken on a GoPro. Read more about shooting with a GoPro on my blog.

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #6: Working with props and clothes can be challenging underwater but worth the effort! In this shoot, I created a jellyfish from an umbrella, ribbons, and beaded curtains. Just be careful you don’t lose anything in the process!

Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Underwater Photo Tip #7: Within the realm of underwater photography, there’s not much in your control. It’s all about being in the moment and finding the composition within the “chaos.” Most of my favorite photographs were taken when I just let things “be” and used my camera as a way to interpret what is happening at the present moment, rather than trying to orchestrate and control any of it.

Photo Credit: Lucia Griggi


Underwater Photo Tip #8. Protect your gear. I alternate between surf housng and water covers depending on the conditions I shoot in.

sarahlee-watergear (2)
Photo Credit: Sarah Lee


Want more?

Read our exclusive interview with Sarah Lee. You can also check out the SmugMug Films artist profile of Sarah Lee below. Thanks for the tips, Sarah!

Find Sarah online:

SmugMug Films: Extreme Filmmaking by Devin Graham

Today we proudly release the third episode of SmugMug Films featuring YouTube superstar and extreme sports videographer Devin GrahamWatch it now and subscribe to see future installments as soon as they’re live.

Devin Graham has always loved adventure. From traveling with his father to snowboarding with his friends, he’s enjoyed experiencing all life has to offer. Even after two severe injuries, Devin didn’t lose his love for extreme sports; instead, he decided to keep experiencing them–only now from behind the lens, sharing through YouTube the unique, wild, and extreme adventures he discovers all over the world.

Portrait of Devin by Jarvie Digital

How did you get started in film?

I started making videos when I was a little kid. My dad had this huge camera that used VHS tapes that I would borrow, and he was always hesitant about letting me take it because it was the only one we had. I would break them from time to time, but it allowed me learn.

I used Legos to make little stop-motion movies essentially–I hit record really fast and took a picture of a couple things, then I’d stop tape, move the pieces, and take a couple more shots. I’d also make music videos with my siblings.

Once I got to Boy Scouts, I was able to get the cinematography merit badge. We learned how to edit on a turntable, which was very slow editing. Later I volunteered at a cable access studio. After that, my senior high school project required us to make a creative video, so I made a snowboarding video with my friends, and that’s where I learned linear editing, how it’s done today.

If you were filming snowboarding in high school, your interest in extreme and unique adventures must have started early!

Definitely. I got a lot of that from my dad, who was a big outdoors person. He loved camping. He loved hiking. And I’ve always loved extreme sports, especially snowboarding, which I did constantly. I’d go out with all my friends and film us all snowboarding together. Then I’d come home to edit on the computer, so I taught myself how to edit digitally that way–back when computers were really slow and it’d take weeks to put together a 30-second clip.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

With your love of extreme sports, do you participate in any of the adventures you film today?

When I was filming my snowboarding videos, I actually broke my back and then my leg, and I was told I would never be able to do that kind of stuff again. But I loved it, and I was able to figure out how to stay involved through filming. I pretty much stay behind the camera now. Occasionally I’ll participate in something that won’t hurt my back. Generally, I come up with ideas and then let my friends, who are the professionals, handle the action so I don’t chance popping my back out of place.

Goodness! May we ask how you injured yourself?

I broke my back and leg in two different trips, a year apart. My back injury happened during a snowboarding jump on a tabletop I was trying to clear. It was 70- or 80-feet long, and I didn’t go fast enough. I spun and landed from high up–it would be like falling from a couple stories and landing on flat ground. My vertebrae squished in an L2 compression fracture.

My leg broke during snowboard camp. I was on a trampoline of all things, and I landed on a spring. It popped the bone out of my leg. They had to stick a rod down my leg, and I had to go through surgery, but it never stopped me. When I recovered, I went right back into filming extreme sports.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

Wow. Seeing your behind-the-scenes videos you’d never know. You’re running and jumping along with these folks!

Yeah, my original goal was to tell feature film stories for Hollywood on the big screen. Then I made the decision to create wedding videos on the side to help with finances. When I started studying other wedding videos, I realized they all used static shots. I wanted my wedding videos to look like something out of a movie. And with movies, the camera is always moving.

I heard about Steadicams and things that allowed you to get those moving shots. After lots of research, I bought a GlideCam and started using it on everything I did, including the fun things I did with my friends. That led to using the GlideCam for the extreme sports videos, which require me to always keep moving!

You make it sound simple, going from weddings to extreme sports, but it sounds like quite a transition!

It definitely was a transition. I was filming weddings on the side while I was going to college for film. While I was working on my studies, I discovered the power of social media and YouTube. I was able to transition at the right time and find my niche with extreme sports, which people would share. Then companies around the world started asking to hire me to do bigger and better projects for television. YouTube opened the door to all these opportunities, and it’s been great ever since.

How do you handle lighting while you’re doing all this running around?

For me, there’s no science behind it. I just film what I feel looks good. Since we’re a one- or two-man team at most, we don’t have time to light things. That’s one of the reasons I shoot outside: you don’t need a whole crew to light things. But we do time all our shoots around the sunlight, filming during the golden hour when the sunlight’s looking its best.

Behind-the-scenes photo by Dustin Bess Photography

With such a small team, do you use additional cameras, or are you just running around everywhere to get all those angles?

We’re literally just getting every shot we can think of, running from one thing to the next. Especially when we have only an hour of sunrise or sunset. In addition to the GlideCam shots, we’re also using GoPros now since the quality has gotten so amazing. With those we use a GoScope, which is basically a pole we can hook the GoPro on to. We’re all about making people feel like they’re part of the action, and the GoScope allows us to put the viewer in the position of the athlete.

Any other essential gear?

We use two cameras as our main cameras: a Canon 5D MkIII and a Canon EOS-1D C. Ninety-five percent of our shots are with those and 5% are from the GoPro cameras. For lenses, the majority of our shots are done with the Canon 16-35/f2.8 L series. The rest of the time we use a Canon 70-200/f2.8. With the 16-35, we can be everywhere. We’re always choosing epic or amazing locations, and the wide-angle shots make the viewer feel as if they’re there.

We’re curious about your settings since you’re moving around so much. Do you shoot any of this manually?

We’re working on new videos once a week, which doesn’t allow a lot of time to edit, so we try to do everything in camera. Generally we’re shooting everything at 2.8 with ISO around 100 and shutter speed around 4000. We also use a B+W polarizer, which makes the skies super blue and the greens super vibrant as well.

As far as focus goes, we do everything manually. When shooting video, you can’t do automatic focus because the focus will be pulled all over the place. So we set the focus and then try to keep our subjects the same distance from us. If we move in close, we just change the focus.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

What are vital things you look for when framing a shot?

I try to have movement in the foreground as well as in the background because it gives the shot more life. If nothing is going on in the background, I’ll have someone run by or shoot a water gun so it feels like there’s as much action going on as possible. Then I’ll look for good lighting that makes the person or location pop the best.

How do you maintain your framing so well while you’re running along with the action?

Years of practice! When I started I wasn’t very good with the GlideCam, but now that I’ve done it so much I don’t have to look at the camera anymore. I can instead look where I’m going and get a good sense of what I’m filming.

What do you feel is important for telling a great story in film?

I always try to create mystery in the first 15 seconds of any video I do. This involves close-ups so we don’t reveal exactly what the viewer is going to see. For example, in the rope-swing video, you see someone walking in a close shot, then you see them setting up something, and it makes you wonder what they’re doing. Then, at that point, it’s all about making the viewer feel like they’re a part of the action and showing them something they’ve never seen before.

I feel so many people are stuck in their office space looking out the window, and they want to experience life, so we try to give people experiences they potentially would never have.

Could you walk us through your editing process after a shoot?

We’ll spend a day shooting and then it usually takes a week to edit the video with music and sound. The music I use is stuff my friends compose. And our sound design is done by a guy in England. It’s really just straight-up editing.

We always have an idea of how we want a video to play out, but once we start editing we get a better scope for it. We lay out everything on a timeline and go through every shot one by one–it’s a discovery process all over again. Then we’ll spend a couple of days fine-tuning and putting sound in.

Often we’re editing on the plane when we’re coming back from a shoot. The world is my office.

Scenes from Devin’s adventurous youth

That sounds like it can be tiring. How do you keep going?

It is definitely tiring, which is why we’re super selective about our projects. We don’t do anything that we’re not going to be passionate about. And that’s the only reason we can do what we’re doing–when we travel it’s almost a vacation because we love it so much. We’re hanging out and making a video with friends, and we’re just having fun. We get to see the world doing that.

Any advice you’d give to someone who’s looking to get started with filmmaking?

Go out and constantly shoot and constantly learn. A lot of people wait to get accepted on projects, so they never end up shooting. But what I discovered is by doing a video once a week, we’re constantly growing as filmmakers. It’s okay to fail as a filmmaker. Make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. And content is more important than any gear you can or cannot afford.

What do you love most about what you do?

It gives me amazing opportunities to work with amazing people. I get e-mail from people around the world thanking me because it’s given them a reason to go outside and do things they’re passionate about. I once got a letter from someone who said they were going to commit suicide but then remembered my videos; he said the videos gave him a reason to be alive because these were all things he’d be missing out on. For me, more than anything, the reason I do what I do is it gives me an opportunity to give back to the world and show how amazing life really is.

Portrait by Jarvie Digital

Find Devin online: