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.


Let’s give it up for Dads and Grads!

We couldn’t let Mom have all the fun. On the heels of Mother’s Day, dads also have something special to celebrate and graduation season is still in full force.  We think that’s plenty of reason for you to save some sweet moolah on SmugMug. Right now, you can take 25% off your first year of any new SmugMug account to help keep your digital files safe and display them brilliantly. Dads get ties. Grads get diplomas. You get a sweet discount.

That’s not the only deal though. SmugMug subscribers can give the Gift of SmugMug. Move past the paisley neckwear and dormitory shower caddy/rubber flip-flop combos. Your dads and grads deserve something they really want – much more than just a tie or a diploma.  Right now you can take 25% off when you give one-, two-, or three- year SmugMug subscriptions. You already know SmugMug is the safe and secure home to store and showcase your favorite photos and memories, so why not share the love with a sweet SmugMug subscription. Plus, there’s more, you’ll be earning a credit of 25% off the retail gift price that you can use toward your SmugMug renewal. That’s up to a total of $450 in potential savings. Everyone wins!

With great deals like this, you’ll save a lot of cash and your dad or grad will get a gift that keeps on giving. But remember, Father’s Day and Graduation Day will be here before you know it and this deal won’t last forever. Getting 25% off your new SmugMug account or Gift of SmugMug ends June 20th. What are you waiting for?

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.

Behind the masks and capes at SmugMug.

Here at SmugMug, we really have a thing for superheroes. As many of you know, we’ve dubbed our customer support team ‘Support Heroes’ but also believe strongly that all of our employees are heroic. In fact, we are so adamant about our employees heroism, that everyone receives their own unique superhero (or any movie,comic,book or pop culture character) themed face painting and portrait shoot. The results are hung proudly on the walls here at SmugMug HQ. It all started when we wanted to have some fun after hearing so many customers say: “You’re my hero!” After the initial face painting and photo party day, we decided it was not only fun, but was also a great way to reinforce that the entire company has to be involved in order for support to truly be heroic. And so the tradition was born. Let’s look behind the scenes at this fun tradition and take a peek into SmugLife.

When a new employee comes on board, the welcome email filled with all the necessary HR details also asks them to begin thinking about which character their upcoming hero photo shoot will focus on. There is only one rule: a superhero/character can not be repeated, unless it’s a different iteration (example: one employee may choose the Disney version of The Mad Hatter and another may choose the Tim Burton version of The Mad Hatter). Employees are encouraged to bring in costumes and props to create the most epic photo possible.

Once we have a batch of new kids on the SmugMug block, and they have a character picked out, we schedule face painting artist extraordinaire, Jodi Carr, to stop by HQ to transform them. It’s usually a whole day affair!

i-hjT4qC2-2412x1610Jodi paints AJ, Sorcerer, as Venom


Jodi paints Andrew, VP Marketing & BusDev, as The Cheshire Cat

After the face painting is complete, it’s time to hit the studio or location for the photo shoot!


SmugMug photographer Alex takes Shannon’s (Office Ops) photo as Harley Quinn

Then after the shoot, Alex works her magic in the studio with editing and special effects.  The results are pretty epic.


The shot that started it all in 2007


Michael, Head of Online Advertising, as Michelangelo


Wordslinger Kerry as Ed (Cowboy BeBop) with Mozzie as Ein


Aaron, Head of Product, as Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon


Dana, Sorcerer, as Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect

corpse bride

Jill, Director of HR & Recruiting as The Corpse Bride

Be sure to check out more of our awesome photos and experience the amazing creativity of our employees. We have a few new employees who are preparing for their character shoot – any suggestions or ideas on who they should pick? What character would you choose? Tell us in the comment section!

We’re celebrating grads and the moms who made them!

Whether you’re a mom, have a mom, have recently graduated, or simply know a graduate, these are just a few of so many reasons to get a SmugMug photo site. Store, showcase, and share all those wonderful memories, like when you lost your first tooth or maybe when you tripped accepting your diploma.

In honor of motherhood and new grads officially entering adulthood, we think you deserve a deal. So go ahead and take 25% off the first year of your new SmugMug photo site to help keep your digital files safe and display them brilliantly.

But the savings don’t stop there. Current SmugMug customers can Give the Gift of SmugMug this Mother’s Day and Graduation season and get a 25% discount off one-, two-, or three-year subscriptions and get a renewal credit of 25% of the total retail price (up to $225) to use toward your future SmugMug subscription costs and even additional Gifts of SmugMug. Maybe you can even get your mom or grad some flowers with that extra cash you save on SmugMug (or put it towards a Spring Break trip to Cancun or Las Vegas!). But act fast, these savings end May 9th.


The gift giving doesn’t have to stop there. After all, mom has done some pretty incredible things for you over the years. So why not also give her precious memories in a fully customized book-store quality Blurb photo book with your SmugMug images? Right now you can save 25% off a Blurb photo book by entering promo code SMUGMUG2016 at checkout. And hey, why not give one to the new grad in your life as well to commemorate all the fun you’ve had before they start a new chapter? Don’t dally too much, in order for your personalized book to arrive by Mother’s Day be sure to place your order by April 28th.


We’ve got lots of great savings whether you’re wearing the cap and gown, spending the day in your PJs, or getting gussied up to take your mom out to dinner. But remember, Mother’s Day and Graduation Day is fast approaching and this deal of saving on a new SmugMug account ends May 9th. Don’t miss out on this springtime deal before it’s too late.  And don’t worry, even if you’re not a mom and the last graduation you attended was in high school, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these celebratory savings too.

Photo archaeology: How to organize, upload, and share 20 years of photos

By Ben MacAskill, Head of SmugMug Customer Success

As head of Customer Success at SmugMug, and an employee for almost 13 years, I’ve seen my fair share of large digital projects from customers over the years.  Recently however, I spearheaded my own photo archaeology project at the very special request of an individual needing some unique assistance. It seemed like a daunting task at first: 500 GB of images (over 130,000 images, to be exact) needing to be organized and uploaded. I also came into the project blind no idea what the content was and where it was sourced but in the end, had 65 organized galleries uploaded to SmugMug in less than a week. If you’re facing a project that seems overwhelming, I’m here to tell you it’s not. Let me show you how I was able to do this and how you can as well.

One of the first hurdles that many fear to tackle when dealing with a large image organization project is how scattered the image locations most likely are. In my circumstance, they were scattered like the wind: 100 photo CDs, seven hard drives, 30 photo libraries, and 30 floppy disks. And that’s just the digital images! I also had seven boxes of prints and several reels of film to include as well. In total I was dealing with 20 years of precious family photos. To make the process as easy and uniform as possible, gather together everything you might have to tackle.


20 years of photos quite the journey back into time


A fraction of the storage locations of the 500 GB of images

Once you’ve collected all of your image sources, it’s time to begin uploading. It took me two long, 12-hour days of centralizing to one location on my computer for 500 GB worth of data. While tedious, you will find your rhythm and become a repetitive machine by the end. I suggest listening to some music while you work to help ease the boredom. If you have files on old technology, such as floppy discs, Zip discs, etc, but no longer have the proper computer equipment to access them you will need to buy a portable disc drive for whatever older technology your images are stored on. I purchased what I needed very easily and cheaply online  there are lots of online vendors that can assist you with this after a quick Google search.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 2.06.15 PM

The grand total of all digital images

Now, for the heavy lifting portion of the project. Just kidding! Adobe Lightroom and SmugMug’s Lightroom plug-in will do all of the heavy lifting for you. I suggest you let Adobe Lightroom build the catalog and also delete any duplicate photos overnight then in the morning when you wake up you will find the majority of the organization done for you. Why use Lightroom? It’s an easy way to simplify your workflow. It saves time by managing your SmugMug site directly, allowing you to create Folders and Galleries through its Publish service. It also is perfect for easy image retouching. If you are unfamiliar with Lightroom, you can find out more about how it uploads and sync photos to SmugMug here.

Now that we have a gorgeous catalog without duplicates, we will begin uploading to SmugMug via our Lightroom plug-in. You can learn how to install (or update) the Adobe Lightroom plug-in here. I highly suggest you set your privacy settings before uploading, in case you might have anything sensitive or personal in the photo library. I decided to catalog the images by year to make the family history easily searchable and recommend the same if you are dealing with a similar project spanning many years.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 2.07.26 PM

Adobe Lightroom and SmugMug’s Lightroom plug-in make organization and uploading a piece of cake

In regards to the seven boxes of prints and video reels I sent them to our friends over at ScanDigital to digitize. It was quite a large amount and took them a month to complete, but they sent completed work in batches via hard drive during that timeframe. There is no metadata attached to these photos, so these photos will require some manual organization, but it is far from taxing. A big thank you to them for doing a stellar job. If you would like to check out their services, they are offering a 20% discount to SmugMug customers with the code SMUGBLOG.

In the end, I had 65 searchable galleries with very little manual organization on my end I barely broke a sweat. But SmugMug offers much, much more than a digital storage solution for your family photo archive. It’s a wonderful way to share moments with friends and family far away. Our privacy options allow you to decide who can see your precious intimate memories. Our photo tagging solution allows you to add keywords to photos and galleries, allowing for quick search and discovery. We also have many wonderful photo partners to choose from when it’s time to print out key memories for home display or gifting. SmugMug isn’t just for photographers it’s for all memory makers.

Anyone with a little time and patience can organize and share decades worth of family photos, or any large image collection. I hope this inspires you to tackle your own personal project that you’ve been procrastinating. Photos are meant to be showcased and shared, not hidden in a box in the attic.

Postcard from The Photography Show 2016

We’re back from a whirlwind trip to join our lovely colleagues in Birmingham, England for The Photography Show and its 30,000 attendees. We had an amazing time sponsoring The Wedding and Portrait Stage with our partners Loxley Colour. But our favorite part of our visit was seeing all of you!

postcard-tpsReady to get this show on the road!

Joining us at our stand was an incredible lineup of photographers. We had a packed stand every day and standing room only for each speaking session. And yes, due to the incredibly high amount of requests and positive feedback, we will be showcasing some of our amazing photographer speakers via webinars in the future. Stay tuned!

i-M6Cxjn4-X3Packed house for Kenny Martin and Natalie Martin, at the SmugMug and Loxley sponsored Wedding and Portrait Stage.

i-SwHhZxX-X3The incredibly popular street photographer Matt Hart shared the rules he lives by and what is taboo when capturing the dynamics of the street.

i-BhbdPPp-X3Dog photographer extraordinaire Andy Biggar shared tips and tricks for photographing man’s best friend, which takes an incredible amount of patience but is very fun and rewarding.

i-nf6N43N-X3Fantastical Bella Kotak teaches the art of presentation.

i-NDwbfTG-X3Steve Thewis (Digi-Steve) talks Creative Photography.

i-7fwN479-X3Mark Cleghorn of The Photographer Academy on how to build a SmugMug site in under 20 minutes.

Before heading home we hopped over to our partner, Loxley Colour, in Scotland for a visit. Thank you for being wonderful hosts and for giving our VP of Marketing, Andrew Baum, his first taste of Irn Bru and haggis!

i-Wfsm4Gw-X3The other national drink of Scotland!

The U.S. SmugMug contingent wished we could have stayed much longer visiting our friends and European SmugMug family, but absence only makes the heart grow fonder. We look forward to the next trip across the Atlantic to see their smiling faces. Until then, stay tuned to find out where you can see us next!