Topaz Labs: Taking the Pain out of Processing

Scared of processing your photos? Don’t be. There’s lots of ways to skin a cat but you shouldn’t need an engineering degree to make a great pic.

Our friends at Topaz Labs are here to rescue folks with post-processing anxiety. And stay tuned to see how to win your own SmugMug account and Topaz tools, a perfect starting point for the ambitious digital photographer in you.

Plugins for Every Look

We’re featuring their plugins today to tell you about their quick and easy tools designed to cut down on your computer time and make finishing photos a breeze. Stunning photos with zero pain. What’s not to love?

Check out Topaz’s site to see their incredible variety of filters and effects. They’ve got everything from HDR to noise reduction, and everything in-between.

Not sure? You can contact them for a free, no-strings-attached 30-day trial and see how they work for you.

Will it work on my computer?

All photo editing programs are plugins to photo editors you probably already have, like:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Photoshop Elements
  • Lightroom
  • Aperture
  • iPhoto
  • Irfanview
  • PaintShop Pro

See full compatibility details here.

SmugMug + Topaz + You

We’re giving away three SmugMug accounts and three sets of Topaz software to three lucky digital photographers.

To enter, follow @SmugMug and @TopazLabs and Tweet this:

Enter to win prizes from @SmugMug and @TopazLabs. More info: Please RT. #SmugMugTopazGiveaway

We’ll randomly pick three winners on August 10, 2012, who will win:

  1. SmugMug Basic account + Topaz Adjust program (A $89.99 value)
  2. SmugMug Power User account + Topaz Adjust, B+W and Simplify programs (A $209.97 value)
  3. SmugMug Pro account + Topaz Bundle, which includes 10 Topaz programs: Adjust, DeNoise, Simplify, Clean, ReMask, B&W Effects, Lens Effects, Detail, InFocus and DeJPEG. (A $449.99 value)

As always, we’ll announce the winners in this space, so stay tuned.

Are you ready for post-processing zen? Good luck!



We randomly picked three lucky photographers to win sweet prizes from SmugMug and Topaz Labs. Congrats to 1st Prize Winner @TAMclean, 2nd Prize Winner @Spirotron, and 3rd Prize Winner @loopion!

Thanks everyone for getting in on the fun and stay tuned for more goodness, coming soon.

Eye-Gasmic Photo Editing with PicMonkey

For all of you who are sad that Google has closed Picnik, beat your chest and howl: PicMonkey is here!

This great new in-gallery program is brought to you by the fine former folks from Picnik. But it’s better. Faster. More powerful. And it’s packed with a gazillion incredible features for both serious and sassy shooters using any SmugMug account.

Edit. Adjust. Embellish.

Log in and look under the Tools button in any of your galleries. Choosing the “Edit with PicMonkey” option will pop up their Flash editor and present tons of tasty options:

The categories are: Basic Edits, Effects, Touch Ups, Text, Overlays, Frames, Textures. It may not sound like much but we bet you’ll spend the next hour going through each of them to see what they do. We did.

You can do the usual stuff like straighten a tilted image, crop and remove red eye.

But did you ever think an online photo editor would have neat features like weight loss, spray tan, teeth whitening, hair highlights and blemish removers? You can quit the gym, break up with your stylist and buy a doughnut on your way home.

They’ve even got advanced tools you usually find in expensive programs, like Curves:

And these days it’s mandatory for photo editors to have cool retro filters, effects and fun stuff. PicMonkey has this and way more. Like film frames:

Once you’ve gotten the perfect photo, you can save it over your original image, or save a copy.

What’s with the monkey face?

Some of the tools you see are previews of premium features available soon. Use them now for free and stay tuned when PicMonkey launches their Royale subscription packages.

But I’ve already paid for Picnik Premium!

A lot of us did, too, and we’re just as sad about the timing. Please remember that your payment went to Google, not SmugMug, so while we love to help we cannot give refunds for your upgrade. You should have already received your refund, but if not please check out Picnik’s terms of services for details on their money-back policy, or contact them here.

Anything else to know?

  • By default, PicMonkey resizes your image to 2800 pixels as soon as you open it so that it edits quickly. If you don’t want to compress it that much you can hit the Undo button (the back arrow in the bottom left corner) right away, and your pic will remain big, up to 16 megapixels. Read more about it on their help FAQ.

We think that you’ll love this new photo editor as much as we do. It’s got all the features you know from Picnik and lots more for good measure. And it’s totally free to use. Have fun!

Tony Corbell’s Top Tips for Stellar Portrait Sessions

Today’s terrifically informative guest blog post is written by pro photographer and SmugMugger Tony Corbell. If you’re a part of the PPA or the wedding industry you’ve probably heard of him. But even if you haven’t, a guy who’s had the grace and honor to immortalize three US presidents, 185 world leaders and tons of international bigwigs with his camera is definitely not small potatoes. This guy knows – and loves – what he’s doing and we’re thrilled to have him share his know-how with you. Best of all, since he’s VP of Nik Software, you’ll find a SmugMug-exclusive deal on Color Efex filters at the end of this post. Keep reading!

Do’s and Don’ts for Portrait Photography

by Tony Corbell

For more than thirty years I have photographed people of all types in all kinds of situation. There have been brides and grooms, fashion models, commercial products for a catalog, and political figures. In addition to my clients, I have taught workshops and spoken at seminars literally all over the world. And often I have photographed people in these situations as well as the average people on the street.

One thing is certain: you cannot spend that much time with people and not learn a few things. So I thought it might be helpful to put together a Top Ten list of things to know in order to succeed and thrive in professional photography. If nothing else, these things will at least get you on the right track and hopefully will prove to be helpful.

1. In the studio, NEVER leave your lights set-up overnight. The problem is that if you do, the last session of the day will look a lot like the first session tomorrow. Is that what you want? If so, fine. But if you advertise creativity, don’t give everyone the same session. Having learned the foundation of your craft moving your lights and setting them up differently the next day will soon be second nature. You’ll be amazed at how much more creative you can be.

2. Don’t look through your camera too long. Here is the situation: You are looking at your subject, maybe focusing, maybe looking at your digital LCD, numbers for aperture, shutter speed or the settings in the viewfinder, etc. Any time you are operating mechanically, you are not operating creatively. Remember that once you connect with your client, do not disconnect until the end of the shoot. This includes talking to them, interacting and generally enjoying the session. You’ll find your average sale will be considerably higher.

3. Don’t be distracted by other family members or a studio assistant. Again, the client is number one and more important than anything, so it is important to stay connected with them at all times. Make them feel like they are the most important thing going on, not you. By focusing on them you are telegraphing that you are worth every cent they are paying you and will have no problem in recommending you and your services to others in the community.

4. Don’t be unsure of your exposures or color balance. Complete all of your testing before your client is on the set and project professionalism and a sense that you are very clearly in control of the shoot. Remember, “if you project a sense of confidence, they will project a sense of trust.” This is a terrific saying to try remember and as you gain more and more skills at our technique, you’ll naturally move throughout the shoot with more fluidity and ease.

Visit my SmugMug site to read the other tips on my list, and browse around to see my other photography articles. To say I am a SmugMug fan would truly be an understatement! Come back soon and often to see the things I’ll be adding, including a fine art print store.

Save Time With the Right Post-Processing Tools

Enhancing your images is another area of expertise that you can master quickly and easily if you simply make it a priority. In the example before/after images you can see the result of my using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4 professional plug-in filters for Photoshop, Lightroom & Aperture.

For the portrait example, I used the Darken/Lighten Center filter in Color Efex Pro 4. The building was enhanced with the Brilliance and Warmth filter, also found in Color Efex Pro 4. Both are part of the special software edition that Nik Software has assembled for SmugMug. You can log in and download them from ClubSmug right here. (Good through June 17, 2012)

The free sample filters are all very important in my workflow and learning to use them is ultra-easy. If you’re just getting started, visit our learning page to watch videos, attend live training webinars and read Nik’s blog for workflow tips.

Learn How Celebrity Photographer Andy Marcus Uses Nik Software and SmugMug

We’ve long had a mutual admiration thing going with Nik Software, makers of amazing filters for digital photographers. Their 6 plug-ins for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture make everything look just a little better without overdoing it and they’re so easy to use. Recently, the International TIPA organization, which represents nearly 50 magazines & websites in over a dozen countries, just gave Nik’s software suite their “Best Photo Software 2011” award. Way to go, guys!

Since so many pros and amateur photographers around the world love the Nik tools we thought it would be a good idea to share how they complement the SmugMug experience. Since SmugMug and image editing go hand in hand, we thought a series of live Webinars would be the best way to showcase the possibilities.

New Webinar Series Lets You Sit In with the Pros

“Wedding and Portrait Photography with Andy Marcus
brought to you by SmugMug and Nik Software”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM PDT
Register HERE

We’re starting the month off right by featuring the incomparable celebrity and wedding photographer, Andy Marcus. Andy has a great style to him and the New York Times called him “Manhattan’s leading society photographer.”

He’ll be sharing some of his incredible images and demonstrating how he uses SmugMug to organize and power his website and galleries. (Get a taste by checking out this guest post he did for us.) Andy will also be discussing some of his favorite insights and techniques for using the Nik tools to easily achieve the “look” that makes his photos stand out.

Don’t miss our first in a series of SmugMug & Nik Software webinars! Click here to register now.

Space is limited to the first 1,000 people, so grab your spot as soon as you can. We’ll send you a reminder closer to the date so you don’t forget.

Bonus Savings on Nik Software Products

The generous folks at Nik Software are sharing a little something extra with you: Through July and August, save 20% on all of their regularly-priced products.

You can visit their website here  to watch demo videos or download a free trial. When you’re ready to purchase, use the code NIK4SMUGJ11 when you check out. (Offer expires August 30th, 2011)

Happy processing and see you there!

Photog Tip of the Week: Love Your Histogram with Ann McRae

Today’s Photog Tip of the Week is presented by Ann McRae, longtime Canadian Smugger, Pro shooter and Support Hero extraordinaire. If you’ve never received an awesome help reply from Ann, you’re missing out! Your histogram can make or break your image. Knowing how to read your histogram will dramatically help you get it right in-camera… which will improve the shots you take and increase your number of keepers. Here’s the scoop straight from a pro who knows.

What’s a Histogram?

The histogram is a graphical representation of the brightness of your image. It shows the amount of dark areas on the left  and the amount of bright areas on the right, which means that you can make decisions about the settings you’re using to shoot a scene.

The histogram is your key to getting the very best possible photograph in-camera.

The good news is that almost every digital camera released in the last few years has the ability to display a histogram on the LCD. You may be surprised at the difference between the information in your histogram and  the JPG preview of your images on your camera’s LCD. Many folks overlook the fact that the LCD screen is backlit, which makes the image look much brighter than it actually is. Watch the histogram instead and don’t be fooled!

Expose to the Right… but Not Too Much

The “ideal” histogram shows mid tones that are evenly distributed between the darkest and lightest points in the scene. But remember that a histogram is just a graphical representation of the data in the photograph, so there’s no real right or wrong!

The following two photos show properly exposed scenes but the histograms in the upper right corners look dramatically different:

In the above photo, there is a broad range of colors and therefore the data is distributed across the whole graph.

On the other hand, almost all of this above scene is bright white snow so most of the data is pushed to the far right. Kelso is properly exposed and you can see plenty of detail in his face.

Why You Should Get it Right

Don’t overexpose the scene. The histogram for this kind of shot looks like it has a big hump on the right, possibly even falling off the right side of the chart. Some cameras display blinking areas on your LCD preview image to warn you that your images are too bright. Data in the overexposed areas is lost and will simply be flat white with no details. Here those areas are shown in red:

Don’t underexpose the scene. A histogram with the majority of the information to the far left (dark shadows) is underexposed. When you do this, you run a higher chance that prints made from this photo will turn out dramatically darker than you expect. This is because you’re processing and editing your digital photo on a backlit monitor or LCD, which is much brighter than a physical print that is lit with reflected light. You may be able to pick out details in the shadows when looking at an image on a monitor, but those details will be lost in a print.

(Bonus: Find more technical reasons for exposing to the right explained over at Luminous Landscape.)

Here are two versions of the same shot with completely different exposures. See how the histogram sits in each one?

Histograms for Effective Post Processing

Of course, once you have a well exposed photograph you may still want to do some post production work to be sure that you are getting the most out of the data that you have.

Bumping the exposure, fill light and tone curve of this example image just a tad pushes the bump from the middle of the histogram to the right, and really does a lot to enhance the image:

Once again, watching your histogram really pays off. Learn to love it and use it!

– Canadiann

Photog Tip of the Week: File Management in Lightroom with Wade Heninger

Wade Heninger is a Seattle-based dance, documentary, and portrait photographer (and agent provocateur) who moonlights as one of SmugMug’s resident Lightroom Jockeys and UI designers. Visit his blog every Tuesday for a smattering of Lightroom tips, tricks and tutorials, and find him on Twitter, too. You can also look forward to seeing cool (and useful!) photo tips like this on our new weekly “Photog Tip of the Week” series.

Importing images into Lightroom can be a chore. What is a benign process when you shoot a few hundred pictures in a portrait session can become unwieldy when you come home with 15 CF cards full of files from a big event.

First, consider that Lightroom has always imported from only one card at a time. The standard process is as follows:

  1. Insert CF card .
  2. Configure the Import options and hit “Import.”
  3. Wander off with the intention of coming back when its done.
  4. Forget you were importing for an hour and then realize it.
  5. Wander back in and go back to step 1.

Repeat 10 or 15 times. And 8 hours later I’m good to go. A whole work day and I’ve not edited a single photo yet. Ouch.

This just does not work for me. I’m a ballet photographer and work routinely involves shooting several thousand photos of a single performance that need to be quickly imported because the next performance is 2 hours away and the cards need to be cleared and ready. That is some serious file management and little time to do it.

So what does the enterprising photographer do?

Photo Mechanic for Easier Photo Imports

Some years ago I bought Photo Mechanic solely because its Import tool was pretty darn good. Much better than Bridge. Of prime importance was the fact that it would import images from all mounted cards in order. If you had the card reader for the card, it would do the right thing. The rest of Photo Mechanic is inconsequential (and a bit ugly) with Lightroom, but this one feature makes worth the purchase price. I have 5 or 6 card readers, so I can really chew off a bunch of cards in one fell swoop using this little tool.

So for the past few years, I would use Photo Mechanic to import the files onto my Drobo and *then* run an Import in Lightroom to get them in and previews built. This was a two step process that had to be done serially as well: 1) import with Photo Mechanic 2) turn Lightroom loose on the big folder with everything.

Somewhere in the Lightroom 2 cycle I’d worked on a redesign of the Import dialog and as part of that I’d suggested the whole multiple cards thing as a way to speed our customer’s workflow. Sadly, we didn’t get it any of this for the release of version 2. So when Lightroom 3 was released, the first thing I looked at was the new Import dialog and if it could do what I needed. Unfortunately, no.

So recently, as I returned from another photo shoot with 12 cards in tow, I was all set up to dance the same waltz with the same klutzy partners.

But something clicked this time. Call it a Lightroom Epiphany of sorts, but all of a sudden I realized a possible solution had been sitting under my nose all this time.

Lightroom’s Auto Import Feature

Lightroom has this somewhat obscure feature called “Auto Import” that watches a folder and then imports any images therein.  As I recalled, it was mainly Lightroom’s way of dealing with tethered capture before we had a dedicated module for such. Anxiously, I clicked on the File Menu to see if it hadn’t been deprecated due to the new Tethered Capture features. Huzzah! It was still there.

Giddy, I clicked on the Auto Import Settings and set it up to watch the folder I was going to use Photo Mechanic to dump them to.

From Photo Mechanic to Lightroom to SmugMug

So, I setup Auto Import and chose the import directory. So far so good.

I then went into Photo Mechanic and dumped all 6 cards to the aforementioned directory.

It worked! Photo Mechanic dumped all the cards to the directory and Lightroom then imported it and built a preview for each image. It took awhile, but not nearly as long as I was used to. And it did it in one fell swoop.

So, so awesome.

I did notice that at one point there were over 500 processes going at once in Lightroom – one for each import and preview build it was working on. But it didn’t seem to bother it much.

The result is that I’m in business more quickly than before. I was able to import all those cards and have Lightroom ready to edit, with all files imported and previews already built.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Since that ah-ha! moment, I’ve dramatically cut down my file management time, which lets me get to the important parts faster. SmugMug makes uploading directly from Lightroom dead simple with their integrated publishing service, so I can get photos into my galleries and start making money.

– Wade

More on Streamlining Your Workflow

The Help doesn’t stop here. Check out these additional resources:

Why Post Process?

Today’s guest post is by Jared Bauman from ShootDotEdit.  For those of you looking to learn more about the costs and benefits of self-serve versus outsourced post-processing, this is a worthwhile read.

With digital becoming the standard over the past 5+ years, there have been an onslaught of new opportunities and challenges for photographers.  One subject is Post Production.  Nowadays, there is so much involved after capture, or after the image has been taken.  No longer can a photographer simply take an image and expect it to look its best.  Rather, tweaking the image for proper exposure, color, and other details now is a requirement.  Even further, many photographers learn how to use Photoshop and other programs in order to enhance the image.  Photoshop Actions, or scripts that run predetermined activities on photos, allow photographers to achieve dramatic results.

Digital Post Production has allowed photographers to create unique and dynamic images unlike ever before.  However, the byproduct of this has been an increased workload.  Rather than just shoot, now the photographer has to spend hours upon hours in post production. On top of that, the photographer has to be an expert in photography and post production!  Eventually, every photographer reaches the point where their increased activity in post production is met with the limits of their available time.

“Why should I let go of my post production?”  That’s the question we hear the most … And it’s a valid one.  Remember when you decided to allow SmugMug to handle your print fulfillment and drop ship to your clients?  Yeah … it’s like that.  Every photographer seems to struggle with the topic at one point or another.  Letting go of your post production is not an easy decision, because images are the reflection of the art each photographer creates.  Many determine that letting go of the post production is letting go of the creative process, and letting someone else determine the look and feel of their final image.

So why let go of the post production?  Well, in the end, editing is not a part of your business.  You’re a photographer – not only is that what you love to do, but its what you get paid for.  And, beyond that, editing is not the main component involved in why your clients book you.  They book you because you’re you  and because of the images you take.  Have any of your past clients asked what color temperature a photo was?

SmugMug has allowed you to remove the burden created by printing, shipping and safeguarding your images.  Once that was removed, you were able to experience the time and energy to do the things that matter most: create images, meeting with clients, and network with others in your industry.  This is why SmugMug and ShootDotEdit work so well together!

We understand the importance of quality, turnaround time, and customization because we’re professional photographers, too.  Both myself and Garrett have successful wedding studios in Southern California, so we understand the integral demands on today’s wedding photographer.

Since we love SmugMug so much, we are offering a 20% discount off all jobs over $100.   Use promo code SmugSDE to get the deal through December 20, 2010!

Photos courtesy of Rachel Terry of