Dropbox vs SmugMug: Sometimes Two Clouds Are Better than One

Photo of author

Tim Higgins

Dropbox: The Beauty of Simplicity

As a hobbyist photographer, I needed a simple way to share photos from various events. I knew I wanted a cloud storage/hosting site, as I knew it would be a far more efficient way to share photos, as opposed to multiple size-limited emails. Sharing photos in my Dropbox offered the perfect solution!

However, as my hobby became increasingly commercial, I needed a more professional way to present my photos and create my business ‘image’. After careful research, I turned to SmugMug.

For sharing any type of large files, photos, or videos quickly and efficiently, Dropbox is still superior. The organizational features and ability to create custom folders also offer tremendous versatility, not to mention the collaborative function that the Dropbox environment allows. Your recipient may download a full-size photo directly by following a link you email them. Dropbox also offers a secure server and your files may only be accessed via links that you have shared. Once you explore Dropbox and determine how it fits your individual lifestyle, you may just question how you ever survived without it!

Enter SmugMug: A Gallery With A Purpose

While Dropbox is a tremendous cloud-based storage solution, I am going to suggest SmugMug as a complementary cloud for the photographer, whether amateur hobbyist or professional. The price can be steeper, but the interface provides a more professional and feature-laden alternative to Dropbox for the exclusive purpose of hosting and sharing photos and videos. SmugMug even allows you to refer your own web address directly to your SmugMug gallery, and will walk you through creating one. As a photographer, I find that I routinely use both, but for different reasons.

SmugMug vs. Dropbox: Photo Uploading

The ease-of-use advantage goes to Dropbox because it seamlessly integrates itself in your operating system. Placing items in your Dropbox folders is as easy as dragging and dropping. SmugMug requires you to be logged in and upload to a gallery.

Smugmug upload

SmugMug upload

You name your gallery, define any custom features you choose, then drag and drop, or browse for your photos. SmugMug takes it from there. Although Dropbox is easier, SmugMug becomes much easier after the initial use and brief learning curve. I can also report that their customer email support is outstanding.

SmugMug vs Dropbox: Appearance

Dropbox, while functional, is visually utilitarian. It is also functionally basic. When all you need, for example, is to get a large number of photos from Point A to Point B as easily as possible, Dropbox does the job, and does it extremely well.

Dropbox photo album

Dropbox photo album

When you want your photos to stand out, look professional, and shout “WOW!,” SmugMug is the better choice. With SmugMug, you can change the background of each gallery to a large variety of colors, presentations, themes and display styles.

Smugmug customized album

SmugMug Phto album

You define each aspect of your gallery, including how your recipient views them. Your design creativity can be showcased right alongside your photographic creativity. In addition, SmugMug allows you to categorize and sub-categorize your galleries so a person may choose to look only at your events, family photos, portraits, etc. You can also customize your home page, the page your viewer sees when they enter your website, or SmugMug hosted site.

Customized Smugmug personal website

Customized Smugmug personal website

SmugMug vs Dropbox: Photo sharing

As with Dropbox, you can send your recipient a link to your gallery, where they may download full-size photos or print them through a few different online printing services SmugMug offers. If you have taken pictures at an event, you could forward the link to the host, who can then forward it to their guests. The guests may either download photos, on their own, for printing, or print them via SmugMug partners. SmugMug even tracks the views on each photo.

SmugMug also allows you to create password-protected galleries in case you have a client who requires that their photos remain private. Both sites offer video uploading and sharing as well.

Once you’ve developed your skills and are ready to spring for a pro account, you may sell your photos directly via SmugMug. You establish your own pricing structure, for each individual photo if you wish, and SmugMug keeps a small percent above the printing cost. The rest is yours. Personally, as a small business, I prefer to leave the downloads free, as I believe I am better off having impressed recipients contact me for at least one new job instead of selling photos individually. Of course, the volume of business will dictate the best approach.

Think of SmugMug as a showcase for your creativity, an important ‘storefront’ to present your personal or business image, whereas Dropbox is like a manila envelope with an express-mail tag affixed. Your specific need will define the option you choose. I believe, after you have explored both, you will find that both are extremely useful, and not mutually exclusive.


So to sum up, if you want to present a visually pleasing professional image with options for online printing and sales, SmugMug is the way to go. For bulk storage and simple file sharing, you might find Dropbox more appealing.

Think of Dropbox as the jack-of-all-trades while SmugMug is a visual treat. I have been using both for awhile now and find that Dropbox and SmugMug work together perfectly to achieve similar, yet different, results.

Debbie Miller is a cloud computing geek with a budding photography business (www.d2photographymi.com).

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