Straight Forward Smart Albums 2 Review

Before writing this Smart Albums 2 Review, my design process for creating wedding albums consisted of using the clunky, proprietary software that my album company provided. I’d waste so long messing around with it, but I didn’t have any other options, so I just had to keep using it.

Designing an album myself took at best 2-3 hours. (I know successful photographers out there who like to use Photoshop or InDesign to lay their album spreads, and for them or their assistant, designing one album takes anything up to 6 hours.)

Then I’d upload the proof to the album company’s clunky servers and send my client a link.

Following this, there’d be email after email of image and design changes, all complicated by the fact that the client would be commenting on the wrong file numbers, or mistaking a page for a spread or whatever it was.

This took even more time, and in short, it was an enormous pain in the butt. What could have been an enjoyable and smooth process for both of us quickly turned into a messy and frustrating operation. What’s more, when I added up the time I wasted faffing around, the album didn’t end up being particularly profitable any more.

Enter SmartAlbums

Then I heard about SmartAlbums at Mystic Seminars

When I saw a quick demonstration of what it could do, my jaw hit the ground. With this software, putting together an album looked so simple… and dare I say it, fun!

SmartAlbums is the kind of product that will help you save time as soon as you start using it. Moreover, it will help you make money too.

What took you hours before, will now take you minutes, to the extent that you’ll have to actually delay replying to your clients after each change so it doesn’t devalue what you’re doing! More on this later…

As the album building process with SmartAlbums is so easy and actually a lot of fun, you’ll want to make albums.

Let’s face it – no one likes selling albums to clients. However, now I know I can make the albums easily and have fun doing it, I’m more enthusiastic when talking about the albums. I’m also confident that we’ll both have a smooth time putting it together.

**UPDATE – SmartAlbums for Windows is now available!**

SmartAlbums 2 Review - Main Screen

SmartAlbums 2 Review

I actually jumped onboard the SmartAlbums band wagon relatively late, and now only months after I became a user, they’ve gone and released an update – SmartAlbums 2.

And what an update!!

Rather than write about all the great things they’ve added to the software in this Smart Albums 2 review, here’s a video that they made to show off a handful of the best new features.

Live album build

I thought that the best way to write a straight forward Smart Albums 2 review was from the point of view of a new user. I wanted to simulate something that might happen in the real world.

If you’re a photographer who is frustrated with your current album software, or maybe you just love the look of SmartAlbums 2, you’re probably a bit apprehentious about trying out something completely new.

Time is money especially for the self-employed, so we don’t want to waste time learning something completely new, even if it looks better than our existing solution.

That’s why I wanted to do this SmartAlbums 2 review from the point of view of someone who’s never used it before.

In the following video, I’ll take you through the entire process where I load SmartAlbums 2 for the very first time, add images from a wedding and design the complete album… and I’m going to time the whole thing.

Cloud Proofing

There is one specific new feature I discovered when writing this Smart Albums 2 review that I want to address here since I’m so excited about it, and that’s Cloud Proofing.

The ability for clients to leave comments on the album in an online portal will definitely save me a lot of time during the album creation process.

Instead of endless and confusing back-and-forth emails, clients will now be able to leave their comments precisely, which will make the editing process smooth and quick.

One small feature that I appreciate during the Cloud Proofing upload process is the ability to apply a sharpening preset. This won’t affect your original images, but instead affects how the images will display in the preview album. Since preview albums are usually small and low resolution, they have the habit of looking very soft. This feature just gives the preview album images a bit of punch.

Here’s an example of the email your client will receive initially to tell them their first album proof is ready:

smartalbums review

Clients can leave comments per spread, and when finished, all the comments will be viewable in the SmartAlbums 2 software by me when I come to make the edits.

smart albums 2 review

In the future, I’d like Pixellu to add the option for clients to leave comments on the actual photos themselves, or at least, add numbers to the photos in the album proof.

When there’s a spread full of several photos the comment process could become slightly confusing.

SmartAlbums 2 Review on Shotkit

Another thing I noticed was that the Comments box (located at the bottom of the screen) is not immediately apparent when the client loads the preview album in Cloud Proofing. This is something I’d be pointing out in the initial email to the client so everything is very clear for them.

I think there are still a few creases to be ironed out with SmartAlbums 2 Cloud Proofing to make it a really seamless process, but for now, I’m happy to use it since it’s free for the first year. I am confident that Pixellu will update the UI during the first year, based on our feedback as they have done in the past.

Cloud proofing is free for one year with the purchase of SmartAlbums 2, then the cost is $19/month or $199/year, which I think is very reasonable considering the time it will save me. The addition of Cloud Proofing is entirely optional.

A word of caution

So the only ‘downside’ to all this lightning fast album creation, editing and proofing, is that there’s a possibility that if you’re not careful, it could devalue your service!

Clients like to feel that you’re doing something that they couldn’t do themselves, or something that would have been a hassle, or taken a lot of their own time had they tried it themselves. So when they send through a bunch of edits, and you use SmartAlbums 2 to make the changes in a couple of minutes, you’ll have to stop yourself from emailing them back immediately!

I’d recommend that you use SendLater, Boomerang, or one of the many other apps that allow you to delay your reply. It may seem counter-productive, but trust me, it’s a great feeling to have an email reply off your mind, but still queued up to be sent at a timing that doesn’t devalue your work.

Maybe not everyone will agree with me here though. Perhaps you’d prefer to respond to your clients as soon as possible. Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think!

Bonus SmartAlbums 2 Tips

Here’s Daniel from Pixellu giving us a run down of a few ‘bonus’ tips to add to this SmartAlbums 2 review, and telling us in his own words why he believes its the best album designing software available today.

Conclusion

I hope you found this SmartAlbums 2 review useful. I have to say, once you’ve used SmartAlbums 2, you can’t really imagine creating another wedding album without it. I never thought I’d use the word ‘fun’ to describe the album building process, and putting together a great looking book in under an hour was unheard of for me.

SmartAlbums 2 is the kind of purchase that just makes sense in running a photography business as efficiently as possible. It’s up there with JpegMini and Lightroom as essential software that makes our lives as photographers easier and more enjoyable.

I’d go as far to say that SmartAlbums 2 is the single most time saving application that I’ve used in my photography business.

Not only will it give you hours of your life back every time you use it, but it’ll also allow you to sell your albums more assertively, confident in your mind that you can put them together easier than ever before.

Selling albums will never be a strong point of mine, but at least I now know that the album building process is enjoyable thanks to SmartAlbums 2, and that makes me even happier to talk to clients about albums. I have a great product to offer them that I know they’ll be happy with, and now I have a software that will make the whole process easier and more fun for the both of us. Win: Win!

The cost of SmartAlbums 2 is $299. If you’re a SmartAlbums (1) user, you’ll have received details about the upgrade fee. Either way, for now everyone can get a free 30-day trial of Smart Albums 2, so I suggest you download it and have a play around for yourself today.

**UPDATE – SmartAlbums for Windows is now available!**

If you enjoyed this review and think you might like to have a play around on the excellent SmartAlbums 2, go ahead and download a free trial copy by clicking on one of the links on this page like this one. If you go on and purchase SmartAlbums 2, I’ll get a small commission which goes straight back towards the running costs of this site. I really appreciate your support – Mark.

9 Ease of Use

10 Features

9 User Interface

10 Speed

9 Value for Money

10 Usefulness

9.5

6 Comments

  • Have out output an album yet from SA 2? Does it allow you to build out the album using image in a lossless format (.tif)? How does it handle final output sharpening once album size and image crops are decided?

    • – Yes, you can import TIFFs and use them to design the album
      – When set to “Medium”, the sharpening is comparable to InDesign’s default output. Sharpening settings can be adjusted in “Preferences”

  • Great review except for the following statement “Let’s face it – no one likes selling albums to clients.” That is a gross generalization and it is false.

    Maybe photographers that do not see the value of a wedding album beyond how much they can make out of it think that way. But most photographers that see the real value of what they do, do not think that way. They can see the value to the client of offering a FINISHED products.

    Can you imagine what would be of photography if Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier Bresson hated doing and selling prints? That would be as absurd as claiming that wedding photographers hate selling wedding albums. As wedding photographers the wedding album is the finished product, it is the final expression of the art work that we do as photographers.

    Artists like Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier Bresson and Eugene W. Smith spent hours in the darkroom perfecting their PRINTS.

    It is a sad day for the craft and art of photography when photographers look for shortcuts and choose to follow the fast food mentality.

    • Fair comment David and thanks for your thoughts. I think you have misinterpreted my statement though. I was suggesting that the majority of us don’t like ‘selling’, not the act of offering an album to clients. This may not be the case for you, but anything regarding money, particularly something that involves an upsell (dirty word I know!), makes the majority of photographers I have spoken to about this quite uncomfortable. Whilst there are many photographers out there who are great sales people as well as great artists, for the rest of us, ‘selling’ an album to a client who you’ve become close to (and may even consider a friend), may not come so naturally.

      I completely agree with you about offering a finished product, and all you said about the photography masters of our time. Whether they were great salesmen or not on the other hand, I can’t comment.

      Anyway, thanks again for the comment. I hope if nothing else you find the Smart Albums software useful :-)

  • Mark,
    I think it would be a good idea if you mentioned in your review that Smart Albums 2 is not available yet in the Windows format.
    That way, us non Mac users won’t go rushing to the ‘buy now’ option, only to find that the Windows option is not available and is still in beta testing.

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