Photo Cloud for Photo image and metadata archiving

allanrtateallanrtate Registered Users Posts: 2 Beginner grinner
I'm writing this post to get suggestions for a photo cloud provider that is better designed to meet my needs for archiving photos than SmugMug. Essentially, my needs are related management of metadata within the image files (EXIF data). SmugMug support told me that they are unlikely to add the features I feel that I need. Also, they did not know of another cloud service that has the features I'd like. They suggested that I post my question here to engage a larger community.

I have already voted for these feature requests on SmugMug's feedback forum:

replace metadata on upload
enable downloading captions

I've had a paid account for years and overall SmugMug has met my needs. Unfortunately, the core user profile of a SmugMug customer is a professional photographer who is primarily interested in uploading, displaying and selling photos. As such, features important to me, someone who is archiving family photos, are not a priority. I say this based on my conversation with support. Here is a summary of the problems:

1. Using a basic paid account, access to the metadata editor cannot be granted on a gallery by gallery basis; credentials for the entire account must be shared.

2. A workaround to problem #1 is to set up a temporary account to share, but then the only way to import the photos into the main account is to engage customer support. There is no easy way to do this yourself.

3. Changes made to photo metadata, specifically title, caption and keywords are NOT added to the image metadata upon download.

4. When an image file is replaced, only the image is updated, not the metadata.

5. A workaround to problem #4 is to delete the photo and upload a new one, but the new image will have a different URL. Any links to the original image will be broken.

The impact of these issues is best illustrated with a scenario. I'm archiving old family slides and photos. For security, I want the photos in three places: 1) My hard drive, 2) SmugMug, 3) A second person's hard drive. Here's the process. I scan the photos to my hard drive. I use exiftool to update metadata, including title, description and keywords. I upload photos to SmugMug, which uses the EXIF data to populate the title, caption, and keywords. A friend downloads the files with EXIF data preserved. Photos with metadata are successfully archived in three places. Up to this point, the process seems solid.

Suppose that someone notices that the caption is wrong on an image. That person can’t fix the issue because credentials are not easily shared. As the account owner, however, I can use the SmugMug editor to make the correction. Such a change cannot easily be synced to the companion images stored outside of SmugMug. I can edit the metadata for the two images stored on hard drives, but then these images will always be out of sync as compared to an image downloaded from SmugMug. Why? Because the downloaded image will only contain the original metadata without changes made with the SmugMug editor.

Let’s further suppose that we refine our process such that metadata is only edited in images directly, say with exiftool, and the SmugMug editor is NEVER used. Now a person discovers an error, edits the metadata, and queues the updated image someplace, say Google photos. The account owner inspects this directory from time to time and replaces the images in SmugMug. Unfortunately, when an image file is replaced, ONLY the image is updated, NOT the metadata.

Finally, let’s say that you’re very determined to make this process work. When you find replacement photos queued up, you delete the originals and upload the replacements. As usual, SmugMug inspects the metadata to populate title, caption and keywords. The problem here is that SmugMug generates new URLs for the replacement images. Any references to the original images will be broken links.

In summary, image metadata can NEVER be changed once an image file is uploaded to SmugMug. That file is essentially immutable. You can edit the information displayed in SmugMug, but you cannot change the data internal to the image file itself. I do now know a way to keep image files synchronized if SmugMug is one of the repositories.

I'm open to any and all suggestions. I'm interested in finding a photo cloud provider better suited to my needs, but also open to changing my process. I'd also be happy to stay with SmugMug if there was enough support for this feature request.


  • leftquarkleftquark Registered Users, Retired Mod Posts: 3,784 Many Grins
    edited April 18, 2018

    Hi @allanrtate and welcome to DGrin. We also received your feature request comments so thanks for kicking off a discussion, especially since it’s easier to have a conversation here on DGrin then on the Feedback Forums (despite their name).

    I wrote a longer message about updating metadata on a replace but I decided to scrap it and just post a shorter message. As you can find in some other threads: we’ll be changing the replace function so it updates the metadata. We just need a little bit more time to make it happen.

    Generally our customers have told us they want the peace of mind knowing that the exact file they gave us, is the exact file they get back. That’s why we haven’t overwritten the metadata if you update the title, caption, keywords or geolocation. There may be some situations where we’ll offer this as an option but I won’t be able to comment on how likely that is to happen. Certainly if more customers tell us they want that ability then it would help with changing the situation.

    Does that help your situation at all?

    dGrin Afficionado
    Former SmugMug Product Team
    aaron AT aaronmphotography DOT com
    My SmugMug CSS Customizations website:
  • allanrtateallanrtate Registered Users Posts: 2 Beginner grinner
    Hi @leftquark - thanks for your reply. The link you provided was helpful and confirms what I have read in other places. Let me try, from my point of view, to provide context based on the needs of end user personas. One persona is the "professional photographer" and the second is the "digital archivist." I would contend that these personas have different feature needs, in particular with respect to metadata management. I think the needs and use cases for each persona should be elaborated before getting into details about specific features, like EXIF data replacement. Using this frame, I hope to explain why I think SmugMug remains a great choice for the "professional photographer" -- one that I would continue to recommend -- even though it may not be a good choice for me at this time.

    I would be very happy if SmugMug were to decide to go after the market of "digital archivists," but this would be a big commitment. They would have to do primary market research, create a new client persona, storyboard scenarios, elaborate use cases and then implement a set of features and enhancements to realize this vision. This is a big deal, even if the project were scoped for a narrow set of use cases. I tried to briefly illustrate the complexity of taking on such a project in my initial post, but that only scratches the surface.

    You mention the current need to guarantee return of unaltered images. I agree that image data should be immutable, but I think SmugMug could be more flexible handling metadata. One could imagine maintaining a history of changes to metadata such that one end user to download version 1 (v1) to recover the original upload and another end user could download v2…vN to download a subsequent version containing altered metadata. I am not suggesting that SmugMug implement a "git equivalent" under the hood; that’s not necessary because SmugMug need not become a collaborative environment where the complexities of conflict resolution need to be handled. I think SmugMug could assume sequential edit sessions such that only a simple history need be maintained. This is just one idea. The link you provided discusses other considerations and complexities that someone would have to think through. Nevertheless, I would guess that there are many ways that this issue could be handled.

    Right now, my understanding is that SmugMug’s primary market is professional photographers for which metadata management is an edge case. I don’t say this to be critical of SmugMug, in fact I think it makes good business sense. No company can be all things to all people, so it is good that SmugMug has a clear view of how they want to focus limited development resources. I’ve been a happy customer so far and I actually don’t want to move off of SmugMug, but my current needs and SmugMug’s focus are a mismatch.

    So, implementing a single feature, like replacing metadata on upload, is not sufficient for me. Yes, it will help a little bit, but I really need a photo cloud provider that has decided to focus on people who are doing what I’m trying to do and have similar needs. Also, I want to move forward on my project now without waiting for a long development cycle. Unless someone can suggest a better process that will work with SmugMug, I’ve hit a roadblock and need to find an alternative.

    I posted in this forum, at the suggestion of SmugMug support, in the hope that I could avoid a labor-intensive research project. I’m guessing that the pool of providers is large and growing every day. Narrowing that field to a handful by reading feature comparisons will be time consuming enough, but I’ll likely have to do product testing after that. Ugh. A lot of smart people who know a lot more about photography than I do use this forum. Surely someone must know of an alternative to SmugMug that is a better fit for my needs. Or, maybe there is a better way to achieve what I'm trying to do.
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