Sharing photos with Zenfolio

Even though being a software developer and having a company that started out with making content management software many years ago, I stopped trying to do everything by myself. I don’t want to think about how much time I’ve wasted on trying to make THE ONE piece of software that could handle all the tasks, that I need carried out.

Developing and maintaining all sorts of different web solutions, making them look good, not just once but whenever the trends are changing, keeping them compatible with different browsers and usable on different platforms, making integrations with payment systems and other third party providers, and looking out for new technologies and ideas to use, is a huge job. Not to speak of maintaining the servers and all the necessary software to make it all come alive. And then you still have to create the most important part: The content.

In more recent years I’ve accepted that a lot of companies are doing a much better job in their key areas, than I would ever be able to. That’s why I today use a multitude of service providers like Linode, Google Apps, Photodeck, PhotoShelter and Zenfolio – each one to cover different needs.


The one I will be talking about in this article is Zenfolio.

I was looking for a way to share my private photos with friends and family without having to do much work manually. The solution should also fit the way I usually work with my private photos, which is, that I don’t always process them right away, but whenever I get the time. Whenever they were done, it should be easy to update the share. So it should integrate well with Lightroom without any intermediate manual steps that would require me to remember all sorts of things.

I know that I could use services like Flickr, Picasa and others, that also integrate well with Lightroom. But they all suffer from having a terrible and clumsy front interface with all sorts of distracting buttons, exif-data, comments etc that can’t all be deactivated by default. I was looking for a service where I could get a completely clean, but nice looking, interface, that would work well in both browsers and on small devices. I would also like the organization to be close to how I organize my photos in Lightroom: In folders named with the date and event and sorted likewise.

It would also be cool if there was an easy way to limit access to certain galleries, so I could share most photos with everyone and some photos only with those that knew a common passphrase. An unlimited amount of storage included would also be great, but not the most important thing in the world.

At Zenfolio I found all that. A possibility to pick a theme and modify it slightly that would leave only the essential functionality: browsing through galleries, browsing thumbnails and browsing large photos. No more, no less.

In the administration it’s easy to reorder all the galleries into different parent folders. Giving different people access to different parents is an easy way to differentiate access without the hazzles of maintaining user records and access control.  And access restrictions aren’t just increasing downwards. I can have the most restricted access at the top-level and open up for access to certain parent folders within every level. So I can make a top level that only I can see, a level for family members, a level for my scouts to see photos from scout events and so on. A grouping that doesn’t make sense to me inside Lightroom, but is great to be able to do on Zenfolio. Moving folders around to different parent folders doesn’t break the integration with Lightroom, since this is done with unique ID’s that you can’t change (and don’t see).

Below is a screenshot from the administration interface.

2014-12-29 22_58_02-Zenfolio _ Privat – Google Chrome

Like you probably know it from Google Drive and Picasa, you can also share folders/galleries with certain people by just sending them a link. I use this too from Zenfolio to make manual deliveries to clients and publishers, where I again like the clean, simple and intuitive setup of the front end. I use a premium account at Zenfolio without their branding using a subdomain of my own, so noone even knows it’s not hosted on my own servers. But that’s a side note.

Integration with Lightroom

So, how about the integration part?

There’s this great guy, Jeffrey Friedl, that has made all sorts of plugins for Lightroom, including a Zenfolio publishing plugin. You can find it here.

It’s really easy to install in Lightroom’s plugin manager, which will give you a new publishing service in your publish panel in Lightroom.

In the publishing service setup (Edit settings…) you can connect with your Zenfolio account and configure how you would like the transfers to be done. I have chosen to transfer full resolution files. It’s slower of course, but then I don’t have to do anything whenever friends and family would like to get the files to do some prints. They can just download them from the browsing interface, because I allowed them to do so in the Zenfolio folder setup. You can also define which metadata to transfer and what changes in Lightroom that will trigger the plugin to update files already uploaded to Zenfolio, and many other things.

One of the most important parts though is, that you can define where this publishing service should place your folders on Zenfolio, and how to name them. It’s a little tricky here because the naming template of the publish service is defined in the export setup, found behind Lighroom’s Export-button. But once you know where to find it, it’s easy. You can setup the automatic naming of created subfolders just the way you want. There’s an easy-to-understand guide to all the available placeholders for information that can be used to form the names. I use the simple form – name them just as I do in Lightroom with {FolderName} placed in the designated folder of my Zenfolio account (in the screenshot below called Billeder>Privat).

You can also define things like the initial access to the created folders.

2014-12-29 23_37_01-Lightroom

Triggering the transfer

That’s the setup, but how about picking items and triggering the transfer?

Well, that’s the cool thing with a publishing plugin like this – it’s also based on Lightroom’s collections – or Smart Collections. So you can either add photos to the Zenfolio publish service collection, or you can define it as a Smart collection triggered by whatever metadata you would like to use. I chose to use the Pick flag that I never used for anything before.

Whenever I flag a photo as picked, it’s automatically added to the Smart collection associated with the Zenfolio publishing plugin, because I configured it this way in the Smart Collection setup.

2014-12-29 23_49_33-LightroomWhenever I like, like when I’ve added new family events and have picked them for publishing, I just go to the publishing panel. There I will get an overview of the new photos to publish and photos that are flagged as changed since they were transfered to Zenfolio. Just hit the Publish button, and the transfer will start in the background.

Photos are made available immediately at Zenfolio to whoever has sufficient access.

2014-12-29 23_58_47-Lightroom

No freebies here

I’m sorry to say that neither Zenfolio nor the plugin is free. Zenfolio starts around 60 USD per year (30 USD with limited storage). I use the premium account priced at 140 USD per year. I consider that a very fair pricing for an ad-free product that works very, very well. If you like, you can use the referral link below and save some money for both of us.

Save 10% on a Zenfolio site

Jeffrey Friedl’s plugin is donationware, so you can practically pay him whatever you like. You even get free access to all upgrades, which are released quite often. But hey – be reasonable! Jeffrey is a very kind and helpful guy that has developed some awesome and very well working plugins. Pay him what he deserves! I have paid him twice and will do again, because this plugin has saved me countless hours sharing around 65,000 private photos with friends and family.

You can find the Zenfolio Plugin here.

Happy sharing!

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