What’s the best gallery service for event photographers – and why is it Pic-Time?

 

I’ve been a professional event, wedding, and PR photographer since 2007 and I’ve always cared about the full experience – from booking to delivery – just as much as the photos themselves. So it’s really important for me to have the best gallery service for my event photography clients, where they can easily browse at their leisure, share with guests, and download the digital files. 

Of course, you don’t have to use a photo gallery service, you could just drop a zip file on Dropbox or WeTransfer and be done with it. But by giving them a beautiful gallery the choice is theirs: they can browse it whenever they like on any device from a desktop computer to a smartphone, easily share the gallery with guests and colleagues – as well as control what images their guests actually see – or just download everything once and never log in again if that’s all they want.

I started with Photoshelter, moved on to Shootproof in 2014, and then Pic-Time since November 2019. Pic-Time is by far my favourite so in this post I’ll take a look at why I recommend it to every photographer who asks.

 

 

The top three gallery services for event, wedding, and family photographers

These days there’s quite a few more photo gallery services available than there were back when I first started looking. But asking around my network of photographer friends they’re all using one of these three companies:

If by any chance none of these services take your fancy, you could also try Pixellu Galleries but at the time of writing (January 2024) they’re still missing a major feature I can’t do without – we’ll come to that below. Still, worth keeping an eye on just in case – everyone’s different! And if there’s any other photo gallery service you use or you’ve heard good things about let me know in the comments so I can check it out,

Back in 2007 I don’t think any of these companies were around so I think most people were using either Photoshelter or SmugMug – both of which are still around if you want to check them out. I went with Photoshelter and it was fine but they were more focussed on creating one-stop portfolio websites, so the galleries for clients to browse, download, and order from were quite functional and not that ‘fun’. I was never completely happy with it and eventually I went looking for a gallery service dedicated to a great user experience for clients, and nothing else. That’s when I came across Shootproof and Pixieset.

Shootproof: reliable, but feels a little simplistic now

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The Shootproof homepage, before you log in to your gallery admin zone

At the time I started with Shootproof in 2014 I think it was really only them and Pixieset offering this sort of service. I went with Shootproof for a couple of reasons:

  • I preferred Shootproof’s brand styling, including the name (Pixieset doesn’t sound like a photo gallery service to me)
  • but crucially Shootproof partnered with a UK lab for auto-fulfilled print sales, whereas Pixieset was US-only at the time (they cover the UK now, but I’d moved on by then)

As well as basic branding options like fonts, colours, layout, and watermarking Shootproof also offers an email automation system so you can set up different communication workflows for different galleries. You can only email gallery visitors, so it’s not like Mailchimp where you can build a complex segmented mailing list and email them about anything, but it’s pretty flexible and they have a great tutorial for setting up an annual winter sale promo – although that’s a lot of emails so I toned it down for a UK audience when I tried it myself a few years ago.

A year or so after I signed up to Shootproof they added a few new ‘client management Lite’ tools – like contracting and invoicing for the shoot itself. I never bothered with these tools as I was already using a dedicated service called Táve for all my client management needs. But it’s there if you don’t have anything like that set up yet and people seem to like it.

So that’s Shootproof in a nutshell – a gallery service focussed on great client experience, with a simple built-in print shop tied to a UK lab, and basic contracting and invoicing features. If this was all there was out there I’d still be using it because it’s solid and it works.

But…

After a few years I started to feel like Shootproof’s gallery features were standing still, while I was hearing very cool things about new features with other gallery services. And around the same time Shootproof launched their own CRM-lite tools the company actually bought Táve (the dedicated CRM service I use), leading many Shootproof users to suspect galleries weren’t the primary focus any more. Then over the course of 2019 neither Shootproof nor Táve saw any significant development so eventually I was ready to try something new.

EPILOGUE: Shootproof never did anything with Táve and in the end they sold it back to one of the Táve founders, who started work on much needed new features; I’m still with Táve and love it. In the four years since I left Shootproof it’s still a perfectly solid gallery service, but it still feels stagnant to me with only a couple of new features: a new way to view products in the shop, and a portfolio website builder. Both nice to have (although surely most of us have websites already?) but not enough to lure me back. 

 

Life after Shootproof

Pixellu Galleries

Let’s take a quick look at Pixellu Galleries first, which launched in 2020. Pixellu are known for SmartAlbums (which I use) and SmartSlides (which I used to use for wedding slideshows until I switched to DaVinci Resolve recently) so when they launched a gallery service I expected it to be a solid, well-designed option, but I was surprised to see they didn’t have any kind of print shop service.

At first I figured they were keeping things simple for the launch and would definitely add it later, but even now in January 2024 it seems there still isn’t even a self-fulfilment ordering system. That’s an absolute deal-breaker for me, and I’d imagine most other event, wedding, and family photographers who surely want their work to be enjoyed in print.

I guess it’s not that easy to replicate what their competition have built, but until there’s a print shop I can’t personally recommend Pixellu Galleries over Shootproof, Pic-Time, or Pixieset.

Pixieset

I’d tried a demo of Pixieset a few times as they had great looking galleries but at the time I was put off by a few things: firstly, their name just felt a bit silly to me which I know is no reason to select a service most of my clients won’t see the name of, but it mattered to me at the time; secondly, while they offered a print shop they weren’t partnered with any UK labs at the time so you had to self-fulfil everything – I think they’ve since partnered with Loxley, putting them back in the running for UK photographers who aren’t already signed up with another service; finally, they didn’t have the same level of email automation as Shootproof – and they currently don’t have anything close to the level of utility Pic-Time offers.

So I passed on Pixieset at the time I was moving from Shootproof, and I don’t think they could tempt me away from Pic-Time now. However, I know a LOT of photographers who use them these days, so they’re well worth a look if simplicity’s your thing and you like their gallery layouts.

Pic-Time

Which brings us to Pic-Time, who I’d first heard of from wedding photographer Sam Hurd. When I first checked them out in 2018 they’d been going a couple of years and I could tell they had some really exciting ideas for the next generation of photographer galleries. I was especially interested in their email marketing tools, and their gallery shop which looked amazing and offered a lot more interesting auto-fulfilment products than Shootproof.

But it didn’t feel quite ready for me to dive in, things felt just a little fragile – like they knew what they wanted but were still working out how to get it just right. I found similar feedback in a few pro photographer groups, and at the time Sam Hurd himself was hopping between Shootproof and Pic-Time as Shootproof was more reliable, albeit less flexible and exciting. so I put a pin in Pic-Time and stuck with Shootproof for another year.

In late 2019 I heard they’d rebuilt the admin side of things and launched a new, better way of marketing galleries. So I took up their Black Friday trial offer and by the time that ended a few weeks later I’d decided to switch all my open galleries from Shootproof to Pic-Time. Still there in January 2024!

 

Pic-Time: my favourite gallery service for photographers

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The Pic-Time home page, before you log in to the admin zone.

Whether you’re setting up from scratch or just looking for something new then Pic-Time is my number one gallery recommendation for professional photographers – with one caveat: you need some patience to sit down, learn how things work there, and then set them up the way you want them. Honestly, most people would be fine with Shootproof or Pixieset too, but in terms of features and innovation Pic-Time is light years ahead of them and at this point I don’t think I could I couldn’t give up all the handy tools it offers.

Pic-Time referral discount code

Before I get into why I love Pic-Time galleries I should disclose that if you sign up for a paid plan with this link we’ll both get a month for free: https://owenbphoto.pic-time.com/referral

Alternatively you can use this code: WGVHAR

I don’t have codes for the other services because I don’t have full accounts with them. But the only reason I recommend Pic-Time is because I’ve used it for years and I think it’s great. If you want to check it out without using a discount code just use this link: https://www.pic-time.com/

What does Pic-Time do that other galleries don’t?

As well as the flexible gallery hosting, management, and marketing tools the Pic-Time team is constantly working on new features that add significant value by building on their core gallery service, rather than diversifying into other services like Shootproof did before changing tack:

  • in 2021 Pic-Time added slideshows as a free add-on. It lets you to build a good slideshow inside the admin zone using photos you’ve already uploaded to a gallery, and offer it as a free or premium download inside the gallery. This feature rivals dedicated services from the likes of Pixellu, with support for portrait images, text over images, custom beat-matching, and a huge selection of music with a granular filtering system to narrow down your choices – and it’s offered for free with any Pic-Time subscription.
  • in 2023 they launched a blog building service, again right inside the gallery admin zone at no extra cost to pro subscribers. You create a blog layout using the photos you’ve already uploaded, write some SEO snippets or captions, and upload the layout to your own blog just like other competing services like Narrative
  • and their Art gallery service is distinct from their ‘event/wedding/family’ focussed galleries, built to meet the specific needs of fine art photographers.

These are all attractive extras that I don’t see any other gallery service offering so seamlessly. Then there’s other little quality-of-life features such as watermark protection that makes your uploaded watermark much harder for naughty portrait clients to remove using AI tools. Or the ability within galleries to hide images, which your clients can use to keep certain images secret before sharing the gallery with their friends. Or the new AI-powered image filter built into the gallery that makes it even easier to find, say, all the wedding photos with the flowers, or all the shots of the cake, without scraping through the gallery yourself.

Speaking of weddings, another feature I love is the image selection workflow, complete with a selection limit. I use this with wedding couples so they can easily select all the photos they want in their album into a dedicated list, separate from their ‘favourites’ list – without selecting more photos than will fit into their album. Or if you have portrait clients who’ve paid for, say, 10 edited JPGs you could send them a selection workflow with a 10-image limit. Just another little tool to help make you and your clients lives easier.

But for me Pic-Time’s killer feature is the wealth of gallery management and marketing tools, found under Sales & Automation in the admin zone. Pic-Time calls these tools ‘apps’ and each one offers a different automation or pre-built campaign. You simply apply one (or more) to a gallery, tweak a few options, and activate.

There’s pre-made apps and workflows for different genres of photography, such as events, weddings, or family portraiture, and for all kinds of promos such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Black Friday, and Christmas. Or you can take a basic app and customise it with your own discounts, in-gallery communications, or email content, then save it for future use. They even have a ton of slick pre-made graphics you can use to build email headers or in-gallery banners promoting your offers – or you could upload your own.

Here’s a few examples of how I use the apps available:

The Rolling Publish app

This is my go-to Pic-Time app for weddings, offering an automated slow-reveal experience followed by an easy-to-use discount offer. Managing the reveal in stages helps to avoid overwhelming the couple with 500-800 photos just dumped on them all once to wade through, helps build excitement for the full gallery reveal, and helps them to curate the photos their own guests see.

Here’s how it works:

  • I upload all the edited photos, create a preview slideshow, assign the couple a ‘client account’, and activate the app. This hides everything but the slideshow and sends the couple an email inviting them to check it out. They’re able to share the link with guests, who’ll also see just the slideshow at first.
  • Then a couple of days later the Rolling Publish app automatically reveals the full gallery of photos for just the couple, and emails them again to invite them to view the full gallery. They’ll be the only ones who can see everything for the next two days, so they can enjoy them privately and even hide any they want to keep secret.
  • A couple of days after that the gallery unlocks everything for all visitors, and sends everyone who’s already logged in to the preview an email to let them know.
  • It also applies a gallery shop discount offer, clearly displayed by showing the full price which is crossed out and replaced by the discounted price in red – no discount code required
  • And every aspect of this is customisable: what’s included in the preview, the time delays, the discount value and duration – you can even turn the discount off if you want.

The Early Bird discount app

I use this for private events, where there’s typically fewer photos than a wedding so you don’t need to ‘manage’ the reveal as much. Here’s how it works:

  • I upload everything to their gallery, assign this app, and send the link to the client – no staggered release, I just send them everything at once.
  • Then whenever someone new logs in, be it the client or someone they’ve shared the link with, the gallery emails them a discount code that will last for two weeks from the day each person logged in.
  • So if a gallery was uploaded a month ago and someone logs in for the first time today the discount code will work for two weeks from today; whereas for someone who logged in a month ago on day one their discount has already expired.

General automation apps

Pic-Time has a bunch of pre-made automations and campaigns available, which can be customised and applied to any gallery. And you can have more than one app assigned per gallery. Here’s the ones I use most often:

  • cart reminder – perfect if a visitor adds something to their cart but doesn’t check out. This app emails them a couple of days later, say, offering a discount if they checkout in the next 24 hours – all these details are customisable.
  • post-order promo – offers anyone who places an order a special discount off their next order
  • gallery expiry – manages the gallery expiry date and emails all visitors in advance to warn them the gallery is closing soon. You can save multiple versions of the app to work with different genres of gallery, and have different versions of the email go to the clients and their guests
  • cloud backup – works off the gallery expiry date to offer the clients (and just the clients) the opportunity to buy an extra year of gallery hosting. No effort on your part required – if they take up the offer the expiry date is automatically extended.

Pic-Time’s wide range of auto-fulfilment products

Pic-Time offers over two dozen auto-fulfillment products, as well as custom self-fulfilled products if you want. And they’ve partnered with labs all over the world to ensure as many of these products as possible are available wherever you are. Just check out this list of labs they work with:

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All the print labs Pic-Time is currently partnered with around the world

They offer prints, metal wall art, and canvases like Shootproof does, plus deckled prints, floating prints, circular prints, mounted frames, wooden and glass boxes of prints, greetings cards, calendars, magazines and albums (including basic templates so clients can design their own), even Christmas ornaments.

You don’t have to offer all this – too much choice can be a bad thing. So you can have different price lists with different products, tailored to different types of shoot. Or you can just turn off the print shop completely.

As with Shootproof and Pixieset when an order comes in you simply approve it and it’s sent to the lab, but you don’t even have to do that: you can set it up so orders are sent instantly to the lab, or sent automatically after a day or two so you can check the order if you want but it won’t get stuck in limbo if you forget.

Alternatively you can adjust the order first, such as change a crop that’s a bit too tight, or upload a new version of an image tailored for printing.

Pic-Time’s excellent customer support

Another reason I’m still with Pic-Time is their customer support is always there to help whenever you need it; you can email them directly or if you don’t mind waiting there’s a chat system accessible by photographers in the admin zone and by our clients in the gallery itself (although you can turn it off in the gallery if you want).

The support team are all part of the Pic-Time community – many of them are photographers themselves – and very rarely have they not been able to explain and/or solve whatever problem I’m having. On those occasions where they’re stumped, or they agree there’s a bug, it gets passed on to the Tech team for further attention.

The truth is I really love Pic-Time, but in diving deep into how it all works (as is my way) I’ve encountered some bugs, hiccups, and (imho) unintuitive design choices. It has to be said, none of these were ever deal-breaking problems and I was usually being picky over minor bugs or usability stuff that at worst ‘could be better’.

For example: I would have seemingly random issues with setting the expiry time on galleries. I set them all to expire at 11:59pm on whatever date. I found the gallery system would sometimes change that time, bringing it one hour forward to 10:59pm; I suspect it’s related to daylight savings in some way. This led to a couple of tardy clients deciding to order prints in the very last hour their gallery was open, only to find it had already closed at 10:59pm. Nowhere near the end of the world and easily remedied but still caused a client to need to contact me.

Another, more esoteric example: there’s a discount app called ‘Early Bird’ which offers the same discount to every gallery visitor the first time they log in, whether it’s the first or last day of the gallery. I thought that was misleadingly named given there’s another app that also refers to an ‘early bird’ discount which is only valid for the first X days of a gallery being open – so a true ‘early bird’ discount compared to the former. I know, I know, that’s being really picky…

So what professional photography gallery service is right for you?

I don’t think you can go wrong with Pic-Time, Pixieset, or Shootproof – and my personal favourite is Pic-Time. I know dozens of photographers who are perfectly happy with whichever of these three they use.

Pixellu Galleries might be worth a look if you don’t care about selling gallery prints, but unless they add this feature I wouldn’t recommend tying yourself in just in case you change your mind about prints later; the other services do offer to help you migrate your old galleries into their system but it’s a faff you probably want to avoid.

I think for the most flexible solution that offers plenty of room to grow into, and hands down the best way to communicate with, and sell to your gallery visitors, Pic-Time should be your first stop.

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