Just like your photo albums used to be, your DSLR is likely full of images that you can’t wait to share. The question is, where’s the best place to upload and share online? Luckily for you, the options are many. It’s a matter of determining your personal goals and matching them to the best photo hosting site for you.
A few needs you might want to consider that will help in your decision making: First of all, are you only showcasing your images? Or do you intend to sell prints or be able to order prints yourself? Do you want the ability to customize the look and layout of your page and/or to drive your audience to a specific web address (i.e. if you create your own website)?
Even with those and other decisions to make, there are many “givens” that you don’t have to think about because they’re built in. For example, you’ll get a user profile, batch uploading, keyword capabilities, geo-tagging (adding a location to your image), camera phone uploads, communities to collaborate with, and the ability for others to leave comments on your photos.
One more thing to note before I deliver the goods. Some of these sites are free and some you can upgrade and pay for different levels of hosting and sharing.
Flickr is known for its ease of use, its friendly community of photographers, and having all the basic bells and whistles. You can upload your images in batches, one by one, and even via e-mail. You can organize uploaded images to stand on their own or compile them in “sets” and “collections” as you see fit. One of Flickr’s most popular features is that they have plenty of groups to join, which will help you gain more visibility for your images. For example, if you’re an avid sports photographer, you can join the sport photographer groups. Portraits your thing? Do a quick and easy search on “portraits” in groups and narrow your selection down. For some groups, you can join automatically, for others there’s a moderator who will allow you to join…as long as you agree to play nice. The rules for each group are usually pretty well explained when you join and there are stop-gaps to keep you from loading more than the allotted images.
One feature I like in Flickr is the ability to replace a photo. Say you tried a different treatment on an image you already uploaded and you want to replace the old one. Well, with just a few clicks, you can do so.
If you’re a number freak like I am, Flickr also has a neat “Stats” feature that tells you how many people looked at which images in a 24 hour period. They also rank your images by overall views. This will tell you if that sunset picture you captured last summer is a favorite over the picture caught of your neighbor’s baby crawling in the grass. Statistics are fun... we all love them, don’t we? And Flickr has done a great job of giving them to us.
While there’s no “sales” feature, Flickr does allow for simplicity, flexibility, and it’s a great place to do the basics such as store, share and show off your images. For many who are starting out, this is the perfect place to hang your images, so to speak, as well as to find inspiration.
Photobucket is another easy, basic and fairly complete online photo-sharing site. They provide several terrific features, some advanced customization abilities, and a fair amount of flexibility. Instead of groups, like Flickr has, Photobucket users are more up for a little friendly competition. They offer competitions in all sorts of categories from babies to beaches to silhouettes and self-portraits. Just enter your photos and you’ll be on your way to peer recognition! Group albums are another popular feature on Photobucket.
They are well regarded for offering unlimited space, privacy settings, group flexibility, and multiple ways to upload images. What more could you ask for? But, like Flickr, Photobucket is limited in that you can’t order prints or create a custom website for your images. If you’re looking for a great place to show off your work and enter a few competitions, this is a great place to start out. However, if you’re wanting a more professional site, read on.
Picasa Web Albums (PWA) is the brainchild of Google and is a good competitor to Flickr and Photobucket.
They allow you to store and share 1 GB of large photos for free if you have a Google account. With Picasa, it’s also easy to upload pictures through a variety of ways. If privacy is important to you, Picasa has what they call an "unlisted number" that gives you a private URL for selected albums. All you have to have is the link and you can share it via e-mail, letting viewers see your works of art without having to sign up themselves. Neat, huh?
Seeing as they’re related to Google, one downside to Picasa is the ads displayed on the sites of free accounts. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but it’s something to consider if that’s an issue for you.
Naturally, Picasa’s geo-tagging is connected to Google Maps. As an optional download, Picasa also offers a desktop application for managing photos, but most photographers usually opt for Photoshop Elements or Lightroom over it. You can rest assured that Picasa won’t edit, compress or reduce the quality of your uploaded images like most of the other sites will. This could be a deciding factor for some.
Unlike the other sites, Picasa isn’t as integrated with social media sharing. They also don’t provide the more advanced community sharing features like Flickr does. However, Picasa is a good choice to easily store, manage and share your images in the Google community and with friends and family.
SmugMug is one that’s most likely used by the pros. They’re generous by providing unlimited photo uploads and storage and they don’t bore you with ads. Like the other sites, images are easy to upload and share.
One big reason so many pros use SmugMug is because you can customize the layout of your page and even have them host your own personal web address. Their flexibility and offerings outdo the rest in that you’ll be able to sell prints and even have your pictures printed on mugs... you know, the kind you drink coffee from... posters, framed prints and more. The beauty of this feature is that you can set your own prices for these items and perhaps put some cash in your wallet from doing so.
Once images are uploaded, if you decide you don’t like an image the way it is, you can do things like crop, apply different color schemes and more. If you’re worried about copyright issues, or for business and personal branding, there’s a feature to apply your own special watermark (this is an option for the paying customers though).
In terms of keeping select images private, you can password protect an album and share the link as needed. Otherwise, you can leave it open for all visitors to view.
Again, SmugMug’s most unique feature is that you can create a nice homepage to showcase your photos in a way that’s easy to customize. For more a more elaborate site (such as your own URL), you’ll need to be familiar with web design or have someone handy who is to help.
In a nutshell
While these are just a handful of possible photo hosting sites, there are other options. Do you have a favorite? Please share in the comments below.
You may also find yourself using a variety of them for different reasons, especially as you develop your craft, branding and position on the web. The good news is that they all offer a free subscription, which allows you to experiment and discover which one is the right one for you. Happy sharing!
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