The Best Photo Hosting Sites on the Internet :: Digital Photo Secrets

The Best Photo Hosting Sites on the Internet

by David Peterson 17 comments

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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  1. Tonia Lee says:

    Besides Flickr I also use Panoramio to store and share my photos. You can tag your photo on google map and be selected to be place on google earth. Flickr now gives us a terabyte each for free so there's more than enough space for casual users like me.

  2. Evanne says:

    A friend of mine uses SmugMug but, as a South African, I find that it is too expensive for me (the exchange rate is not in our favour for overseas sites). Flickr looks much better. We found Picasa tends to rearrange your images.
    Fastone worked well for us a long time, but I now use ACDSee - mainly because my guru in USA uses it and it helps to be on the same "hymn" sheet.

    I did see, sometime ago, someone asking if the Canon Powershot SX 40 was good for wild game shots. I have just done a series of trips to South African Game Reserves and it was an amazing camera, getting stunning pictures of leopards and birds. It did have it's limitations for birds in flight and night shots.

  3. Gunther Kanz says:

    Hi David,
    thanks very much for all these tips and recommendations, I learn all the time.
    I use Faststone a lot, completely free and easy to work with.
    Cheers, Gunther.

  4. JD says:

    just a question. Are these sites right click protected? Or do you have to watermark your photos?

  5. JD says:

    Another great one to use is it out

  6. Lynford says:

    You might also check out Zenfolio. Pro options like SmugMug. It presents images beautifully. I'm not affiliated with them. Just a happy customer.

  7. Les Cornwell says:

    I must say, the way I use a hosting site might be different from what is described here. I participate in a specific Belgian photography site that does not host photos itself, so one needs to upload to another site and link from there. The size required on our Photography Forum is 900px longest side; exif-values are not compulsory, but are recommended, especially if you are asking for specific advice.
    Never liked Flickr because of all its clutter; furthermore, 900px is not an option, and one loses the exif-values with a free account.
    After having bad experiences with both Tinypic and Photobucket (free accounts, and after some time your photos are compressed and thus lose their original quality!), I switched to Dropbox about one year ago. Great site, no ads, synchronisation between a folder on my Mac and a folder on the web. Still free, and since I have recommended Dropbox to a number of friends, I have earned extra free space.

  8. Flyright says:

    Thanks for the info. sounds really well researched.

  9. T~ says:

    Well, aside from Fine Art America (which I use to showcase, print and sell my best art prints in various custom sizes and styles); I've recently begun using Wix for my portfolio-styled website.

    It's got a great assortment of templates to choose from, is easy to upload and customize/build and makes adding your own HTML coding (if desired), a veritable snap.

    So far, so good!

    I've also used SmugMug and continue to have work displayed on Flickr as well.

  10. Kathie says:

    I am looking for a beginner's photography site I registered on a few months ago. This site sent me some pictures that I was to work on. They offered step by step instruction on what tools to use to delete, crop, resize, and enhance etc. these pictures. DEFINITELY WHAT I NEED (lol) I had trouble downloading and lost everything including the site.
    Pictures included a yacht, undersea shots, and a picture of (I presume) the gentleman offering the pictures....his name is David.

    Any help on this problem would be greatly appreciated.


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