Regardless of your camera, when you start taking a lot of photographs, suddenly the issue of where to store them comes into focus (sorry). Your smartphone probably has gigabytes of storage but it’s still limited. And you risk losing everything if the device goes missing or has a technical problem.
Eventually, you’ll need a cloud. Somewhere out there on the internet where you can upload and store all your images. An easy-to-use service that also helps with organization and allows you to share your photos with friends, family, maybe your students, and the world.
In this post, I want to offer some advice and options for making all that happen. This is not a comprehensive list but instead is divided into groups serve different use cases. If you know of something I missed, spot an error, or have any other comments about this information, please leave me a message here.
What to look for in a photo sharing service
There are many factors to consider before selecting one service over another, depending on how many pictures you want to store, what you want to do with them, and how serious you are about quality. Here are the major factors that I think you need to consider.
- Storage space – most services put a limit on how much you can upload. That limit is usually expressed in terms of numbers of images or number of gigabytes used. But don’t just look at how much you have now; consider your needs in the future.
- Quality of images – read the fine print carefully to see if the service allows for full quality images or if they will compress the pictures. Compression probably won’t matter if you just want to share them online but it could be an issue if you decide to print your images.
- Ease of use – you want the process of uploading, organizing, and sharing to be simple, especially if you have other people (like a family or class of students) participating.
- Mobile support – part of that ease of use, of course, includes working well with your smartphone or tablet as well as a “regular” computer. Whether they have a dedicated app or a mobile-friendly website, the service should make it easy to both upload, manage, and maybe edit your photos on the device itself.
- Printing – of course, this is only important if you want to regularly create things like hard-copy posters and books of your images. Pictures from any site can be printed but you’ll want to see how easy it is to do more complex work with the service you choose, as well as the cost.
Free and Basic
In this category, I would put Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Pinterest, and Imgur. All are primarily social media sites that are probably the most popular places to post photographs.
However, they are not the best when it comes to organizational tools and especially with finding those images again once they are far down the timeline. Also all, especially Facebook, have privacy issues that you need to consider.
There’s also Google Photos. Photos is part of your regular Google account (not to be confused with the Photos folder in GSuite) and offers free unlimited storage of your photos. Images are stored in chronological order and it’s easy to share individual images or albums.
Google is different from the other free and basic social media sites in that your photos are not automatically displayed to anyone until you specifically choose to share them. However, read the terms of service carefully since Google does use all photos uploaded to help improve their artificial intelligence research and development, among other uses.
The downside is that photos are limited to 16 megapixels each. Although that is above the size of pictures created by most smartphones, you could have quality issues if you’re using an interchangeable lens camera (ILC). Paid upgrades are available if you need them. Plus Google has it’s own issues with privacy, although not to the degree of the others.
You can find a short tutorial for using Google Photos here.
Storage tied to your operating system
When you buy a Mac, iPhone, or iPad, Apple will give you 5gb of storage space called iCloud. If you’re using Windows, Microsoft provides the same amount in your OneDrive. Some Android smartphone vendors offer similar storage and Google’s Pixel phones are linked to your Google Photos account.
However, 5gb really isn’t much space. You’ll fill it fast, especially if you have automatic backup turned on. So both companies will sell you more storage, starting at $1 a month for iCloud and $2 a month for OneDrive.
Amazon Prime Photos is not tied to an operating system but is part of their overall Prime membership, which is currently $120 per year. It allows unlimited storage of “full-resolution” images with a 5gb limit on video.
Dropbox or Box are also not tied to an operating system but many people already have accounts with one or both of these services and they do offer basic support for photo storage. Both have a free level with a relatively small amount of storage (2g for Dropbox, 10gb for Box), which is not enough to consider them without a paid account.
Before paying for any of these services, try the free level and check out the features to see if they fit with your organizational and sharing needs.
Services for more “serious” photographers
If you want more flexibility in your photo storage, there are several very good options. But expect to pay something for more features and space. Considering what you get, however, they are not especially expensive.
Flickr is the granddaddy of photo sharing sites but is a little more restrictive under new ownership. Beginning early in 2019, free accounts (with ads) are limited to 1000 images and videos, a big drop from the previous 1 terrabyte of storage. Pro accounts with unlimited storage and no ads are $50 per year.
Photobucket is not as well known as Flickr but has been around almost as long. They also offer a free, ad-supported level, with 2gb of storage, and paid levels starting at $50 per year for 25gb.
Irista, although owned by Canon, is not restricted to users of their cameras. Their free level includes 15gb of storage space and paid plans start at $2.25 a month for 100gb of storage.
All allow you to keep selected images private, to create albums and other groups of photos, as well as providing the code necessary to embed your photo into another web page.
SmugMug, in addition to being an image storing service, also provides templates and tools to build a website around your photos. They don’t have a free options but do offer a 14-day free trial. Paid plans start at $40 per year with unlimited storage.
Adobe Creative Cloud is the subscription plans for their image and video editing products. If you’re paying for this service, the monthly payment includes storage for your media, 100gb if you have the full package and 20gb on the smaller photo tools package.