Pretty much everything in your life has a digital replacement these days. Photo albums are no exception.
There are plenty of decent and free online image hosts, but these are your photos we’re talking about. You don’t want to hand them off to a complete stranger. Let’s be a little circumspect and get to know some of these photo-hosting services better before we trust them with our images.
For Large Collections: Flickr
Yahoo’s Flickr has long been a popular name in photo storage and sharing. It’s doing well despite the Creative Commons controversy and tough competition from players like Google.
Flickr stores images at full resolution and keeps editing/sharing/commenting simple. It might be a long time before you run out of the free terabyte (that’s 1,024 gigabytes!) of storage that Flickr offers.
Recently, Flickr upped its game by redesigning its Web and mobile apps. The changes that will make your life easier? Here they are:
- A desktop tool (called Uploadr) that auto-imports your photos to Flickr. You don’t have to remember to upload every new batch of photos.
- Smarter search results and image groups backed by image recognition technology. You can search for pictures of, say, beaches and find them even if they aren’t named or tagged so.
- A chronological, tree-like view of all your snaps, both private and public. You can isolate shots from any particular month or year with ease.
— correctdesign (@correctdesign) May 27, 2015
Flickr’s public image has taken a slight beating over the years, but it continues to be a good place to host your photos, show off your photography skills, and interact with photo lovers. There are other unique uses for Flickr, too.
Best Alternative to Flickr: Google Photos
Picking up from where Picasa left off, Google Photos is one of Flickr’s biggest competitors. It’s no longer linked to Google+, making it a standalone photo-hosting Google product on its own.
The impressive new features include automatic album creation and smart searching. Older features like facial recognition and automatic image correction are still around.
Google Photos gives you UNLIMITED storage space. What’s the catch, you ask? The resolution of your image uploads must be within 16 MP. If it isn’t, Google will compress your images to make it so. The good news is that many of us non-professionals can easily work within those limits.
If you want to keep the original resolution of images, you can specify that via Google Photos Settings. However, doing so means that your photos now rely on Google Drive storage space, and if you cross 15 GB then you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan, which starts at $1.99 for 100 GB.
Your photos don’t need to sit in forgotten folders and stagnate. Use Google Photos’ creative set of tools to turn them into interesting GIFs, collages, and animations.
We’re agreed that Google Photos makes a worthy contender in the photo management stakes. But can you trust Google with your photos? That remains debatable:
— Michelle Coffey (@m_cof) June 3, 2015
For Photo Products: Shutterfly
Do you often end up turning your pics into tangible items like photo books, calendars, and holiday cards? Then it’ll help if you go with a photo storage service that simplifies this process.
Shutterfly is one such online service that makes printing digital photos easy. You do have to pay for ordering products made from your images, but storing and sharing the images themselves is free. There’s no limit on the number or the size of the images.
The service allows you to import images from sites like Facebook and Instagram. All your photo albums are private by default, but sharing them is easy. You can also create microsites to collaborate with people on specific sets of photos. Do keep an eye out for Shutterfly’s promo offers to bag sweet deals on their products.
The downside to Shutterfly is that it does not come with an auto-upload feature. Even so, it’s a great option to keep track of a large photo collection without the help of Google or Yahoo. Shutterfly has apps for iOS and Android.
— Sarah Odom (@smodom2106) June 2, 2015
Best Alternative to Shutterfly: Photobucket
Photobucket takes care of preserving and sharing your images in digital as well as physical form. A free account gives you 2 GB of storage, which is not much. You can stretch that limit to 10 GB by installing one of the Photobucket mobile apps. Paid plans begin from $2.99 a month. This adds 20 GB to the existing storage.
The service keeps photo uploading and sharing simple, and provides password-protection for albums. It has built-in editing capabilities as well. You can order gift items featuring your photos or those from Photobucket’s public gallery.
Photobucket is quite flexible, but seems best suited for family albums and such. If you’re a professional photographer, you might want to go with one of the other options.
For Social Sharing: Instagram
Instagram has been all the rage for quite some time now. Its focus is not so much on photo storage as it is on photo sharing. That makes it somewhat of a misfit on this list, and you’ll need to back up your Instagram pics elsewhere.
The square, Polaroid-like look of Instagram shots is a big part of their charm. The app offers various interesting filters to transform your images. For example, you can make your images look “retro” or turn them monochromatic. There’s much more you can do with Instagram tools.
Instagram has standard social-networking features like user profiles, user follows, hashtags, and service integrations. You’ll have no trouble understanding how it works. Here are some of our top tips for Instagram newbies.
You can make your Instagram account private via profile settings. Once you have done that, your photos will be viewable only to approved followers. That won’t stop someone from coming up with a tool or a hack to bypass the Private account barrier, so do watch what you share.
Like most other popular online services, Instagram has been caught up in controversy on a few occasions. That doesn’t seem to have dimmed its appeal or harmed it massive user base.
Instagram is mobile only, but there are a few unofficial Instagram apps for the Web. We recommend using Instagram if your online photo collection will consist of a few handpicked gems.
Want to save high-res versions of your Instagram pics to your Camera Roll? Enable Save original photos in your account settings.
Best Alternative to Instagram: Facebook
Facebook needs no introduction. It’s a sturdy service to store and share your photo albums, but it doesn’t inspire trust. If you use it as a photo host, double-check your Facebook privacy settings and be cautious while tagging people.
Facebook is not against privacy. They love privacy. It would be terrible if other companies mined their data about you.
— SwiftOnSecurity (@SwiftOnSecurity) June 1, 2015
Facebook places no limits on uploads and storage. It has a decent tool set for uploading, editing, and sharing your photos. While you can upload high-res images, they get compressed for viewing. There are various ways to auto-upload your photos to Facebook and get more creative with them.
Worth a Mention
Cloud storage service Dropbox pulls double duty as a photo manager. Its mobile photo-sharing app, Carousel, takes care of backing up pics from your phone to your Dropbox. Also, any pics you upload to Dropbox show up in the app.
Carousel allows you to create albums and share them. That’s about it. You’ll have to turn to a different program for editing photos. The sync feature can seem a tad sluggish and confusing at first. Try uploading a few random shots to understand how it works.
You can stretch Dropbox’s free 2 GB space to 16 GB through referrals. Even setting up Carousel on your phone earns you 3 GB. If your photo collection is large and fights for space with your other Dropbox files, opt for an upgrade. Pro plans begin at €9.99/month and come with 1 TB of storage.
Imgur is an image-hosting service best known for its public gallery that features viral content from across the Web. Use it to organize your photo collection, embed images, and create memes. You can even turn YouTube videos into animated GIFs with Imgur.
There’s no limit on storage space or bandwidth, but there’s a cap of 5 MB on the individual image size. Also, you’ll see one ad per page, which seems like a fair exchange in return for unlimited hosting.
500px is a top online photography community that can bring your captures the attention they deserve. It’s not a place for putting up personal photos. It’s a place to show off your camera savvy.
Be sure to upload some of your best work. If you’re looking for feedback, 500px is the platform to get it. You might even land a gig or two.
The Forever free plan allows you to upload 20 images a week. This is not too shabby since the focus is on quality and not quantity anyway. Paid plans, which allow unlimited uploads, start from $2.08 a month. All plans allow you to license your photos.
Have You Picked Your Favorite Yet?
Each of the services listed above has custom policies for photo rights and usage. Read and understand the fine print before you start uploading your photos.
Storing your photos on a self-hosted server is a better idea from a security and privacy standpoint. If that’s the approach you want to take, build your own cloud storage. For those of you who’re okay relying on an external host, you now know what some of your options are.
Despite the number of free, quality image hosts available, it’s not easy for the average user to make a satisfying choice. The following headline from The Verge sums up this dilemma perfectly.
Stop looking for the “best online photo storage service”. There isn’t one. Your best bet it to pick 2–3 of suitable photo-hosting options, list their pros and cons, and go with the winner.
A third-party service or self-hosted storage – which solution do you prefer, and why? Do you use a single image-hosting service or a bunch of different ones? Share your choices in the comments.