It’s difficult to believe but it has only been eight years since the launch of Flickr, in that short time, online image hosting has become a massive industry with many sites both free and commercial vying for the photographer’s custom.
So why would you choose to host images online? Well there can be many reasons to do so – firstly, simply to share your latest creations with friends and family or with your peers for critique. You may wish to sell some of your images as prints, again to friends and family or to the wider world. For some it may just be a simple requirement to back up images offsite. Some of you may need a full commercial product to sell prints, digital licenses and a full range of products. Whatever you require, there will be a site for you. In this article we will take a look at range of the more popular sites available.
Free Image Hosting – The following are some of the most common free image hosting services. Most of these sites also offer extra features on a subscription basis
Flickr – Flickr is the grand daddy of image hosting sites and these days can boast a membership of more than 50 million people and some six billion images. Images can be hosted on a free account or a Pro account which allows you unlimited space, no advertisements and the ability to upload HD video. Flickr employs a system that allows you to license your images using the various creative commons licenses or maintain full control with the all rights reserved license. Since 2009 Flickr has been closely integrated with Getty Images which can allow the user to mark his or her images for use as stock.
Google Picasa – Picasa is different to Flickr in that it is based on software downloaded to your computer. From the software, you can organize, manipulate and then upload to the Picasa web albums, which give you 1GB of free space. Picasa has been tightly integrated into Google+, the social networking site and any images you upload to Google+ are automatically stored in a Picasa web album.
Photobucket – Actually one year older than Flickr, Photobucket is another very popular free online service. It offers 500MBs of free hosting but restricts bandwidth to 10GB. The image size is restricted for free users to around 2000×1500 pixels. Photobucket has recently introduced online photo editing and effects tools.
Shutterfly – The unique selling point for Shutterfly is free unlimited storage space and full resolution images. They also promise to never delete an image without your permission. The site offers the usual integration with social networking sites for sharing as well as the ability to create prints, photo books and other gifts.
Paid Hosting – The following sites are more aimed at enthusiast and professional photographers who require features such as having your own domain name, professional looking galleries and online sales.
Smugmug – This is a very versatile site allowing unlimited hosting for a monthly fee. The site features professionally designed themes for all users and for a higher monthly fee you can customize your site, and include your own domain. The highest priced account offers a fully integrated e-commerce service and advanced marketing tools. One of the features the Smugmug highlights is the ability to protect your images online, they also offer a free trial.
PhotoMerchant – Specifically for photographers who want to sell online, this service has various pricing options (the higher the set fee, the less percentage of sales commission they take). It has integrated order fulfilment, a shopping cart, is SEO friendly and offers quite a lot of other options for marketing your photography. It's also constantly improving in the features department.
Zenfolio – Very similar in specifications to Smugmug, Zenfolio offers tight integration with commercial online photo labs in a number of countries worldwide. Zenfolio have produced plugins that allow direct upload from image management software such as Aperture, Lightroom and Photo Mechanic as well as a migration facility that allows you to move your images easily from other hosting sites.
500px – This is a paid site with a different focus from the two above. The basic premise is to inspire and be inspired by a community of professionals and enthusiasts worldwide.You can comment and vote on images and the highest rated get seen as the most popular. 500px has great merit for marketing you photography.
Photoshelter – Another site similar in vein to Zenfolio and Smugmug, Photoshelter offers a similar range of features and pricing plans. Photoshelter is said to have the most advanced search engine optimization of any professional site with control over a large range of SEO tools. A free 14 day trial is available.
This is just a brief look at the most popular sites. The are of course many many more but the ones listed above are the most international, offering features to users worldwide. As always, its worth doing your research, taking up the trail offers and choosing what is best suited to your style of photography.