So Where Should You Host Your Photographs Online?


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.

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A Flickr set

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.

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A typical Zenfolio site

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.

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The 500px home page

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.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Thanks for posting, I’m looking for a new host. I have used Picasa for years. I loved the integration of the software and the online albums. However, now my friends and family are required to have a Google+ account to view my albums. Not cool. I am very upset by this change, so leaving Picasa. Currently impressed with Photobucket. Other favorites out there?

I just was at a friends house last weekend and looked at the email she got from me. The email said, a Google+ Account was required to view the album. Any chance I did something wrong? These are “private” albums that I send the link for like I always have, not public albums.

The way it works for me is that I have a circle with about a dozen family members, some of whom have Google+ accounts and some of whom don’t. The one’s who don’t just have an email address. When I share a post or album to that circle, the ones with a G+ account see it in their stream, while the ones who don’t just get an email with a link to the post or album.

I did notice on the G+ support page that albums shared with a link have to be unlocked before the link will work, maybe that’s the issue.

Hope you get it sorted.

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Great article! Thanks!
It would be interesting to discuss the mix of audiences one finds on these sites. To me, Picasa seems to be more of a general home-user and sharing plattform (if still accessible without a Google+ account), then follows Flickr, which seems to be quite broad with a focus on photo enthusiasts, while 500px is more of a photographer enthusiast niche plattform only.

The others, Zenfolio, Smugmug and Photoshelter are more at home with users interested in selling prints, Smugmug maybe also with those needing video features and Photoshelter seems to have it’s home more in the corner of photographers selling prints and licensing photos.

Do others see that similar?

Nice little summary of some of the more popular options available.

I have been with PhotoShelter for about a year now and have been very happy. One thing unique to PS (at least at the time I was researching) is that they have built in fotoQuote so that you can automatically sell Rights Managed Licenses for your images directly from your site and the full-rez image will automatically be emailed to your client once payment is received.

I use Shootproof for hosting photos…if you are a photographer and want a shopping cart as well with your client galleries it’s a good options because they take no commissions. There is even a free plan with all features, they just limit the photo count on that one.

This overview is a bit lacking… I use SmugMug to backup family photos and videos. It is my #1 backup should the worst happen to my house & PC (which stores the photos too). I have pro facilities, but as a non-pro there is little likelihood of me selling any pictures.

There is the storage of photos and/or videos, the quality of both, the likelihood of the company maintaining the current contract conditions (pricing etc.), security of various folders etc. etc. etc.

I also use Flickr, but that is ONLY for getting constructive feedback on photos; it’s not really setup as a good photo management platform, and its video facilities suck (I think the max length was about a minute and a half last time I checked). It is great for the social constructive feedback though. I am a subscriber.

Photo hosting isn’t so much about the features that non-pros care about, but think more about the user stories as to why people would want to use them.

There are absolutely common reasons for using and expectations of photo hosting sites, but there is definitely no silver bullet.

I host my website ( with PhotoMerchant mentioned in this article. Easy to set up. They use NuLab for printing – very good. Alternatively, you can also organise the prints yourself. Highly Recommended.

I use phanfare and find it pretty good. All backed up, can be password protected or not. Can also add video.

These sites have great features but are all too busy. I use – It’s free and simple. No limit to number of Photos or Folders. Their PhotoSync application takes care of uploading pictures and folders and it keeps your online Photos in Sync with your Photo collection on your computer. Add new folders, pictures, resize some, delete some, rotate others and the photosync sorts out what needs to be uploaded. The PhotoSync app works on PC and MAC. Add a list of friends e-mail addresses to your account and when you Sync up your photo collection – they will get an e-mail with list of your new Photo Folders.

I have been using DeviantArt for a few weeks & in that time it has gone downhill rapidly for me. There are so many poor quality photos, selfies, scribbled drawings and other non-photographic work posted that makes finding photos I’m interested in difficult. This happened as soon as the latest downgrade (was supposed to be an upgrade) happened & the Da bods take little or no notice of the bad comments which out number the good one 10:1.

I started using 500px & think it is good & easy to use but it seems that, like other sites, comments such as awesome, great shot, wow etc. abound along with the freely given likes & favs. from some users.

I’ve looked at others but they all seem to have one thing in common, they are based in the USA and postage from there to the UK adds silly money to the cost of printed items.

As a UK based person interested in selling both hard copy & downloadable images with usage rights a UK based site with UK based printing facilities is what I need. You don’t mention if any of these alternatives are UK based.

I’ve used VistaPrints but they don’t host.

I’m willing to pay for the right site.

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