Photography / Tips and Solutions

Guide to Online Photo Storage and Sharing

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The world of photo sharing and online photo storage and sharing is ever changing. By the time the ink dries on your screen, much of what you are about to read may be outdated.

There are some inherent advantages to uploading your images to “The Cloud.” Offsite storage of data prevents you from losing your precious photographs in the event of a power surge, fire, or other disaster at your home or studio. With all of your pictures stored online, you may access your images from a remote computer or mobile device with a web browser. Online storage will allow you to free up space on your hard drives or devices for adding more images.

Many of these services are free, or have free storage up until a certain amount of data or, some offer additional features for a fee. Some common features include the following:

  • Image sharing on the storage site
  • Image sharing on social media sites
  • Mobile support
  • Printing services
  • Automatic backup
  • Search functions
  • Organizational functions
  • Image editing services
  • Security features
  • Automatic backup features

These days, many of them have incredibly similar feature sets, so which one you choose might just come down to a completely personal preference. Other considerations to make are:

  • Ease of use
  • Sufficient storage space
  • Cost
  • Maximum resolution allowed
  • File formats allowed (JPEG, RAW, TIFF, DNG, etc)
  • Upload/download speeds
  • Sharing services
  • Website services
  • Security
  • Mobile/remote access
  • Printing
  • Commercial uses if you want to sell your prints
  • Corporate staying power—you don’t want your cloud to file for bankruptcy!

As larger corporate entities are entering the fray in this field, there are seven photo storage/sharing sites that have captured the bulk of the market.

Amazon Cloud Drive / Prime / Amazon Photos

Amazon is fairly new to cloud storage services, but a few years ago they were new to online commerce, too, when they burst onto the scene as a bookseller. Now, the e-commerce giant is in the data-storage business. Amazon’s Cloud Drive connects easily with your existing Amazon.com shopping account and offers unlimited storage plans for photos or plans for photos and other types of files.

Apple iCloud Photo Library

If you are a user of Apple’s iPhoto, storing your images on the Web will be extra easy with the Apple iCloud Photo Library service. The service also creates shared folders that not only let others view your images; it allows them to add images to your collection, as well, while organizing your pictures by moments, collections, or date. You can also integrate with Apple TV to produce slideshows easily on your television for friends and family.

Dropbox

Dropbox has been in the cloud file-sharing business for a while, and is now starting to add photo-specific features like automatic backup of mobile devices and organization capabilities. Although it’s fairly new to the photo storage realm, but established as a top storage and sharing site, Dropbox will likely keep improving the photo part of its services.

Flickr

Synonymous with photo sharing since 2004, Flickr has a powerful organizational system running in its code for online photo storage and sharing. Purchased by Yahoo! several years ago, Flickr has gone through some changes, and not all were popular. Backed by a large community of photographers, Flickr remains a top photo destination and storage service.

500 Pixels / 500px

500 Pixels, or 500px, is a sharing and storage site created in the mold of Flickr and is designed to showcase a photographer’s portfolios, as well as provide a social community for photographers around the world. It also offers printing services. 500px’s elegant interface and high-quality imagery will keep you coming back, even if you don’t use it to store or share images.

Google Photos

No longer a part of Google +, Google Photos is a comprehensive and feature-filled photo storage and editing service that ties in a lot of the capabilities of the Google brain, including a search engine based on—you guessed it—Google. With all that horsepower behind it, photographers have a host of tools to manage and organize your images while they are stored in the cloud.

Microsoft OneDrive

While not photo-specific, one benefit of Microsoft OneDrive is that you can store any type of image file on the servers. OneDrive features the capability to automatically back up your mobile images. Like most storage solutions, your files will be available any place you can get a computer or mobile device connected to the Internet.

The seven sites listed above are some of the biggest players in this ever-changing landscape of storage and sharing options. Here is an alphabetical list of other sites if you wish to explore other options:

  • Adobe Revel
    • Full-featured photo storage and organization

  • DropShots
    • Import/export from other photo and social sites

  • Facebook
    • Popular image-sharing and social interface

  • Fotki
    • Monthly photo contests

  • SmugMug
    • SmugMug Vault extra service

  • snapfish
    • Photo-customizable gifts and photo books

  • Zenfolio
    • Portfolio website and storefront

Camera Company Storage Sites  

Many camera manufacturers offer online photo storage. Brand loyalty to your camera company? You might want to check out their services and features. A few of them are listed here.

As I stated at the top, this is a rapidly changing industry and new products and services are always emerging. Please feel free to share with us your experience with these and other sites, in the Comments section, below.

Discussion 46

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Is there any online photo share app or website that does not sell your personal information and/ or pictures to third parties. I would like my family to see my kids pictures online but I don't want other people to use the pictures. I appreciate the help. Thanks

Hey Adolfo,

I think that the data mining industry casts a pretty wide net, so, no matter where you post, some information is getting shared. Having said that, if you get your own website, you can easily choose a template from a hosting company that allows you to post your photos on your very own website. Then, when you want to share the photos with others, you just send them a link.

I hope this helps!

Hey, sometimes I see a 400 server message when I browse this site. I thought you may wish to know, cheers

Thanks, Niry!

Great post, Todd. I'm the founder of PicBackMan where we are building an important piece of the puzzler - the uploader to upload photos in bulk to online accounts. PicBackMan is a multi-service uploader that delivers the fastest way to upload photos and videos to all top online accounts like Flickr, SmugMug, Google Photos, Dropbox, Box, YouTube, Facebook, OneDrive and more. Most importantly, PicBackMan de-dupes photos automatically and uploads with a full folder structure support for services like SmugMug. 

Would love to hear your feedback. You can take PicBackMan for a spin in minutes. 

Thanks, Vaibhav! I'll check it out!

Are there sites that allow others to view the properties of photos?  Maybe I just don't know how to properly set the security restrictions, but I write descriptions and tags on pictures when I upload them onto my computer, but they aren't accessible when I upload them to share on facebook.  I would like a way to share and store photo albums with family so that they could read the info in the "properties" of the photos if they wanted to find out more about the photo without me having to type the info in for my computer storage and then again as descriptions on facebook or other sharing sites.  Hope that makes sense.

Hi Lu,

Thanks for your question. What you are looking for is called "metadata." Some processing software and sites scrub the metadata from the image file, and some do not. Sometimes it is just a setting that needs to be turned on or off. Unfortunately, I don't have a quick-and-dirty guide to which storage sites preserve metadata. My suggestion is to seek out their FAQ pages and see if it is discussed.

Sorry I cannot be more help. Thanks for reading!

Nice piece. Pretty darn informative. I use PicBackMan as my Primary photo & video uploader. It automatically upload photos and videos from my computer to my multiple cloud accounts, simultaneously. The premium subscription ensures a faster upload with many additional & advanced features like de-duping.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Meenakshi!

I looked to you for advice on which online storage solution might be best for a photographer with an ever-growing number of photos needing to be saved, accessed, backed-up, shared, etc. Although you discussed some of my alternatives, I still have to do all of the work to compare them to see which is best. A search result from Google will give me a list of choices. I needed a much more in-depth analysis. Who better to turn to than a pre-eminent photography authority, to wit, B&H. Unfortunately the article left me with little more than when I started. That said, I have gotten some great information from your site and have watched some great videos sponsored by you. It's just that this time, for me, you fell short of the mark.

Hi John,

I am sorry that this article did not meet your expectations.

Thank you for your comments and critique. I completely understand what you are saying and I actually agree with you in a sense. Having said that, please allow me to explain why this article is not as in depth as you would like it to be.

As I was writing the article, I realized just how fast the tides change in the online storage industry. Between my draft and the final version, several storage sites changed their pricing and storage size limitations. I quickly realized that if we were to create a more in-depth guide that someone here (likely me) would have to stay plugged into this industry daily in order to update and change the article to keep it accurate. As much as I would love to do that, I have other things on my plate. Therefore, we tried to keep it simplified.

We certainly appreciate your feedback and I understand your frustration. Imagine the frustration of trying to write about a moving target! Thank you for your kind words about our other content and thanks so much for reading!

 Thank you for sharing this information about Guide to Online Photo Storage and Sharing.

You are very welcome, Joepet. Thank you for reading!

An important factor is whether they delete your photos after a period of inactivity. I had photos on Adobe Revel, and, since it was only my secondary backup I didn't visit for a period of time and my photos were ALL deleted.

Flickr is great in that you can have automatic backup, but remember they back up every single photo. So if you change a file name or move a photo to another flile they download that too. You end up with so many photos you can't find anything. The organizing and search feature is not seamless. I use Flickr as my secondary auto backup source online and for sharing public photos for online classes I take. I dislike Flickr because if I designate photos as friends/family, all photos designated as such can be seen by all friends/family. You can't set up an album viewable only by a designated person/group. I do like being able to designate a photo as public and still choose not to have it in their public search engine.

I like betterphoto.com because it has deterrents for stealing photos. Members can post pics and make them available for commentary (and it is constructive), enter contests, play tagging games, interact with other members. The downside is it's a paid service but there is no private file sharing. Everyone sees everything on your sharing site.

Shutterfly has an organizing setup almost as good as my PC and unlimited, never deleted storage. Both good things. Share sites are nice but of course if you want pictures you have to order through them and I don't find their prints up to my standard (white balance, exposure, blacks, saturation are all off).

I got frustrated and gave up on setting up on a Zen Folio site. Perhaps if I had been more website savvy I might have liked it and I may try it again in the future.

I use Backblaze as my primary, automatic backup service for my PC. The files are easy to find in their system because the setup mirrors your computer system. Should you need to restore some files or do a total restore they have adequate and simple resources for that too. It gives me peace of mind and at only $5/month my wallet is happy too.

I say try several sites and choose the one that works for you.

Hope this is helpful! 

Hey S. Murray!

Very helpful! Thank you so much for adding to the discussion with some great shares based on your own experiences. Great stuff!

Thanks for reading!

Be careful with Backblaze's back-up. If a file is deleted off of your system for more than a month, Backblaze considers it permanently gone and eliminates it from your stored files. With photos that you may not go back and view all of the time, you may discover that there are some missing long after they actually went missing, (i.e., > 30 days after they went missing). When this happens they will not have them in your back-up. Backblaze is great to recover from an event you immediately know about because it will have what you just had on your system. But, if somehow files have gone missing and you don't know when they went astray, you could be out of luck. I know this too intimately because this just happened to me and I lost hundreds, maybe thousands of photos. Because your photo library is in large part an archive of your photos you probably won't know if something is missing until you need it next. Then OOPS, not there!!!! You start to wonder why you were paying Backblaze all these months. Backblaze's back-up solution is OK for immediate recovery, but it's not OK for long-term storage unless you are looking at their cloud solution which I am investigating now.

Oops. I put my response under the wrong comment. Here is is again:

Be careful with Backblaze's back-up. If a file is deleted off of your system for more than a month, Backblaze considers it permanently gone and eliminates it from your stored files.

With photos that you may not go back and view all of the time, you may discover that there are some missing long after they actually went missing, (i.e., > 30 days after they went missing). When this happens they will not have them in your back-up.

Backblaze is great to recover from an event you immediately know about because it will have what you just had on your system. But, if somehow files have gone missing and you don't know when they went astray, you could be out of luck. I know this too intimately because this just happened to me and I lost hundreds, maybe thousands of photos.

Because your photo library is in large part an archive of your photos you probably won't know if something is missing until you need it next. Then OOPS, not there!!!! You start to wonder why you were paying Backblaze all these months.

Backblaze's back-up solution is OK for immediate recovery, but it's not OK for long-term storage unless you are looking at their cloud solution which I am investigating now.

Good list of providers and considerations, Todd.  But you missed PBase, which was one of the very first photo hosting sites, and it is still around.  (I myself have never used it.)

Thanks for pointing out the omission, Woodsman! And, thanks for reading!

Olympus' ibonthenet is no more.

Beware of what rights you're handing over to the service. For example, Fujifilm X World may use uploaded content "for any purpose", while Canon Irista specifies that its rights are limited to "everything necessary to provide the service".

Hey robert,

Great tips. Very important stuff! Thanks for sharing and thanks for reading!

It all depends on people's need for the storage. Facebook is completely free, others have some sort of payment plan once you go above a certain amount of storage (i.e. 2GB). Some just need "storage" for keeping photos somewhere they can go look at them anytime they want. Others may need professional storage for the multiple backups they need. Facebook is the worst in my opinion... degrades pictures when uploaded and not much organization available other then creating a new album for every single thing. But great for sharing with friends and family. I think it's replaced the traditional family photo albums for the most part.

Thank you for the information, it gives us a lot of options to consider. :)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jeanne! I would definitely steer "serious" photographers away from Facebook because it reduces files sizes and does not allow for RAW image storage. But, you are correct, for sharing it is probably one of the best.

Thanks for reading!

Hi, I'm working on a product that you guys might really like. :) Bundle let's you group and manage your photos in a 
shared photo collection with friends and family across several devices. We're not as famous as the big players out there, but I think you will love the quality of our product compared to some of the apps listed above. I know. Shameless plug but you can't blame a man for trying. :) 

Cheers! 

Hey Pieter-Pleun,

Thanks for sharing your service and thanks for reading!

A list of some free sites would also been helpful

Hey Samuel,

The free storage site landscape changes often, so I didn't want to produce a "definitive" list that would have only been accurate for a few days...or hours!

Thanks for reading!

Todd - Enjoyed getting info from your list of seven. I'm a long-time user of Smugmug, and I think it has been ranked somewhere as the second-best for its wide variety of excellent features. I "lost" an image file yesterday and downloaded it full-res from my Smug site in a few seconds to make back a complete album. I've sold several thousand $ worth of prints there, too without having to do the printing, mailing, etc.

I think the free sites with unlimited photo storage deserve a critical note if you do this again. The big ones are free or cheap because they have no organizing capability regardless of how you upload. There is no hierarchical tree available, and often no search capability including not even showing the image filename.

Retrievals from a large collection of photos look to me like a nightmare of visual searching one at a time. A prospective user should upload at least 100 photos first and see how to retrieve them. If you know how to do that, it's worth telling us all because so far I've found them worthless.

Hey Don,

Thanks for the compliments and comments! Great advice as well!

Yes, many sites have their own drawbacks. The prudent customer should do some more extensive research into the different products and services before diving in. I hope this article gives folks a good base to start from!

Thanks for reading!

I am the manager of a photo site and am considering moving from pbase after many years and am looking into the various options available.  Is there anyway of removing the smugmug name when you use the site?  I send links to clients and don't want to have to advertise them every time I do it.  Also, its a really stupid name.

Hey PJDK,

I honestly don't know if you can remove the name, but I would think there is a way. You might want to direct your question directly to Smugmug. I have never used the service. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for the question!

Apple ICloud is not a true storage photo service. If you delete a photo from your phone it's deketed off ICloud. Apples service us more of a sharing the moment photo service and not a true storage service "yet".

Hey Seacoast,

I think there are ways you can upload other non-iOS images to the Apple cloud, but I am not certain.

Thanks for reading!

Todd,

With all the online hacking that goes on, would have appreciated comments about how well these sites guarantee privacy so no one will violate the photographer's copyright of his photos.  Which sites offer protection against copyright violations and what kind? Which allow public access to photos so that anyone could download and use a photo?

Hey Bob,

Interestingly, I didn't stumble across any sites or services that mention copyright protections as a prominent feature of their packages. I would hope that, when you subscribe to a particular service, the information you need is clearly delineated and not buried in the small print of a user agreement.

Unfortunately, in today's world, if you put something on the web or in the cloud, there are a lot of folks that have zero hesitation to take your images and use them for their own purposes.

Thanks for reading!

Excelent article. Some of the providers hide their pricing at hard to find places, but at least they are current. Would have liked a list of features foreach provider but, I'm not a cripple and anyone wanting that info can hunt it down themselves. Cheers

Hey Dennis,

Thanks for your comments and compliments! Adding a feature list might have been akin to shooting at a moving target as the companies offering online storage are constantly changing their features and services. As I told another customer, the specs on a few of the sites changed as I was writing the article! Crazy!

Thanks for reading!

Extremely helpful, but somw idea of basic costs would have been a plus. Many thanks.

Not sure about most of these, but Flickr is a great site that offers one terabyte of free storage (I think they're the only ones who offer that much). It's pretty easy to use, as well. And they have an app so you can upload from any device.

Hey Alvie,

Thanks for the tip and thanks for reading!

Hey NEIL,

Unfortunately, costs for online storage seem to be in constant flux, so we chose not to add them to the article as by the time you read them, they could have very well changed. One tech website the posts prices and packages is forced to update their article every few weeks and I need to work on articles that are more better and fun!

Thanks for reading and understanding!

Could have been much more helpful if it included a matrix of features, limitations, costs, etc.

Appreciate the article however.

Hi Scott,

I definitely know what you are saying, however, tracking the ever-changing prices and packages offered by companies to keep this article fresh would be a full-time job for someone! In the time it took me to compile the article, there were changes in the online storage world for some of the biggest players.

We wanted to update an older article for our readers, even though we knew we were chasing a moving target. Thanks for reading and understanding!

Todd,

Thanks for the excellent summary of top photo hosting/storage sites and suggestions for how each site can be used. I'm not a pro so I appreciate the primer!

Thanks for reading, Steve! Good luck surfing the cloud!

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