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Sharing Digital Photographs : Exploring Photo-Sharing Communities

9/13/2011 4:30:35 PM
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Editing your photos with a web-based application is convenient; you can do your editing from any computer, no software installation necessary. Even more convenient is the ability to share your photos with others through the cloud, via web-based photo-sharing communities.

On the surface, all of these photo-sharing sites look and feel quite similar. You choose your photos to upload, organize them in albums or folders, and select whether they’re private or public. Some sites let your friends download your photos; others only allow online viewing. Some sites even let you or your friends make prints of your photos—for a fee, of course. And the most robust sites include topic-oriented groups and communities that let you share photos with like-minded photographers.


Most of these sites offer some sort of free membership, which sometimes has limited functionality. Some sites offer paid memberships with more advanced features. Other sites make their money by offering photo-printing services.

Apple MobileMe Gallery

One interesting part of Apple’s new MobileMe suite of web-based applications is the MobileMe Gallery (www.me.com). You can upload photos from your computer or iPhone to the MobileMe Gallery, which can then be viewed by anyone you invite. It’s a great way to get photos on and off your iPhone, and view photos when you’re on the go.

Figure 1 shows how MobileMe Gallery organizes your photos into easy-to-view photo albums. The entire MobileMe suite is priced at $99 per year, and includes 20GB of total storage.

Figure 1. Online photo albums in Apple’s MobileMe Gallery.


The dotPhoto site (www.dotphoto.com) is free for personal users, but there’s a heavy push to order photo prints. Professional photographers can use dotPhoto to house photos displayed on their own websites—and collect a cut when users order prints.


DPHOTO (www.dphoto.com) offers two levels of membership. The Lite version lets you store up to 1,000 photos for $3/month; the Pro version offers unlimited photo storage for $7/month. Like many of these sites, DPHOTO assigns you your own personal web address for your photos, in the form of yourname.dphoto.com.


Of all the photo-sharing sites today, far and away the most popular among hobbyist and professional photographers is Flickr (www.flickr.com), part of the Yahoo! empire. As you can see in Figure 2, Flickr creates a home page for each photographer. From here, viewers can click a photo to view it full screen, or choose to view all photos as an onscreen slideshow.

Figure 2. A typical Flickr user page.

Uploading photos to Flickr is as easy as clicking a few links (after you’ve opened your free account, of course). Just go to Flickr’s home page and click the Upload Photos link. You’re then prompted to choose the files to upload and add tags and descriptions to each photo. The photos you upload are then added to your personal page for anyone (or selected users, if you made the photos private) to view.

Flickr’s free accounts let you upload 100MB of photos each month. If you need to upload more photos, or want more control over how your photos are displayed, consider paying for a Pro account. For $24.95/year, you get unlimited uploads and storage, as well as the ability to organize your photos into sets and collections.

One of the best things about Flickr is the site’s community, expressed via comments on particular photos and a large number of topic-specific photo groups. The groups not only display photos from group members but also include discussion forums where members can talk about the topic at hand. If you’re at all interested in photography as a hobby or profession, Flickr is the site to use.


Learn more about Flickr and digital photography in general in my companion book, Photopedia: The Ultimate Digital Photography Reference. You can view many of the photos from that book on Flickr, at www.flickr.com/photos/12150723@N06/.


Fotki (www.fotki.com), like Flickr, offers both free and paid accounts. A free account gives you 50MB of storage space, and the $30/year premium account has unlimited storage and a variety of other features, including the ability to sell your photos from the Fotki site.


MyPhotoAlbum (www.myphotoalbum.com), as the site’s name implies, focuses on displaying your digital photos in online photo albums. You get a unique web address for your album, which makes it easy to share your album with friends and family. You can even personalize your album with custom themes and layouts. And, best of all, it’s all free.


Photobucket (www.photobucket.com) is another free photo-sharing site. You can create photo albums for viewing on the Photobucket site or embed your Photobucket photos into your blog or Facebook or MySpace page.

Picasa Web Albums

Picasa Web Albums (picasaweb.google.com) is Google’s entrée into the photo-sharing market. As you might suspect, Picasa Web Albums is closely integrated with Google’s Picasa photo-editing software, although it’s open for anyone to use—and it’s free. There’s also a neat mapping option that lets you map where you took each photo, using Google Maps.


Pixagogo (www.pixagogo.com) costs $5/month to use. For that, you can upload and store an unlimited number of photos. You also get your own personal photo gallery. For what it’s worth, the site also pushes hard on ordering prints, so keep that in mind when you’re doing your evaluating.


PictureTrail (www.picturetrail.com) offers photo sharing, fancy online slideshows, and a photo editor that lets you add “bling,” in the form of fancy graphics, to your photos. Membership is free.


SmugMug (www.smugmug.com) is a photo-sharing community that aims to compete directly with Flickr. As such, SmugMug offers a slightly better-looking interface and unlimited storage, for $39.95/year. And, remembering the advantages of cloud storage, SmugMug keeps three copies of your photos on servers housed in four different states, for more secure photo storage.


WebShots (www.webshots.com) is an established photo-sharing community with many Flickr-like features. The free account lets you upload 1,000 photos (plus 100 more for each month of membership); the premium account lets you share 5,000 photos (plus 500 more for each month of membership) for $2.49/month.


Zenfolio (www.zenfolio.com) is designed as a place for professional photographers to store, show, and sell their work. The site offers three different hosting plans: Basic (1GB storage for $25/year), Unlimited (unlimited storage for $40/year), and Premium (unlimited storage and larger file sizes for $100/year).


Our final photo-sharing site is Zoto (www.zoto.com), which offers unlimited storage for $19.95/year. Zoto lets users store and share photos on the Zoto site, in a variety of photo albums. You can also publish your Zoto photos to your blog or Flickr account.

Commercial Photo-Printing/Sharing Services

The photo-sharing sites we’ve discussed so far in this article are independent sites with a focus on storage and sharing. Even though some of them offer photo prints as a service, their main purpose is to store your photos on their own cloud servers.

There is another class of photo-storage/sharing sites, however. While these sites do store your photos, they exist to make money—by selling photo prints to you and your friends. These photo-print sites, such as Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com) and Hewlett-Packard’s Snapfish (www.snapfish.com), offer many of the same sharing features as Flickr and WebShots, but typically without the community features. Storage is often unlimited and free, with the hope that you’ll be ordering lots of prints.

Of course, you can also order prints online from companies such as Wal-Mart, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Costco, and the like. These sites let you order prints via mail or pick them up at your local store. For that matter, Shutterfly, in addition to its prints-by-mail service, lets you pick up certain-sized prints at your local Target store. It’s all in the service of selling prints, of course; the online storage and sharing is just a convenient by-product.

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