Look on any typical phone or camera memory card and you'll find photos going back years, languishing in a place where nobody can enjoy them. It doesn't have to be that way. Plenty of sites — many of them free — let you easily save and show off your photos, as well as make them into books or let friends and family print copies. Some services even allow you to sell your photographic art.
To find out which photo sites offer the best bang for your buck, we tested 10 of them by uploading an assortment of photos from our camera reviews, tagging and organizing them as the site recommends. We then looked at the various ways we could share and print photos to determine which site offers the best and easiest-to-use range of features.
A good photo-hosting service should offer six things:
Space: Enough storage to keep all of your photos in one place over the years at low cost.
Quality: Your photos should be preserved in all their high-res glory, not compressed beyond recognition.
Ease of Use: You need to be able to upload photos easily, and edit them if you wish.
Ease of Access: Finding photos by date, by tags or by other means can be achieved without hassle.
Shareability: A good photo site makes sharing photos as easy as taking them, allowing you to post pictures to sites like Facebook, Twitter and others.
Printability: You or someone else who likes your photo should be able to buy a print or put together a photo book easily.
Launched back in 2004, Flickr has suffered under years of neglect from owner Yahoo, and the uncertainty around the fate of its parent site. But it still remains a great place to stash your shots, providing a remarkable 1TB of space for free, with ads on the site, or $5.99 a month, or $49.99 a year, without ads. Flickr also offers a great selection of tools, extensive tagging features and support for both viewing and downloading photos at a variety of resolutions (including, unusually, the full original size).
A very easy drag-and-drop system allows you to organize albums of your photos and collections of photos from you and other photographers. Once you have created an album of photos you like, you can print a 20-page photo book for $34.95 (plus 50 cents each extra page). Overall, Flickr is our top pick and Editor's Choice award winner, thanks to its massive amount of storage and a simple, clean interface that makes it a joy to use. Although Yahoo is in turmoil, Flickr still remains the best option for serious shooters.
Aimed at the serious photographer, 500 Pixels offers an image-focused design that puts your photos front and center, providing a clean and elegant way to display your best images. You can organize your pictures into Sets (photos on a particular theme) and Stories (photos of an event) that present the images in a strikingly dramatic fashion. The free version of the service allows you to upload 20 photos a week and store up to 2,000 photos (unlimited uploads cost $25 a year, with more expensive options that include extra storage). You can also sell your photos as royalty-free artwork through the site, which could be an extra source of income. The site has recently stopped offering services like prints and photo books, but these are available elsewhere.
The big kahuna of social sites also offers a surprisingly good set of photo-sharing and editing tools. After uploading photos from a cellphone, web browser or desktop client, you can create albums, add captions and tag photos by date, location or the people in the pictures. Face recognition has also recently been added, where it will try to recognize the faces in your shots. Facebook squishes the images down, though, to fit onto the page. Facebook recommends sizing pictures to 720 or 960 pixels wide. You can use 2048-pixel-wide images if you use the high-quality upload option, but they still get compressed for viewing.
There is no way to share the original-size photo, a situation that leaves many Facebook photographers gnashing their teeth. But if a lot of your family members and friends are already on Facebook, it's a great way to share casual shots or family photos.
The free version of Photobucket offers 2GB of space — enough for many thousands of photos, though it comes with ads. You can remove ads for 99 cents a month, and up the storage space to 10GB for $29.99 a year. Photobucket has a generous collection of editing tools on offer through a simple, easy-to-use interface. This list includes unusual tools like the smart color brush, which selectively adds color back into a black-and-white image.
Once you have edited your photos, you can add basic tags and organize them into albums or stories — the latter a neat scrolling presentation of photos and accompanying text several users can compile. Photobucket provides extensive support for selling prints. Visitors can buy individual photos, photo books (starting at $1.99) or even things like fleece blankets and tablet cases with your photos on them.
A relative newcomer to the photo-sharing world, Irista comes from Canon, but doesn't require a Canon camera to use. Plenty of features are available, including uploader programs for Mac and Windows computers and support for quickly sharing photos to Facebook and Twitter. The system is easy to use, with powerful tagging and album-creation features, but there is no direct support for buying prints or creating photo books, and no mobile apps. A free account gets a generous 10GB of space, or 50GB for 50 euros — about $67 per year. (Irista was launched by Canon's European division but is available in the U.S., too.)
SmugMug is another design-focused site that offers a stylish home for your photos, with a custom home page (such as richardb.smugmug.com) and a large number of well-made design templates. It costs more than other services, though, as SmugMug has no free version (though there is a 14-day free trial). The cheapest level of service costs $5 a month, or $40 a year.
You do get a lot for your money, with unlimited storage of photos and 1080p videos, and a good range of editing tools that are simple to use but powerful. These won't replace Photoshop in a professional photographer's toolbox, but they are more than powerful enough to fix most common photography issues and tweak a photo to look its best.