As you head into the holiday season, you're almost guaranteed to fill your smartphone or camera with hundreds of photos and videos of friends and family celebrating. Don't let those memories languish on your device, unseen by no one but yourself.
Plenty of sites — many of them free — let you easily save and show off your photos, 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: It should have enough storage to keep all of your photos in one place over the years at a low cost.
Quality: Your photos should be preserved in all their original high-res glory, not compressed beyond recognition.
Ease of use: You need to be able to upload photos easily and edit them.
Ease of access: Finding photos by date, tags or other means should 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.
For a while, it looked like Flickr might be a goner; owner Yahoo was looking to shutter the site. Instead, it sold Flickr to rival site SmugMug, which has elected to keep the site running pretty much as is. Despite these changes, Flickr remains a great place to stash your shots, providing a remarkable 1TB of space for free (with ads) or for $5.99 a month/$49.99 a year without ads. Subscribing also gets you 15 percent off a yearly subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan. 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. Flickr no longer offers its own photo-book printing service; instead, Pro subscribers get $35 off a $70 order at photo-book service Blurb. Overall, Flickr is our top pick and Editors' Choice award winner, thanks to its massive amount of storage and a simple, clean interface that makes it a joy to use. It remains the best option for serious shooters.
Aimed at serious photographers, 500px 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 up to seven photos per week and store up to 2,000 in total. There are three paid levels: Awesome ($3.49 a month, unlimited uploads), Pro ($4.99 a month) and Pro+ ($11.99 a month). The last two levels also offer unlimited uploads, plus more customization options and listings in the sites' pro directory. You can also sell your photos as royalty-free artwork through the site. 500px no longer offers services like prints and photo books, but these are available elsewhere. Here are our favorite services for photo books, calendars and cards.
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 been added; it will try to recognize the faces in your shots and tag those people if they are on Facebook. However, Facebook does shrink the images to fit onto the page. Facebook recommends sizing pictures to 720 or 960 pixels wide. You can use 2048-pixel-wide images if you select the high-quality upload option, but they still get compressed for viewing.
Another downside is that there is no way to share the original-size photo. 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 about 400 photos, though it comes with very intrusive ads, including pop-ups that obscure your photos. There are three levels of paid, ad-free service: Beginner ( 2GB of storage for $48.53 a year), Intermediate (20GB for $70 a year) and Expert (2TB for $124 a year). All of these plans allow you to show the photos on a third-party site, which is useful if you want to put the photos on a social network site that doesn't have its own image-uploading feature.
Photobucket has a generous collection of editing tools 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 of which is a neat scrolling presentation of photos and accompanying text. Photobucket provides extensive support for selling prints: You can buy individual photos, photo books (starting at $1.99) or even things like fleece blankets and tablet cases with your photos on them.
Irista comes from camera manufacturer Canon, but it doesn't require a Canon camera. Plenty of features are available, including uploader programs for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android, as well as 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. A free account gets you a generous 15GB of space, while paying $2.25 a month gets you 100GB. A variety of plans offer an increasing amount of space, up to the $129-a-month/10TB service that can store more than 15 million photos or more than 150 hours of HD video.
SmugMug is another design-focused site that offers a stylish home for your photos, with a custom homepage (such as richardb.smugmug.com) and many well-made design templates. SmugMug costs more than other services, though; there is no free version (though there is a 14-day free trial). The cheapest level of service costs $5.99 per month, or $39.99 per year.
You 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 good enough to fix most common photography issues and tweak a photo.