Comparing the best ways to store your photos online

Find out which photo-sharing and storage site best suits your needs with this deep dive into the top online photo services.

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If you're like many others (including me), you habitually turn to Facebook when you want to share photos online. Arguably, that's perfectly fine -- after all, your photos are not only stored in a place you access often, but are quickly shared with friends and family who use the social network (so, basically, everyone).

The downside? Facebook doesn't offer much beyond tagging, likes, and comments. What if you want to order prints? Or search for photos by date, name, or tag? Most importantly: what happens when you get sick of Facebook and cancel your account?

The benefits of storing and sharing your photos on a dedicated photo storage site are clear. Not only do these services offer more robust organizational tools, editing, and privacy options, but you also have the option to order prints, and, for the avid photogs, sell your prints to the masses.

In this guide, we'll compare five of the most popular photo-sharing and photo storage sites, and take a look at some advanced solutions for professional photographers who are looking for more storage and flexibility.

Dedicated photo storage sites

Flickr

Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

Flickr can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Storage-seekers can organize their photos into albums (dubbed "sets") and further organize those albums into collections.

But, those who want to dig deeper can take advantage of features like groups, tagging, commenting, geotagging, social sharing, printing, and even statistics. Flickr also provides a desktop app, mobile apps, and Web-based editing for cropping and things like red-eye removal.

Pros: Easily configured privacy settings, fine-tuned organizational tools, and the capability to upload videos make Flickr a one-stop portal for all your personal media. Free accounts get a generous 30MB file size limit and up to two videos per month. There are accompanying Android and iPhone apps for easy mobile access and sharing.

Cons: The free account will not suffice for those who want to upload their existing and ongoing photo collection. Without the Pro account, uploaded photos are compressed. No support for raw files.

Some might find the plethora of features confusing and overwhelming. Groups, contacts, tags, and so on can clutter the interface, bothering those who just want to store their photos online.


Photobucket

Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

Nearly 10 billion hosted photos says it all: Photobucket is popular. It offers unlimited photo and video storage (with file size limits), album organization, Facebook integration, and mobile apps. There's even an accompanying Snapbucket app for creative editing on the go.

Pros: As a social-rich platform, Photobucket gives you plenty of ways to share photos with specific friends and social networks. Photo editing and complementary mobile apps make it easy to access and manage your photos, no matter where you are. The free account will be enough for casual photographers.

Cons: Photobucket isn't for everyone -- the site hits you over the head with social features and the community is saturated with teenagers hosting GIFs and cutesy photos for their LiveJournal or Tumblr blogs.

10GB of monthly bandwidth and a 5MB limit for photos on the free account simply won't cut it for high-res photos. And avid photographers who need to host large photo files will be displeased with the 20MB-per-photo limit on the paid account.


Snapfish

With unlimited photo storage and a dead-simple interface, Snapfish has had no problem attracting millions of active users. Although prints and products like photo books take center stage, Snapfish also offers basic photo editing, albums, sharing features, and groups for those who use it as a storage service.

Pros: Users can redownload the full-resolution versions of their uploaded photos. Aimed at the non-tech-savvy crowd, Snapfish is ridiculously easy to use, and those who order prints frequently will be satisfied with the product offerings and the option to pick up prints at Costco stores.

Privacy options are satisfactory, allowing you to share specific albums with a unique public link or through social networks like Facebook. There are Android and iPhone apps as well.

Cons: The user interface looks pretty outdated and overly emphasizes paid printing services. So much so, in fact, that users are required to purchase at least one print (9 cents) yearly to prevent their accounts from being closed.


Shutterfly

Shutterfly, which recently acquired Kodak Gallery (and its users), continues to grow as one of the largest photo sites, focusing on printing and products like stationery and photo calendars.

When it comes to photo storage, Shutterfly is pretty generous: you can upload as many images as you want at no cost. From your photo dashboard, where uploaded photos can be organized into albums, you can order prints, edit photos, organize them, and share albums with others.

Pros: With unlimited photo storage and fun tools for creating photo projects and editing, it's no wonder that Shutterfly is so popular. The privacy-conscious will be pleased with the default privacy options. Shutterfly's printing services are reasonably priced and convenient, offering in-store pickup at Walgreens and Target.

There are iOS apps, including an iPad-specific app, and a Roku app.

Cons: Even though Shutterfly stores full-resolution versions of your photos, you can only redownload the compressed versions. If you want the original photos, you'll have to order a CD. For avid digital photographers, Shutterfly is not an option.

There's no Android app currently available.


Picasa Web Albums

Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

What do you get when you combine "Picasso" and "mi casa"? Picasa, of course. A flagship Google product, Picasa Web Albums is a photo storage site deeply integrated with Google+. It offers sharing, photo editing, album organization, video storage, and a desktop application for managing your photos.

Users can uploaded an unlimited amount of photos at 2,048x2,048 pixels, but are limited to 1GB of storage for photos larger than that. Those who want more storage can subscribe to a monthly plan starting at $2.49 for 25GB.

Pros: Uploading photos is a breeze and the interface is easy to navigate. The service offers just enough features to please most people, but doesn't overwhelm with printing services or confusing add-ons. Avid Googlers will feel right at home, as Picasa integrates with other Google services and a monthly storage subscription also applies to Google Drive.

Unlike some of its competitors, Picasa supports plenty of file types, including PSD, TGA, and some raw formats.

Cons: The service is somewhat fragmented: Picasa is scattered across Google+, Picasa Web Albums, and a desktop app. First-time users will certainly be overwhelmed by the Google+ integration, an issue for those not interested in using the social network. Finally, there's no way to redownload entire albums.


Summary of features:

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Flickr Photobucket Snapfish Shutterfly Picasa
Pricing Standard: Free; Pro: $24.95/year Standard: Free; Pro: $24.95/year Must purchase 1 print/year Free Standard: Free; Pro: starts at $2.49/month
Storage Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Standard: 1GB Pro: 25GB - 1TB
File types JPEG, GIF, PNG GIF, JPG, JPEG, PNG JPEG JPEG Standard: Pro: JPEG, TIF, TIFF, BMP, GIF, PSD (Photoshop), PNG, TGA, and some raw
File size limits Standard: 30MB; Pro: 50MB Standard: 5MB; Pro: 20MB 5MB None 20MB
Bandwidth limits Standard: 300MB/month; Pro: unlimited Standard: 10GB/month; Pro: unlimited None None None
Resolution Standard: < 2,048 pixels; Pro: original Standard: < 2,048 pixels; Pro: original Web-size Web-size> Original

Cloud storage sites

If all you want is to host your images online somewhere, without any extra features like photo editing, social networking, and printing services, your best bet is to use a cloud storage site.

Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, and SkyDrive are some of the more popular options that are usually focused on document storage, but we're seeing these services evolve to offer more photo-friendly features, like Google Drive's thumbnail view.

The advantage to using these services is that you'll rarely encounter file size limits, you can upload any file type you like, and the interfaces are clean and easy to navigate. You'll most definitely need to pay for storage space, but the benefit is that you can use your cloud storage for items like documents and videos, too.

Most, if not all, of these sites offer sharing options and public links, so that you can share photos with friends and family. Moreover, you'll always be able to redownload the full version of your photos onto any computer or mobile device.

Check out our overview of the most popular cloud storage services to find out which one is right for you.


Advanced options for premium users

Premium photo storage sites
Catering to a niche of pro photographers and the image-savvy, a handful of Web sites offer more robust photo storage platforms that accommodate a wider range of file types, sizes, and superhigh-resolutions.

Some of these sites, like SmugMug, even allow you to sell prints and host your photos in customizable image galleries that are pleasing to the eye.

Topping the list of premium photo storage sites are: SmugMug, PhotoShelter, and Zenfolio. All three require paid memberships but offer free trials.

Host your own site
For tech-savvy people who want complete control over their photos without any annoying limitations, a self-hosted site is the way to go. The alternatives are endless, but in a nutshell, you can purchase a domain name and a hosting plan, and install a service like WordPress. From there, you'd install a gallery plug-in and tweak it to your liking.

Here, the advantages are obvious: you decide on the look, feel, privacy, and organization of your photos. However, if you plan to go this route and you don't have previous Web development experience, you'll spend many (fun and challenging) hours learning how to host and create your own Web site.

 

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