Editors' note, June 10, 2015: This guide has been updated to include Google Photos and Apple iCloud Photo Library.
If you're like many others, 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 if you ditch Facebook and close 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. They also act as a central place to wrangle and backup photos from your phone, tablet and camera into a single photo library.
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.
But first, a word to the wise: If you upload your photos to the cloud and the company you use shuts down, you may lose your photos too. This isn't a common occurrence, and most services give you a heads up if they will cease operations, but it's smart to keep a backup of your photos on your computer or an external hard drive.
Dedicated photo storage services
|Flickr||Google Photos||Apple iCloud Photo Library||Amazon Prime Photos||Photobucket||ThisLife|
|Free plan||1TB of storage||Unlimited storage for photos and video*||5GB of storage||Unlimited photo storage and 5GB for video with Prime subscription||2GB + 8GB with the mobile apps||Unlimited photo storage|
|Paid Plans||Ad Free for $5.99/month, 2TB for $499/year||100GB for $1.99/month, 1TB for $9.99/month||Starts at $0.99/month for 20GB||$12 per year without subscription||Starts at $2.99/month for 20GB||Video only: 60GB for $20/year, 30GB for $50/year, Unlimited videos for $140/year.|
|File types||JPEG, GIF and PNG||JPEG, TIF, TIFF, BMP, GIF, PSD (Photoshop), PNG, TGA and some raw||JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and most RAW||JPEG, BMP, PNG, TIFF and some raw||GIF, JPG, JPEG, PNG||JPEG|
|File size limits||Photo: 200MB, Video: 1GB||Photo: 75MB, Video: 10GB||Photo: 1000 per hour, 10,000 per day, 25,000 per month||Photo and Video: 2GB||Free plan: 5MB||Video: 2GB|
|Bandwidth limits||None||None||None||None||10GB/month with free plan, Unlmited with paid plans||None|
|Apps||iOS, Android, Mac and Windows||iOS, Android, Mac** and Windows**||iOS, Mac and Windows||iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Mac and Windows||iOS, Android, Mac and Windows||iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Mac and Windows|
*For photos smaller than 16 megapixels and videos 1080p or less. You get 15GB of free space for photos or videos larger than that.
**The Picasa desktop app.
One of the top names in photo storage, Flickr has evolved significantly in the last few years to add more features and a new layout. The service offers a lot of flexibility to how you can use it. Storage-seekers can organize their photos into albums (dubbed "sets") and further organize those albums into collections. 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 Web-based editing for cropping and things like red-eye removal.
Flickr recently introduced two new tools, Camera Roll and Uploadr, aiming to modernize how you organize your photos. Camera Roll is a chronological feed of your photos, just like you'll see in the iOS Photos app. You can scroll through months and years to find the photos you want. The new Magic View categorizes your images by subject, so you can browse by photos of landscapes, food, animals, children, portraits and more. Uploadr is a desktop tool for Mac and Windows that uploads photos from any folder on your computer or an external hard drive connected to your computer. Both tools are still in beta.
You get a whopping 1TB (yes, terabyte) of free storage, enough for 500,000 photos, for free. Each photo you upload has a generous 200MB size limit and videos can be up to 1GB or 3 minutes long. You can upload and download images in their full original resolution.
Flickr offers two paid plans, one that removes ads and one that offers more storage. For $6 per month (£4, AU$8, converted) or $50 per year (£31, AU$62, converted), you get all of the features in a free account, but with no ads. If you seek more storage, the $499 (£317, AU$620, converted) plan (yes, you read that right) gives you 2TB of photo and video storage. That plan is obviously best left to serious photographers who need the space, since most people won't ever make much of a dent in the free 1TB offering.
Where it excels
- 1TB of free storage.
- Easily configured privacy settings.
- Fine-tuned organizational tools.
Where it falls flat
- The website design mixes sleek, new design with dated, confusing features.
- Uploading photos and organizing albums can be a frustrating experience as you try to navigate Flickr's many different menus and tools.
Finally, there's no support for raw files or animated GIFs.
Best for: Those who want flexibility in how they organize their photos and want to belong to a community of other photographers.
Google recently unveiled a revamped, streamlined storage service called simply Google Photos. It takes the design and many of same features from the Photos service built into Google+, but with a few new twists.
Google Photos offers a website and apps for iOS and Android, and uploading photos couldn't be simpler. On the mobile apps, you can set up automatic upload photos from your phone or tablet so any new photo or video you take is backed up immediately over Wi-Fi or your data signal. On the photos.google.com site, you can drag and drop pictures from your hard drive to create a back up.
Once your pictures are in Google Photos, the service then works some magic to highlight your best photos, enhance them to look even better and stitch them together to create panoramas or create GIFs, where possible. It does all of that on its own, so all you have to do is upload your photos to get those effects. Another awesome feature is Stories, where Google creates interactive albums for trips, holidays and other special events. Photos are plotted on a timeline, organized by day and include maps and location pins.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of Google Photos is that it's completely free with a Google account. The catch is that you have to let Google compress your photos that are larger than 16 megapixels and videos with a higher resolution than 1080p.
If you'd rather not have your larger photos compressed, you can opt for the Original resolution storage plan, which uses your Google account storage. With a Google account, you get 15GB of space for free, and you can pay for extra storage, either $1.99 per month for 100GB or $9.99 per month for 1TB.
An alternative service from Google is Picasa, a desktop app that organizes the photos on your computer and can backup those files to Google Photos. If you're looking for old-school tools, like burning photos to a disc or batch editing, Picasa can help.
Where it excels
- Uploading photos is a breeze and the Photos apps are easy to navigate.
- Automatic enhancement features produce fun, interesting effects, without overwriting your original images.
Where it falls flat
- The free unlimited storage won't work for everyone.
- Files you upload larger than 16 megapixels with the free plan are compressed.
Best for:People who want to let Google beautify and organize their photos automatically, without any effort on their part.
Apple iCloud Photo Library
For those of you with an iPhone and Mac computer, Apple's cloud-based photo offering is a solid choice. The iCloud Photo Library, which is part of the larger iCloud storage service, can back up every photo you take.
You access the service through the Photos app on iOS and Mac, where you can view and organize your photos. It's worth noting you can use these apps without iCloud turned on, to see photos taken with your phone or uploaded from a camera. On PCs, you can manage your photos from iCloud.com in your browser, or with the Windows iCloud app. Android owners will want to skip iCloud since there's no way to backup photos from your tablet or phone with this service.
The main features with the iCloud Photo Library are organization and sharing. The Photos app on your iOS device or Mac organizes all of your pictures and videos by date, time and location. You can zoom all the way out to the Year view, then jump into months, and photos grouped by locations. If you tap on a location, you can see photos plotted on a map, which is a neat feature for trips and vacations.
For a more personalized touch, you can manually organize your photos into albums. The Photos app does some of this for you, organizing photos by type, such as panorama or burst shot, but you can also just start a new album with a name and add photos to it.
Another big part of iCloud Photo Library are shared albums, where multiple people can share photos in one space. This is great for vacations and events, where you want to collect photos from your friends or travel companions. Anyone in the shared album can upload photos they've taken with their phone or camera and others can like or comment on them.
Editing tools on both iOS devices and Macs let you make minor edits and changes to your photos. With the Photos app on Mac, you can also create photo projects, such as printed albums or calendars.
iCloud gives you just 5GB for free, which won't suffice for some shutterbugs. For a monthly fee, you'll get more storage, starting at $1 per month for 20GB.
Where it excels
- Sharing features let you collaborate with friends and family on albums that everyone can see.
- The service automatically organizes your photos by time, date, and/or location.
Where it falls flat
- 5GB of free storage isn't much compared with other services.
- Android users can't use iCloud Photo Library to back photos from their phone or tablet.
Best for: Anyone with an iPhone, iPad or Mac computer since iCloud Photos Library is built into those devices and doesn't require much setup.
Amazon Prime Photos
Included with an Amazon Prime subscription, Prime Photos gives you unlimited photo storage and space for up 5GB of video or non-photo images, like documents. The service is part of Amazon's cloud storage service Cloud Drive.
Photos you upload can be organized into albums, though by default Amazon organizes them chronologically. You can't do much with photos shared in Cloud Drive besides sharing them in an email, posting to them Facebook or downloading to your computer or device. The no-frills approach makes Cloud Drive simpler to use than other services on this list. Instead of bombarding the service with extras, Amazon lets you connect your library to third-party apps to order prints, edit the photos or create photo gifts.
There's apps for PC, iOS, Android and Kindle Fire to upload and view your photos, or you can do so on Amazon's website. The mobile apps have an automatic backup feature that uploads any new photos you take.
Without a Prime subscription, the Unlimited Photos plan costs $12 per year and there's a three-month free trial. In the UK, you'll need to pay for extra storage if you need it, starting at £6 per year for 20GB. In Australia, extra storage starts at AU$10 per month.
Where it excels
- There are no unnecessary features to navigate; you merely get simple storage for your photos, so you can view them from any device with an Internet connection.
- The service is included with a $99 Prime subscription, so if you're already paying for that, you get free unlimited storage.
Where it falls flat
- The organizational tools are limited and there's no search.
Best for: Someone who wants the simplest storage option, with few features to navigate or learn.
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.
As a social-rich platform, Photobucket gives you plenty of ways to share photos with specific friends and social networks. The service autogenerates URLs for sharing and embedding your photos. That makes Photobucket a great choice for hosting photos you want to share online on a blog or in a forum.
The built-in editing tools offer tools to crop and adjust brightness, or apply fun effects like filters, frames and stickers. You can also purchase paper or canvas prints, create photo books, print your photos on phone or tablet cases, make calendars and other gifts.
Photobucket offers several plans,starting with the free 2B plan with a 10GB bandwidth limit for linking your images around the Web. You can get 8GB of free storage if you download and use the mobile apps for iOS and Android.
Paid plans range from a 99 cents per month (£0.60, AU$1, converted) ad-free, 2GB option, all the way up to a 500GB storage limit for $40 per month or $400 per year (£25, AU$49, or £250, AU$500, converted).
Where it excels
- Photobucket's social focus makes sharing photos with friends, family and social networks dead simple.
- Photo editing and complementary mobile apps make it easy to access and manage your photos, no matter where you are.
Where it falls flat
- The site hits you over the head with social features.
- The community is saturated with teenagers hosting GIFs and cutesy photos for their LiveJournal or Tumblr blogs.
Best for: People want to share their photos easily on social networks and blogs.
ThisLife by Shutterfly
Well-known photo printing service Shutterfly has a dedicated storage service called ThisLife. With it, you get unlimited uploads for as many images as you want at no cost. However, if you want to upload videos too, you'll need to pick a paid plan, which start at $20 per year (£12, AU$24, converted) for 60GB of storage, or roughly 1,000 videos and go up from there. Videos can't be bigger than 2GB each.
The main Library view shows a clear timeline of your photos and you can also view them plotted on a map or by tags. The Highlights view, which you can toggle on and off, shows what ThisLife thinks are the best photos in your collection.
From your library, imported and uploaded photos can be organized into albums (called Stories), cropped or shared. You can also order prints or create other photo gifts, like books, mouse pads, mugs or totebags.
A great feature is creating a joint account, where you can share the same account with someone else. Both people can upload photos, keeping a constantly-updated collection. The service will also import your photos from Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug and Picasa and continue to add new photos when you add to those services.
There are mobile apps for Android, iOS and Kindle Fire, all of which automatically upload photos you take with your phone so you never lose them. There's also a desktop uploader that grabs photos from your computer.
Where it excels
- The site's clean design is a breeze to navigate and organizing your photos it a snap.
- The full-size photo pages show all available metadata.
- Joint accounts let you and someone else share photo libraries, which is great to wrangling family photos.
Where it falls flat
- ThisLife doesn't offer any editing tools, other than crop.
Best for: Those who want to turn their stored photos into prints, books and other photo gifts.
Cloud storage sites
The services listed above are all designed explicitly for hosting photos, but they aren't the only choice if you want to keep your photos backed up somewhere online. Cloud storage sites, including Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive can all act as a home for your photos, as well as other types of files.
They offer generous storage space for around $10 monthly, rarely have file size limits, let you download photos to any device and offer sharing options and public links, so that you can share photos with friends and family. Check out CNET's full guide to cloud storage services for more info.
However, most of these services won't let you edit photos, or organize them into albums, but some offer a few extra features. Dropbox, for example, has a standalone photo-focused app called Carousel, designed for simple photo sharing that backs up your photos to your account automatically.
Apple also has its own cloud photo and file storage system, iCloud Drive, that can backup the photos you take with your iDevices into the cloud. We're not diving into the service here, but you can a full rundown of iCloud Drive and iCloud Photo Library in CNET's guide.
Advanced options for professionals
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 super-high resolutions.
Some of these sites, like 500px and 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 500px, SmugMug, PhotoShelter and Zenfolio. All but 500px require paid memberships, and those that do offer free trials.