Best Ways to Share Photos: Top Sharing Sites, Cloud Services, and More

Want to easily share your great photos with others? Here's how to do it.

Share Photos from the Cloud

Years ago, "photo sharing" generally meant giving away the picture strip you got from a photo booth at the mall. Of course, these days, the easiest way to share photographs is by posting them online at a photo sharing site. There are a slew of sites that can host your photos and help you share them with friends and family. Some are free, some aren't, and a couple offer premium features that make it worth paying a little cash. Here are some of the best options; read on to find out which one will work for you.

Photo provided courtesy A&A Studios / 312Photobooth.

Flickr: Think 'YouTube for Photos'

Flickr is the YouTube of photos--a massively popular clearinghouse for everyone's photo collections. The most common way to use Flickr is with a free account, though the free version of Flickr is almost painfully restrictive, especially if you are an enthusiastic photographer who posts a lot of photos. You can upload 300MB worth of photos each month--depending upon the size of your image files, that's perhaps 100 pictures--though only your most recent 200 photos are visible at any given moment. Moreover, only low-resolution versions of those images can be downloaded from the Web site. Flickr never discards anything, though: If you pay the $25 annual fee for a Pro account, your page instantly "lights up" with all the photos you've previously uploaded, and the full sizes are available as well.

500px: A Gallery for Your Finest Photos

I've recently become a big fan of 500px. The site is simply gorgeous, both in the presentation of the photos and in the quality of work that you'll find here. There are two kinds of accounts at 500px: a free version that allows you to upload up to 20 photos per week, and a subscription version for $50/year that has no photo or bandwidth limits. The subscription version also has a slew of other goodies that are great for photography enthusiasts and pros, like custom domains and customizable page designs.

SmugMug Delights Enthusiasts With Advanced Features

I have a few pro photographer friends who swear by SmugMug. SmugMug has long been a site that knows how important aesthetics are to creative folks like photographers. Don't look to SmugMug if you want free photo sharing: A Basic account costs $35/year and includes unlimited photo uploads. The Power plan adds a personal domain, the ability to protect photos from being downloaded, and unlimited high-def videos for $55. There's also a $145/year Pro plan that includes a store to sell your photos and other goodies. SmugMug is the place to go if you want fine-tuned control over the photos you share online. You can selectively publish SmugMug photos to Facebook or share via email, for example, as well as embed them in Web sites and blogs. You can protect your photos from downloads and establish portfolios to sell them online. SmugMug backs up your files so you can always recover them in case of catastrophe.

Zenfolio Caters to the Pros

Looking for a photo sharing site that offers professional-level features like SmugMug, but costs a little less? Zenfolio might be for you. Like SmugMug, Zenfolio has no free option (aside from a 14-day free trial), but you can get the Basic plan for just $25/year (it offers 2GB of storage plus an additional gigabyte each year you're with the service). The Unlimited plan is better for enthusiasts: $50/year buys you unlimited storage, HD video support, and a custom domain name. Pros can pay a premium for additional plans with high-end features. Many of Zenfolio's key features are built around serious photographers. The site has tools for setting up online stores for your photos, for example. Enthusiasts will love the customizable themes that give your portfolios a distinctive look and the plug-in that makes it easy to upload pictures directly from Adobe Lightroom.

Bare Bones Photo Sharing With Snapfish

Snapfish has been around for a long time--I first wrote about this photo sharing site back around 2001. It is completely free, with unlimited photo storage. That said, the site's photo sharing service exists mainly to support an online printing business, so Snapfish maintains your photo collection only on the condition that you occasionally purchase something. Don't make any prints, photo books, or photo gifts at least once a year, and your photos might be disappeared. A lot of folks store their photos on Snapfish, but it seems to me that this really only makes sense if you use Snapfish's printing services frequently. (Like Shutterfly, Zazzle, and other sites, Snapfish offers a broad collection of customized products, from prints to clothing to photo gifts). Snapfish also has some unique sharing tools, like private "rooms" where you can chat and share photos with select friends and family.

Microsoft SkyDrive: Secure Photo Sharing

If you're nervous about loading your private photos into a public sharing site--even if you choose the site's privacy mode--you could consider storing your pictures at an online storage service. Think of these services as virtual hard drives on the Internet, accessible from any computer. You can give access to anyone you wish, securely sharing high-resolution, print-quality photos with people you know. Microsoft SkyDrive is a good option. After you obtain a free Windows Live account, you can store up to 25GB of files--music, photos, documents, whatever--and share them with anyone you choose.

Dropbox: Drag-and-Drop Photo Sharing From Windows

Another good choice is Dropbox. Although this service limits you to 2GB of free storage, a small app lets you drag and drop files to Dropbox from your Windows folders, as if it were a location on your own hard drive. You can easily add more space for free by performing various tasks (like referring friends to the service or linking to Facebook and Twitter), or you can pay a subscription fee to get even more online room.

Share a Windows 7 Theme

It's easy to make your own Windows 7 theme featuring your own photos. Right-click your Windows desktop and select Personalize, then click "Desktop Background" at the bottom of the Personalization window. Click the Browse button next to the Picture Location field and open the folder that contains the photos you want to use. Set the duration of the slideshow, and then click Save changes. You will see a new icon called "Unsaved Theme" at the top of My Themes. You can tweak your theme by customizing the window color or choosing a sound scheme, too. To share your theme with others, right-click the Unsaved Theme icon and choose Save theme for sharing, then name the file and save it where it's easy to find. To share your theme with other Windows 7 users, just give them the themepack file. They just double-click the themepack file open it to add it to their My Themes collection. Of course, the more photos you include, the larger the themepack file will be; limit yourself to a dozen photos if you want to share your theme via e-mail.

Fun Photo Projects

What do you do with your photos after you've taken them? If you store them away in a musty old photo sharing site and only view them once or twice a year, you're criminally neglecting your digital memories. Take those photos and do something fun! You can convert your favorite portraits into an artistic pencil sketch, for example, even if you have no drawing skills. Or arrange a series of photos into a vibrant photo strip. You can even print your pictures as oversized posters.

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