Searching for the Perfect Photo Hosting and Sharing Site? And the Winner Is…

Searching for the Perfect Photo Hosting and Sharing Site? And the Winner Is…

Have you found the perfect place to host your photos? I've been hunting everywhere for the best site to upload my images to and share them. After my research, what I concluded was the best for me took me completely by surprise.

My search for the perfect place to store my photos started with a rhetorical question: what's the point of taking pictures if nobody sees them? Wherever I kept them, I wanted to be able to share them too. Over the years, I've also changed my mindset. I accepted that there was no perfect free solution; I needed to pay for the level of service I wanted. There is always a cost, although that cost is not always directly financial. Sometimes, that cost involves sharing one's photos with advertisements, giving away personal data, or having the images displayed in an unwelcome way.

Talking of which, Instagram is wholly inadequate. Yes, like Facebook, it's a good marketing tool for my business, and it can show my images to many people if I pay for it. But I have never been a fan of "Like" buttons, and I don't actively seek hundreds or thousands of followers. Additionally, there are several areas where it fails photographers.

Firstly, if you want your photos to be seen organically, i.e. without paying, you must keep posting them regularly. That's fine if you churn out images with photographic dysentery. But try to achieve quality over quantity in your photography, and that approach won't work. Instagram wants me to post X times a week for my posts to be seen. X equals anything from one to fourteen, depending upon whose advice you read. You must then add appropriate hashtags, not too many or too few.

Moreover, the images on Instagram are tiny. Most photos have details that we want our audience to see. They preview with a square aspect ratio. I rarely crop to those dimensions, and I don't want it randomly reshaping the images that I have carefully composed.

Instagram has changed too. It is no longer a photo-sharing site but a video host in direct competition with TikTok. Like YouTube, it's trying to take a bite out of the short video market. Instagram is now packed with low-quality, poorly acted productions of people trying unsuccessfully to be comedians or musicians, people showing off how generous they are by giving away money or iPads, and recordings of other people's misfortunes. Reels have become the opiate of the masses, with people wasting their precious time watching them instead of living their own short lives.

Besides Instagram, Meta also owns Facebook, another repository of time-wasting reels. Most of us have discovered photos uploaded to Facebook get compressed poorly. There's lots of differing advice on the internet about aspect ratios and whether to compress the image before uploading. It can seem confusing, so I recommend checking this blog from Hootsuite. It is a highly respected social media platform for businesses with accurate, up-to-date details about the ever-changing image sizing and posting frequencies.

With both Facebook and Instagram, photo metadata is stripped away. Consequently, it is feasible for an image to be stolen and then repeatedly shared. Even those not intent on committing copyright theft may use it because they cannot identify the original photographer. That's not great. The same applies to Twitter and some other social media sites too. Another problem with Facebook is that if you post an image from another hosting site, Facebook crops the preview. I don't know about you, but I don't want Meta dictating my images' aspect ratio.

LinkedIn, the business social media platform, worked similarly to Instagram, keeping the images small. Twitter allowed a larger photo version to be displayed on my computer screen, but not full-screen size. Although Twitter posted previews from other hosting sites, LinkedIn occasionally failed to preview images hosted elsewhere.

So, if we want to share our photos with others, what can we do about it? There are alternatives; lots of them. But each has its issues. The biggest problem that applies to all of these is audience size. Through those big social media sites, we can reach a big audience. Those household name sites have many users.

Consequently, if you pay to promote your post, you have a potentially unlimited reach. Smaller sites are likely to have fewer members and are probably dominated by other photographers and artists. That may not be who you want to reach.

Nevertheless, those small sites will grow if they get adopted by users. There is a lot of buzz at the moment about Vero. Its membership was boosted in 2018 following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the use of Facebook data to undermine the democratic process. (Although it is not big news, those kinds of practices continue, and Cambridge Analytica operates, in effect, under different names.)

Unlike Facebook, which uses advertising and data control, Vero is financed by affiliate fees resulting from sales made through its site. Some fear that there is the potential for Vero to start selling user data too. Furthermore, there is some worry about its link to Russia, although the site's founder, billionaire Ayman Hariri, says this is xenophobia. Illya Ovchar recently wrote an interesting analysis of Vero that is worth reading.

The truth is, whoever you use to host your images, there will be the potential for some controversy and debate about the owner of the service. For example, Visual China Group owns 500px. It was reported to have been fined by the Tianjin cyberspace affairs authority for failing to detect the illegal content posted by users.

As an Amazon Prime member, you automatically get unlimited photos with Amazon Photos, albeit with limited video storage. It has another disadvantage too: images are not sorted into folders. Not a big issue if you upload and catalog them with, for example, Lightroom and a plugin. But you will end up with a big pot of unsorted photos. Sadly, when I tried to post pictures hosted by Amazon Photos on Facebook, the image failed, and my viewers got an empty white box. Amazon Photos does allow the saving of raw files, TIFFs, JPEGs, and PNGs, but not PSD files.

Another site I explored was Fotki. Its premium service of $36.96 per year gives a miserly 300 GB. 4 TBs will cost you over $74 per year. That's relatively expensive compared to some hosting sites. Also, the site's layout seems disorganized and poorly designed.

You can, of course, host photos on your own website. That can be free through sites like Wordpress. Fees are applied depending on the functionality and storage required. It is easy to self-build a simple site with low functionality.

So, I returned to one of the first hosting sites I used.

Flickr is now owned by SmugMug, the photo-sharing website host geared toward professional photographers. Flickr was once hugely popular. However, its popularity has waned over the years. That is a shame because it is an excellent platform for sharing images, especially since it gives control over whether third parties can download pictures. To extend beyond the free uploading of 1,000 photos to unlimited uploads, one must buy a premium subscription, which also gives ad-free browsing and unlimited private images. Flickr is $66.48 per year (with a two-year contract), a much better value than Fotki.

You can put links to Flickr-hosted images on other social media and choose how much of its metadata is shared there. However, Facebook seems to restrict viewing posts with hyperlinks, expecting users to pay for them. Also, Flickr does not allow the storage of raw files.

So, I didn't find what I was looking for. There was no winner. Perhaps if you are a software developer looking to make the next big thing on the internet, there's a place to start. I need a joint storage and social sharing platform for creators. It must never abuse our personal data, accept raw files, and be cost-effective. It must appeal to a broad audience, so everyone will want to join. Plus, it can't be filled with mindless reels or have "Like" buttons.

Have you any suggestions of what I should use? It would be great to discuss them in the comments.

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38 Comments
Corros Photo's picture

Have a look at Zonerama. Free to use and with quite a lot of features

Reginald Walton's picture

I've been using Smugmug for several years now and it's a breeze. Now if they would just halt the price increases each year. LOL

Tom Reichner's picture

I have used SmugMug since 2008, but I am frustrated with them.

I will not tolerate price increases. I told them as much, and refused to renew my arrangement with them because they started charging more for the same thing. They relented and gave me $80 off the two-year renewal rate. So $40 a year cheaper than it was supposed to be. I thought that was acceptable, so I went with it.

Then some folks started calling and texting me to say that my website no longer worked. Sure enough, tomreichner.com didn't work any more. WTF?! So I contacted SmugMug about it, and they told me that my new plan, since renewing, does not allow the use of a "custom" domain name.

It looks stupid and unprofessional and asinine to have the word "smugmug" stuck in the middle of my website's web address. But they say the only way they will allow it to be shortened back up to tomreichner.com, without the "smugmug" being stuck in there, is if I pay an additional $40 per year. That makes me very dissatisfied with SmugMug, and because they are trying to manipulate me into paying more than I want to, I will refuse to renew when these two years are up.

They lost me as a long time customer because of their pettiness in trying to force me to pay a few extra dollars each year to get what I have always had for "free" in the past.

Stuart C's picture

I’m on Flickr Ivor, I love it for it’s authenticity (in comparison to the overcooked digital art site 500px).

And I’m about to go and give you a follow on there.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thanks Stuart!

Cordell Hull's picture

I've been enjoying VERO

Jan Steinman's picture

Dead slow on my thirteen-year-old (but heavily upgraded) Mac Pro.

It won't even echo characters as I type them! Like it was written in BASIC.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

--- "Most of us have discovered photos uploaded to Facebook get compressed poorly."

To be fair, literally all sites compress photos. Facebook is no worst than any other site. If your photos on FB look poorly compressed, stop reading all those size and compression recommendations and post your images at 100% quality and no less than 3000px (or just don't resize). For instance, that link you provided, Hootsuite, recommends for portraits 630x1200. Facebook actually allows up to 2048px long. Almost twice larger. At 1200px, the image may end up being stretched to view, where a 2048px will most likely not (or not as much).

--- "Facebook seems to restrict viewing posts with hyperlinks, expecting users to pay for them."

I don't believe that's correct. I post and see hyperlinks all the time. If you are referring to the "Unavailable…" message, it's probably because the poster posted a link (usually from another FB post) that's not public viewable.

For me, I use IG mostly to show that I'm not going to show up to a shoot with a point-and-shoot camera.

FB mostly for the groups to discover any gigs and meetups in my area.

Flickr to index my IG and also to post the uncensored versions of the images.

Douglas Goodhill's picture

I don't think I have seen facebook defended in 6 years.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I'm anti-false information, whether indended or not. I actually wouldn't mind seeing Facebook go down in flames. :D

Tom Reichner's picture

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Ivor,

With RAW file storage being important to you, I am surprised that you did not even mention PhotoShelter. Here in the U.S., PhotoShelter is the primary site that most of the serious pros use. Well, at least the serious pros in the wildlife/hunting/fishing genres of photography.

I do not use PhotoShelter myself, nor am I recommending it. But I thought that because it is such a major player in the game, that it at least should be in the discussion.

SmugMug should be in the discussion, too, as should Square Space.

For most things in life, the major, super-popular, most widespread, most well-known options should be our first choice, and then we should only consider more obscure, lesser-known options when the really big popular choices fail to meet our needs. Hence, PhotoShelter, SmugMug, and Square Space would be the first choices I would consider if I was looking for a web-hosting company for a photography portfolio site.

.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I've never heard of Photoshelter, Tom, and I did a fair bit of research for this article too. Maybe here on the UK, search engines give a different set of results from that side of the pond, because I didn't see it on any of the service listing or review sites I visited. I read a lot about photo hosting and sharing apps too. Thanks for the info. I'll look into it. Is it just a storage solution, or is it a photo sharing app too?

Tom Reichner's picture

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Photo Shelter is a professional grade "all in one". It is made for working pros, and priced accordingly. It offers unlimited(?) RAW image file storage, a website, and a keyword searchable database so that your clients can search your hosted archives for whatever stock image they need at any given time. Then they can license images for use right there on the site. Or you can have the site direct them to contact you directly for licensing rates and details if you want more control over that and less automation.

To the best of my knowledge, Photo Shelter is NOT for the regular guy hobbyist. Nor is it for the "photographer" who makes his/her living primarily through offering photo tours and workshops. Rather, it is specifically made for the extensive needs of the full time professional stock and/or event photographer. But I can say that almost everyone I know who is a truly successful, full time, working stock photographer is using Photo Shelter.

If you are shooting stock and licensing your rights-managed images to publishers and advertising agencies all around the world, and doing so on a highly successful full time basis, then you are most likely a Photo Shelter client. Those like myself who only dabble in such business ventures on a much less successful scale are pretty much priced out of PhotoShelter because it costs $300 a year, or maybe even more nowadays.

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Jan Steinman's picture

"For most things in life, the major, super-popular, most widespread, most well-known options should be our first choice…"

Woa, not me! I shoot Olympus. I drive a diesel Vanagon. I wear a mechanical, automatic-winding watch. I organize my photos with Excire Foto. "Outliers `R Us!"

I prefer the bleeding edge. Yea, sometimes that turns around and bites you. I'm still mourning the loss of Apple Aperture. But it's like eating spicy food: reward requires risk.

Remember, when you follow the masses, the "m" is silent.

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's a great comment Jan. Had me chuckling. Yes, lots of people miss Aperture.

Jan Steinman's picture

"lots of people miss Aperture"

It was so far ahead of its time! All Apple needed to do was to keep it working as new Mac OS releases came out, at which point, the rest of the market would just be catching up to it today. Imagine where it would be if Apple had actually committed a few engineers toward *improving* it!

Ivor Rackham's picture

I guess they did Adobe a favor.

Paul Trantow's picture

I was on the same quest about a month ago. (In the meantime, an app called OG, which literally fixed your shitty Instagram feed, came and went.) I tried all of them and launched a couple very-well-commented-on Reddit posts about the same. I ended up with Glass. They have certain minor discoverability issues (New Topographics isn't one of their limited choices of keyword) which they say (a dev commented on the Reddit thing) they're working on.

As usual, I'm going with a class-A underdog who is definitely headed in the right direction. Join me!

Marcus Vorwaller's picture

I use Adobe Creative Cloud. I pay ~$30/mo for 3tb which is quite pricey but it comes with the benefit of Lightroom and Photoshop being included. The main thing I like is that all my photos along with edits and even versions of edits are immediately available anywhere I need them. Desktop, phone, iPad, web. I use all of them regularly. It's also easy to back up a local copy to a hard drive so if something were to happen to my Adobe account, I still have everything fully synced at all times.

Sharing is easy enough (here's an example https://adobe.ly/3yjbMfS), you can even have shared albums with other editors if you'd like. It also comes with a basic portfolio site which is not going to replace squarespace by any stretch of the imagination but it's passable. There are some community aspects, mostly geared towards other photographers that I don't use much but have occasionally found useful for learning or inspiration.

I don't work for Adobe or have any deal with them or anything, just satisfied user. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Tom Reichner's picture

I think going with Adobe is a good idea, because they are such a big successful corporation that you know they're going to be around for several years to come.

It would suck to go with a web hosting company, spend all that time uploading images to it, and then in 4 or 5 years get a notice that they are going to go under, or get bought up by a bigger company, who will then change things around and perhaps discontinue whatever specific service package you have. The course of least resistance is often the most stable and hassle-free course, when you look years and years down the road.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I get that argument, Tom. There is also a risk with going with the bigger companies because they too abandon their clients. Google are particularly "good" at doing that; we nearly lost the Nik collection because of them. Apple abandoned photographers when they dumped Aperture, Adobe went back on their word about maintaining perpetual licenses for Lightroom.

The other thing is that Adobe's relatively expensive storage, good though it is, isn't what potential customers see. Most people in the world don't use Adobe. So I have to fall back to using Facebook, Twitter, and so on to share my photos with the wider world.

Jason Frels's picture

I like Flikr as it generally lets you do what you want to do. I have never tried to put a RAW there.

I have a Onedrive account where I back up all my RAW files.

William Salopek's picture

And the winner is... There is no winner? Good grief, the ULTIMATE CLICK BAIT.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Well, if you don't like the title, instead of moaning you can always ask for a refund on your subscription. Oh, hang on...

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Or better still, you could stop enabling and emboldening them to be such whiners. Oh, wait...https://fstoppers.com/comment/725934

"Birds of a feather,..."

Tom Reichner's picture

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William,

I am normally very sensitive about clickbait titles. I believer they are unethical and that they violate the reader's trust.

But I don't think that this title of Ivor's is very clickbaitish. It didn't bother me at all, and usually I am one of those who is most easily bothered and offended by clickbait titles.

.

Rhonald Rose's picture

I am working on one, should release a bare minimum in the next two weeks. It's about time a photographer put together a photo platform.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Rhonald, when you have it up and running, drop me a message.

Rhonald Rose's picture

Absolutely, thanks

Bob White's picture

Regarding Amazon Prime, it does allow unlimited storage of .dng files which is what I use because I refuse to rent Lightroom. I am still using Ver.6 which does not recognize the files from my newest camera so I convert all my RAW images to .dng regardless of camera. Prime Photos is not much of a sharing platform though so I use Flickr for myself and FB and IG for my audiences (roller derby is on FB and skateboarders are all on IG)..

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thanks for the comment, Bob. Yes, it does store my raw files too.
I think LR has come a long way since v.6, but going back on its promise of keeping the perpetual license still smarts for a lot of people. It's certainly been good news for their rivals, such as ON1

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

I have somewhat different aims in sharing my work than your stated goals in this article. That said, Flickr takes the cake for me hands-down. It's not as active as it was in 2007, but there are still great communities there and plenty of activity. More importantly, the site is fundamentally geared towards sharing photographs with a focus on art. You can see photographs in as much juicy detail as the owner decides to upload them in. They look good. It has great tools for finding new photos and photographers. It's just the best out there.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Yes, Flickr is still a great site with some superb groups. Everyone has slightly different needs for their photos. As it's my business, I also need visibility for marketing reasons, but I realize this isn't everyone's priority.

Tom Reichner's picture

Ivor,

It finally dawned on me ..... I think I now know why you didn't find a "winner".

It is now clear to me that you were looking for a site that would serve as both a photo hosting service AND a photo sharing platform. These are two very different functions.

Almost every full time pro photographer I know, and most serious part time pros and amateurs, have a website for image hosting and archive storage, and then another site for sharing their photos. For instance, they have their own website with a service like Photo Shelter, Zenfolio, Smugmug, Squarespace, etc. But these websites are not really used for image sharing. Then they actively share photos on social media sites such as Instagram, Vero, Flickr, etc.

Image sharing is when you put your images out there in front of people on a platform they are already on. Image hosting is a place you send people to to see your images. It's the difference between taking a meal to someone and dropping it off at their house for them, and inviting them to come to dinner at your place.

It may not be realistic to expect one site to serve as both the optimal photo sharing platform and also serve as the optimal web hosting service. Most people have it right - use one service to host their website, and another completely different platform for sharing photos. Trying to do both things from just one service will cause so many compromises that it won't be optimal for either thing, which is why you didn't find anything that was a clear "winner".

Ivor Rackham's picture

Yes, that was what I was hinting at, and it should be possible to provide both functions at once, but nobody does it. There's definitely an opportunity there for someone.

Tom Reichner's picture

Ivor,

I think the issue is that true photo sharing is when you post photos where masses of people already are. Once you have to direct someone to a site to see a photo, it isn't really sharing, it is more like inviting.

So true sharing only really happens on sites like Instagram, Facebook, and to a much smaller extent Flickr. But I don't know if Flickr even qualifies, because so few people are on there these days. It's not a site where most people already are.

So I guess for one site to do all that you are looking for, and to do it all optimally, without compromises, that would mean that a huge social media platform like Instagram or Facebook would have to start offering web hosting services to their users. Then your personal website on Instagram could be incorporated into the mainstream Instagram, to somehow integrate the hosting and the sharing functions and get them to sync with one another.

I just can't think of any other way to get true sharing (posting where tens of millions of people already are) and web hosting to each work optimally in the same package. Try to do it any other way, and there are going to be unfavorable compromises.

EDIT:

You say there's an opportunity there for someone. I agree. But only the huge social media giants already have tens of millions of people on their platforms, so they are the only places where true sharing is possible. So I think that the opportunity is only really available to Meta. If they bought up all of the web hosting services, such as SquareSpace, Smugmug, Zenfolio, and PhotoSHelter, then they could offer web hosting and integrate that with their social media sites. They are really the only corporation in existence that could do it, because no other corporation even comes close to having tens of millions of everyday users that the images can be shared with.

But I am not in favor of one enormous corporation taking over everything and buying up all of the smaller businesses. So maybe it's better the way it is, with specialization giving us web hosting via some companies, and true sharing via the big corporation.

Merrillie Redden's picture

I am a big fan of Flickr and have had a Pro account for quite a few years with a current count of 45, 254 images :-)
One of the best parts other than sharing your work to be seen is that you can download your photo back again in various sizes from your computer, tablet or phone quickly and don't need to go to where you have it stored if someone has expressed an interest in it or you want to share it on another platform.
I have my own website on Zenfolio plus Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and recently deleted Twitter. I am also on various stock sites.
Funnily enough I ended up reading this article after searching for 'why aren't my photos hosted on Zenfolio showing up in Google search results" which is an issue that has been bugging me for a long time. Search results show my photos everywhere else but my own website. All have the same metadata and my website is not blocked to robots plus it is submitted to Google and reindexed but few photos from my Zenfolio site show up. Frustrating!