[Update: Dave Redfern in the comments asks why I didn’t mention 500px, and I have no good answer other than I completely forgot about it. I’ve also never used it so can’t give an informed opinion, but it certainly looks good, is cheap at $25 a year for most features and, according to Dave, has the supporting community that I miss from Flickr. I’m giving it a go and will report back.]
Sharing your photos on the internet used to be simple. Everyone had a Flickr account and that’s where the photos went. But Flickr has become a shadow of its former self and a recent overhaul managed to make it even less appealing. While Flickr hadn’t been that vibrant of late I noticed a massive fall-off in use in the latter part of 2013. If you judged Photo School purely by our Flickr group, where most students would share their photos, you’d think we were going out of business.
So if the king is dead, who is the new king? Naturally it’s not that simple, but I’ve tried to narrow the options down to a few reliable services, depending on what you want to do.
Back to Basics
I wasn’t expecting to recommend Imgur for anything at all but it’s turned out to be the best thing I’ve seen in a while. It was created as a quick way to share images on Reddit and the front page reflects that bias towards memes and not-safe-for-work content, but that doesn’t really matter as you only see it when you log in. What makes it special is the awesome simplicity of the thing. To upload images you simply drag them into the browser. They automatically form an album that isn’t just a list of thumbnails and which has a convenient address you can share on whatever network you prefer.
If you have a folder of photos you’d like to show people as quickly as possible I can’t think of much better.
The social media networks are what arguably killed of Flickr and there’s a lot to be said for putting your photos on them if you want people to see them. Personally, Twitter is my audience-generating machine, bringing 50-100 people to a photo I post them in a matter of minutes, and that still feels revolutionary after all these years. But Twitter really works best as a pointing service, linking to photos hosted elsewhere. You can share images there but it’s not good for archiving.
Facebook‘s photo management has most of the functionality of Flickr and if you have an active presence there is a great way to share amongst your friends. The downside of Facebook is it’s inherently inward looking. You’re not going to reach many people outside your network, or your friends networks, unless you go super-viral, and that’s just unpleasant.
Instagram is also an inward-looking network but, through accident or design, has developed a good discovery system through use of tags. I enjoy Instagram a lot but it doesn’t feel like somewhere you’d share photographs as photographs. It’s more a place where people communicate using a visual language, if that makes sense. I get more responses to a fuzzy photo of my rabbit than a perfectly composed, artistically interesting shot, and that actually pleases me. Note that you can only use Instagram through the smartphone app, not via the web.
I’m including Google’s Picasa and Google+ in this list because Picasa is a useful app that syncs well with the web and someone once shared a Google+ album with me and it was very nice, but I’ve never used either of them so can’t given a good judgement.
When asking for suggestions for this post Chris Hathway said he was impressed with Exposure which I’d also come across recently. It’s sort of a mix of albums and essays, turning a folder of photos into a story. It’s a great idea, but it’s also a pretty simple one. Exposure is very pretty but you can tell a story with photos on pretty much any blogging platform. I’d recommend WordPress or Blogger as reliable services.
If you like getting physical prints of your photos then see if your preferred printing service also offers public-facing web albums. Photobox, which I use to get prints made, has these. They’re pretty crappy and push people to order prints but they’re easy to switch on a share.
Eventually you’ll have a lot of photos clogging up your hard drive. Wouldn’t it be neat if there was a way to back them up online with the added bonus of being able to share them with a couple of clicks? With Dropbox this is simple. (Note – I pay $100/year for 100GB storage on Dropbox. My thousands of photos take up 40GB of that. I consider this good value for peace of mind.)
With Dropbox set up on my computer I simply drag a folder of images into the Dropbox folder. Once these have been uploaded to the Dropbox server they’re safely backed up should my computer die or get stolen. But I can also share the folder on the web which Dropbox turns into a gallery. Neat.
The Old Guard
Of course Flickr is still around and isn’t going anywhere fast. While owners Yahoo have a record of closing down services and are now focussing all their efforts on the recently acquired Tumblr, I don’t think Flickr is in too much danger. I’m going to keep putting my photos there. They’re well organised and still get a lot of traffic from outside my usual networks. I’ve got work from people who’ve stumbled upon my photos on Flickr. I can’t think of another service of any weight that puts the quality of the photography at the centre of things. For all its faults, Flickr Explore remains an incredible archive of photography in all its forms.
You can tell I’m finding it hard to let go.
The good news is, with Flickr fading the market for photo sharing services should be getting interesting again. I’ve barely scratched the surface in this list and I’m sure there’s more to come.