Online photo sharing is booming. There are many factors that contribute to this trend, for instance:

  • The growing worldwide adoption of broadband, enabling faster uploads and downloads of high-quality photos
  • The transition to digital cameras, enabling convenient transfers of photos to the PC, and subsequently the Internet
  • The ability to share photos with friends and family, who are likely to follow suit, contributes to the viral growth of photo-sharing websites
  • Most photo websites offer both photo-sharing and photo-printing services, which further encourages people to transfer their photos to the net

This all is great news for photo enthusiasts. Here are two of my favorite photo-sharing services:

  • www.dotphoto.com - One of the only decent websites that survived the .com crash. Cost: Free
  • www.simplestar.com - Offers a great desktop application that allows you to add effects to your photos, create slideshows (in flash) and upload it all to a website. Features an intuitive, "Kai's Power Tools"-style user interface. Cost: USD$29.99

(rummage about for cane) Back in the old days, we didn't have no stinking online photo sharing. We took slides, put them in a carousel slide projector and invited friends and family over for a long drawn out evening of vacation photos. And we liked it that way.

Well, the old days are over (mostly) and now online is here... even for us old folks and traditionalists who still use slide film. Its not all that bad, works nicely for sharing photographs when the rest of your family is on the other coast, or some other continent. The challenge is not so much how to get the photographs digital (be it with a digital camera or a scanner (often a service that photo labs offer at time of development)) but rather choosing the right way of sharing photographs.

Email

Chances are, the 'easiest' way to share digital pictures is to send them in an email. This has the advantage that you don't have to worry about anything other than having email. The problem is that if you are sending any reasonable chunk of photos, it is possible to max out the amount you can send at a time, or the recipients mailbox.

Free Services

There are some free services that have some space for uploading photos and sharing them. One example is http://photos.yahoo.com/ which gives 30 megs of space for free, with the ability to buy more space (up to a max of 300 megs) and upload larger files (personally, I routinely work with 20 meg png files).

Many of these services include some photo finishing side business allowing printing either prints, mugs, or t-shirts (see selling your photos below to recover some costs). Do realize that the size of the image that is uploaded will impact the size and quality of the print that can be printed. Yahoo! puts a lower limit of 640x480 for the 4"x6" print (100 dpi when printed). It is strongly recommended to print at no less than 200 dpi and preferably the max of 300 dpi. For a 4"x6" print, this means between an image size of 800x1200 to 1200x1800 pixels.

For a listing of online photo albums, I recommend looking at Yahoo! or Google for online photo albums - the list is long. Unfortunately, the URL is also quite long. From http://dir.yahoo.com/ the path is:
Business and Economy > Shopping and Services > Communication and Information Management > Internet and World Wide Web > Personal Information Management > Photo Albums
From http://directory.google.com/ the path is:
Computers > Internet > On the Web > Web Applications > Virtual Disk Drives > Photo Sharing

Online Art Communities

While not intended as a means for sharing photographs, there are other sites intended as centers of art with a community of some sort around them to critique the artistic works. The two that spring most clearly to mind are http://photo.net/ and http://www.deviantART.com/ (thats deviant art, not devian tart).

photo.net

Photo.net is a site for photographers - be they digital or film. Image storage is limited and they ask for donations (which are often given). The prime focus of photo.net is the display and critique of photographs with the goal to become a better photographer. Side features include tutorials, links to affiliate shops, columns by photographers. As of April 2003, there are 225,000 registered users, serves 1.7 terabytes/month, 6 million hits/day, and 535,000 photographs (increasing at about 32,000/month).

deviantART

deviantART is, similar to e2 in many respects (the community feel, 'votes', chatterbox style chat. As of the time of this writing, there are 409758 photography items on the site and another 33,258 in the stock photos section. The site is a bit slow (even with the big servers behind it) because it is a bit graphics heavy. In theory, if you cache enough of the icons, life will be easier. deviantART does have a side business of deviantPrints. Unlike the photo finishing side of Yahoo! and others which will print anything to make a dime, deviantPrints (thats the name of it - url http://www.daprints.com/) has the goal of producing high quality artwork. One needs to submit the image to them and they decide if they (not you) want to sell it. If they like the print, there are resources to print it at much larger sizes than classically available at Yahoo! and the like (at this time, up to 20"x30" and moving up to 48"x48"). Think of this more as an art gallery with proceeds going back to the artist.

Your own gallery

So far, this has mostly explored the free services and communities. Sometimes, you want your own. Many on E2 are familiar with http://www.wertperch.co.uk/ and the gallery it has. The gallery itself is powered by a php package called Gallery available at http://gallery.menalto.com/. To use this type of tool, one needs to have a web host.

Web hosts

Gallery itself offers a link to set of web hosting services that work with it and many times have the software pre-installed. These services often weigh in at between $10/month and $40/month (and sometimes going up to $100/month if you really want huge disk space and large amounts of bandwidth). The key thing to look for here is the combination of disk space, bandwidth, and dynamic page support (the three biggies being CGI, ASP, PHP).

One doesn't need to have dynamic page support, but it is helpful when working on the site, especially for programmer types when something neat is desired. It is possible to set up a web site that is purely directory based with static files.

When considering size think about how many photographs one wants to present and how big each photograph is. For example, a reasonable sized high quality jpeg (good choice for display of photographs) may well be 300k - 1 meg (image size 1500x1000, jpeg quality at 95%). My personal site at this time contains 50 photographs and uses 500 meg (I've got some large (~5400x3500) png files for many of the prints that I store there too).

Bandwidth is another consideration. Similar to size, consider how often people are going to look at the images. There are people with Angelfire or GeoCities sites that have used up their bandwidth allotment by mentioning a photograph in the chatterbox. The larger the images, the more bandwidth one will need. The more popular the site, the more bandwidth one will need.

Serve your own

The pie in the sky way to share online photographs is to have your own connection. Some of us are fortunate enough to have connections with people that have a private T1 connection and room in the storage closet for another box with a hard drive. This gives practically limitless room for photographs (hard drives are cheap) and flexibility, though does have the notable added benefit/problem of having to do your own work on the website and possibly administer the machine too.

Failing a T1 connection, it is possible to set up a server with DSL. It is strongly recommended that one considers getting sDSL rather than aDSL when considering servers. sDSL is for synchronous DSL meaning that the upload and download speeds are the same. aDSL (asynchronous DSL) has the download speed much faster than the upload speed. When acting as the server, it is the upload speed that is the key value to consider.

Selling Prints

If you happen to have a bit more bend to commercial photography (or maybe just want a way where you don't get stuck with the bill for 20 tshirts with photographs of the family picnic on them) there are on-demand printing sites to answer this call.

Deviant Prints

As mentioned above, deviantART's side business of Deviant Prints exists. The artist receives 50% of the amount of the sale above the base price of the print. The base price ranges from $0.25 for a 3.5"x5" print to $14.00 for a 20"x30" print with an 8"x12" at $2.50. Prints are made on high quality Fujifilm Crystal Archive paper (lasts 100 years without fading).

CafePress

CafePress is an on-demand printing superstore. Photograph prints are not its major emphasis, but do exist in 3 sizes. The large print is 14"x10", the small print is 14"x6", and the panel print is 9"x12". All prints are framed. There is no approval needed to sell a photograph (or other graphic image - the small print size is quite nice for cartoons) and other media is available (such as tile coasters and mouse pads). Realize for the prints, one needs to have a premium shop (which costs money). With cafe press, the artist gets all of the amount above the base price, though the base price is a bit higher than that of Deviant Prints (frames do cost). There is no information provided online about the paper of the print. CafePress does have the ability to print books which add another degree of flexibility to the offerings of an artist.

An odd end

One last noteworthy item. If you are willing to pay a few bucks, there are LCD digital picture frames out there now. With these displays, they can either extract images from a memory card of some sort or via a link to a computer. They've got a fair bit of memory (one version has room for 1500 photographs). The use? If your parents are reasonably computer savvy (or good at following instructions that you have written down), it would be possible to send them digital photographs of the kids (most often requested photograph) and then have them displayed in a picture frame rather than sending hard copies of the prints. Being able to store 1500 photographs roughly translates to 7 photographs a month for 18 years (thats quite a photo album).

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