By Hiawatha Bray
Itís mid-July, prime photo-taking season, and by now your digital cameras and cellphones probably need a break. Time to offload those snapshots to an Internet site that will let you look at them any time, and share them with family and friends.
For most of us, the first choice is Facebook. According to an Associated Press-CNBC poll, more than 40 percent of US adults log onto Facebook at least once a week, so itís the most accessible photo album around.
Yet there are plenty of other options. Some have features Facebook canít match, including old favorites like Yahoo Inc.ís Flickr, Google Inc.ís Picasa Web Albums, and Photobucket, as well as newer challengers like 1000memories.com, offering good value and sophisticated new capabilities.
For now, Flickr leads the pack. A free account at Flickr.com lets you upload an unlimited number of images, but you can only post 300 megabytes of photo files and a couple of video clips each month. Thatís plenty of capacity for the casual shooter, since a typical smartphone photo takes up about two megabytes, but prolific photographers could run out of space fast. Also, only 200 of your photos are visible to you and your friends at any given time. Pay $24.95 for a Pro account, and these limits come off.
Googleís Picasa Web Albums takes a different tack. Thereís no monthly upload limit, but you get just one gigabyte of storage. When thatís full, you can either start deleting stuff or pay for more space. An extra 25 gigabytes cost $2.49 a month.
Picasa is also the name of Googleís very good, free photo editing and management software. The Web Albums site integrates smartly with Picasa software. For instance, it will let you download hundreds of photos from your friends with a couple of mouse clicks. Also, you can set up an Android smartphone so that pictures taken with its built-in camera appear automatically on the Picasa site.
Another popular picture site, Photobucket, lets you upload all the pictures you want, but limits users of its free service to 10 gigabytes of photo-sharing per month. Thatís enough for most people. But if you share your photos with a large number of friends, or on a popular blog, you could hit the wall. The unlimited version costs $2.99 a month, or $24.95 a year.
Still, in an era of inexpensive, Internet-data storage, some outfits offer free, unlimited storage as a come-on. Two ó Shutterfly and Hewlett-Packard Co.ís Snapfish ó make their money by selling old-fashioned photographic prints. Remember picking up vacation photos at the local Walgreens? You still can; just place the order through Shutterfly or Snapfish. Or you can have prints mailed to you.
Even if you donít buy prints, Shutterfly and Snapfish offer unlimited uploads, storage, and sharing. Shutterfly has a cool feature that will instantly build a website featuring your images; to share with friends, just e-mail them the address. To look at Snapfish images, friends must sign up for their own accounts, just as with Facebook. But this takes just a few seconds, and of course, itís free.
One of the newer sharing services, 1000memories.com, takes unlimited photo storage backward in time. Consider the millions of old-school photo prints stashed in basements and attics. To put them online, you need a good scanner to turn the pictures into digital files, something many of us donít have. But most of us have a smartphone lying around, so 1000memories has created a photo-scanning app for Apple and Android devices. Take a picture of a picture, and the app provides a simple tool for cropping it. Touch an icon, and the photo is uploaded to an online ďshoebox.Ē
But this shoebox has a glass lid. You can share the images with anybody else. Better yet, you can invite guests to make contributions of their own. Say you and a few dozen relatives held a reunion 10 years ago. With 1000memories, you can collect every photo of the event at a single website, for everyone to enjoy.
Facebook is sure to remain everyoneís favorite photo site; the company just spent $1 billion to keep it that way, by purchasing the smartphone photo company Instagram. But with so many online photo-sharing rivals, the options are nearly unlimited.
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