Copyright © 2012 Richard Beaty
For the past couple of months, I’ve been talking about “cloud” applications … Internet based programs and utilities. I’ve covered 1) online backup services and 2) cloud data storage. This month, I’ll review…
Cloud Application #3: Online Photo Albums
These services have been around for awhile, and chances are pretty good you may already use one of them. If so, you are already involved with “the cloud.”
Online photo Websites allow you to upload your digital photos, store them, view them, and share them with others. Up to this point, the Websites I will review are free. They make their money by accepting ads and/or by offering you related products, such as prints, photo books and other photo-personalized items. I’ll review and compare some of the more popular sites.
This is the one I’ve had the most personal experience with. I became aware of this site several years ago, when my niece started using it. I opened my own account and started using it to document and share photos of my travels and special events.
Shutterfly, like most similar sites, offers free services to attract you, and paid merchandise to monetize the site.
After opening a free Shutterfly account, you can upload as many pictures as you wish, and you have unlimited storage space. You can organize you photos into albums and share the online albums with others. You can create what they call “Share Sites,” your own Website of photos and memories, and direct your friends and family to the site. I’ve used this nice feature a number of times to share special memories with friends.
Order Prints – You can get prints delivered to your mailbox at what I consider to be a very reasonable rate.
Photo Calendars – You can create photo calendars. I’ve done this several times. They make great gifts.
Photo Books – You can design your own printed photo album. These are high-quality books that come in different sizes and, of course, varying number of pages based on the number of photos you wish to include.
Greeting Cards & Stationary – This is an especially handy way to create those personalized seasonal greetings to family and friends.
Other Merchandise – Here you can order anything from mugs to iPhone covers, Christmas ornaments to puzzles, mouse pads to refrigerator magnets, and many more imaginative gifts and photo-personalized souvenir items.
Flickr has been around for a long time and has a huge user base. It has gotten a reputation as primarily being an artsy-craftsy photo site, as opposed to a casual photo album site. I think that used to be true, but it may be less so now.
You get unlimited storage with Flickr, but the amount you can upload per month is severely restricted. I started using Flickr for awhile, but the upload restriction soon discouraged me. There is a Pro account that lifts this restriction, but then it is no longer free. Another annoying feature of Flickr is that your friends must sign up to be a member just to view your photos. Sign up is free, but it’s still an irritating complication for anyone who simply wants to look at your photos.
Like most other sites in this category, you can purchase photo-related products, including high quality photo books, prints and items like mugs and sweatshirts.
This is a very popular photo sharing site. Until recently, it had storage limits, but presumably due to competitive pressure, it now gives you unlimited photo storage. It does have a monthly upload limit, however. Unlike Flickr, people do not have to be members to view your photos.
It has basic photo editor capabilities; and, like the others, you can order prints and have your pictures printed onto various merchandise like mugs, calendars, cards, etc.
In a sense, this is a whole different category of website, and maybe shouldn’t be included in a side-by-side discussion of online photo albums. But I think it has some special photo features that make it worth discussing.
Google+ is actually Google’s answer to Facebook. But its handling of pictures is far superior to any general purpose social networking site that I’ve encountered. The photo portion of Google+ overlaps with Google’s Picasa Web product, which preceded Google+. Both Picasa Web and Google+ coexist and share the photos you upload. But their policies are not exactly the same, and this leads to some confusion. Bottom line difference that I have been able to determine is that you get unlimited storage for photos uploaded through Google+. There are restrictions to Picasa Web.
I have only recently started using Google+ to share photos. I don’t use the general Facebook-like social networking features, but I do use it to share photos with a very select group of friends and family members.
What I specifically like about it, is that it preserves and displays in an information panel what is known as the EXIF data (camera and exposure details) of your uploaded pictures. This will probably only be of interest to serious photographers, but for those folks, this is a special feature.
I also like the quality and smoothness of its full-screen slide shows, which you can start with a single click. If you’re not into a full-featured photo editing software, there are some built-in, easy-to-use photo editing tools where you can crop, adjust exposure, color correct, and sharpen you uploaded photos. You can also download a full size photo easily.
There are many other similar sites. So similar, in fact, that reviewing them all would not make interesting reading. If you’re shopping around for the best online photo album, you’ll want to review the details of each and evaluate what’s important to you. I ran across an interesting Website that discusses what you should look for and what you might want to avoid.
This site also offers links to specific site reviews for a comprehensive list of photo sharing Websites.