But what happens when you switch phones, upgrade computers or simply want to search all your photos at once?
Uploading pictures to a photo sharing site is a simple way to answer all those questions—and the services offer lots of other benefits, as well. You can organize large photo collections, make it easier for friends and family to contribute to shared albums and ensure your pictures stay with you no matter which device they came from.
There are four main criteria to think about when picking the best site for your needs:
1. Cost of storage. First you need to figure out how much memory you’ll need. This is largely determined by where most of your pictures come from. Smartphone photos can range from 500KB to 2MB in size, while photos from point-and-shoot cameras are usually 1-5MB, depending on the megapixel count of the camera. Choose lower storage limits at first; you can always pay for more when you need it.
2. Automatic photo sync. If you take a lot of photos, a service that syncs images automatically via a smartphone app or folder on your desktop can take out the hassle out of backing up.
3. Privacy. Do you want complete control over who can see your pictures? Family albums, for instance, might benefit from a site that keep albums password protected.
4. Full-size upload and download. If you want to back up a collection or print your photos, find a service that allows full-resolution uploads and downloads. Some services downsize photos for quicker uploads.
Below are our favorite sites and their best features. Let us know what you think – and what you use – in the comments.
Photobucket: Great for Editing
If your smartphone doesn’t offer much in the way of touch-up tools – or if you’re transferring pics from a digital camera – you may want to check out photo services with basic editing tools built in. Stalwart photo-sharing site Photobucket offers an intuitive image editor with simple features, such as red-eye removal, sharpening and cropping. You can also add splashes of color to a black and white photo, try out vintage-style filters and draw or write on pictures.
You can upload photos from Facebook, your computer, or other websites. You can also create shared albums where friends can contribute photos, video and text of their own. Albums can be posted to Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Photobucket has a large community of users who post pictures to a public photo feed with tons of interest tags and trending topics, so it’s also a good option if you want your albums to reach more than friends and family.
The site also has its own photo-printing service to reproduce images for framed prints, canvas wraps, photo books and even blankets and shower curtains.
Cost of storage: 2GB free, with an additional 8GB if you use the Photobucket app; prices range from 20GB for $2.99/month ($29.99/year) up to 500GB for $39.99/month ($399.99 a year) Automatic photo sync? Yes, with desktop computer and iPhone/Android apps Do you need an account to view photos? No Privacy control: You can add a password to albums or choose to make them visible only to you Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes
Flickr: Great for Large Photo Collections
The grandaddy of photo-sharing sites, Flickr offers 1TB of storage for free (which can hold some 2 million photos) with no limit on picture resolution. Users can also upload 1080p high-definition video clips up to three minutes long.
Users can organize pictures into collections and sub-collections, with options to tag keywords and people either individually or in batches of photos. You can search your library by keyword or people tags and sort by dates that pictures were posted or taken—a godsend when a lifetime’s worth of photos start to stack up.
Flickr displays photos in a minimalist grid with a slideshow option. The site also offers the same beginner-friendly image editor as Photobucket, with Instagram-style color filters, cutesy effects like frames and stickers and basic editing tools, such as contrast, saturation and focus tweaks.
You can upload photos via email, the website, or directly from the Flickr smartphone app and share albums on Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Twitter. Avid photographers will have a huge audience in the Flickr community, who post 3000 photos every minute on average.
Cost of storage: Free, with 1TB of storage and displayed ads; $49.99 a year for ad-free version Automatic photo sync? Yes, through the Flickr smartphone app for iPhone and Android Do you need an account to view photos? No Privacy control: You can choose the audience for every photo as friends, family, public or only you (adding contacts allows you to set them as friends or family) Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes
Yogile: Great for Collaborative Sharing
If you’re hosting an event where many people will be taking photos, such as a wedding, Yogile is a simple way to create a shared gallery where everyone can upload their photos without the need to sign up for an account. Once you create the gallery, attendees have two upload options: Upload images directly to a custom URL or reply to a Yogile-generated email with photos attached. You are given a link where attendees can go to upload or email their own photos.
This no-frills service has no editing options except for changing captions and photographer credits. You can sort photos by date or by contributor and anyone with access to the album can download full-size images. A slideshow option is a neat way to watch the story of the event unfold, as each photographer’s pictures intermix into the correct chronological order.
Cost of storage: $44.95 per year for unlimited uploads; free for 100MB worth of uploads a month, but albums automatically delete after 14 days Automatic photo sync? No Do you need an account to view photos? No Privacy control: You can add a password to your gallery. Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes
500px: Great for Discovery
This sleekly designed site is all about its striking photography. You’ll find no family pics or collections of vacation snaps on 500px; instead there are highly edited shots of landscapes, animals and beautiful people, displayed in a minimal, endlessly-flowing grid.
You can upload pictures from your computer or import them from Dropbox, Facebook, Instagram and more. You can add keyword tags to make your photos easier to find.
Once you pick a couple categories you’re interested in, say People or Macro, 500px will try to match you with other users whose tastes match yours. When you start following particular categories and photographers, your homepage (called “Flow”) will display pictures that your contacts have liked or commented on. You can also browse through dozens of themes, including Abstract, Street or Journalism.
For pro users, premium accounts come with a portfolio website. 500px also offers the chance to buy – or sell – photos as wall art or stock photography.
Cost of storage: Free for 20 uploads a week; plans from $2.08/month allow unlimited uploads and the ability to organize photos into sets Automatic photo sync? No Do you need an account to view photos? No Privacy control: You can upload pictures privately so that only you see them; otherwise they are publicly visible by default. Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes
Shutterfly: Great for Photo Products
Shutterfly offers a creative range of photo gifts, including metal prints, wooden wall art and battery cases for smartphones. There’s also the usual lineup of personalized stationary, crockery, blankets and cushions, as well as kiddy-oriented products like lunch bags, puzzles and books customized with your little one’s face throughout their pages.
Even if you don’t purchase any photo prints, Shutterfly is a good option for collating your photo collection online, as it offers unlimited storage with no restrictions on the size of photos uploaded and the ability to import pictures directly from Facebook, Instagram, iPhoto, Google+ Photos and Adobe Photoshop. You can also send pictures through iPad, iPhone or Android apps.
Once pictures are uploaded, you can send a link to the gallery via email or Facebook for friends to view. Anyone who can view your album can also order prints of the pictures in it. For collaborative albums, you can create a “Share” micro-site for group members to upload photos and share calendars, messages and polls.
Cost of storage: Free, with unlimited storage; signing up gets you 50 free prints Automatic sync? No Do you need an account to view photos? No Privacy control: Albums are private by default and Share sites are limited to their members. Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes
ThisLife: Great for Collating Diverse Sets of Photos
If your pictures are scattered throughout the Internet, photo aggregator ThisLife can import and organize them. The service links with Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, Picasa and SmugMug to pull in all your photos and sort them by date and place. You can upload full resolution pictures directly from your computer and premium accounts support high-definition video, as well.
Photos are privately displayed in a timeline and can be further organized by category and people tags. You can also search by information in the image metadata (the camera used to snap the photo), its original source and the keywords associated with it (Instagram hashtags).
You can also organize pics into “Story” galleries that you can then share via email. Since the service is owned by Shutterfly, you can also create prints and other photo gifts of your pictures.
Cost of storage: Free up to 2,500 photos; $59/year for 25,000 photos; $139/year for 100,000 photos Automatic photo sync? Yes, through a desktop folder or the Instagram app Do you need an account to view photos? No Privacy control: Only friends with the link to the gallery can view it; however there’s no password protection Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes
Google+ Photos: Great for Slideshows
A lot of photo-sharing sites offer a slideshow feature, but Google+ Photos throws in some unique auto-create options for photos taken with an iPhone or Android phone.
If you turn on auto back up and location history in the Google+ app, Google will collate a “Story” slideshow based on pictures snapped while you’re away from your usual haunts—that is, when it thinks you’re on vacation.
If you take a set of similar photos—say, on burst mode—the Auto Awesome feature turns the images into a mini-animation, viewable from the website or app. If you’re on an Android phone (OS version 4.3 or newer), there’s an additional Movie feature that can stitch together a movie from photos and videos you select.
You can also upload photos from your smartphone or computer and manually create albums. Photos can be as public or private as you want; users of the Google+ social network can set which Circles can view the photos, or simply email friends a link to the gallery. The photo viewer offers sharing and editing options, as well as a slideshow view.
Cost of storage: Free for unlimited photos at Google’s downsized “standard” size, which is sufficient for web sharing, or 15GB of full-size pictures (storage shared with Google Drive and Gmail accounts); from $1.99/month for 100GB, up to $299.99/month for 30TB Automatic photo sync? Yes, option to sync to a private album via a desktop folder and iPhone/Android apps Do you need an account to view photos? No Privacy control: You can set the audience for the photo album and prevent others from sharing the album. Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes, but full-resolution photos count against storage limit
Zenfolio: Great for Professionals
Built to host portfolios rather than photo feeds, Zenfolio offers sleek homepage layouts to show off your best images and a blog where you can easily upload photos and videos as you go.
There’s no limit on the size or number of photos you can upload, so it’s a good tool to store ultra-high resolution images taken with a DSLR.
You can sort photos into galleries that have searchable descriptions and category and keyword tags. Photos can be viewed as an elegant slideshow in which you control the background music and the player’s speed and transitions.
Zenfolio supports plug-ins to transfer pictures from professional photo-management software, such as Adobe Lightroom and Aperture. For pros who want to sell their prints, there’s the option to build in a shopping cart, as well guestbook and contact pages.
Cost of storage: $30/year for 2GB of storage, plus an additional 1GB for every year you hold an account; $60/year for unlimited storage; from $140/year to add selling features Automatic photo sync? No Do you need an account to view photos? No Privacy control: You can add a password to a gallery to keep it private Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes
Facebook: Great for Social Sharing
If you simply want your photos stored where it’s easy for friends to see them and share them with other friends, then Facebook might the best place to upload your camera work. You get unlimited uploads, a high likelihood that the person you want to tag is also on the network (something that the fuller-featured, lesser-used Google+ cannot claim) and a simple interface for liking and commenting on photos.
You can send individual pictures by private message, or share a particular photo publicly on a friend’s wall. Each album also has the option to be turned into a shared album, allowing multiple friends to add to the gallery.
The downside, as with all things Facebook, is that it isn’t possible to be truly private. Even if your album visibility is set to friends-only, photos tagged with friends’ names are still viewable to all their friends (unless they’ve set their privacy so that no one can see their photos), which could be a turnoff if you’re looking to share family albums.
Uploaded photos are limited to 2048 pixels wide, so high-resolution pictures off a camera will be downsized and therefore less suitable for printing.
Cost of storage: Free, with unlimited uploads Automatic photo sync? Yes, option to sync privately from smartphone apps, then you choose which ones to share Do you need an account to view photos? Yes Privacy control: At your most private settings, friends of anyone tagged in a photo will be able to see that photo. Full-size uploads/downloads? No