If you're an avid shutterbug, chances are you're going to consider joining an online photo storage site. Sites such as Flickr (www.flickr.com), Picasa (www.picasa.com), or Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com) make it possible to back up and share your pictures, order prints, sell pictures, or even make albums, calendars or mugs.
Yes, creating albums on Facebook is one of the easiest ways to share your vacation pictures with your friends (and make them jealous in the process).
But if you're someone who takes photography a little more seriously, you're going to want to look into an online service that specializes in storing images. Austin Hill, half of the Travellious (www.travellious.com) blogging team, explains: "Facebook is a social service that also stores photos. You can't depend on Facebook to save your awesome travel photos in the original sizes or formats."
Comparing the different services can take some time. Here are five questions to ask as you decide which online storage service to join:
1. How many photos do you have? My husband and I take thousands of photos a year, many of which we publish on my blog or sell to editors. We have a professional account on SmugMug (www.smugmug.com, $40-$150 per year) because it's geared toward people who need to store and access large numbers of high-resolution pictures.
2. How easy is the photo storage site to use?If a service is too complicated, you'll never use it, right? Look for a service that makes uploading a one- or two-click process. (SmugMug lets you drag and drop photos directly into galleries that you create). Several photo storage services, such as Flickr and Photobucket (www.photobucket.com), have built-in photo editors, so you can fix your photos at the same time that you're uploading them. Almost all of the services allow you to share photos directly on Facebook, and many have apps so you can upload photos directly from your smartphone.
3. How much are you willing to pay?Frequent traveler Kris Jugo pays $65 per year for unlimited storage on ImageEvent (www.imageevent.com), where she has archived more than 5,000 images and videos from her Caribbean adventures. It's worth it, Jugo says, because she can control who sees the photos. "They also back up their servers, so I don't worry so much about losing my photos." The service also lets her store documents and pdf files.
If that sounds expensive, don't worry: Flickr, Picasa and other site all offer free photo storage accounts, too. You'll likely have to contend with ads, and you'll be limited in how many photos you can upload per month. Familiarize yourself with each service's maximum allowed photo size; if it's too low, you'll have to resize your pictures. Want to upgrade? Flickr Pro costs $24.95 per year for unlimited uploads; Google sells more storage space on Picasa (from $5 per year for 20GB).
4. How do you want to use your photos? If you're looking to make a calendar out of your travel photos or put your favorite family shot on a mug, you might want to look into a service such as Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com) or Snapfish (www.snapfish.com) that stresses creative uses for pictures.
Flickr is another popular choice for quasi-professional photographers. Hill likes Flickr Pro because he can control access and use of his photos. "You can allow your photos to be licensed through Getty Images, opening the possibility of earning a little extra cash," Hill says.
5. What photo site do your friends use? Travel blogger David Porter of The Roaming Boomers uses Flickr primarily for the service's social aspect. "There's a group for nearly every subject or location, and it's very easy to connect with photographers using the exact same camera as you," he says.
Another bonus: Because Flickr has been around since 2004, you can find millions of geo-tagged photos from places around the world. "If I'm wondering if a favorite Arizona hiking trail has water running in the streams, I can log onto Flickr and voilà! There are pictures from someone who was just there," Porter says.
Travel journalist Chris Gray Faust dishes up travel tips on her award-winning blog, Chris Around The World. She's also a member of the Value Luxury Network. Follow her on Twitter at @CAroundTheWorld.