Best and Worst Photo Hosting Websites
by DCR Staff -  8/5/2010

By Chris Gampat

Students always need someplace to start. Whether you are very serious about pursuing a degree in photography or to just be a major enthusiast, it is essential to keep a great portfolio. But with so many options, which one do you choose?

There is actually quite a bit to consider before you make your selection-terms of use, storage allowed, paid options, sense of community, privacy, critiques, etc. Most students really do not consider any of these to be very important in the beginning but will soon change their minds when they perhaps become professionals. Here are some sites to start out on before moving up to the big leagues.

The Best

Flickr is perhaps the best and most versatile free option out there for both amateurs and professionals alike. The site offers a wealth of options such as 100MB a month of storage and 200 photos max for free members, loads of groups to send your photos to for viewing and critique, forums in these groups for users to chat, an affiliation with Getty for an offer to buy photos, video options, loads of sharing options with external social networks, etc. Flickr is also very easy to use and community members are very friendly towards one another. At the time of writing this piece, Flickr has undergone a redesign-but the site still offers the friendliest interface and tutorial on how to make the most of the community.

If users so choose to buy a yearly membership they are rewarded with unlimited storage of photos, the ability to download their original files if needed, unlimited numbers of groups in which photos can be displayed, HD video options, and easier tracking of where their photos go.

With all this versatility though, users will want to look at Flickr's licensing options. Each type of license is completely and easily outlined in plain English.

SmugMug is the site that many professional photographers utilize to share content with their clients without the fear of theft of content and it is a site that many budding photographers strive to go for. Unless you are extremely serious about your photography, you may want to perhaps put off SmugMug's fees.

It should be noted that the site has no free options. When users really look at what they get though, they find loads of invaluable resources. Photographers can sell their work through SmugMug, unlimited storage and traffic bandwidth, no ads, integration with loads of photo editing software programs, and once again ultimate protection of your creative content from theft. If you can afford the prices, then you'll have one of the firmest starts that a photography student can have. Otherwise, consider it a goal for when you're a professional and can turn your art into profit.

Due to the lack of free options, students that are just major photo enthusiasts may perhaps want to flock over to Flickr instead.

A site owned by Mamiya, MAC-On-Campus offers a wealth of options for students and educators currently enrolled in photography programs including galleries and the option of being the "Featured Student" each month where users are more likely to receive many more comments and praises on their work. The site also offers users loads of information and articles/excerpts from many publishers in their Library section as well as notifications of upcoming events/contests/workshops in the Calendar. The former can be accessed for free by anyone, which is great for those interested in photography to learn more about the craft. Further, students get discounts on select products if they need them.

While this is great for photography students, they are really the only ones that will take full advantage of the full offerings. When you walk across the stage and get your diploma, say goodbye to the wealth of benefits such as discounts. You'll still be able to keep your galleries though, but as it is MAC-On-Campus is really strictly oriented towards photography students and isn't as big as something like Flickr that incorporates people from all walks of life.

Picasa is owned by Google, and so it integrates well with Gmail and other Google product users. The sharing site offers its users various editing options as well as full integration with the Blogger platform. The first gigabyte is free for users. Afterward, Google charges for storage. As it is, there is nothing very truly extraordinary about the service, but it isn't really a bad one either.

The downside to all this is that you allow Google to do whatever they want with the photos that you upload. In addition to this, it has a weird and sometimes confusing interface, which is unusual for Google. If there was a site that would fall in the middle of good and bad sites, it would be Picasa. Part of this has to do with Google's, "Content License from you" which allows the company to do whatever they want with the photos, even making them available to other companies.

Choose Picasa if you love everything Google and you want an easier way to integrate it into your life.


Unless you've specifically purchased the copyrights to all your photos, you probably don't ever want to put them on Facebook with the exception of attracting business. The reason for this is because of their terms of use which have many loopholes and allow them to use the photos (and all data that you publish on the social networking giant) for whatever reason they may want. Facebook also backs up your photos to other hard drives for this purpose.

If you're a beginner, you may want to keep the photos off of Facebook as even deleting them still means that Facebook has it backed up and may still use it. Once you buy your copyrights to the photos though, you may enjoy posting them on Facebook and having potential clients, friends, etc. comment and appreciate your artistic talent.

Once again, proceed with caution. The last thing that a photo enthusiast will want is seeing a photo that they uploaded being sold as an ad or used somewhere.

Does anyone even use Photobucket anymore? Well, if you're considering it, know that Photobucket is the ultimate platform to allow a user to send their photos out everywhere. In this way, it can easily share your photos to your Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, forums, etc. The site includes a simple photo editor and in many ways one can think of the site as a friendly octopus to allow for total and ultimate sharing and communication.

So what's the problem? There is very little to privacy control. All your photos are either private or public with no in-between option. On top of this, there is very little storage space and Photobucket pro accounts aren't worth the price when you weigh it against its many competitors.

With its cute name, Shutterfly offers a bounty of wealth to free users. Freebies include unlimited storage and 50 free 4x6 prints if you so choose. The homepage offers users loads of options such as photo books. Behind that though is something hidden away in the Terms of Use under the submission section that can come back to bite you in the behind. According to the Submissions section,

"You will retain ownership of such Submissions, and you hereby grant us and our designees a worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicenseable (through multiple tiers), assignable, royalty-free, fully paid-up, perpetual, irrevocable right to use, reproduce, distribute (through multiple tiers), create derivative works of, and publicly display and perform (publicly or otherwise) such Submissions, solely in connection with the Service (including without limitation for purposes of promoting the Service)."

Not so wonderful, huh? Use Shutterfly at your own risk.

If you're still starting out, then Flickr is hands down your best free option. If your wallet can afford the beatdown, Smugmug is the best paid option for you. However, what students need to keep in mind is that their amazing photo may be circulated around the internet and used and sold without their knowledge. Because of this, privacy and protection of your photos is paramount. Though Facebook is an extremely popular social network that allows you to host your photos there, you have almost no protection against theft. Make smart decisions about your photography in the early stage of the game and they will stick with you later on.