As a photographer, I often find myself caught between impetuous models and their ravenous fans. I am, of course, talking about my children and their grandparents.
Keeping the photos coming can be a lot of work. I take many spur-of-the-moment shots on my phone, which I rarely connect to my computer. And my laptop has less storage than before, because I now rely on fast, lower-capacity, solid-state drives.
I need a nice uncomplicated service that quietly collects all my photos and then helps me share the best ones -- earlier and more often. This means public and private gallery options, and automatic uploading from phone and tablet. I also want drag-and-drop uploading and organising, and the ability to edit photos online.
In my hunt for the best cloud photo option, five services stood out: Dropbox, Flickr, Shutterfly, SmugMug and the powerful yet clumsy combination of Google Drive and Google .
In the end, only Flickr managed to satisfy all my requirements, though SmugMug was a close second.
Many obvious choices didn’t make the cut. Facebook, for starters. My parents aren’t on it, and I certainly wouldn’t force them to join. Also, although Facebook is the sole repository for many people’s digital images, it’s not a storage site. It shrinks large photos, and if you download them you’re only promised image files that “match the quality they have on Facebook”.
I also ruled out Apple’s Photo Stream. While it automatically syncs iPhone and iPad images to a Mac’s iPhoto library, it doesn’t permanently keep images in the cloud. You can lose pictures if you never sync with iPhoto. And with no web interface, an Apple-only requirement for most sharing and -- in my experience -- complicated and unreliable controls, it’s less than ideal.
What about Instagram? Let’s just say a public stream of single images doesn’t make for the best family photo organiser.
Here’s what I want from a photo service.
1. I want to put all my photos on the cloud
A few years ago the idea of putting more than a few key documents into a cloud account for safekeeping was absurd. Now Flickr offers a free terabyte for image storage, while the retail-focused Shutterfly promises unlimited uploads. Snapfish does too, as long as you occasionally buy something.
SmugMug -- less well known, but a worthy pairing of pro-level tools and novice-friendly interface 00 charges $US40 ($A43) a year for unlimited storage of photos up to 50 megabytes in size.
Google charges $US120 a year for a terabyte. Dropbox is pricier: a 500-gigabyte plan (what I’d need to store my photos) costs $US500 a year.
While I always recommend that people keep copies of their most precious photographs on a drive at home, it now makes perfect sense to also put all of our photos online.
2. I want to share some images publicly and others privately
If Facebook has taught us anything, it’s that oversharing is real. When I say I want to share my photos, I don’t mean that I want them broadcast to the public. I do have some shots I’d be happy to blast out into the ether but an ideal site should give me control over who sees what.
Dropbox is working hard at this. Recently it introduced the Carousel app for iPhone and Android, which lets people send photos to friends and groups. The Dropbox website allows you to create albums specifically for sharing. The trouble is Carousel won’t do albums, and you can’t see Carousel shares on the Dropbox website.
I witnessed a similar disconnect on Google: Drive is increasingly becoming the best deal in cloud storage, with 15GB free and the most competitive prices around. I could envisage spending $10 a month to keep all my photos there.
But Google has put its struggling social network, Google , in charge of all photo organising and sharing. To send pictures to a few select people I have to create a post, deselect 'public' and 'friends', then add specific email addresses.
When it comes to sharing, Flickr and SmugMug are equally on top: it’s very easy to keep your public shots public and your private shots private on both, using elegant, intuitive controls.
Shutterfly, the old standby, is also an option. The mug-and-calendar service offers Share Sites, which can be customised on the web or fed images via its iPhone app.
3. I don’t want to have to remember to sync my phones or tablets
In the past most of the great pics and videos I captured on my phone just stayed there, never to be revisited. That’s why I am a firm believer in the apps that let you save your photos to the cloud.
Dropbox, Google, Facebook, Microsoft’s OneDrive and Flickr are all examples of this. (Dropbox also has the best tools for automatically uploading images from your desktop.)
You can even make sure your device syncs only when you’re on a Wi-Fi network, so that you don’t blow out your wireless data allotment.
A black mark against SmugMug is that it doesn’t automatically upload on iPhones.
Co-founder Don MacAskill said that while its new Android app does this, the iPhone app will likely “continue to evolve and contain features like that”.
The site was relaunched last year with code that works just as well on phones and tablets as it does on a PC.
Having drag-and-drop edited a SmugMug album using my finger on an iPad, I can attest to this, but the iPhone app is still behind.
Shutterfly doesn’t automatically upload your photos either, though you can manually upload photos from an iPad, iPhone or Android device.
Flickr may satisfy my criteria the best, but it’s not perfect. It’s missing the ability to share entire albums. But its mobile app is a nice extension of the always-evolving website.
Flickr and others must embrace tablets. Photographers love them, and besides, there’s nothing like plopping down on the couch with a glowing touch screen after a long hard day of getting squirrelly children to hold still for your camera.
These five services promise to handle your online photo needs.
PROS: Easy uploading tools for phone, tablet and computer; new sharing options for smartphones
CONS: Storage is very expensive; difficult user interface for organising photos
PROS: Smooth user experience; great for sharing publicly and privately; auto uploading from phones
CONS: Buggy image editor; new mobile app won’t share albums
PROS: Powerful image editing; decent storage pricing
CONS: Too integrated with Google social network; confusing storage and sharing options
PROS: Nice public share sites; abundant free storage
CONS: Needs better privacy controls; no auto uploading from phones; clunky user interface
PROS: Unlimited storage, $40 a year; great for sharing; great web user experience
CONS: iPhone app still missing a lot of features, especially auto-uploading