POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 27, 2014
Laptop littered with vacation photos? And dare I mention your smartphone? There are dozens of solutions for storing and organizing your snapshots. But how to choose?
That depends on your particular habits and desires. Do you do a lot of photo editing? Are you the family videographer? Can't resist posting vacation selfies on social media? I've matched some of the best storage and organization solutions with the kind of travel photographer they're most likely to suit. These services all have complementary apps, but because travel photos are often best viewed on a large screen, I discuss the full desktop versions. Find your photo personality below, and you'll be one step closer to at least cleaning out that laptop.
Snap-happy travelers like me want a service that makes it easy to organize and search photos and videos, edit and re-download any original high-resolution images — all for little or no money. Just as important is choosing a company that offers comprehensive privacy controls and has enough users and longevity to make us feel as if it (and our precious photos) won't suddenly disappear. Many promising newcomers have vanished nearly as quickly as they came.
Then there's Flickr, which has been around for a decade. Users get a free terabyte of storage, one of the most generous space allotments of any comparable photo and video solution. And Flickr has extensive privacy controls that include who can see and share your photos, who can mark you as being in a photo, who can view your Exif data (which includes the make and model of the camera used to take the photo) and whether you want your profile or your photos to be hidden from searches on Flickr and third-party sites.
On occasion the site acts wonky (a photo won't upload or the editing tool doesn't materialize), but by and large it works well, and creating albums and adding descriptions and tags to photos is intuitive. So is searching your photo library for keywords you attach to them. You can download your images in multiple resolutions, from 150 by 150 pixels square to the original high-resolution photo. There are the usual editing tools that allow you to adjust sharpness and saturation, but also cutesy digital stickers (propeller hat, 3-D glasses) that you can slap onto your nearest and dearest. And Flickr is owned by Yahoo so there's likely to be some measure of accountability if anything goes awry.
If you get your kicks from vacation photos animated with special effects like falling snow and floating pink and red hearts, Google+ Photos offers unparalleled surprise and delight. Its Auto Awesome feature automatically plucks certain photos that you've uploaded to Google+ and turns them into short animations or a photo booth-style grid, without you having to so much as point and click. There's also Auto Awesome movies, which are created using your photos and videos. And Google's new Stories tool automatically rifles through your images, selects what it considers to be your best vacation photos and showcases them in a timeline, complete with the location and dates.
Google+ Photos, which you can access after signing up for a Google account, has a lot of features that are also found on Flickr, including easy-to-use editing tools (Google may have an edge here) and a lot of free storage space (15 gigabytes to share among Google Drive, Gmail and Google+ Photos). And obviously Google isn't going anywhere any time soon. But it can feel slightly pushier about sharing photos than Flickr, and some users of Gmail and Google search are wary about also giving Google access to their entire photo library.
The Social Butterfly
For those who enjoy using social media to share photos of themselves surfing and drinking out of coconuts, there's Photobucket. Users receive 2 gigabytes of free storage (not much), yet icons on the site aim to make it easy to share each and every one of those bytes on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Digg, MySpace and too many other sites to list here. Photobucket also provides links for users to share their photos via email and on blogs, websites, forums and bulletin boards.
Given the service's storage limits, this is not the solution for those who want to upload high-resolution photos. And the ads on the free version of Photobucket can be distracting. But if you want to be sure the world sees that photo of you at the swim-up bar, this is the service for you.
SmugMug allows professional photographers to create personal portfolios, back up and put copyright information on their photos, upload RAW files (essentially the digital version of negatives) and edit with the kind of detail an amateur photographer doesn't necessarily need. Users can also market and sell their photos through the site, keeping 85 percent of the markup (SmugMug covers credit card processing and customer service). They can create coupons and track analytics, too.
It's not free, however. Members pay anywhere from $40 a year to $300 a year, depending on the level of customization they want and whether they desire commerce capabilities (the latter begins at the $150-a-year level).
If you're not a professional photographer but you're intrigued, you may want to check out the "For Everyone" tab on the SmugMug site, especially if you're a blogger. You select a design for your own photo page or site and then begin uploading images. You can create galleries as you would albums, and share and edit the photos you put in them. The latter includes adding a watermark (which you can create within SmugMug), text, clip art overlays like butterflies and leaves, frames and elaborate themes that you use to manipulate images of people, giving them zombie bruises or decayed teeth. You can also take touch-ups to the next level with spray tans, makeup application and wrinkle removal.
Media storage sites typically don't allow users to upload or stream much video. If you've hit a wall, there's StreamNation, which allows you to store and stream (to your television or portable electronic device, for example) not only your personal videos, but also your home library of movies and television shows. The service (which can also store photos) supports more than two dozen video formats including AVI, MOV, MPEG, DivX and MKV.
If you just want a safe place to store your photos and other important digital documents (and the ability to download them again when the mood strikes), consider keeping them in the cloud. Cloud storage services can be a good way to synchronize your photo and document library across all your devices.
Dropbox (free for 2 gigabytes of storage), Microsoft OneDrive (free for 15 gigabytes) and Box (free for 10 gigabytes) are a few of the services that offer cloud storage. Each one will give you a set amount of storage free before fees apply. But remember: Cloud storage is not centered on photo editing and social networking.
If you want a cloud storage service that has some bells and whistles, consider Picturelife. To use the service you must download an app onto your computer and then select your preferred pricing plan. You get 8 gigabytes free (that won't go very far) before fees apply (from $50 a year to $150 a year), though you can earn some free bytes here and there for performing certain activities, like uploading a video.
Stephanie Rosenbloom, New York Times