Sharing photos is fun. Sharing photos on gallery websites likes Flikr, Photobucket, 500px or social networks like Google Plus is also a great way for both amateur and professional photographers to show off their work and potentially attract new clients.
Because photo sharing services host your images, it might be tempting to think that photo sharing services are storage options as well…but don’t be fooled.
Hosting photos is a necessary part of what photo sharing services do, but it is not their value. Their value is in providing a nice interface and method to view those photos online. (And in some cases – to sell prints).
There are companies like Mosaic that cater to offsite image storage and access for photographers.
Photo storage has a different value. The value of photo storage is in protecting not only the original assets, but also in providing context about the assets. Data needs context to reach its full potential. This is why the cataloging approaches of Lightroom and Aperture are so powerful. These tools protect your assets through non-destructive editing techniques, but also provide version control, metadata and global catalog search.
You typically share a subset of the photos you take, but most photographers want to save everything except for the photos you took with the lens cap on (don’t pretend it hasn’t happened to you…)
Sure, some sites let you create private galleries but that misses the point of using a sharing service. The best photo sharing galleries don’t overshare, but are carefully cultivated to show you the best photos. For professionals grabbing potential customers attention requires you to show them a couple of your best shots…not the last 1500 photos you took. For hobbyist photographers, don’t be that person that uploads 500 pictures after each vacation. 50 of your best (or 25) will get a better reaction.
Keep everything. Share smartly. The last thing you want to think about is keeping separate libraries of which photos are in public vs shared galleries.
If only we took the perfect picture every time without having to do post-production.…But we don’t.
You don’t want to share the photos until you have taken them through post-production. When you are done editing, you typically push them to the sharing service. The sharing site then only has the last “finished” version. The original is not saved there, nor is any of the editing history. If you did need to restore the lost photo from a sharing service, then you wouldn’t be able to revert back to the original capture from your camera.
This is a biggie. If you are a serious photographer, you most likely invested in Lightroom or Aperture (if you haven’t… why not!) These catalog based platforms are your operating system as a photographer. I have had many photographers tell me that if their computer booted up into Lightroom they would be happy. The catalog holds the information about the photos including the metadata, development history and the ability to search across folders.
When you export your photos to a sharing service you have effectively broken the link between your catalog and your image. Restoring that link is difficult at best.
The point here is not to backup but to restore. Photo sharing services will never let you restore your photos back to a way that acts well with your catalog.
The same principle holds true if you use iPhoto, Picasa or any other tool to manage your image collection.
If you shoot RAW then photo sharing services will most likely not let you upload your RAW photos. This is a show stopper for anyone shooting RAW.
Even if the service does accept RAW uploads, they must process the RAW file for display on the screen. The website’s RAW processing engine will not be the same as yours, so your images will look different (sometimes dramatically).
Remember that the point of photo sharing is to get potential customers or friends to view your beautiful images, so you want to export the photo to a web friendly format like JPG before sharing. JPG’s look great on the screen but you will never get back to information you lost in the conversion from RAW to JPG.
Most sharing services don’t have mass download features. They don’t want you to get all of the images back…
This is why they are like the Hotel California of image storage… you can check images in anytime you like, but the images can never leave.
Imagine you had a hard drive failure and you wanted to get 1500 photos back. With some services you would have to right click on every image and press “save as”. That is not going to happen unless you have unlimited time and patience.
Other services do allow you to download by the folder. But if you have created lots of albums, then this is at best going to take you a long a$$ time.
I understand the draw of using your photo sharing service as your photo storage service… I really do. Photo sharing services are cheap. I also see the appeal to managing as few workflow processes as possible.
Keep photo sharing separate from photo storage. Your storage process will be better, and your shared galleries will attract customers with the quality of your images.