Chapter 16

Sharing Your Photos on the Internet

Perhaps the most common fate of digital photos (apart from being deleted, either in-camera or later) is to end up being transmitted to other people over the internet—whether via private email or through a more public forum such as a commercial photo-hosting web site.  For those seeking wider public exposure for their photographic works, permanent or semi-permanent posting of photos on a web page is an obvious first step.  Posting images on the
net  can be a simple and effective way to share your photos with others: you don’t have to worry about printing, matting, and framing a physical print and then finding space to hang it.  Long after every wall in your home has become hopelessly cluttered with your various framed masterpieces, the internet will likely still have space for yet more photos.
    Although sharing photos via the internet can be relatively simple, there are a number of different ways (and places) to do it, and not all of them are as simple (or cheap) as others.  In this chapter we’ll briefly consider some of the options that at present seem most practical, including both free and not-so-free alternatives as well as both low-maintenance and high-maintenance options.

16.1 Photo Hosting Sites

At present there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of web sites offering to host your photos—some for free, but many others for a monthly or yearly fee.  Choosing from among them can be difficult.  In this section I’ll recount some of my own experiences in trying to find the ideal photo-hosting site.  As commercial sites continue to pop up almost daily, this is all subject to change, and I hope to update this section as I discover other promising sites.
    If you’re just starting out, then the best site to start with, almost without question, is flickr—and not just because its name sounds like one of my favorite birds (the northern flicker, Colaptes auratus).  Flickr has been around for an eternity (in internet years, that is), and sees an enormous level of daily internet traffic.  In addition to providing free hosting (with some reasonable limits) of photos, flickr allows other people to comment on your photos (which is generally a good thing), and has a very active community of users participating in photo pools—collections of photos submitted by members of the pool.

Fig. 16.1.1 : The popular web site flickr is a good place to
start sharing your photos and getting comments from viewers.
Once your photos are in flickr it’s easy to then submit them to
various special-interest pools and competitions, of which there
are literally thousands.  A basic account is free, is simple to set
up, and has very reasonable storage-space limits.

    The nice thing about flickr’s photo pools is that you can submit your photos to the pool and then get feedback from other members of the pool on the quality of your images.  Even if all of your photos are technically perfect (i.e., properly exposed and tack-sharp), feedback from others may help you assess some of the artistic qualities of your images, such as the composition and color.  When people find a photo on flickr that they really like, they can add that photo to their favorites list, and they may also post comments on the photo’s web page.  Flickr allows you to see how many people have added each of your photos to their favorites list, and you can use this to judge the popularity of your images.  That may, in turn, affect your decisions about which photos to try hardest to sell (if selling photos happens to be one of your goals).
    Flickr can become very, very addictive.  Once you start posting your photos to the various bird pools, you’ll soon find that some of your images are more well-liked than others (and you may be surprised to learn which of your photos fare best).  In some of the pools, participants can nominate photos from other users to receive an
award.  Once you’ve received a certain number of nominations (typically five or so), the administrator of the pool may invite you to post your photo on the pool’s special best of the best page.  Getting awards on flickr is an easy way to build personal confidence in your portfolio, and helps you to guage the relative popularity of your images.
    Keep in mind, however, that many flickr users are photographers (especially those that frequent the pools), and that their feedback will primarily reflect how other photographers perceive your imges.  This can be a very relevant consideration if you’re hoping to judge public interest in your images by counting comments or award nominations on flickr.  While other photographers may be impressed with an image that you’ve taken—because it happened to be a very difficult subject or scene to capture photographically—that might not translate directly into popularity with the general public, and this can be important to keep in mind when making marketing decisions (if you’re interested in selling your photos).  Nevertheless, I think the flickr community is a great resource for getting some initial feedback on your bird photos.
    Another way to get some feedback on your photos is to post them to an internet forum (see Appendix A for a list of such
fora).  This can be useful if you’re looking for critical assessments of your images.  Whereas the comments posted on flickr and similar sites tend to all be positive, comments from forum members can range from very positive to brutally negative.  If you have a sensitive ego and aren’t ready to face stiff criticism (even unfair criticism), you might want to stick to flickr, at least until you gain more confidence in your photography skills (though sometimes forum members can give you more direct advice for improving your technique).  Note that the membership and tone of different forums can differ markedly: some forums have, unfortunately, a disproportionate number of downright nasty members who will harshly criticize anything put in front of them (I believe some of them would even complain that a pure red image looks too blue, or that a perfectly round circle looks too triangular, etc.).  I personally find forums more useful for keeping up-to-date on equipment issues.
    Apart from flickr, the only other hosting site which has recently caught my attention—and for a completely different set of reasons than those for flickr—is ImageKind.  This web site is useful primarily as a fulfillment service—that is, for selling prints to people over the internet.  Visitors to your ImageKind web page can buy framed prints and canvases of your images and have them shipped directly to them without your having to be involved in any way (other than receiving any profits from the transaction).  ImageKind is a print on demand service, which means that you upload your images to them just once, and they fulfill all orders as they come in, making each print specifically for each order.  They offer a wide variety of frames, paper types, and sizes.  And the best part is that (as of this writing) they offer a free account with very, very few limitations. 

Fig. 16.1.2 : For selling framed prints and canvases over the internet,
one of the very best options is to set up a free account at ImageKind.
ImageKind handles all the printing, framing, packaging, and shipping
of prints ordered through their web site, and also handles all payment
issues (such as accepting credit cards, which can be an extreme hassle
to do on your own).  The quality of their products is very good, though
they’re a bit expensive (even when ordering prints of your own photos).

    The only problem with ImageKind is that their products tend to be a bit over-priced.  I’ve ordered prints and canvases from them, and the quality seemed fine.  The alternative to using an online fulfillment service like this is to make your own prints at home or have them printed at a pro lab, and then to sell them to customers yourself; that means handling all of the shipping and payment issues yourself, which could be quite a hassle.  Note also that accepting credit card payments can be a hassle in the do-it-yourself approach, since you’ll need to open a merchant’s account with a bank or credit card company, and those typically involve a bunch of fees (including up-front fees, recurring monthly fees, and per-transaction fees).  When you use a fulfillment service such as ImageKind, the fulfillment service handles everything from making the prints, framing them, packaging and shipping them, and collecting payment from the customer.  They also keep some of the money from each sale, so if you’re concerned about maximizing profits you’ll need to look at their fine print.  Also, some fulfillment services charge a monthly fee and/or account setup fee.
   One very important thing to be aware of when posting images on the internet, if you’re a Macintosh user, is the issue of gamma.  Because images are displayed differently on Macintosh and Microsoft Windows systems, images originating on a Mac system will tend to look darker when viewed on a Windows system.  Conversely, images originating in Windows will look a bit washed-out when viewed on Mac systems.  (This is why the main web page for this book asks you which operating system you're using: if the images in this book look too dark or too light to your eye, you may be viewing the wrong version of this book.)  Also, most printing platforms assume a Windows gamma, so Mac users often find that their prints turn out darker than they were expecting.  The issue of gamma is discussed in detail later in this chapter.
    There are a few other issues to keep in mind when selecting an image hosting site.  First, many hosting sites impose limits of various types, especially for free accounts.  They may limit the sizes of your images, the number of images that they’ll store for you, or the bandwidth (i.e., how many images viewers can download from your account each month).  In terms of the image size, note that some sites will automatically re-size your image after you’ve uploaded it, which can sometimes drastically affect the perceived sharpness of the image.  As we’ll see in the next section, having total control over the way an image appears on the viewer’s screen is one of the biggest advantages of building a custom web site from scratch rather than joining a commercial photo hosting site.
    Some sites will also add a watermark—a semi-transparent message to discourage unauthorized use—to your images, which may or may not be desirable.  Watermarks might be desirable if you’re highly concerned about copyright infringement—i.e., people using your images for various purposes without obtaining your permission.  Some people like watermarks because they discourage viewers from printing the images and framing them, which some see as lost sales.  The disadvantage of visible watermarks (especially those that are large, and/or positioned in the center of the image) is that they can detract enormously from the aesthetic value of the image.  They can also send the wrong message to some viewers: that you’re more interested in protecting your ownership rights and making profits than in sharing the wonder of nature with others.  Simply keeping your posted images reasonably sized—say, no larger than will fit on a typical laptop screen—will generally keep people from making high-quality prints of your images in sizes greater than 5
×7 (inches), since for larger print sizes a higher-resolution version of the image is generally needed.