One of the most common questions I get from my photography students is how they can begin to share, and sometimes sell, some of their favourite images through the Internet. Like everything Internet, there are a myriad of sites and programs and it can be difficult to wade through them and find something that works for you. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more popular and useful options
I’ll start with the common concern of protecting your images against “piracy” on the Internet. Unfortunately, this concern is a reality…but are you too worried? There is absolutely no way to prevent someone with a bit of computer knowledge from copying ANY image you make available on the Internet. There are plenty of ways to try to prevent someone from illicitly downloading an image, but the truth is anyone with a bit of computer savvy can easily circumvent these image protection techniques. If you’re concerned about people stealing your images there a couple of steps to follow to mitigate any damage: 1) limit the size of the images you place on the Internet to a maximum of about 600 pixels on the long side of the image (that will limit a reasonable quality print to about 4 inches or 10cm) and 2) place a subtle “watermark” on the image indicating the image is copyrighted with your name. That’s really all you can do. I place a lot of images on the web and I just don’t worry about it. If someone wants to “borrow” one of my images, I consider it a compliment!
In terms of getting your images online, the most popular option is arguably Facebook. Loading your images onto Facebook is a great way of sharing your images with friends and family. Facebook doesn’t currently give you a lot of control of how your images are presented, but it is a quick, easy and free way to make it happen.
There are numerous photo sharing web sites available around the Internet but by far, the two most popular are Flickr and SmugMug. Flickr is great because it can be free, but if your free account is inactive for 90 days, your images will disappear. Flickr offers a “Pro” account for $24.95 USD a year that greatly increases the amount of storage available for your images and the total number of photos you can place on their site. However, in terms of formatting exactly what the image pages look like, your options are still somewhat limited. SmugMug offers a 14 day free trial and then you choose from their Basic ($40 USD/Year), Power ($60 USD/Year) or Pro ($150 USD Year) level accounts. Both the Power and Pro packages allow you to personalize your site and make it look distinct. The Pro level is interesting because it also allows you to set prices on your images and make a profit. When clients order through the site the print or merchandise order is fulfilled from a large US based premier pro lab.
My first photo site, back in 1995 was something that I created by hand writing the HTML (the language that powers the web) for each and every element on the site. It was a ton of work and almost impossible to keep updated. Eventually I found some software from a Canadian company called StockboxPhoto.com. Their software, Stockbox Photo Gallery Software, is in my opinion, the most powerful photo gallery software available. Depending on the level of software you purchase (Standard $399, Pro $599 or Enterprise $999 all USD) you can create something basic up to a full-featured online stock photography site. While the software is pretty simple to install and configure, to get the most out of it you’ll either need to have some web development skills or hire someone with those skills.
An increasingly popular option is using one of the popular blogging services like WordPress, Google’s Blogger or Squarespace.com. If you aren’t too tech savvy consider Google’s Blogger (free!) or Squarespace.com and in addition to having a place to share your images, you’ll also have a blog to share your ideas about photography or life in general. To access WordPress you can go to WordPress.com and sign up for their free (or premium) accounts, choose a theme for your blog and you’re ready to go. Or, if you’re a bit more tech aware you can go to WordPress.org, download their free software and install it onto a web server. You then choose a theme (free or a purchased premium theme) and start building your photography blog. A popular photographer based theme for WordPress is from Photocrati.com and it allows you to customize the presentation of your images and even sell them with the funds being deposited into your PayPal account. Unlike a service like SmugMug though, you’ll have to do the order fulfillment yourself.
If you’re making photographs and not sharing them you’re not doing yourself any favours. The Internet makes it extremely easy to share your images with friends or family. If you’re interested in creating a personalized site that supports the selling of your images there are plenty of options available. Regardless, I encourage you to share your images. Too many images these days are doomed to spend their lives on a dark, lonely local hard drive on some dusty computer instead of living in the light of the Internet.