How to organize, save, and send your digital photos

    After you point and shoot, learn the best ways to share images

    Published: May 2014

    About 880 billion photographs will be taken in 2014, according to Yahoo, roughly 123 photos for every man, woman, and child on Earth. That's a lot of birthdays, weddings, graduations, vacations, and selfies.

    Even though photography has never been more popular, camera sales fell by 34 percent in 2013, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Why? You need look no further than the do-everything device in your pocket or purse.

    Smart phones are the new cameras of choice for casual photographers, because they unite two previously separate activities—shooting and sharing photos. That has changed not only how images are captured, but why: Rather than taking photos to be printed and placed in an album, consumers are impulsively capturing moments that can be shared with friends (or the entire world) instantly.

    But sharing isn't just for phones. Conventional cameras have adapted to meet that need. Many new models have built-in wireless features to link to a smart phone or to Internet services such as Facebook and Flickr via Wi-Fi or cell service.

    You might roll your eyes at Snapchatting teenagers or stare with wonder at the stream-of-consciousness photography of a friend's Instagram feed. Maybe you just want to chronicle a family vacation with a printed photo album that won't break the bank. No matter how or why you share photos, there's no one-size-fits-all service. But before you commit your photos to the cloud, there are practical considerations:

    • How do you organize and manage the torrent of digital images when memory is so inexpensive and online storage is seemingly infinite?
    • What's the best way to back up photos so that they don't disappear if your device is lost, stolen, or damaged?
    • What, precisely, are you agreeing to when you upload photos? Are your kids going to wind up in a cereal ad one day?

    This guide should help clarify the situation. We compare popular photo-sharing services, offer tips on how to improve your photos, and highlight devices that make it easy to share.

    What to share

    Take your best shots  

    There's one in every family: the proud dad who posts 185 photos of his son's soccer game to Facebook, or the overeager aunt who e-mails hourly links to her cruise snapshots. Don't be that person! A smart photographer knows what to throw away.

    Here's how to apply an editorial eye to your photo feed:

    • Delete duplicates and duds. Professional photographers like New York-based Mason Resnick take multiple shots of groups of people to make sure they wind up with at least one good picture. It's a great idea—as long as you get rid of the also-rans. "I do a quick run-through on the camera after an event and delete the obvious rejects," he says. Then he reviews the rest full-sized on his computer for the final cut. Everyone benefits if you're discriminating. By discarding so-so shots, you'll spend less time uploading and have more space on your memory card for future photos, and your friends will enjoy your photos more.
    • Lock 'em up. If you worry about accidentally deleting a great shot, this should ease your mind: Most cameras let you lock or protect an image or a group of images on the memory card so that you can't trash them by mistake.
    • Organize in the camera. When you have lots of photos on a memory card, it's tempting to upload them all rather than pick and choose. Let your camera or smart phone help: In the menu, select photos by date. That makes it easier to share only images from a specific event.
    Cropping the photo and 'erasing' a stray person will focus attention on the main subject.

    Polish them before you press ‘send'

    A little planning and touch-up work can make a world of difference in a photo. Correcting red-eye (which is often caused by using a flash in low light) is just the start. Most new digital cameras and phones have a number of tools you should try.

    • Take advantage of shooting modes. They can help you take photos that are really worth sharing. A feature on Samsung cameras and smart phones, for instance, is great for group photos: You select the best face for each subject from five consecutive shots and merge them in one photo. Canon's Smooth Skin feature softens wrinkles and harsh shadows on faces, and Portrait mode focuses on a subject while blurring the background.
    • Crop distractions, focus attention. Pros like Resnick crop to perfect well-composed images. "When I photographed a family recently, I noticed part of a red ‘Exit' sign near the edge of the frame," he said. "Cropping out less than 5 percent of the image improved the photo significantly." You can also alter a composition by zeroing in on a small area. But don't overdo it, or the image won't look sharp. Some phones let you erase bystanders who wind up in your photo.
    • Play with color, tone, and filters. Many cameras let you change a color photo to black and white or apply a sepia tone. Also, you can often adjust color saturation, image contrast, and brightness, and apply special-effects filters.

    Your photos may not be as private as you think. Check our guide on how to protect photos online.

    Where to share

    (; mobile apps: Android, iOS, and Windows)

    Though its main focus is social networking, Facebook is the biggest image-sharing site on the Internet. Users upload more than 350 million photos to the site every day.

    Pros: The intuitive interface makes it easy to share photos and albums with a network of contacts or a few close friends. It has decent help guides and tagging is easy.

    Cons: Facebook offers fewer options than dedicated photo sites. For example, you can't view images as a slideshow, it has no image-editing tools, and there's no way to make prints directly from the site. It automatically resizes high-resolution images to a maximum of 2048x2048 pixels, so it's not a great choice for backing up important photos. You can gather photos into albums, but it's hard to move them or change the sequence. And it's easy to overlook some privacy settings, such as changing who can see your photos from public to friends only.

    Best for: Quick sharing with friends.

    (; mobile apps: Android and iOS)

    This pioneering photo-sharing website, now 10 years old, got a much-needed refresh when Yahoo (which owns Flickr) gave it a soup-to-nuts redesign last year. Changes include expanded free storage and new services such as an Android mobile app, fun filters, and easy-to-use image-editing tools. An ad-free version costs $50 a year.

    Pros: It's easy to apply quick edits to photos and change their sequence. The site is packed with clever tools, such as a photo stream that lets you view thumbnails in a scrolling bar. Photos are easy to tag and are nicely displayed. Each user gets 1 terabyte of free storage, which makes Flickr great for uploading full-resolution photos.

    Cons: If you want to print photos or create a photo book, you have to use its partner, Snapfish. Help tools aren't easy to find. Menus and submenus can be confusing.

    Best for: Backing up full-resolution photos online. It also lets you connect with a strong photographic community.

    (; mobile apps: Android, iOS, and Windows in beta)

    This simple photo-sharing service, owned by Facebook, is primarily a mobile app, but you can access your account via the Web. Using it is straightforward: You take a photo with the app (or select one you've already taken), then apply one of Instagram's numerous retro-style filters or other effects. Then you caption and upload the photo to your Instagram feed, which appears on your phone and on Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, and Tumblr (whichever you selected in your profile).

    Pros: The simple interface makes Instagram easy to use. Adding a filter to change the look of your image is very intuitive.

    Cons: You can't print images or create books within Instagram; you must use a third-party service. It doesn't have many tools to organize or reorder photos. The website is for viewing only; you can't upload photos there.

    Best for: quickly sharing single images and adding a photo filter.

    ( and; mobile apps: Android and iOS)

    Owned by Google, Picasa is free photo-organizing and image-editing software for PCs and Macs. It's integrated with Google+.

    Pros: Both Picasa and Google+ have clear interfaces and are easy to use. Picasa gives you lots of tools without cluttering the screen or getting you lost in submenus. A photo in Google+ will have a simple menu at the top and bottom listing essential features. If you click on, say, Edit, you can tweak the photo in that section of Google+. Picasa and Google+ are good for organizing photos, with lots of tools to apply quick edits and move or change the sequence.

    Cons: Because Picasa is integrated with Picasa Web Albums and Google+, it can be confusing to know where you're posting your images. You must use the Chrome browser to edit images on Google+. The Help info on the Google+ photo-tools section is more difficult to find than on Picasa. You get only 1 gigabyte of free storage, or 15GB free to share between Google Drive, Gmail, and Google+photos.

    Best for: Keeping all of your images in one ecosystem, namely Google. Also, both Google+ and Google Drive offer various options for storing photos, including full-resolution images, which make them good for storing and sharing images.

    (; mobile apps: Android and iOS)

    This photo-printing service allows you to share images on its website by e-mail or through Facebook. Its main use is for printing photos and creating photo-related products, such as books, cards and invitations, and calendars.

    Shutterfly's interface is simple and user-friendly. It offers many options for printing photos. With a few clicks, you can set up a slideshow of images in your album. The service frequently runs promotions for free or low-cost prints, buy-one-get-one-free offers on books, free shipping, and more. Tools are great, photo edits are easy to make, and you can quickly move photos or change the sequence. You can password-protect your shared photos. The company says it won't delete your photos if you don't use your account or make a purchase.

    It doesn't offer full-resolution downloads. The network and community aren't as strong as that of some other photo-sharing services. Though intuitive, the interface isn't very attractive. It shares with only one social-networking site, Facebook.

    Best for:
    Those who want to share photos selectively and get prints and related merchandise.

    (; mobile apps: Android and iOS)

    Like Shutterfly, this photo-printing service, which is owned by HP, allows you to share images. But its main use is for printing photos and creating books, calendars, and other photo-related products.

    Tools are easy to use. The site is clear and well-structured, with several options for printing your photos. It's easy to play a slideshow of images in your album. It offers full-resolution downloads. Like Shutterfly, Snapfish frequently runs promotions for discounts and freebies. It's integrated with Flickr and lets you share with Facebook, Twitter, Typepad, WordPress, and others. You can require that viewers sign in to a password-protected account to see photos. It's very good for organizing photos, with lots of tools to apply quick edits and move or change the sequence of images.

    Its network and community aren't as strong as services dedicated to photo sharing. Your account and photos will be deleted if you don't order prints or other merchandise once a year.

    Best for: Those who want to share photos selectively and get prints and related merchandise.


    Editor's Note:

    This article also appeared in the June 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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