Don't let your best pictures wither away in the dark solitude of your hard drive. They need air, sunshine and the admiration of your friends. They need constructive criticism from trusted advisors and encouragement from a community of kindred spirits. They need a platform where you can determine which ones are most popular and offer them for sale.
They need -- to be online.
Whether your goals are to display, share or sell your photos, you have no shortage of options. Here are 12 worth considering.
Your goal here is to create a website or blog format where you can showcase your photos or galleries. This is usually a stand-alone site. Unlike many of the sharing options below, you will have to drive traffic to these photos yourself. These display sites are good options if you hope to build a business or following for your work.
Wordpress is practically the industry standard for blogging software. You find your own hosting service, download and install the software. To customize your site, install a theme and plugins. Because it is open source software, you can find themes from a wide variety of developers. Google for photography themes to find those that are best suited for you.
Wordpress is fairly simple to set up, but once you start experimenting with different themes and plugins, you might need the help of a developer.
Squarespace is my favorite because it is a total solution in one service. Squarespace offers cloud-based web hosting. That means you are limited to the service's templates, but you always have someone who can help you if you run into difficulty. Many of the templates were designed with photographers in mind, so they showcase your images in big beautiful formats. I host Lyn's Pics there.
Tumblr is a free blogging software that's often used to share photos. You have a decent selection of free themes and more creative ones available for purchase. Tumblr can also repost to all your social media sites once you publish a new article. PhotoTour DC alumni blog is hosted on Tumblr.
Weebly is a cloud-based web hosting and blogging service. It features a fairly robust feature set for the price. The way it displays photos in your post can be a bit clunky, but it is very easy to set up and launch. PhotoTour New Orleans is hosted on a Weebly site.
You want to post your pictures where you can interact and contribute with a community. In most cases you don't have to do much promotion. Tag your photos appropriately, and you should attract your kindred spirits.
Flickr used to be the "it" destination for most serious photo enthusiasts. Then Yahoo bought them, and Flickr lost its appeal, not to mention its usefulness. Fast forward to this year, and a new Yahoo CEO is pouring attention and resources back into the platform.
Flickr sports a cool new Instagram-like smart phone app and a slick photo tiling interface. What's got them the most attention, however, was the 1 free terabyte of space. Now you can upload all your memories in high resolution and not worry about running out of space. Flickr is worth another look.
Instagram is the shoot and share app that made everyone think they could be a photographer, right? Take a photo, mask it with a filter and share. Instantly. Use interesting hashtags and people come out of the woodwork to like and comment. Want an ego boost? It's waiting on Instagram.
There are potential frustrations. The images were originally designed for your phone, so they present fairly tiny. Instagram is coming around, but it had been hard to share your photos in other locations -- meaning you can't embed the pic on your blog. If all you want to do is shoot on the run and share with your friends, you're probably already on IG.
Google + is your favorite search engine's attempt to unfriend Facebook. Google + presents your images big and beautiful, just the way you want to see them. The communities make it easy to share with people who have common interests. For instance, Photo Projects 2013 lives in a Google + community.
500 px is your destination when you just don't want to share, you need to show off. Only take your portfolio-worthy images to this site, unless you want a serious inferiority complex. Most of you need not worry about that, right? Load your money shots and be proud of your creations. While you are there, just flip through the popular images for inspiration.
SmugMug Pro is one of the more popular sites to be able to show your work and sell from your client galleries. It's a great all-in-one solution, as they will also take care of printing and fulfillment through one of their partner companies. A few months ago, SmugMug Pro practically doubled their prices. They argued that the service remained a bargain. They might be right, but it was still a tough pill to swallow.
Zenfolio is another site built for photographers to show, share and sell their work. You can create a site, to include a blog, and maintain a dedicated client area. Zenfolio also takes care of printing and fulfillment through their partner companies. They were recently purchased by art.com, so I'm expecting features that allow you to offer your work to a new audience art shoppers.
ShootProof is designed for working photographers to upload, share and sell their images. Look for robust features for quickly uploading and offering images to personal, editorial and commercial clients.
PhotoShelter is a great site for working commercial photographers. Their sites are designed to look good and perform well with search engines. They also have a back-end marketing service to help you target and pitch potential clients.
Note: PhotoShelter recently released a new platform called Beam. They say the main differences between this and their existing PhotoShelter is that Beam "adds responsiveness, compatibility and HTML5 build." If that doesn't make sense to you, check out this webinar. They explain the new platform with lots of examples.
No Facebook or Pinterest. I chose sites that I felt were photographer friendly, which is why you don't see Facebook or Pinterest. Facebook's terms of service take far too many liberties for my comfort level. I try not to upload my photos there. Pinterest has a business model that makes it easy for people to unknowingly post your images without attribution. Until they address that serious issue, it's not a destination I would choose.
Be clear about your licensing rights. No matter where you decide to post your photos, you should clearly identify your copyright or licensing preferences. If you want to share using Creative Commons, you can use this form to create the appropriate license. If you maintain all rights reserved, make sure that is clearly displayed as well. Of course, it is always a good idea to register your photos with the Copyright Office before posting them.
Always claim your own real estate. I had a blog on a free service called Posterous. One day they sent me a polite email stating that they were going away for good and that my entire site would be deleted. Yikes! If you plan to maintain a serious blog or business, use a site that you operate from your own domain -- forinstance.myfabulousphotos.com. If the hosting services disappears, you still own your site name, and you can point it anywhere you choose.
I'm sure there are plenty of other services that I might not have covered here. Even more, new services seem to pop up daily. If you are clear about your goals, you should do fine with any of the sites I listed.
If you use a service that I didn't mention, tell me about it in the comments. What you like about it, and how you would improve it.
Looking forward to seeing your images thrive and grow online.
SmugMug announced a new update on Jul. 30, 2013. It's still too new to be able to tell what the real improvements might be. See more here.