Different PHOTO HOSTING Sites

One of the toughest things any photographer – amateur or professional – has to do is figure out whether to post their images on line or not.

We already know that anything that can be seen on a computer, CAN BE STOLEN (used without payment). That’s just part of life. If you don’t like it, don’t post (or upload) anything you don’t want taken… problem solved. Many years ago, a business instructor taught me that “A person – whether an inventor, artist, musician, writer, or photographer – hasn’t created anything worth selling, until it’s something worth stealing.”

So, with that in mind, the goal, at least for me, has been to accept what I can’t control, and take steps to control the things I can. Especially when posting things on the internet. If your images have a wide customer base, particularly events, concerts, sports action, where you aren’t in a controlled environment, don’t know everyone you’re taking pictures of, then posting on line is really your only option.

The challenge then becomes figuring out WHERE & HOW to best present your work, your images.

Facebook is free… but their image display quality is limited & inconsistent. They have no real means in which to ‘sell’ your work… only ‘share’ (and like). And frankly, everyone has pretty well learned that ‘we’ have ZERO control over our images once they are uploaded to facebook, aside from the cropping. Use it as ‘advertizing’ and promotion, and KNOW 99.99999% of what goes on there will NOT be purchased.

Flickr – Free – BUT for $25 a year it is UNLIMITED SPACE & NUMBER of images – which is seriously awesome – for SHARING, and getting other photographers, of all levels, to ‘like’ and comment, and often criticize your images (usually constructively, sometimes destructively). This is honestly the best site for amateurs, in my opinion. Getting the feedback is also helpful, so long as you have thick skin when the image is less than perfect and you invite criticism. I have tons of images (well over 100,000) on Flickr… mostly ‘family’ and some ‘snapshots’ of vacations, and such. If you don’t want to sell images, Flickr is truly awesome for the price – unlimited uploads of JPG’s. However, once your images are there… other than turning ‘Getty Images’ on or off, Creative Commons on or off, and determining if an image is viewable by ONLY YOU, PUBLIC, Friends, or Family… it’s just there. No means to monetize it,  and really not much other control over it. Oh, and if they catch you attempting to sell ANYTHING (including posting images there, including linking them to an eBay, Amazon, or Craigslist sell site… they CAN KICK YOU OFF). I’ve frankly not uploaded much there since 2008.

Pintrest – FREE – and high quality – but more of a ‘share’ and ‘link to original’ type of site. Other than the links back to your site (for MORE IMAGES a person might choose to view or purchase directly from YOUR WEB SITE)… it’s a waste of time.

Instagram – FREE – but no real or easy way to make money from there. Have to set up using PHONE, not really for ‘real cameras’ or computers.

Picasa – FREE – but owned by Google (need I say more?)…

Photobucket – FREE – but really, who uses this?!!?! Not I… and frankly only one professional photographer I know, only because he’s retired and has over 1,000,000 images there.

Shutterfly – FREE – but their claim (and hope) is to sell stuff TO YOU… and to profit from YOUR IMAGES, via Moo-cards, prints, gadgets with your picture(s) on them, etc. They want to sell YOU… not really set up for ‘reselling’ or monetizing yourself to your clients at this point.

500px – FREE (pay for fewer limits) – and there are seriously some AWESOME photographers on there, and they pay 70% royalties IF someone ‘licenses’ your images for commercial use (they try to ‘sell’ YOUR IMAGES for $50 for web use, $250 for royalty free print use… per image… THEY SET THE PRICE, and give away ‘comp’ images for people ‘signing up’ which you do NOT get paid for). (I think I have 20 or so images there, for testing… only a couple sales, but I haven’t tried to push any customers there… hoping they might actually promote me or my images. They don’t seem to do much of that, outside their own searchability).

Fine Art America – well, READ THEIR LICENSE AGREEMENT… and know that it’s FREE to upload, and you can set your price(s), but unless you pay them $30 a year, you miss out on the 5% commission for frames, mats, and such. No download or licensing options.

Smugmug – GREAT SELLING SITE, BUT… I spent many years with smugmug (another hosting site), and they DOUBLED their yearly fees in 2011, which really ticked me off; and would NOT agree or promise to never do that again. Plus, THEIR branding is on everything… so, despite having nearly 1,000,000 images (mostly sports action & nature)… I started looking for alternative (haven’t uploaded anything there in years, and down graded my account to the minimum for a couple years, and closed my account there January 2015).

I spent months looking at various sites… testing and trying dozens of them. Talking to other photographers about what they were using ‘to sell’ their images (downloads & prints, canvases, and other options). I even considered ‘hosting’ myself, as already had my own web servers, and spent 20 years ‘managing websites’ and still have about 60 internet domains (down from nearly 1,000 web domains in the late 90’s). But the space, and the hassle of the different sizes, security, and such just didn’t seem to make sense to me. I had other things to do than to spend massive amounts of time ‘coding’ and dealing with databases of images, galleries, and the challenge of dealing with secured hosting.

So, as the decision narrowed down, I wrote zenfolio (and a few other sites), explaining my concern… problem with smugmug, the quantity of images I would likely be uploading, and my basic workflow and expectations. Zenfolio was the ONLY ONE that assured me (in writing) that they don’t and won’t play that ‘price raise’ game for ANY EXISTING MEMBER (they said they have never raised the yearly fees for any member). So, I decided to give their trial account a test run. WOW… it’s a tad different than smugmug, but so much more powerful, flexible, and easy to navigate and move files & photos around ON A COMPUTER. Their ‘hierarchical’ multilevel structure, and ability to ‘move’ – ‘copy’ – ‘collect’ and manage files (and folders) is so much faster and easier. PLUS in the upper end business accounts, it allows full featured blogging… and ANOTHER IMPORTANT THING: PDF’s (for like model releases & contracts). Galleries, folders within a gallery, and even individual images, can have different pricing, different deals… plus there is SELF-FULFILLMENT… and just so many incredible features & benefits. Here are just a few:

I think Zenfolio is a solid good & affordable service. You can upgrade (or downgrade) your account, without compromising your images. If you are a photographer wanting to sell your images over the net, I recommend you open an account, and seriously check them out as well. (I’ve been with them since March 2012)

Some of the features Zenfolio offers are:

• Unlimited storage for your hi-res photos and videos
• Easy to use your OWN DOMAIN NAME… (and their name (branding) isn’t on any of YOUR pages, unlike smugmug and many of the others).
• FREE & automatic SEO… if you metatag your images, they notify & update the major search engines for you (no additional charge)
• Elegant pages with a variety of template layouts and designs, including creating your own completely custom designs that you can edit without any (or much) knowledge of html coding
• Beautiful presentation of your photos and videos
• A very easy to use and intuitive interface (for the photographer & end-user)
• Full screen Slideshows with music (50 free songs are included, if you feel the need to use music… I don’t, except in videos)
• Ability to link to many image sizes and share your photos and videos on Facebook and Twitter directly from your account. This way, you can upload files only once and share them any way you like.
• Easy mobile viewing of your images (both a mobile & desktop mode, and special ‘event collections’… downside, as of today, mobile users have to ‘switch to’ desktop mode to make purchases… which explains why I have those instructions on my home page).
• Custom watermarking on any, all, each ‘viewable’ image, and it can literally be set per image, per gallery, and a gallery can contain images with different watermarks… which are automatically removed from ‘purchased’ images.
• Self fullfillment (downloads or prints) – totally customizable… and different ‘licensing’ for different products (you define the ‘product’ and ‘rules’ for each gallery (or image)… even minimum sizes for different size prints)…
• Multiple price lists (totally customizable… and customizable per image or gallery)
• Ability to set different prices for your images per gallery, per sub-gallery, even per image
• Ability to have coupons, specials, and packages YOU DEFINE… that apply (or not) to specific galleries, or types of product(s).
• Ability to force ‘registration’ TO VIEW certain (some) galleries… if that is what you choose to require.
• Have ‘hidden’ and password protected galleries (and images)…
• Can send ’emails’ to registered users (clients) – one, selecting from list, or all (downside, you can’t categorize the clients… but you CAN select based on WHICH galleries they’ve viewed or ordered from in the past).
• A non-web person can create ‘custom’ pages quickly & easily.
• Slide Show is amazing & powerful (downside, doesn’t scale the landscape images correctly on 1920×1080 screens, tends to worry more about width than height)
• Can upload AND SELL videos… with different ‘sizes’ and prices, and of course privacy & viewing options, and user defined licensing.
• Can define sharing ability & options (yes or no) per gallery (or individual image(s))… to facebook & other social networking sites.
• You can play with different backgrounds and viewing options to make your images really pop.
• Viewing is optimized for the USERS SCREEN (resolution & size)
• Uploading is amazingly easy… and I can upload to multiple folders/galleries & sub-galleries at the same time, using different tabs in my browser.
• MANY more print & accessory sales options (but YOU DEFINE… which products, which sizes, and even WHAT PRICE(s) for which product(s)… and you can have unlimited price lists… and apply them at a gallery level, sub-gallery, or even individual image(s).
• LICENSING AGREEMENTS – different ones for different types of products, particularly helpful if you sell ‘downloads’ (which you can also define the sizes of, and have different prices for, also).
• Images viewable & easily navigated on EVERY device I’ve tried or seen, or clients have used. (PC’s, Macs, tablets, phones, even RUKUs).
• Plug in’s for automating & snyc’ing FROM adobe products (such as photoshop or lightroom) is available (though I don’t use these).
• CUSTOM ‘gallery names’ – like: photos.terrymercer.com/concerts  (note: each artist has their own ‘named’ master gallery: photos.terrymercer.com/bretmichaels)
• Restricted event lists… only the people YOU CHOOSE can see images, galleries, and such.
• They allow direct credit/debit card processing, even instant paypal processing, as well as direct (to you) cash/trade payments.
• You can set up ‘coupons’ with 100% discounts, for just downloads… or just certain galleries… so your special clients, or package deals, can automatically download, or order, without further payment or any of your time (if you choose). This works particularly well for ‘venues’ (and I usually limit the coupon to ‘low-res web ready’ downloads… upto 6, or 12, or what ever number I choose)
• Their ‘uploader’ is easy, web based, and allows for multiple tabs to be doing different things (if you have a fast internet & enough computer to deal with such extreme multi-tasking without getting messed up… downside, you HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION).
• I’m sure many other features I’ve not yet used.  Of all that I’ve tried and used, I give Zenfolio’s site an easy 9 out of 10 rating, with very few issues, gripes, or concerns.

You can use my referral code GX4-8PM-5SC during sign up to save 10% off your own subscription. Once you subscribe you’ll get your own code and if you get enough referrals you may never need to pay for the service again.

The DOWNSIDE (what would be a good review, without the CONS also discussed??)

• Set up time… to get things really thought out, organized, and set up… can be time consuming, but it would be on any CUSTOMIZABLE site. And this one isn’t tough, once you figure out where, what, why, and how. Most people I’ve helped move over to Zen are ‘up and running’ within a couple days. (Yes, I can help – as my schedule allows – but I CHARGE, based on time… and that cost starts at $100 for the quick basic setup).

• Mobile purchasing (of images) is not as clean & easy as it could be… must be ‘explained’ to users (which I do on my home page). Basically, a mobile user must ‘enter’ DESKTOP MODE (from their mobile device… it’s just a button option)… and the ‘Buy’ button is in the top right corner of the image.

• Their ‘move’ (from other web sites) to Zenfolio seems to work well if you have fewer than about 10,000 images (estimate)… it totally sucks if you have more than 50,000. I’ve tried it… many times… and it almost always ‘times out’ when there are a whole lot of images to ‘move’ from another web site. I honestly don’t think it’s Zenfolio’s fault, but the site (such as Smugmug or Flickr) you’re trying to move the images from.

• A mobile user can ‘swipe’ copy images on their mobile devices… so watermarking is necessary.

• Right click ‘saves’ aren’t ‘as slick’ as smugmug (which copies a BLANK white for ‘saves,’ however screen captures aren’t thwarted on smug either) ~

The basic rule with computers to always remember, IF IT CAN BE SEEN, IT CAN BE STOLEN. So, ALWAYS WATERMARK! (I’ve yet to find a web site that I couldn’t ‘take’ the image from if I tried).

Zenfolio offers a free Trial account for two weeks so you can see if you like it. I really think you should give it a try.




– Terry Mercer

If you are into photography, you can use this code GX4-8PM-5SC during sign up to save 10% off your own subscription.


LET ME KNOW if you have questions, or if there is something newer & awesome that I should check out. Frankly, I don’t envision changing from Zenfolio.

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