Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sharing images to archive them

Photo “sharing” Web sites can also be a great way to archive your images.

Although I try to back up all my digital files onto DVD-Rs (keeping one copy at the office and one at home), I must admit that I’m always several months behind in my well-intended plans. I’m also terrible about sharing my personal images with friends and family members, and slow to get my stock and fine art images online.

The idea came to me the other day that the photo sharing Web sites might be a good way to solve both problems. By putting all my images online as soon as possible, as part of my regular workflow, I’d not only get my friends and family off my back, but I’d have at least a JPEG image online if disaster struck. Sure, it wouldn’t be a camera raw image, but if my hard drive failed, I’d be very glad to have anything! (Because of storage restrictions, most photo sharing sites only allow compressed files (.jpg) to be uploaded. Even so, the better services will allow these to be at the highest quality compression, and as large as 16MB.)

When I’m shooting photos for stock, I’m always getting requests from models (and friends that I use as models) for prints. And that’s what “photo sharing” sites are all about—these sites allow you to upload your images for a fairly low fee, in hopes that your family/friends or the people at an event (such as a wedding) will want to order prints, and the site can make more money as a “photo printing lab” than as a Web hosting site.

When I’m on the road, there are always people who do favors for me, allowing access and etc., in order for me to get the perfect shot. I’m always promising to send them a picture of something I’ve featured in my photos. But doing proper print fulfillment would almost require a full-time secretary! A self-service solution is to give out pre-printed cards with your photo sharing Web site address (some sites allow custom domain names). You can also write down the gallery title (on the back of the card) that you plan to put the images from the current shoot. This will make your life easier and help keep you honest.

Options and Recommendations: When choosing a photo sharing Web site, pick one that also allows you to post images in password protected folders so you can keep more private images away from the the eyes of the general public. Check the site for reliability. Do they have their own off-site back up system? Be sure the site doesn’t have too great of a restriction on the file sizes of your image uploads—If you can’t upload a full-resolution image (in JPEG format), then you won’t have the benefit of an offline “archive”. Be sure that you can access and download your own images, and not just to order prints from those images. And of course, you’ll want a site that makes good quality prints so that you’ll look professional (most offer “gift” items like printing on mugs, T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, and some even print on canvas). Some of the photo sharing sites allow you to buy prints for yourself and family members at a wholesale price and set a higher price for everyone else—with the profits of those sales paid to you. One of the best sites I’ve found, that has all the features I’ve mentioned (and more), is SmugMug (for other choices, see my April 27th review on this subject).

SmugMug keeps 4 backup copies of each photo in 3 states. You can retrieve your images at anytime. You are allowed unlimited storage and unlimited traffic for less than $40/year. Their “professional account” version (under $150/year) not only allows you to sell prints online (you set the price), but you can also license your images as stock photos, letting clients download digital versions for the fee you set.

Inkjet Printing Fulfillment: If you like to make inkjet prints for your clients rather than have someone else make photo lab prints, then you’ll want to use a Web hosting site like PhotoReflect.com (through ExpressDigital.com). PhotoReflect charges no upfront or monthly fees, but they do take about a 15% commission on every online order. The orders are sent to by email. You print the jobs and ship them. PhotoReflect sends you a check each month, less the commission fees.  Just remember that the images you upload to PhotoReflect are only low-resolution for Web viewing (since YOU will be doing the print fulfillment), and you won’t get the benefit of the “archiving” feature offered by other services.

Posted by Royce Bair on 05/31 at 08:50 AM
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