Posted by: In: Online, Software 12 Jun 2013 0 comments Tags: , , , , , ,

Online Image Hosting… It’s a quandry! Prior to writing this, I had a 1x account, a Photobucket account, a Flickr account, a DeviantArt account and a 500px account. I don’t use them all, but it’s time to try and thin this down a bit.

Before I can do that though, I need to look through the various options and as is usual here at ShutterCount, I want to try and document the process as best as I can. The following list isn’t in any sort of order, but it is a list of the options I’ve looked at. Prices are current as of the time of writing (June 2013) and where monthly prices are quoted, they are multiplied by 12 to get an annual cost.

So – caveats out of the way, and I think it’s important to know why you want to have your image hosting online. Do you want to sell your images? Do you want to share them socially? Do you just want to have them displayed? Do you want to be able to link to them from somewhere else?

I like to share my images with others. I’m not interested in selling them, but I am interested in following like-minded photographers who have similar interests. I also like to display my images elsewhere, so linking images off to forums and/or other websites was important. After looking at the various options, it seems as though having a clear idea of what you want from an image hosting site is very important as some sites cater for some services better than others. For example, if your interest is purely social networking and getting to know other photographers, then Zenfolio would be a poor choice as that’s more of a portfolio site geared towards presenting images and selling them.

Costs also vary quite widely and it’s not always clear what you’re getting for your money. It would be wise for you to double check all these enhancements too, because information can change and the various subscription levels could have changed. Lastly, this is not an exhaustive list. Wikipedia has a list of photo sharing websites and there are some (Picasa/Snapfish) that I haven’t considered mainly because… well… I haven’t. Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a look at what’s on offer. All links are devoid of any affiliate marketing here. I’m not endorsing anything and don’t profit from any of your clicks.

Social > Portfolio

In my opinion, these sites promote the social aspect of photography over the actual presentation of images.

deviantart_logoDeviant Art (Free/£20)

Deviant Art was the first art based sharing site I ever joined and I’ve always kept my account up there. It’s a freebie account. Getting your images into the site can be a bit of a pain. You need to upload them to what DA calls a “Sta.sh” which starts out for free at 2Gb. From your Sta.sh, you can then upload your image to Deviant Art (seems an unnecessary 2-step process to be honest) or you can choose to share directly from there. I guess this comes across as some sort of “backup” system for your photos, but that’s not what I want from online image hosting. Getting a photo into a forum post is also a bit of a pain. You need to right click and copy the image url then paste it into your forum. I guess I forget that I did it like that in the “olden days”.

Once your image is up on DA, you’re good to go. However the main aspect of DA that is another slight issue, is that it’s not really a photo sharing site. It’s an art based one, so there are lots of paintings, animations, drawings and even poetry and literature. This is good if you enjoy all art forms, but not so fgood if you’re just into your photography.

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I noticed a LOT of Cosplay/Manga stuff in there which is great if you like that sort of stuff. The social aspect seems to be very much about “commenting to get comments” which is prevalent in all of the photo sharing sites. If you want true serious critique, you probably need to try a site like photoSIG which is a bit more serious. Either that, or a camera club, or online specialist forum. Finding groups you like and submitting your images seems very clicky, but relatively easy to find. I’m sure with a decent amount of effort, it would be possible to get involved in the community.

Upgrading to Premium Membership isn’t that expensive, and removed ads which I could see as being a real benefit as I find the ads quite intrusive. Your Sta.sh is also upped to 10Gb. There are quite a few features around selling your images, and some alleged customisation options as well as stats. For me though, upgrading would be getting me a no-ad experience and some customisation of my “home page”. When I upload my images to a website they are at poor print quality (but great web quality). A 1200×400 pixel image is about 200k. It would take a lot of 200k images to fill up 2Gb. About 10,000 by my estimation!

Overall, I find the DA interface to be a bit dated. It’s got great things like Journals and Favourites as well as the ability to group your images into Galleries. All the sharing buttons are there for Facefriends, Twitter and Pinterest so the capability is there, it’s just a little hard to find.

ipernity_logoIpernity (Free/£20)ipernity_screenie

Ipernity is a cracking little site. And it is probably the smallest here. The Ipernity blog mentions seven developers. Yep. Seven. I guess that set my expectations quite low, however I was really pleasantly surprised to open an account and be presented with something resembling “old” Flickr. Uploading photos is extremely simple (browse>add) and adding your titles and notes is quick and easy too. The free option gets you 200Mb/month and a cap of 200 photos in your stream (older photos just drop off). Upgrade to the “Ipernity Club” and the caps are removed with unlimited uploading and unlimited number of photos. Additionally, a Club membership is promised to be ad free, although there are no ads for free members at the moment. The one irksome thing that is gated behind the “Club” membership though is the ability to link to forums. It feels like a bit of cheeky capitalisation on the influx of Flickr members.

The social aspects are great, with plenty of Groups that are easy to find, and the ability to easily move your photos into the groups. Ipernity also has an “Articles” function that acts as a limited blog feature, and also the ability to add documents! The site appearance is fresh & clean (i.e. it’s white) with a suggested black option coming soon (perhaps?). I get the feeling that Ipernity will be growing with its new found leagues of members coming over from Flickr. There is currently no option to sell your images with them.

Overall, I think Ipernity is the better of the two socially orientated sites. However the inability to link to forums without paying is really annoying.

Social = Portfolio

These sites try and do both – giving you a portfolio looking image hosting platform as well as a social aspect. Unfortunately, it’s usually the social aspect that is let down.

flickr-icon1Flickr (Free/£33/£328)

Flickr is the big boy on the block when it comes to online image hosting. However it has recently made some sweeping changes to its interface and that has really what’s prompted me to change. I’m not going to go into the why’s and wherefore’s of this, as “what’s right for you” is just that – what’s right for you. The focus now seems to be on presenting your images. Your photo stream is presented with all the images in a tightly packed grid. Ads are served up to free accounts and they’re not as intrusive as Deviant Art. These can be removed for £33/year. And that’s all that first price point gets you because everything else is free. Groups are relatively easy to find and join, and there are a LOT of groups on Flickr. There’s even one for the Fuji 14mm f2.8 lens – that’s how detailed it can get! The Terrabyte of data for free customers means that if you upload web sized images you’d pretty much have to spend your life uploading to Flickr to hit the cap. If you upload print quality images though, or videos, you can upgrade to the 2Tb option. It’s expensive though!

Stats seem to be a sore subject and I can’t find out what’s going on with them at the moment. The Flickr notifications seem to have been quite poorly handled in general. The current thoughts seem to be that they are not available to new members. Only old “Pro” members can have this facility, and only if they continue to pay their subscription. There is also no provision for selling your images should that be something that interests you.

Overall, I find the group and contacts capabilities to be excellent. They’re just not easy to operate which could be because I’m used to the “old” way of doing things. I want to look at my images as well as comments and group activity. Flickr’s “in-your-face” new display seems counter-intuitive. But that’s just me! Maybe I’ll get used to it with time.

opproved_500px_fb500px (Free/£16/£50)

500px is a relative newcomer to this field and as many have commented, look to be where Flickr have taken their inspiration. 500px just seem to do most of it better. It’s not perfect though, and suffers from a few issues. First – the social side of things feels to me to be more of a popularity contest than elsewhere. Users have an “Affection” rating (the number of “likes minus dislikes”) and images have a “Pulse”. It almost feels like having to do SEO to “get a high pulse”. Until you stop bothering about it that is 🙂 Free gets you 20 uploads a week and also allows you to sell your photos which is a pretty cool thing. Not an ad in sight either. The lower price point allows unlimited uploads and stats as well as more organisational tools. This is probably pretty essential for any serious user and at just over £1 a month, is very reasonably priced. “Awesome” (£50/year) gives you all of this plus the ability to have a sub-domain as well as a customised portfolio. The portfolio is a new addition and turns your home page into a spiffy looking website-style page. This is an excellent option for budding photographers who want a web presence without any hassle. I’ve had a play with this, and it’s very nice to be able to modify the theme on the fly. The number of base portfolio designs is quite small, but I’d expect this number to grow in the future.

Image presentation is excellent overall, with a simple, easy to use interface. The social functions are not so easy to operate and the groups are all fixed categories. It’s difficult to interact with other users other than by simply commenting on their photos. Image presentation is definitely the primary objective of this site and it seems natural that the ability to sell your images also features in all three membership plans. If you are considering allowing your images to be sold, maybe 500px could be for you.

1xlogo1x (Free/£33/£66)

How strange that writing a review should cause me to change my mind 🙂 I was sold on an Ipernity account until I got to 1x and began to take a deeper look at how the site works. 1x bills itself as the largest curated online image gallery. This initially made me think that perhaps this was another popularity contest, but to be honest, I think it actually works. The images are (in my humble opinion) of better quality than any other image hosting site and rather than relying on an algorithm (Flickr’s “Explored” and 500px’s “Pulse”) they rely on a human actually looking at a photo. This is what evaluating photography is all about. Group content is accessible, and whilst anyone can create a group, the group needs to be passed for moderation before it’s allowed.

We’re relying on humans here, which is good in one way, and not so good in another. People are passionate about their photography and whilst I might accept a computer saying my photo doesn’t qualify for a Flickr “Explore”, I might feel differently if a human said my photo wasn’t good enough to pass the selection criteria.

However, maybe that’s a challenge in itself! Speaking of challenges, 1x has a weekly challenge group allowing you to get involved in a weekly project any time you feel like it. The social aspects of this site might not be quite so obvious to begin with, but have a look around and you may be surprised.

Upgrading gets you various benefits. There are no ads here which is a boon for free members, and even the basic free account is pretty good. 10 photos/week, 1Gb storage, full access to groups and image sales. The first tier of upgrade increases your storage to 10Gb and unlimited uploads. You are also “seen” better (whatever that means) and can add copyright protection. Pro membership includes a personal homepage with domain linking and 100Gb of storage. Each tier of membership allows you to submit photos for “curation”, with more per week for higher tiers of membership. To be frank, unless you’re out there every day with your camera, I can’t see why you’d want to submit 10 photos per week (Pro level).

In summary, I really like 1x and will definitely be using my account for a while to see how it pans out.

Portfolio > Social

These sites are more geared towards image hosting & presentation than any social aspects.

SmugMug1SmugMug (£26/£39/£99/£198)

SmugMug is one of only two sites reviewed here that has no free option. That’s because it’s not really an image hosting site. It’s very much geared towards a small portfolio website and that’s probably why it’s priced the way it is. All levels of membership allows you to have a portfolio site with unlimited images at a 50Mb (per image) cap choosing from a variety of themes. Upgrading allows more customisation of the theme as well as the ability to add your domain name and video. The last two membership packages concentrate on the ability to sell your images with choice of print labs, and packaging being discerning features. Details here. To be clear, the prices quoted above are annual costs. Paying monthly is significantly more expensive.

Socially, SmugMug is poor, but that’s what I’d expect from a site like this. It’s a “have-your-own-website” site for photographers and the groups are more “categories” that allow people searching for specific images (to buy them) to find what they are looking for.

Overall, SmugMug isn’t for me. But then I’m more interested in the social aspect of photo sharing.

photobucket-mobile-10-535x535Photobucket (Free/£23/£30/£60?+++)

Photobucket really does what it says on the tin. It’s just a  bucket for holding your photos. The interface is ad-ridden and I find it very annoying to actually locate what I want. Unfortunately, there is no paid-for, ad-free experience. Pricing plans deal with simply the amount of data you can access. Free users get 2Gb of storage and 10Gb of bandwidth per month. Premium users get varying amounts of storage (up to 5ooGb) and unlimited bandwidth per month.

Photobucket has tried to add social aspects to its site, and there are some capabilities there. You can organise your photos into Albums and share things on Facebook/Twitter etc. Groups are very limited and seem to just be other buckets with photos in them.

If you just want a place to hold your photos for uploading them to forums and can deal with the ads, then Photobucket might be for you. I’d use Flickr to be honest as the ads are far less intrusive and there is no bandwidth limit. Then again, at the time of writing, at least Photobucket works in Google Chrome.

d1fb9b7b473433805b24472bcd16b0dc1a6dc98b_largeZenfolio (£35/£50/£100/£150)

Last on the list is Zenfolio. This is the second site here with no free option and the reason is similar to SmugMug. Zenfolio is a portfolio site for photographers. There is no community aspect at all. Pricing is extremely similar to SmugMug and can be looked at in detail here. There is not a lot to differentiate between the two except perhaps to say that Zenfolio is really trying to sell the “Photographer-website-in-a-box”. For what it is, I feel as though it’s a bit expensive.

Online Image Hosting – Summary

In summary, I’m thinking I am going to have two locations for my images. Bless you Ipernity for being there, but paying to link my images to forums is the sticking point for me. I’ll stay free on Flickr and just use the ability to link my photos. For my paid solution, I think I’ll move to 1x and have a portfolio there. Just the best stuff! Either that or I’ll pay for Ipernity Club membership and have a free 1x account. It depends entirely on whether Flickr can get themselves sorted out working with Google Chrome (2 days not working at the time of writing)

At the end of the day – only you know which site will suit you best. Each of the options above are pretty good at what they do. None (save perhaps Flickr) try to be something they’re not.

I bought Topaz Adjust 4 quite a while ago for a bit of extra punch to my images. After going through the bow-wave of mad editing, I have started to use this plug-in with a little more restraint and this post is about techniques and ideas to use some of the tools within the plugin for less “dramatic” effects. This post also really relates to version 4. I’ve not really looked at Topaz Adjust 5, but if you’re thinking of buying it, it’s likely to be better than 4 and these ideas and techniques can be used no matter what the version. One thing that’s common to both this and BW Effects, is that when you apply the filter effect in Photoshop, it doesn’t add it as a new layer. I find it to be good practise to duplicate your existing layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) or if you’re just working on one layer, duplicate that with CTRL+J. This allows you to non-destructively work with just the Topaz Adjust layer on its own.

The Topaz Adjust (4) workspace

The Topaz Adjust (4) workspace

Anyway, lets take a look at the UI in a bit more detail. If you’re used to the Topaz interface, then this will seem quite straightforward. Detailed controls over to the right, presets to the left. In the middle is your edited image, and left clicking on it will bring up your original image overlaid. As with BW Effects, the presets you choose on the left really just modify all the sliders to the right, so there is no “trick” to this. As you can see, I have added a few presets of my own as well as downloaded some, and these just appear at the bottom of the preset list. Also, it’s always worth doing an internet search for more presets!

Topaz Adjust Presets

The gallery below shows before and after comparisons with a handful of presets. I’m not sure if this has changed in version 5, but these presets are quite severe. When viewing the gallery, if it’s not obvious, the “original” file is the one with the red highlights in it. Mobile phone viewers may struggle with the gallery as it’s forced set to 1,000px wide to allow the detail to show through. I think it does a good job though of illustrating how some of these effects are quite strong. As an example though, they serve their purpose.

 

 

Each of the Presets can be adjusted with the sliders on the right, and there are no real “right” ways of doing anything. Version 5 allows one to layer adjustments on top of one another which is a really great feature. Prior to that, I would generally make duplicate layers in Photoshop and just apply a new preset to each one. Don’t be frightened about over-cooking your image with this plug-in. If you apply it as a filter to its own layer in Photoshop, you can control the opacity of it later on. Lastly, the plug-in can add a significant amount of noise to an image. As you can see from this example, it’s well worth using the de-noise function within the plug-in as a “last step” before you confirm any changes back to PS.


Keeping Things Real

Once you have your image back in Photoshop, you can really begin to manipulate the effects. If you have made sure that your Topaz Adjusted image is a layer in its own right, you can alter the opacity of it to lessen the effect. You can also mask off certain areas. This is where a deft touch, and an eye for “not overdoing it” can really help. As you can see in the example below, I have added quite a heavily processed Topaz layer on top of my original image, but by reducing the opacity and masking out certain areas, the effect has been dramatically lessened.



All in all, the Topaz Adjust plug-in is a great tool for adding a little punch to your images with a little finesse. You can find out more, and see other tutorials on the Topaz site here.

As always – thanks for reading! And if you’re interested in the slider I used to show the before and after images, it was a paid-for version from CodeCanyon here. There are free versions of this, but the support is not great and I struggled to get it working in Chrome despite various suggestions for a fix. Just search “BeforeAfter plugin” for more information.

Ian.

**Caveat – If you think that spending vast sums of money on a camera case is insane, please close your browser window now**

Front view of the Leicatime X-E1 case.

Front view of the Leicatime X-E1 case.

Today, my Leicatime case finally arrived via courier! Apologies for the poor iPhone pics as well as my home made strap (still in development!).

It was a bum-squeakingly large amount of money (200 Euros) to hand over via Bank Transfer but it’s soooo shiny…

The image to the left here shows it on my camera (click for a bigger version) and I have to say that  love it to bits!

To give a little background, I searched for an eternity for a really nice looking case that would cater for a bit more grippage as the X-E1 on its own feels slightly small. I also wanted that back screen covered to stop me chimping and to stop screen scratches. I also wanted some decent quality and the more I looked at the website, the more I wanted one… It’s handmade. It’s Italian leather.

This is a family business that makes handmade cases and straps, and I initially spoke to Ginevra by email. This was all done over Easter, so the replies were very quick considering the holidays. Once I’d paid, I received confirmation from Luigi (on the 2nd April) by email then sat down to wait. Three weeks later and we’re done!

So if you’ve looked at Leicatime cases (they do Oly, Leica and Fuji X systems) and been put off by either the website (which definitely needs an upgrade!) or the fact that they’re not UK, I can say that the service I had was wonderful.

The case itself is soft leather with a red leather inner and (at extra cost) red stitching. The camera fits very snugly into the case. The built-in grip is a definite welcome addition and feels really comfortable and well sized. The poppers are secure and well made. There is no access underneath for the batteries/mem card/tripod mount, but access to these can be added at extra cost. I am beginning to wish I’d paid the extra 20 Euros for the tripod hole too but I figured I’d be taking it out of the case for Landscape work. The problem was that all the prices are exclusive of VAT and they charge an extra 4% for Paypal, so everything you add to the order costs more than you think.

So I guess the big question is “was it worth it?” I was in a slightly unusual position of having money left over after selling my Canon gear, and I wanted a grip and a case. The Fuji branded grip + case would have set me back around £120 (£60 each at

Rear view of the Leicatime case with flap open

Rear view of the Leicatime case with flap open

time of posting) so we’re actually talking about £50 difference. I know, I know, the VAT isn’t in there… or the delivery charge… As you can see I’m desperately trying to justify the cost. The case is a thing of beauty. If you’re a lady, it’s a Louboutin. Sure – you could say “200 Euros for a bit of leather?” but I just shake my head. For me it’s something really nice; and ladies – if you like your Louboutins and your husband has an Olympus, a Fuji X or a Leica – you may want to have a chat with Ginevra on email. Give him a treat. He’s worth it! Gents – if your wife likes her shoes, tell her you want one of these. If she mentions the “strip of leather” thing just point to her shoes and raise an eyebrow. That should do the trick!

Yes. It’s expensive. If you have the money to spare (my camera fund stays in my camera fund!) then why not treat yourself.

Ian.