The Zucchini Principle--
Online Photo Sharing

September 2003

In late summer I think about photographs and zucchini. When you're planting your garden, the idea of fresh zucchini sounds great. But by late summer, after having eaten bushels of it--and having given it away to neighbors--you're a bit tired of it. And you notice that your neighbors lock their door and hide when they see you coming with an armload of zucchini.

Sometimes photographs are like that. You go on vacation with that new digital camera and come back with hundreds of photos, eager to share. And if your neighbor is hiding, perhaps it's because you've exposed him to one too many of your photo/travelogues in the past.

Of course your Internet columnist has the answer: the Internet.

The nice thing about sharing your vacation photos online is that it's user-controlled: your neighbor can choose how many of those hundreds of photos to view and at what pace.

The online photo services make this very easy. We covered them two years ago, but I thought it would be a good time for an update, especially since digital cameras are expected to outsell traditional cameras this year.

A friend of mine who recently returned from Greece looked at the various services and ultimately chose Shutterfly. It had the ability to upload many photos at once (an important factor, since he had hundreds of them). He also liked the ease with which he could rearrange them.

It couldn't be simpler: you open an account and then use their online tools to upload photos. You can group them into albums, write captions, change orientation, and do some simple editing and cropping if you wish. (I was pleased with Shutterfly's ability to remove redeye, for example.)

You can then select a group of photos to share with friends, family--and neighbors--and automatically have a link generated that is e-mailed to them along with a message from you. When they access the link, they can see thumbnails of the photos, which they can click to enlarge. Or they can view them as a slideshow. And they can, of course, order prints.

Shutterfly offers unlimited storage, and there is absolutely no fee to upload, store, or share your photos online. All this, plus many features I haven't mentioned.

If you--or your neighbors--want to order prints, Shutterfly is a bit pricey at 49¢ per print. The quality is good. When I showed my Shutterfly prints to a photographer friend of mine, he thought that they looked as good as conventional photos.

I haven't compared the quality among the major services, but according to Digital Photo Matrix, the top three services (Shutterfly, Ofoto, and Snapfish) all offer high quality prints.

If you're looking for a lower price, you can find services that print for half the price of Shutterfly. The last time I checked, Snapfish was a dime cheaper, at 39¢ (though as little as 25¢ if you order 100+), and Wal-Mart was 26¢. Ofoto is the same price as Shutterfly at 49¢.

You do have to be cautious about having these services as your only archive, because they can go out of business and all your photos are gone. As a backup, these services typically offer is to sell you a CD with all your archived photos.

Of course, another option for sharing your photos online is to simply have your own web site (though viewers won't be able to order prints). Prices continue to come down. Check out Discount Hosting, which costs just $10 per year.

If you want your own domain name, that's gotten a lot cheaper too. Go Daddy charges between $5 and $9 per year, depending on which extension you choose and for what period of years. (The domain extension .us is cheapest, at $4.95 per year for any number of years.)

Expect online photo sharing to explode now that you can buy cell phones with built-in cameras. The convenience is amazing: snap a photo and then immediately use your wireless service to send it to a friend or upload it to the Internet.

There's even a new online culture called--phlogging. It's like blogging (the popular online weblogs that we covered a couple months ago), but in this case it's photos that people are uploading to their "phlogs." As they go through their day, or as they vacation in a foreign land, they upload photos and captions via their phone camera.

For some reason, we seem to have an innate desire to share images of our lives. Just remember that however you choose to share photos online, always keep in mind the zucchini principle: don't overwhelm with too much.

© 2003 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

With some nice lessons in photography your own photographs can only improve.

E-mail Jim Karpen