More and more of our precious memories are out of our hands stored on remote servers run by online photo-sharing sites. Here are some tips on how to pick one that works best for you:
Read closely - Examine the terms of service before you sign up for an online photo site. Don’t give in to the temptation to skip that. To avoid confusing legal terms, check out the Web site’s “frequently asked questions” or “FAQ” section. It could have the answer you want. Google, noting that legal documents can be onerous, offers a “Terms of Service Highlights” written in plain English.
Seek a resolution - Find out if your photo-sharing site lets you download high-resolution versions of your photos, so you can transfer your pictures to another Web site if the policies change. Picasa offers the service for free, but many do not, including Shutterfly, Kodak and Snapfish. Flickr lets you download high-resolution photos with either a paid account or if you allow others to distribute your images.
Question deletions - Clarify a photo site’s policy on erasing photos. Some sites, such as Kodak and Snapfish, will delete images if you don’t adhere to their policies after multiple warnings. Shutterfly may delete accounts inactive for over 180 days, but spokeswoman Gretchen Sloan said this policy is not enforced.
If you decide you want to retrieve photos you deleted, several sites, including Fotki, Shutterfly and Snapfish, make this possible by holding on to images for a few days or sometimes even a month and a half.
Do the math - Don’t sign up for a free photo-sharing site without comparing the cost of printing photos with other sites. You could save money on photo storage but end up paying more money for printing and shipping your images.
Consider prepaid - Some sites can offer lower per-photo costs if you expect to buy a lot of prints. Shutterfly offers three prepaid plans, including one that saves 33 percent if you commit to buying 600 4-by-6-inch (10-by-15-centimeter) photos in two years. Kodak’s Premier Print Super Saver lets you save 33 percent off 4-by-6 prints, but it charges $50 a year.
Hit the road - To avoid shipping charges, pick up your pictures at retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Target that partner with photo-sharing sites. Flickr, Kodak, Shutterfly, Snapfish and Picasa offer that service. The processing time can be as short as an hour.
Protect yourself - Back up your pictures in at least two places. Store them on your computer’s internal hard drive or an external drive, and burn copies onto DVDs or CDs. Keep a set at a relative’s house in case disaster strikes your home.
Be king - Opt for sites that offer refunds if you’re not satisfied with your order, such as Shutterfly. It also has a toll-free number for customer service, as does Snapfish and Kodak.
Get social - If you just want to share digital photos with online friends, use the free services offered on social networking sites. Skip photo-storage sites unless you want to send pictures to people who aren’t on social networks or if you want to take advantage of more extensive photo printing services on mugs, T-shirts and calendars.