Flickr, Pinterest, and Instagram: my strong feels, as both a user and a publisher

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Flickr + LeWeb = awesome. Big bowl of buttons…
I’m aware of the layers of irony in this image. By: Betsy WeberCC BY 2.0

I have some strong feels about photo hosting online, my friends. Over the last decade, I’ve watched the landscape of photo hosting websites shift, from a time when there was nothing decent, to a time when there was something amazingly awesome (Flickr!), to a time when there were tons of options (yay!), to time when there are a few front-runners (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram), none of which work as well as the tools we used back in 2004 (boo!).

This post is long. This post is probably overly emotional considering we’re talking about web apps and photo hosting. But man… photos are my memories, and as a publisher, photos are part of my business model. So let’s get out our hankies and our rallying fists in the air and talk this shit over.

Using Flickr for myself

It was my own wedding that got me to sign up with Flickr in 2004. I had some blogger friends who used it for their wedding photos, and I was in the market for a social photo tool that would make it easy for me and my guests to pool our photos in one place. Flickr was so small at the time that I got a personal welcome from one of the founders when I signed up, and they helped me get a group set up so that we could collect shots from guests. I was so completely sold on Flickr that, fall of 2004, I became the site’s very first Pro account holder.

In the 9 years since my wedding, I’ve posted over 7000 photos to Flickr, documenting the big events of my life: buying a house, releasing a book, getting pregnant, having a baby, raising a child

Using Flickr for my publishing business

I totally remember when, at a blogging conference in 2006, I had the lightbulb moment of realizing that I could also use Flickr to help me collect reader photos to share on the new website I was going to launch to promote my book, Offbeat Bride. That website was, of course. And seven years later, the Offbeat Bride Flickr pool now has close to 25,000 wedding photo submitted to us from almost 5,000 members.

I have loved using Flickr as a photo hosting tool for readers to submit their shots to us. For starters, it’s saved me thousands of dollars on bandwidth. All of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of photos in our six years of wedding profiles are served up from Flickr’s servers instead of my own. Relying on Flickr for photo embedding is a very real financial consideration for my business.

I also love that couples retain ownership of their images. Divorce happens, and I love that people can just quietly take their photos off Flickr without contacting us to remove the photos from Offbeat Bride. (The flip side of this is that yes, sometimes people inadvertently break our posts by removing their photos or deleting their Flickr account, but it’s a fair trade-off for me.)

Also, since Flickr was the dominant photo hosting site for so long, most of my readers were already using it, making it convenient for them to add their wedding photos to our pool.

Sure, there have been challenges. Over the years, the Offbeat Bride Flickr pool has been abused in all sorts of ways. Once there was an up ‘n’ coming wedding blogger who trawled the pool daily and would rush to publish the photos submitted to us before we could. It also became immediately clear that there were thousands of wedding photographers who would spam their shots to any group they could find with “bride” or “wedding” in the title. There were also business owners (florists, dressmakers, invitation designers) who would spam the pool with product photos. Early on, I learned to make the group moderated, so that each photo had to be approved before it would appear.

Despite these abuses, I have loved Offbeat Bride’s Flickr pool dearly. Madly. Intensely. Over the last couple years, however, I started noticing a few things:

  • Reader submissions to the pool dropped (boo)
  • Spammy submissions to the pool plummeted (yay!)
  • Most readers who submitted the pool were using Flickr ONLY for wedding photos
  • Lots more reader questions about how to use Flickr
  • We got more inquiries about submitting photos posted on Facebook

Now the Offbeat Bride Flickr pool faces the biggest challenge of all: people just aren’t using Flickr any more.

What are they using instead?

Clearly, since I first launched the Offbeat Bride Flickr pool in 2007, the online photo-sharing industry has grown drastically. In 2007, Facebook was still just an up ‘n’ coming social media network mostly used by college kids. Instagram wouldn’t be invented for three years. Pinterest? HA! Not even a glimmer in the founders’ eye.

In 2013, Flickr is an atrophying platform that Yahoo is desperately trying to revive. They released a super sweet mobile app, and there was a flurry of press around “Flickr’s BACK, baby!” but there’s no denying that the site’s base of users has dropped dramatically thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. And if ANY of these three tools did what Flickr has done for me as a user and publisher, I’d probably switch over… but they don’t. They’re just NOT set up for sharing photos in the same social ways as Flickr. In fact, they’ve taken a step backwards.

Wait, can I talk about Pinterest for a second?

This point was made especially clear to me when Pinterest recently switched the way they do photo embeds. I’m a bit chagrined now about ever having embedded photos from Pinterest. The code they served up was so crappy that my old developer had to create custom CSS styles to deal with it. The issues were always murky when it came to the Empire’s attribution policies, but it was just so easy to get sucked into embedding from Pinterest.

Then last month, all those embedded Pinterest photos broke. Hundreds of embedded photos in dozens of posts across the Empire blogs: busted. No warning from Pinterest. No work-around. Just… busted. My editors are still slowly cleaning up the messes.

In seven years of embedding photos from Flickr, you know how many times they’ve broken their own code? ZERO TIMES. Because Flickr wants you to embed their photos. The tool is set up to respect sharing settings, attribution settings (WOOHOO, Creative Commons!), and embedding rules. Flickr was designed for sharing photos. Pinterest was designed for bookmarking photos, and sharing those bookmarks.

My editors weren’t the only one caught off-guard by Pinterest’s embedding switch. Six months ago or so, I started noticing a ton of Offbeat Bride Tribe members using Pinterest as a photo hosting tool. They weren’t just using it to bookmark other people’s photos, they were directly uploading their own photos to Pinterest, and then sharing the photos on the Tribe via embeds. So when Pinterest changed their embedding methods to javascript-based code that doesn’t work in the same way they were used to (or work at all on the Offbeat Bride Tribe), members asked me what was going on. Here was my response:

Yeah, honestly: Pinterest embeds have never been great on the Tribe, and now they’re completely unusable. Really, this is Pinterest making it clear that they’re a bookmarking tool, not a photo hosting tool.

Basically, while Pinterest does indeed let you upload photos, they’re really not set up to be used as a photo hosting tool.

Anyway, back to Flickr

In my opinion, Flickr really is the best way to share photos online. Yes, Yahoo’s management has allowed the site to atrophy, but in terms of basic functions like privacy, sharing, embedding, pooling, and gathering photos… it’s still the best. Not without its significant flaws, but still the best option we’ve got. And yet, I cannot deny that fewer and fewer people are using it.

As someone who’s been on Flickr for 9 years, I’m sad that Flickr’s community momentum has whithered. Photos I post there get almost no love… while the same photos I posted during my few months of using Instagram got tons of hearts. (I bailed on Instagram because while I loved the community, I hated what it was doing to my photos.) On a personal level, I’m sad that Flickr’s community isn’t what it once was.

But on a publishing level, I’m just mad. I watch Tribesmaids stumble around trying to use Pinterest for something it’s not built for, and I whisper “Use Flickr instead.” We now accept Offbeat Bride submissions on Instagram by asking peeps to tag @offbeatbride in their photos, and I cringe at the low-resolution, predictably over-processed results. (Insert me whispering again, “Use Flickr instead.”)

I’m not stupid enough to think I can turn the tide on which photo tools people are using online. I’ve often said that as a community manager, the only “right” tools are the ones that your members use willingly, without being taught the “right” ways. If your members are not using the tools the way you intended, then you need to reassess the tool. That said, we make it clear that wedding profile submissions can only be accepted if the photos are on Flickr. That won’t be changing. Other than that, I have to just adapt to the tools that people have decided to use… even if they’re not as good as the tools that I was using 9 years ago.

Comments on Flickr, Pinterest, and Instagram: my strong feels, as both a user and a publisher

  1. You are totally right that none of those other sites are for true photo hosting. I, too, hope that Flickr can somehow make a comeback.

  2. I’ve been using Flickr since 2005 too. I used to dump EVERYTHING there. Even I use it less now than I used to! And I see the difference in attention too. My instagrams go to Flickr too, same photo will get 30 likes on Insta, 3 views on Flickr. I remember the old days when I’d be in Explore every few months! Now it’s crickets. I’m also not putting out as quality of work or participating in groups like I was, but I do miss the old Flickr days too.

    • Yeah, I hear this sentiment a LOT from former Flickr users, but very few of us are willing to cut ourselves off from the teat of Instagram’s hearts and actually reinvest in Flickr. As users, we naturally gravitate to where our photos get the most attention. Truth be told, I still miss the hearts I got on Instagram…. but I believe so strongly in the superiority of Flickr that I stubbornly refuse to post on Instagram.

  3. You really raise a good point Ariel. Up until this point I’ve been using facebook more as a photo-hosting tool. But lately, the fact that the images wind up with such low-resolution and become unusable for later has become more of a thorn in my side. I used Shutterfly to have wedding guests upload pictures and that was a big mistake. I think it probably is time I start using flickr more.
    I think the average interwebz user just wants everything to be on ONE platform, instead of having to bop around all these different social networking-type sites.
    P.S. It sucks donkey balls that the embed for pinterest broke. I’m sorry you all have to deal with that headache.

  4. Flickr is far from dead. The trick with Flickr is and has always been reciprocation: You can’t expect getting comments, faves, or new followers if you don’t take the first step. And yes, that may involve refreshing your contact base from time to time. Old contacts become inactive, so you need to go looking for new ones, those who take great photos in your area of interest, and are still active enough to post regularly and to interact with you.

    Sure, we can lament all we want about how things on Flickr were so great in 2006 (which they were), but we also have to move our own butts in order to make it great again. I’m not posting as much as I did. I used to do 365 projects over years, participate in many challenge groups, and generally took and shared many more photos than I do today; on some days I shared a two-digit figure of new photos, and I hardly ever missed a day posting. Now I only post one shot a day at best, sometimes just two per week. But I still take the time to look through my contacts’ uploads, leave a comment if I something catches my eye, or roam the group pools to find interesting photographers I don’t know yet.

    Flickr can only be as rewarding as its users make it. And that includes you and me.

  5. Pinterest is mean to CONNECT you to the website where the photographer has embedded the Flickr photos. Instagram is meant to post grainy selfsies while you attempt Pinterest projects.

    I feel like I’m used to seeing sites use Flickr much the way the Empire does–more or less photo storage rather than as a community extension or separate community entirely. Death to the actual Flickr community? Yes, but it definitely feeds the communities it serves. Think about all the likes and comments images get on here!

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily translate to brand interest for Flickr, so the site seems like a useless feature to anyone looking for Proof of Flickr Life.

    Flickr has built a bit of a reputation, I think, as a fuddy-dud high res, high quality photo site–a place where cell phone pics look outta place. People want to share quickly rather than more handsomely, and that makes Flickr feel like a niche-interest site rather than a viable image sharing option.

    Doom and Gloom Prediction: until the day that DSLRs come equipped with wifi or cell phone service, Flickr will continue to crawl. Did I just invent the Canon Flickr? YEP. MILLION DOLLAR ENDORSEMENT.

    • There is actually a cool SD card with wifi, so you can send every photo straight to Flickr from your DSLR. If your camera takes SD cards…. I asked them when they are coming out with a Compact Flash wifi card and they said they are working on it.

      • Holy Hell! How can such a little tiny thing have wifi? I am flabbergasted! And I now need one… Well first I need to find the charger to my camera… but the then I NEED ONE!

  6. I love Pinterest but it drives me NUTS. I am always getting “504” errors when I try to pin things, things are always locking up… they recently started pushing their new template on everyone and since I switched, when I use my “Pin it” button, half the time I get the old format, half the time the new format, and then like 25% of the time it 504’s. It’s just… spotty as hell. I enjoy it but I am very nervous about relying on it for anything (but I do… I’d be sad if I lost my boards.)

    I love Flickr. Never got into the social side of it, never stepped foot in the forums, but I got a pro account years ago and I doubt I’d ever go back. I use it for my blog posts 99% of the time (it always comes out looking way better than if I upload directly to blogger) and it’s comforting that most of my important photos are stored there in case my various backup methods were to fail. I wish they weren’t in bed with Yahoo… Yahoo’s kind of a mess, and the only real reason I even have a Yahoo account anymore is to use Flickr (and I know I’m not the only one.) But, oh well. As long as they don’t go ruining it somehow, I’m happy.

    As for Instagram… I don’t loathe it the way some people do, but I don’t really like it either. When I had the app, I’d use the filters then save it to my camera and post it to twitter or whatever manually. Now I have better apps to do that with and I just don’t use it all.

    • Yeah, as a user I knew Pinterest was flaky (504 errors, ahoy!) but it wasn’t until the embed issue happened that I realized that as a publisher, I simply couldn’t trust them. And that as a company, they didn’t care. Where-as Flickr has been built with the infastructure to support embedded/hosted photos, Pinterest clearly has not… and them changing how pins are embedded is a clear message from them that they do NOT want you using their bandwidth to host images on blogs or forums. I totally respect that decision… I just wish they’d been able to make the change without breaking shit.

  7. “I cringe at the low-resolution, predictably over-processed results. (Insert me whispering again, “Use Flickr instead.”) ”

    Amen sister. You and I both. Instagram is fun, but its a damn shame to watch so much of the world opting for lower quality imagery.

  8. One of the reasons I stopped posting things on Flickr is that I ran out of photo space. I hit that spot just under 200 photos where if I move forward, my old photos start getting hidden. But I don’t use it enough to justify a Pro account.

    I share with friends and some family members on Facebook because they don’t really care about quality of images, they just want to see. Most of them don’t know about Flickr or if they do, I don’t know that. I use Pinterest to find cool things but wouldn’t have used it to embed (it peeves me that they put an embed code at all if they aren’t actually supporting it, but they are still figuring out who and what they are. I’ve had good customer service as a pinner but I agree, they aren’t stable yet and it’s unclear if they will be).

    Instagram is so not my thing.

  9. i have a flickr account, and i’ll say that it IS really awesome. what turned me off to it is that (at least at the time was using it frequently, around ’07/’08), you were capped at 200 photos unless you wanted to pay monthly for membership. no dice. so that’s why i stopped using it. :\

  10. Instagram is awesome – as long as you use it right. I use it for a quick photo I want to post of that moment to be viewed online, on mobile devices, not to print. I will never print an Instgram photo, I have my real camera for that.

    And I share those photos first on Flickr (long time member) because I get the full sized original, others can download it for printing, and I can use it as an online backup. Sometimes I will also share the photos on Facebook, 500px (only if they are very good), and a few other sites. But Flickr is my first place to post to.

    I sure hope yahoo can fix it and make flickr better. A lot of photog’s out there have some really great suggestions that I hope are being heard.

    • I love instagram for that reason, too. It makes me much less self-conscious about snapping a gazillion pictures with my phone because I know they’re not going to be blown up to 8×10 quality.

      That being said, I have had amazing luck getting instagram pictures in their tiny format printed in a photo book. There were 12 to a page, and it was really fun to see so many of my instagram photos floating around in a legit book next to ones I took with my fancy dancy camera.

      • Great idea! I hadn’t thought of printing Instagram pics small like that. And I have been able to create some pretty cool photos with the Instagram filters. Thanks for the idea!

  11. I totally agree! I started using Flickr in 2004-2006 for photo hosting, and just to help document life events in photos. I even had a Pro account to ensure that I had enough room to store all my digital memories. I carried around a digital camera to every family event, and diligently upload, labeled, and categorized my photos all the time….until I started being lazy.

    I still have a Flickr account, AND restarted my love for Flickr because of my love for Offbeat Bride. 🙂 I’m sure as more loyal fans of Offbeat Bride come to their senses and realize that Instagram is great so social stuff (like a photo twitter feed), Pinterest IS a meant to be a bookmarking visual aid, and Flickr is the best of all the digital realms. I’ve never been a fan of posting photos on FB ever since I became aware of the ownership issues that come with it, as well as finding out friends and websites I love were being ripped of their photos for FB ads. 🙁

    The internet is a big place. It’s good to know some people still know how to navigate it.

    • It’s good to know some people still know how to navigate it.

      While I super appreciate that sentiment, ultimately it doesn’t matter… as I said in the post, if my community isn’t using the tools, then it doesn’t matter if they’re the best tools — the right tools are ones my community will actually use. When it comes to community-driven submissions, the community gets to drive. I can set out the intent (insert more whispers of “Flickr is best…”) but ultimately if people like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, that’s what they’ll keep using. I either adapt, or run out of submissions.

  12. I too loved Flickr until it became a tool of harassment. I had compiled thousands of photographs representing years of my life on that website, and in the end one person found a photo that they had a problem with and began publishing it all over the internet without my permission. I blocked the individual but they made multiple new accounts just to send me hateful messages via Flickr. Flickr customer service was terribly ineffective and I deleted my account before the individual could use my photographs to learn any more about me than he already knew. I wanted to share my photography, but never imagined that such a terrible experience would come of it. As a result I am much more cautious and private about what goes on the internet with my name on it.

    • Sharon, that sounds awful! Tragically, I’ve yet to find a social media site that hasn’t been used as a tool for harassment. 🙁 It seems to be the dark nature of the social web.

  13. I’ve been a Flickr pro subscriber/user for years, though my use of it did dip for a while there. But I’ve always taken a lot of photos of stuff I made and uploaded them, so I kept it for that purpose (plus seriously? $24/year is totally affordable, even as a broke-ass grad student). The sewing/craft blogger community thrives on that shit.

    For me, I got waaaaay back into it for daily life photos when they released their new app. I’m friends with a bunch of artists/photographers who were already using Flickr heavily, and there was sort of a general community migration when everyone decided Instagram was kindasorta evil now that it’s owned by Facebook. Now I totally get favorites on cute baby pictures on Flickr. I upload lots of things straight from my phone and it’s easy to use those photos later in blog posts or whatever.

    I’ve also been playing with their photo pools a bunch lately – I know Ariel’s posted about the glories of Wardrobe Remix before. I’ve found that if you start sharing photos in some of the public pools you’ll totally get lots of random people taking an interest in what you post. There’s definitely a community there, at least for certain interests.

    I do put some stuff up on Instagram, but mostly to facilitate things like using Stickygram for mother’s day presents. And that stuff always goes to Flickr too. Knowing that I have people watching my Flickr feed – even just a few people – makes me care enough to make sure everything winds up there. Plus I know with Flickr I’ll be able to find it again later, which just isn’t true with Instagram/Facebook.

    • For me, I got waaaaay back into it for daily life photos when they released their new app. I’m friends with a bunch of artists/photographers who were already using Flickr heavily, and there was sort of a general community migration when everyone decided Instagram was kindasorta evil now that it’s owned by Facebook.

      I was desperately hoping this would happen among my circle when the new iOS app came out, but it just hasn’t. Friends syndicate their Instagrams on Flickr, but very few of my folks are actively engaged with Flickr. Can I adopt your friends?

      • You’re welcome to try! Especially if you want Flickr feeds full of burning man projects, ponies in startup elevators and bourbon. They’re all in San Francisco though.

        I guess that’s another problem with Flickr: I’ve never understood the etiquette surrounding adding someone as a contact there. (I considered adding you earlier but wasn’t sure if it’d be weird or something and then got distracted.) Historically there have been two types of people who friend me on Flickr: people I know personally, and creepers. But it’s totally normal on Instagram to follow feeds of some internet person’s kids and dogs, so maybe we’re in for a new era?

        • I’ve been on Flickr since 2005 and it’s totally acceptable to Add Contact to any person whose photos you admire. No need to know anyone personally or anything, that’s what Facebook is for. Their photos are public and meant to be looked at, and private photos are reserved for “Friends” or “Family” if needed. I have actually made IRL (in real life) friends on Flickr just from adding Contacts and a bit of commenting. Think of it as “friending” bands you liked back in the MySpace days. As long as you have some of your own content in your photostream, you won’t look like a creeper.

          • Yep, what Liz said. Flickr’s always been great about separating the differences between Contacts, Friends, and Family… I guess the language now has shifted to a more “Follow” nomenclature, but it’s the same idea.

          • This makes total sense. I think it’s just one of those things where the technology is totally there, but social conventions maybe aren’t as standard across different groups as they are on other sites.

            Also I’m a little gun-shy about the whole thing because there are a LOT of creepers on Flickr. Mostly they’re fairly polite about fetishizing a totally non-risque picture of you because you’re wearing cowboy boots (or whatever, that’s just my most recent example) but still kind of ew? You can report people of course but it seems to happen fairly frequently. But not enough to stop me using Flickr.

  14. Ugh. Instagram. I just don’t get it. If I wanted crappy pictures, I would just use my son’s crappy low resolution camera that we gave him when he was five an insert a blue filter over them. My (almost) brother-in-law posted a picture of the Chipole burrito he had ordered this morning on Instagram. How can you make a good burrito look less appealing?? It looked like it came out of a bad 70s horror flick. It crawls from the darkness: The Burrito from Hell. DUN DUN DUUUUNNNNN!
    Snarky comments aside, I love Flickr. My ex and I went through a really bad divorce and I avoided my old account for quite a while. I decided to log into it a few months ago and realized that there were photos on there that I would not have if I hadn’t have uploaded them. Past portfolio projects, a few of our son’s baby pics that I couldn’t find anywhere else, etc. So, in my opinion, Flickr wins at photo sharing.

  15. The only thing makes me ultra-sad about Flickr is that the images don’t appear for me at work (which is where I do most of my OBBing – shh don’t tell my boss).

  16. There’s another image hosting site that’s incredibly awesome if you just want to share photos and that’s

    That’s actually pretty much all I use. Yes, there are issues that the photos can now be viewed by anyone (in the free account) but it’s so straightforward and simple that it’s much easier to share with people the imgur album.

    • I totally recommend for Offbeat Bride Tribe members who want a place to host the images they’re going to post in their forum posts. It’s perfect for that!

    • I’m an avid user of the Picasa application and back-up all my photos on their servers, but its sharing/pooling functions aren’t as well-developed as Flickr Groups.

      • Yeah, I host all my personal pictures on Picasa (now Google Plus Photos), but they don’t really seem to have big group pools the way Flickr does. Which I get, but I still prefer their interface ::shrug::

  17. This is such a timely post for me. I haven’t been using Flickr as much lately as most of my stuff goes to Facebook, but with the coming baby and the growing rage over fb’s ridiculous policy around beastfeeding photos, I was starting to realize that I need to come back to Flickr and then reshare to Facebook. Turns out my pro account quietly expired in the past couple of weeks!

    Time to re-engage at Flickr.

  18. Great post and comments, thanks to all. I’m a new photographer researching photo sharing sites with a marketing intent. There were no comments on SEO opportunities with Flickr. I’m taking hundreds of pet photos at our animal hospital. I was hoping to build something to compliment my other social marketing work on YouTube and FB. Is SEO something Flickr is not suited for, not intended for? If I’m going to do all the work to edit and upload images, I really want to find a site that gives the most benefit for more time.
    Kind regards, Bret

  19. Well, it’s not new news any longer, but I hope everyone knows that you can now get 1TB free storage at Flickr. I’ve always liked it as well and hope that this gets it back in favor again.

  20. I had no idea flickr was not a community of professional photographers. Those are the only people I’ve ever known to use it, and given how many broken flickr links I’ve seen over the years since it started, I just never thought of it as useful or stable so I never signed up. All it’s been is a thorn in my side, a pain in the butt part of using the internet. Huh! Just goes to show how people can have completely different experiences I suppose!

    • Those broken Flickr links are actually part of what it makes me love it: Say we feature someone’s wedding on Offbeat Bride, using their photos from Flickr. Say, 5 years later, they get divorced. They make their old wedding photos private on Flickr, and and VOILA: our post featuring those photos magically doesn’t display them any more… because the person who posted the photo retains ownership of how it’s displayed, and Flickr respects that.

      I would never deny that Flickr has fallen pretty hard, but it completely transformed the web when it launched… ending up on the cover of Newsweek and everythang.

  21. Okie in one word which is best to promote your professional images ?
    flickr ,instagram etc ?

      • It depends on what your goal is. If you are looking for a platform which you can direct your existing base of contacts, there’s several out there from free ones like flickr, to paid services like Smugmug.

        If your goal is to just publish and have the masses jump on your stuff, you’ll need to play follow the leader–which means you need to post on whatever social platform your target demographic is using. If you’ve got various target demographics using multiple platforms, welcome to the social media management nightmare…

  22. I’m moving website platforms so a need for an embedded photo gallery for our real estate listings is needed. I read a lot of pinterest vs flickr posts but your post touched on some of the many things and problems I’m seeing. Right now it seems infinitely easier to integrate with flickr too with multiple images at one time vs pinterest as well. That may change in the future, but thanks for voicing your thoughts here for me to find.

    • So if you’re using a photo host for business, look for a paid business solution that does what you want. Obviously you’re making money with the help of the website, so don’t hesitate to spend some money.

      I faced a similar dilemma many years ago when self-hosting over 100,000 images became too much of a burden. I got a top-teir Smugmug account which did everything I wanted and I haven’t looked back 250k+ images later. And there’s TONS of great services like Smugmug out there. Just pick the one that’s best for you.

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