If you’ve ever posted a picture online, you’ve probably used an image upload service. And if you’re an artist, photographer, or other media creator, you may even use these websites to promote your work.
But when you begin to outgrow these platforms, creating your own online space is the next logical step. That way, you’ll have a site to call your own, with control over all of your images, and no licensing fees.
But if you pick the wrong web host, you may get stranded without enough resources or the wrong apps. Learning how to choose the right one is crucial to your success.
What is Image Hosting?
Image files must be uploaded to a server to be displayed online. Image hosting services allow you to do just that. Hosting may be offered for free, as a fee-based subscription, or as a pay per storage amount service.
Popular image hosting websites include Flickr and Imgur. There are also a number of more serious services for professionals, often with a way to make money from them. Shutterstock is one such service.
Images may be uploaded one of several ways, depending on the provider you’ve chosen. File transfer protocol (FTP) tends to be accessible only with paid image hosting service. More commonly used are web-based upload interfaces.
Smartphone and tablet applications for uploading photos are also very popular. After all, Instagram began as a smartphone app, solely for uploading photos to host and share with others using the same application.
There are two ways to share your pictures on the internet, and both have vastly different uses.
Image Hosting Services
Online image hosting services, like Imgur, Photobucket, and Flickr, are very easy to work with. It is through these services that most people share pictures online.
Uploading can be as simple as dragging and dropping a picture from your computer. Many allow you to upload a picture and embed, direct link, or share on social media without even making an account. Free accounts allow you to sort and keep track of old photos by organizing them into albums.
For blog, Twitter, and Tumblr users, this is often the best and easiest solution. Some bloggers and photographers even use professional sharing sites to start an online career.
While this works fine for some, there are times when you need something more advanced. Online image hosting rarely allows you to use uploaded images commercially without a license, and sometimes they may even watermark your work.
If you’re trying to make a name for yourself, creating your own website is a great idea. You have more control over your photos and your online appearance.
While you’ll need to build an audience on your own, a personal website will help you stand out from the crowd — instead of floundering in a sea of selfies and memes.
Points to Remember
Beyond simply displaying your images, image hosts offer other features.
Depending on the host you choose, you can order paper prints and a variety of other products featuring your photos.
You may be able to set licensing for your photos, allowing others to use them for personal or commercial use, with or without attribution, and with or without manipulating the image. Creative Commons licensing options are available to Flickr users.
Another feature some image hosts offer is hypertext markup language (HTML) code for linking to your image or embedding it on a website. Other possibilities for your images include creating photo galleries and slideshows.
As far as technical requirements go, image hosting is relatively straightforward. Most dedicated image gallery software suites require a PHP/MySQL environment.
They tend to rely on FTP and HTTP for upload, but some have added Flash and Java uploader support, so the requirements vary depending on what sort of software you choose.
It is more or less a matter of available storage and the way you want to implement it on your site. The popularity of free content management systems (CMS) and familiarity with platforms like WordPress has led many users to employ them in this role as well.
What Hosts Offer
Currently, you will find image hosting built into web hosting packages from many hosting providers.
You can purchase packages with software for image hosting, photo galleries, and photo blogging installed, with technical support included.
This option is perfect for those who need to get your site up quickly, as well as anyone who may need some trained assistance along the way.
A wide range of different plans is available, starting at a few dollars a month for entry-level plans with limited storage and shared hardware.
More elaborate VPS and dedicated plans offer more features, bandwidth, and storage.
Keeping Up With the Times
While this is good news for novices, more demanding users may have different requirements. Traditional image hosting has evolved and the use case for many services has changed (or disappeared altogether).
In recent years, social networking, personal cloud storage, and smartphones have altered the landscape drastically. It is important to bear this in mind, along with other factors. However, the changes have also opened up new niches.
Social networking and popular mobile services like Instagram have a number of limitations, making them unsuitable for many uses (especially for professionals). Cloud services that seamlessly sync with mobile devices are a godsend for many users, but they can also suffer from shortcomings.
Scalability and Flexibility
A lot of individuals and small businesses still need their own image hosting for a number of reasons and this won’t change even if free services improve, or if gadget makers convince even more people that their 20-megapixel smartphones can go toe to toe with proper cameras.
However, social integration and hassle-free access via mobile platforms (including mobile uploads) are very relevant even for niche services. It is crucial to make sure your hosting plan can keep up in case you decide to expand or deploy new standards and technologies.
While image hosting remains relatively straightforward, it is always a good idea to go for scalable and flexible plans.
What to Look For
Maybe you’re a photographer or an artist trying to create a portfolio; a dedicated creator who needs your own space; or perhaps you’re looking to start your own image hosting service.
Whatever the case may be, you need to keep your eye on a few key features:
Support for gallery apps
Lots of storage space
Plenty of wiggle room
The most important thing you’ll be looking for is, of course, support for gallery applications. At the very least, some basic file uploading features are necessary, but an app will make your life way easier.
The inclusion of Softaculous, a common one-click installer, is a good indicator that multiple apps are supported by the service. You could also look into manually installing third-party applications.
As for desired features in a gallery app, you may want support for all common image file types (png, jpg/jpeg, bmp, gif, and so on), embed codes you can easily paste on other sites, and even a built-in image editor.
The ability to create and sort albums is. of course, a must.
Storage Space and Bandwidth
Any server that stores large amounts of media is going to need copious amounts of storage. Photos, in particular, tend to have gigantic file sizes. Displaying them in all their glory is going to take up a lot of space quickly.
Decent bandwidth is also necessary if your goal is to become a big-name brand. Every visit to your site costs data, and users could spend hours clicking through hundreds of images — eating up bandwidth quickly! This is important to keep in mind when planning for the future.
The only thing more important than the sheer amount of storage and bandwidth is the flexibility of your plan.
If you don’t get unlimited resources, and you think you’ll grow quickly, a plan that scales up as you need it could be life-saving.
Keeping a backup of your images on your computer is important, but it never hurts to have it online as well.
Restoring everything could take weeks should disaster strike — imagine sifting through thousands of photographs trying to find the ones you actually uploaded. Not fun!
A backup service could save you a ton of time and resources.
Top 3 Image Hosts
While any host can theoretically host an image-oriented site, there are some hosts that are of particular interest.
For an all-around decent host, SiteGround more than does the job.
It has multiple perks for image-heavy websites: free backups, unlimited bandwidth, and tons of other features. Galleries will find a place to call home on this host, whether you use Gallery3, Coppermine, or any other Softaculous app.
While there’s no unlimited storage option for shared plans, SiteGround shines in all other respects. It’s an image host perfectly balanced in every way.
iPage, on the other hand, has unlimited domains, bandwidth, and storage on a single plan that contains all the essentials.
Gallery, forum, and blogging apps allow the creation of versatile websites that stand out from the competition, while a file manager and marketing credits can help tremendously. The free site builder is a bit limited, but the potential is big.
For a simple solution with lots of app support and all the space you need to grow, iPage is what you’re looking for.
Finally, for established websites that need to accommodate high visitor traffic, LiquidWeb makes a wonderful choice.
Their top-notch cloud, dedicated, and VPS servers provide excellent performance. These products are fully scalable, so you never run out of storage or bandwidth.
Keep in mind that you’ll need a lot of technical knowledge to work with advanced servers like this — but if you have the expertise, LiquidWeb has the raw power.
Pros and Cons of Premium Image Hosting
Perfect for photographers, graphic designers, wallpaper/background creators, models, and artists
More control over your pictures and their licensing/usage rights
Increased online exposure
Use your page as a portfolio for prospective employers
Receive ad revenue from visitors
No restriction on what type of photos you can upload
No fees to host your photos commercially
More expensive than online alternatives
More time consuming than free online image hosting; uploading can be a hassle without a simple drag-and-drop interface
Setting up a website requires technical expertise
No established user-base; low viewership for those starting out
Where to Begin?
If you’ve decided to take the plunge and create your own website, you now know what to look for in a host. But you may be wondering which one is best to keep your future gallery running smoothly.
Powerful servers, lots of resources, and up-to-date apps all contribute to a healthy web hosting environment. If you don’t know how to get started, the three hosts outline above encompass these qualities and are a good place to start.
And if you’re having second thoughts, remember that there’s no shame in using sites like Flickr or Instagram, too. Starting a new website can be daunting (and expensive), and it’s okay to make use of the simple interfaces and free advertising afforded by popular apps in the meantime.
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When you host your own images on the server of your website, you can dramatically reduce the time it takes a web browser to load your individual web pages, which is better for your search engine optimization efforts. Bloggers and online publishers will find greater efficiency on their bandwidth usage by hosting their own images, too, as opposed to constantly linking to images hosted on other websites. If you are a professional photographer, image hosting is great for centralizing the location of images. When you centralize your images, you can control who can view them and monetize your photos without fears of having your content reused without your permission.
Are there any reasons not to use image hosting?
The only reason to avoid using image hosting would be if you have a way to gain from hosting your images on another source. There are a couple examples of when this might be applicable – if you are using a third-party source like iStock or Getty Images to sell your photos and want to promote them on your blog, if you would like to share memes or other embeddable content from a social network on your site, if you have photos you want to create a slideshow but have no interest in integrating a new plugin onto your website.
What are the alternatives to image hosting?
If you don’t want to host images on your own site, the most frequently used alternative is a photo sharing website like Flickr. In this setup, Flickr hosts your images on their servers, and then you either embed the images on your site with their code or link directly to your image using the appropriate HTML code. Another alternative frequently used is a cloud storage provider like Dropbox. The process of hosting the images on a cloud storage solution is very similar, but there may not be an embed solution – make sure you know the appropriate HTML coding.
Do I have to know how to program to use image hosting?
Depending on what you have selected as your content management system for your website, you may not need to know much programming to be able to host images. However, image hosting is a lot easier if you know basic HTML coding for publishing images, aligning images and adjusting the sizes of images when you start hosting them on your site.
What are the requirements for image hosting?
Image hosting requires server storage and proper mapping on your server for location and rendering of the image files. This is a fairly standard operation for most servers. However, if you are concerned about the image hosting capabilities of your hosting platform, please consult your hosting provider to find the right solution.
Can I host images on a shared hosting plan?
Absolutely. On a shared hosting plan, you might have some limitations as to how much storage space you have on your server for images… but hosting an image is entirely possible. However, you shouldn’t have any problem hosting images on a shared hosting plan. If you run into issues with uploading images to a server on a shared hosting plan, there are likely limitations to how much storage space you have, or a max file size that you are able to upload. Consult with your hosting provider to learn these parameters if you find trouble hosting images.
What does self-hosted mean? I don’t have to run a server myself, do I?
Self-hosted websites do not require YOU to personally own a server and manage it to host your site. Instead, self-hosted simply means that hosting is not provided directly by the development team that created your content management system. If you are hosting images on your website, then your images are hosted on a “self-hosted” platform. However, your images are likely sharing the server space with the rest of your website content.
Do I need managed hosting in order to use host images?
The answer to this question depends on your answer to the question “how much responsibility are you willing to accept for the maintenance of your website?” However, most sites that offer managed hosting also require a fee to provide the management. The more complex your site becomes with plugins and additional features, the greater your need will be for professionally managed website hosting. This is the case with any self-hosted content management system – not just a website that includes image hosting.
How does Flickr compare to self-hosting images?
Flickr is a free platform with 1TB of storage included in a free package. In addition to hosting your images, Flickr has added several options over the last few years to make photo editing possible online. However, if you use Flickr over self-hosted images, your content will be hosted on a 3rd party website. Because of that, some problems with your page speed and presentation of your content can occur. Many times you will also need to add a plugin for rendering embeds to your website, which may have compatibility issues with your existing setup for content management.
How does Dropbox compare to Flickr or self-hosting images?
Dropbox offers a lot less free space for storage of images than Flickr (2GB versus 1TB), and there are no photo editing capabilities with their platform. So, if you are selecting between these two platforms for image hosting and you don’t already have a software like Photoshop or GIMP on your computer for photo editing, choose Flickr. If you already have the capability for photo editing and want to save on the storage on your hosting platform, Dropbox should be a fine option. However, if you are choosing between Dropbox or self-hosting your images on your own server, you may be better off hosting from your own server. Content management systems like WordPress come with image hosting capabilities included, so finding and posting your images is much easier than storing them in Dropbox. If you do decide to use Dropbox, keep in mind that you will have to know how to code HTML markup for images in order to host from Dropbox, as there are no embedding features there.
Katie is a C# developer who became a technical writer. She is a lifelong bookworm and all-around nerd with a soft spot for gimmicks and packaging. She judges books by the cover, and she's not sorry about it. In her spare time, she likes to swim, knit, and do the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.