Choosing an Online Photo Album

Your church does ministry in your community and across the world, You bring together people from all walks of life and take God’s message of love, justice and forgiveness everywhere you go. Shouldn’t you document the work you’ve done in a way that is quick and easy to share, even across borders and oceans?

Traditional, physical folder-style photo albums are limited in quantity (you usually only have one album, right?), and compact discs take time to ship around, so why not share your photos online with your congregation or ministry group?

There are a number of excellent online photo albums available at little or no cost to you or your church. These tools allow you to share your photos with any number of people almost instantly. In addition, viewers can post comments related to photos, telling the story behind each photo. Many of these tools may also be integrated with social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, allowing for a broad audience and making it easy to access your church or ministry group.

Some consideration should be given before you post your ministry’s pictures online. It is important to consider the subject and audience of your photos. If you are posting pictures, especially of children, be aware of any sensitive family issues that may cause concern with parents. In fact, it is best to get permission before posting pictures.

Questions to Ask
There is no shortage of web photo album packages that would serve a church or ministry well, but depending on your needs, one may be better suited than other. As you weigh the options, keep in mind what you actually want to do with the album – what purpose will it serve? Some questions to ask are below:

“Who do I want to share my albums with?”
“Do I want my albums to be found by a search engine?”
“Should the album be integrated with an existing site?”
“Will I want to customize my albums?”
“Is geotagging important for my albums?”

These are only a few of the questions that could be asked when considering online photo albums. A couple of the most popular web photo album services are highlighted below.

One of the most popular online photo albums available, Flickr uses “tags” to categorize photos. Users may add any number of tags to any or all of their photos, which makes the photos searchable within your own album or across the entire database of photos on Flickr.

Let’s say a church group travels to New Orleans for disaster relief. Upon their return, the photos are uploaded to Flickr and tagged with the following terms: “New Orleans”, “disaster relief” and “ministry”. Another group takes the same trip, but tags their photos with “First Baptist Church” and “ministry”. These two groups are able to find one another’s photos because they are connected with the “ministry” tag. A third group who has pictures tagged with only “New Orleans” is able to find the photos of the first group, but not the second.

An additional features of Flickr allow users to “geotag” photos, which are then placed on a map – a great feature to connect people geographically or to highlight mission trips or other travel. Users who have photos they want to share in print version in addition to digital have the ability to make books, prints, DVDs, cards, stamps and any variety of products for shipping and sharing.

Getting photos published to a Flickr account is made easy with the Flickr Uploadr, but users may also send their photos with any number of third party software, including iPhoto. Even your e-mail account is capable of sending photos to your Flickr account.

Flickr makes the privacy of your photos a priority by adding different levels of control, so that groups of photos may be seen by only you, your friends or family, or by anyone.

Flickr does a fantastic job of serving up your photos easily and efficiently with the reliability you would expect from one of the web’s heavy photo album contenders. And the best part is that anyone can get a Flickr accounts for free with 100 MB of upload per day with no apparent storage limits. That’s a price that will fit any ministry’s budget!

Google’s Picasa is perhaps more popular for its desktop software rather than its online photo albums. It is even likely that you already have this software on your computer without even beign aware of it because Picasa often comes pre-installed on Windows computers.

The software itself makes collecting and editing pictures extremely easy, with one-click editing and simple downloading from your digital camera. More advanced users will also find controls and tools that give them a respectable amount of control over the color levels of their pictures. Picasa is designed to integrate with the online photo album, called Picasa Web, so uploading pictures is simple.

Those who use Google products (GMail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Maps), should find Picasa Web to be pleasantly integrated with the other Google products that are available from the web giant. With only a click, users can send a photo or entire album to a friend or family member, then the shared album can be downloaded with a single click.

Tagging works similarly with Picasa Web and photos can be tagged with locations and placed on a Google Map, similar to the geotagging feature of Flickr. Other features include the ability to show a slideshow directly from the web album and a copy/paste method for embedding slideshows into a website.

Picasa Web’s privacy settings allow you to set your albums to either public (searchable by Google) or private, so that you may share albums only with those you choose. A Picasa Web screensaver is also available, enabling a computer to show off the pictures in any or all of your albums.

Picasa Web is well-suited for the web user who wants an integrated solution for sharing pictures with only a few people or everyone. The online slideshow feature makes it a no-brainer for those who will use it. Just like Flickr, Picasa is available for free, but users should be aware of a 1 GB storage limit.

A Quick Look at Gallery
Advanced users who are looking for a more integrated, customizable and full-featured approach to sharing photos should consider Gallery. It’s a PHP-based photo album that is hosted on your church’s website. Gallery can be installed quickly for basic use or fully customized for a look that matches your existing site.

Gallery makes it easy to create albums, enable user comments and add or remove photos. Because Gallery is hosted on your own web server, you set your own bandwidth and storage limits, which can be easily upgraded at your convenience.

Gallery does require some technical know-how and access to a web server to set up. The web designer who put your site together should have access to all the right tools to set up Gallery properly.

More information about Gallery, including a free full download (not a trial or limited version) can be found at their website.


As you can see, the packages mentioned here carry inherent similarities and distinct differences in the ways they handle photo albums. Selecting a service can be a flexible process, as many services are available for free and with no committment, so users can try one and all to decide which works best for them.

For those who are already using photo albums, which are your favorite? Are there others that you use that have not been mentioned here? What do you like about them? What else could be added to this conversation?

4 thoughts on “Choosing an Online Photo Album

  1. Thanks B. I use flickr a lot to share pictures with my family that is scattered around the country. I’ve often thought that it would be good for churches/ missions organizations to use. I think it’s good that CBF started using it (below on the right you can link the the CBF flickr account).
    Even the flickr pro account, which allows like 2GB of uploads per month is affordable. It works out to like $2/ month–depending on how much your church commits to using it, it could be well worth that financial commitment.

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