Host images online for free? Yes, you can!

Yesterday, I noticed a comment on Snoskred’s blog from River, who was asking about how she could get her photos on the web for everyone to see. Having been in a similar position (and not wanting to use the space that I was given by my ISP for obvious reasons), I am aware of the various free image hosts that are out there.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I am aware of some others thanks to certain sites which I will not disclose for other obvious reasons. 😉

So, I’ll show you four of the more common free image hosts out there, and give you some tips on how to make your images “ready” for the web.

Free Image Hosts

There are, surprisingly, quite a few free hosts out there – some of them require you to register an account, but I’ve found that it’s quite common for them to allow you to upload images without registering.

ImageShack

The shot was taken in IE, thus all the ads

The host that I personally have the most experience with is ImageShack. They allow you to upload images and, more recently, video, for free and without registering. They allow you to upload images that are up to 1.5 megabytes in size (that’s about the same size as an unedited picture from a 3-megapixel camera in high quality).

You also have the option of allowing them to resize the image for you, however, I recommend that you do it on your own, because most of the time, these image resizers online will cause the image to not look that great. Also, if you do it on your own, you have control over the size of the image you want to use.

With ImageShack, all you will see when you go to their page is simply the upload box. To upload a picture, simply click on Browse and find the picture you want to upload. Now, I will warn you that I have spotted that there is an option to have it pop up a window with jobs from CareerBuilder – I’d recommend that you just turn that off since nobody likes popups anyway 🙂

R. Hymes - that famous receiver…

When the image is uploaded, you’re presented with a set of options for displaying the image. The one I used most often was the direct link to image as I was displaying full images, and didn’t necessarily want to have the thumbnail showing. If you want to give the link to friends, or link to it from a site without the image appearing, then you’d use the “Show image to friends” address, second from the bottom.

Then, you can link to it like this – <a href=”{Show Image to Friends address}”>LINK TEXT</a>

While it’s not required that you register, there are a number of advantages you receive if you do register – the first of which is that you don’t need to write down all of the image links you’ve created. The images you’ve uploaded (including the ones you did prior to registering) are stored for you and can be retreived from the My Images panel. You can also mark images as public or private (note that even if you do mark it as private, you can still link to it at will).

Photobucket

Apparently there’s a Spider-Man ad blitz on…

If I had to guess, Photobucket would be the most popular free image host (either that or Webshots, which I will not cover here). However, I have absolutely no experience with the actual site, other than viewing photos and videos on it. The biggest reason is that they require you to register to upload pictures.

That being said, I have not heard a bad thing at all about them, so I would definitely still recommend them for hosting your photos.

jpghosting.com

jpghosting. Nothing really witty comes to mind…

This and the next host are two of the lesser-known free picture hosts out there, but their features are pretty good on their own right. jpghosting.com allows you to upload pictures without registering, but right now they aren’t allowing it (probably because of someone abusing the system).

pix . nofrag . com

The spaces are part of the name

While not many people know about it, pix . nofrag . com is probably the easiest free host to use. As you can see, when you go to their site, all you have is the image upload page, along with the terms of use. No bells, no whistles, nothing asking you to register or sign in. Like ImageShack, image uploading is the same – browse to the picture and click Upload. This will bring you to a page like this –

R. Hymes again? It was in the folder I was looking in.

– where you are given options for showing the picture in various ways, but a critique of their service would be that they don’t offer proper HTML links, rather only links for forums. If you’re comfortable with converting Forum code to HTML, then definitely use this service. Otherwise, you will be much better served by using ImageShack or Photobucket.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of all the free image hosting solutions out there. If you search for free image host, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of sites with the service.

Optimizing Images for the Web

However, there is an important thing to know about all of these services – they’re not big on images that are viewed by tons of people every day. For that reason, it is important that you optimize your images for uploading on the internet. An added side benefit is that folks who want to view your images will be appreciative of your efforts to ensure that they have a quick loading image.

Here are some quick tips to make your image good for the web:

Resize

If you have a camera that has come out in the last few years and takes pictures at a size of 3 or 4 megapixels, then you are probably aware of the fact that the images don’t usually fit full-size on your monitor (even if you have a widescreen monitor, I might add 😉 )

As a general rule, if you are posting an image to be seen full-size on a website or blog, it should be no wider than about 650 or 700 pixels. If it is any wider, then you start to have the issues with scroll bars appearing at the bottom of the screen.

Depending on the program that you use, the method for resizing images will vary from one program to another. Personally, I use Paint Shop Pro 8 (I’ve linked to a review since it is well out of date now), and you have the option of resizing by exact pixels, or by percentage. There are also a number of options for how the image is resized. I generally stick to Smart Size, but play around with it and find the one you like 🙂

If you are uploading images that you will link to with either a thumbnail or a text link, then you can get away with resizing it to around 1024×768. I use that setting for the pictures I post on the weeks in walks. Most of the free image hosts will automatically resize photos which are too big for your monitor to fit, thus removing most of the scrolling issues; you can view the full size image usually by clicking on the picture.

Optimize

If you’re using a decent picture editor, you will have the option of optimizing the file size of the image you create. This is something that you need to do, especially when uploading images to the web. I’ve become quite finnicky about the size of images since I’ve moved to a self-hosting option, as I am aware that there is limited bandwidth available.

My goals are, for the week in walks posts, to keep the image size between 100 and 200 kb. I know I can get away with the images being that size because I upload them and then post as thumbnails. However, when I want to display an image full-size, then my goal is to keep the file size around 50 kilobytes.

Now, there is a definite trade-off in quality when you start to do this optimization – the images will start to pick up “artifacts” if you are working in JPEG format, or if you are working in other formats, you may start to lose colors.

Converted to compression level 15; see below for size

For example, I’ve taken this image, cropped it from my camera’s original size down to 1600×1200 and saved it at compression level 15; yes, I’m breaking a rule here :). Paint Shop Pro has 99 levels of compression to choose from, and the image size gets smaller as you go up the scale. Here are a few examples of the file size (with “Exif data” turned off – on this picture, that would add around 60kb of data to the photo), along with the time that it would take to load on a dial-up connection –

Compression
Level
File Size
(bytes)
Time to load
(seconds)
1 1,305,142 233
15 302,576 54
20 247,073 44
30 126,983 23
40 74,548 13
50 57,948 10
60 49,315 8.8
70 44,113 7.9
75 42,134 7.5
80 40,353 7.2
85 38,741 6.9
90 37,160 6.6
99 34,676 6.2

As you can see, as you go up in the compression levels, there isn’t much of a saving of file size, at the great cost of quality. Have you ever seen an image in compression level 99? If not, you may want to cover your eyes. This is the same exact picture as is above, just a bit more…compressed.

You didn’t cover your eyes, did you? ;)

I think the highest compression I’ve ever used on an image that wasn’t purposely for confusing scammers was around a 35 or 40; the drop-off in quality beyond there, for what is really little savings in the way of size, isn’t worth it.

Crop

Sometimes, there isn’t a point to resizing a complete image when all you may want is just the picture of the airplane in the middle. In that case, you can crop the picture to the size you want. One of the cool things about Paint Shop Pro is that you can give it a size and force it to keep the image at that aspect ratio; I’ve used this quite a bit, including when I was making the header images for this site.

All in all, to get images that look good and are of good size, it’s usually a case of trial and error. In the past, if the first resize to 1/2 image size doesn’t work, I’ll use different values, and some trickery to reduce the size, without sacrificing quality.

Further Reading

This week, we have another split subject; while I’m looking at image hosting, Snoskred revisits blog stats, and compares stat counters to server stats – The Truth About Blog Stats Revealed – Tech Tuesday. I’ve had the server stats activated on here, and I have to say that the difference between the counters and the server logs is stunning!

Previously in the Tuesday Think Tank

21st August: RSS
14 Reasons Readers Unsubscribe From Your Blog
Tuesday Think Tank: All About RSS

28th August: Blog Templates
Blog Design – Open Your Eyes.
Demystifying Blogger Template Editing

4th September: Nofollow
Spam, Spiders And Do Follow, Oh My!
Say No! to Nofollow

11th September: Site Meters
Do NOT Rely On Your Site Meter.
Track Your Visitors with Google Analytics

18th September: Technorati
Technorati – Sending Out An SOS
The Ups (and Downs) of Technorati

25th September: Google Reader
Google Reader Can Make Your Life Easier – Here’s How.
Improving your Google Reader Experience

2nd October: HTML
Basic HTML for Bloggers.
Some HTML Tips & Tricks

9th October: Time Management
Time Management – Tuesday Think Tank
Use Google Calendar to organize your life

16th October: One last Blogger Thing
Move your Blogspot blog to your own Domain with ease

23rd October: Skype
All About Skype – Tech Tuesday
Skype – A phenomenal tool for communication

Over to you

Do you use a different image host to the ones I have listed above? What do you think about their services?

In case you’re wondering, I know I didn’t mention Flickr. That is a great service for hosting pictures as well, however that’s almost another post in itself. Another issue I have is that they convert everything to JPEG format – when I was making the US Blogs image, this conversion actually increased the size of the file by some ten times!

12 thoughts on “Host images online for free? Yes, you can!

  1. I use image shack and have found it to be pretty good for my needs (simple that they are).

    Is there a decent free image editor out there? MS Paint kind of sux bawlz. And I’m cheap. I don’t do enough photo editing to justify spending more than $0 on an editor, but it does come in handy sometimes.

  2. I don’t post a huge amount of pictures online, so just using the “helpful” blogger system at this stage.

    Cugat, depending on what you want to do, Microsoft has some tools that you can run through windows. I have one that if I right click on a picture in explorer, I can resize it from the menu, which is 90% of what I do. I also have office, so if I need to crop I use either publisher or Microsoft Office Picture Manager, which does everything I need.

  3. I use Flickr for my main photo storage, even though I have the paid account, which I only got so that I can organize my photos better (Flickr free accounts are limited to 3 photo sets, paid members have unlimited sets.) For my icons and such, I use Photobucket. I was using Flickr for that, but the TOS at the time appeared to prohibit banners, buttons, and other bloggy things. It doens’t look like that’s the case anymore, but it’s nice having them completely separate. Photobucket has 4 ways of linking to a photo, so it’s great for bloggers. Flicker has been great for putting up photos for my family and friends to see. I have no plans on integrating the two at this point.

  4. Kin, thanks for the suggestion. Strangely enough I have Picture Manager but have never used it. I have always disregarded the MS products but it looks like Picture Manager will do what I need (which is mostly just crop and resize images).

  5. Cugat – I was going to recommend the GIMP, however it sounds like it might be a bit too advanced for what you’re wanting to do (also I’ve used it in the past and found it a bit, well, cumbersome, at least compared to Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro). However, another program that I’ve used which is completely free is Irfanview; it’s (probably) more advanced than Picture Manager and allows you to set the compression levels on the Jpeg images.

    Kin – I’ve used the built-in picture resize in the past (I believe that it’s a PowerToy that you download from Microsoft). It’s really handy when I’m wanting to just resize an image for something like eBay, or don’t need to worry about maintaining the highest quality of picture – it really compresses the images quite well, actually.

    Kirsten – I do use Flickr as well; it’s really good when you want to use the privacy settings, I will give that to them. I also think that the restriction on banners, etc. might be because of the changeover to jpg files on their servers, also they probably realize how much bandwidth those images *could* use up.

    Thanks y’all! 😉

  6. Man, this is informative. Do you always think this much on Tuesdays? I’d be wasted for the rest of the week if I did that…. But I might refer other folks to this post, dear… Mr… “How the heck do I pronounce your name???”

  7. Meg – Yeah, I like doing these “thinking pieces” on Tuesdays – the Tuesday Think Tank; and the pronunciation is kinda like this – “Sef – uh (i.e. a schwa) – roth” or just “Sephy” 😉

    James – Thanks for the heads up on that option; I hadn’t heard of it.

    Thanks y’all! 🙂

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