Sharing is an integral part of photography, whether you capture a baby's first smile, a mountain range at dawn or your cat's head stuck in a box. Printed photo albums tend to gather dust and slide shows can put an audience to sleep. Photo sharing sites let your friends and family see your photos on their own time. Websites like SmugMug, Flickr and Photobucket have multiple channels to share individual images or entire albums. Links, email and social media are only a few ways photographers can share memories with family and friends. Sites geared toward professional photographers allow you to showcase your albums in photo blogs, portfolios and web galleries.

Why bother paying for a normally free service? For casual users, it can be hard to justify paying for online photo storage because the top photo hosting sites offer free memberships with plenty of space and enough features. But if you're serious about photography as a career or want a safe place to keep photos, you may want to consider a paid membership. Most photo hosting services geared toward professionals only have paid subscription options. Pros and casual photographers can enjoy features like no ads and communities of other photographers.

Wide Open Spaces

Free and paid photo sharing sites give you a central, online location to store photos from all your devices. Devices are delicate and breakable, but photo sharing sites can double as online photo storage to keep your images safe in case one of your devices break. While the free subscription to some photo sharing sites gives you at least 10GB of space, this probably isn't enough to accommodate all your photos. With paid subscriptions, you can gain more memory to store photos you have and ones you haven't shot yet. Some memberships increase your storage capacity every year you're a member, so your memory grows exponentially.

What's in Store

Some of the best photo sharing sites go beyond prints and calendars and allow you to purchase unusual items like shower curtains with your photos on them. While it's nice to buy merchandise with your photos on it, it's even better to make money from merchandise with your photos on it. Paid memberships with photo sharing sites give you the tools and knowledge to open your own online store. You can set your own prices and stock your store with the merchandise you want to sell. Most photo sharing sites give you the option to sell digital downloads and customize the look of your online storefront. Running an online store establishes your credibility and gives you a means to measure your progress.

Traffic Jam

Paired with an online store, SEO tools give you a better picture of how visible your work and store is on the web. These tools help you measure how many people view your online portfolio and for how long. This helps you gauge interest in your photos to see what is most popular with your audience. The SEO tools not only analyze traffic to your site, but also help you increase traffic with keywords and metadata.

Protected Pics

When you put images online, they become free game to anyone who can right click and save. Subscribing to a photo hosting site increases privacy and protection for your photos. As your first line of defense, you can hide your albums by marking them private and even locking the files with passwords. However, this is a disadvantage if you want to share these same photos on your portfolio. Right-click protection is a common feature on paid photo sharing sites. You can also add a watermark to your images for people using screen-capturing tools. Privacy and protection are important, especially if you're planning to sell prints or downloads of your work online.

Ultimately, the decision to pay for a photo sharing site should depend on your needs. If you have concerns about privacy and extra space, you may want to consider subscribing. Online storefront and SEO tools help you build a name and brand for your photography if you are an aspiring professional photographer. But for casual use, photo sharing sites, free and paid, are a great way to store photos from all your devices and share them with friends and family.

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