How to share holiday photos securely

The holidays are fast approaching, and for many people that means one thing: endless photo opportunities.

After the last latke is consumed, you’re going to want to share your images with everyone in the family, but you also probably want to make sure you keep those embarrassing matching-Santa-hat group photos and newborn baby portraits in the family.

E-mailing a few photos at a time is one option, but for large amounts of photos this can be a clumsy solution. Here are a few sites and techniques for sharing your snapshots while retaining control over your privacy.

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Create large, private galleries

The people at Smugmug ( describe the site as “Fort Knox for your photos.” Despite the absence of actual armed guards, Smugmug allows tiers of privacy, from password protecting your whole site, to allowing you to set individual passwords for specific galleries. You can also use a private URL issued by the site to give your friends and family access without having to enter a password. However, Google can still find and index your site unless you take a careful look at your privacy settings. Starting at $40 per year for unlimited photo uploads, $60 if you want to include 10 minute video clips.

Phanfare (from $99 per year; is similar to SmugMug but a bit more expensive. Like Smugmug it allows you to customize galleries and upload as many photos and 20-minute video clips you can possibly take over a holiday season (including raw photos and video files), but with no additional cost after the yearly fee. Both sites allow you to create your own themes for each gallery and order prints through the site as well. Again, you have to opt out of search engine indexing in the privacy settings.

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Share your images instantly

Resist the urge to live-tweet Christmas dinner dinner with the world. Instead, connect just to the members of your family who can’t make it all the way over the river and through the woods with an app called Vix Photos ($0.99;

The app lets you create a channel where others can see updates immediately through the Vix Photos app or the Vix Photo’s site online. You can add captions as you go, and only viewers authorized by you will get to see your albums. This way, your photos stay private and you’re not bogging down anyone’s newsfeed with a new picture every 18 seconds.

Turn ’em into a Book

You can always create an old fashioned paper book for them, and it doesn’t get any more private than an offline tome. If you have some great digital photos from a once-in-a-lifetime holiday family reunion, why not make a family coffee-table book of snapshots, or a cookbook of holiday recipes complete with photos of your kids licking icing off their hands. Blurb ( will turn photos and text into a book starting at $12 for a soft cover book of up to 40 pages. The site gives you three levels of bookmaking intensity: from simply uploading your photos to an existing template, to creating customizable layouts, or you can even make professional books where you design your own pdfs of the pages.

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Say you want to create something less expensive and permanent as a book (so you can do it every year, or distribute the pictures to every leaf on the family tree) you could consider making a magazine. Be the Anna Wintour of your family with HP’s MagCloud (, a service that helps you print and bind glossy pages for a mere $0.20 per page. If you’re already sharing your photos on Flickr, Magcloud lets you upload a photo set directly from Flickr and arrange it anyway you like.

Keep it free

Sometimes letting go of a little control and going for the cheapest option is the only ways to get yourself through the stressful parts of the holidays. Although you’ll have limited storage and less creative license in building galleries, Picasa, Snapfish, and Flickr are free at the most basic levels and all offer varying levels of privacy controls.

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Privacy on these popular sites can be a concern, but taking a minute to read through your settings will give you a little peace of mind without a lot of effort. Picasa, for example, offers you an unlisted gallery URL that you can email to friends and family. This way they can just click on a link without the hassle of finding and entering a password every time, but it’s still protected so the general public can’t see it. Google even lists the people with whom you’ve shared each album and you can block them from viewing the album later if you change your mind.

Sometimes you just want to bring images down from the cloud and onto a hard drive. Flickr users who want to copy all their photos onto dad’s computer can use Bulkr, ( which lets you download large batches of photos (we’re talking thousands at a time) from the photo-sharing site.

[Megan Geuss is a freelance writer and researcher based in Oakland. You can follow her on Twitter where she is @MeganGeuss.]

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