Digital Archive Services: PhotoShelter and Digital Railroad

by Bob Smith | January 1, 2007

NatureScapesMany photographers are looking for ways to market their images or share them with family and friends. Creating your own web site has been the most tedious and time-consuming option. While providing you with a high degree of control over the presentation “look and feel,” developing a web site can be a challenge beyond many of us in terms of cost or programming skills. Options such as web galleries on .mac and other services have been limited, were not open to search engines, or lacked e-commerce capabilities.

Two image archive services have surfaced in the past several months that offer new capabilities to photographers looking for a way to showcase their archives of images.

PhotoShelter and Digital Railroad) both offer a number of features that can be valuable to photographers attempting to market their images. They differ in approach and breadth of their offerings, so it makes sense to look at both.

Searchable Database

The key feature each service offers is a searchable database for your images. As discussed in previous articles (A Metadata Manifesto and Putting Metadata to Work), keywording your images is an important precursor to uploading your images to maximize the availability of your images. Other metadata, including captions, copyright, and headline or title can be helpful as the info is displayed on each services detail window of the image.

Highlights of Each Service

Some highlights of each service include:

  • High resolution download of images by clients
  • E-commerce capability to collect payment at time of download
  • Ability to release images to clients without a charge
  • Password protection of galleries or private galleries
  • Gallery invitations
  • Various levels of site customization

PhotoShelter offers a low entry fee of $10/month with à la carte service add-ons such as the most flexible site customization, higher bandwidth usage, e-commerce, etc. PhotoShelter also offers a print service where one can have prints made and sent directly to the customer. Digital Railroad offers a service, minus the printing option, for a more inclusive fee of $49/month.


Your choice between these two services may have to do with your marketing focus: stock sales versus print sales. For stock sales, I have found the Digital Railroad site to be more capable. The lightbox feature on Digital Railroad seems more functional than the PhotoShelter option. The image request feature on Digital Railroad provides the photographer with more relevant information from the customer. The photographer may choose from up to 5 user-defined sizes of the image (low, medium, high, super-high, original). The user defines the sizes for each – other than the original. This allows the photographer to release the size of the image best suited to the client’s purpose (web, print, etc). Digital Railroad charges a 5% fee for each e-commerce transaction; PhotoShelter charges 10%.

An interesting option for uploading files to your archive is Digital Railroad’s direct connection from iView MediaPro; PhotoShelter offers a direct connection from Photo Mechanic and a plug-in for Apple’s Aperture program. And in January, PhotoShelter will begin offering the functionality of fotoQuote for pricing stock images online.

For optimum flexibility, you may find it is wise to host your own site of static web pages, and incorporate a link to the archive service of your choice for access to your extended library of images.

About the Author

Bob Smith is a frequent instructor at digital photography workshops for Rich Clarkson & Associates, Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures, and Lindblad Expeditions. He is currently working as the director of Mangelsen Stock in Jackson, Wyoming.

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