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4. Share Your Pictures

Post your photos online and let the world critique them.

Social-networking sites have exploded on the Web, and several focus on photography. More than just a gallery, these sites offer the chance to engage a community of serious and not-so-serious shooters. All the sites Traveler reviewed overwhelm you at first with the sheer volume of images posted. But the better sites impose some degree of order on their ever-growing collections.

Flickr, for example, is a site for the masses. It has a simple interface that hides a deep well of some 270 million images—all searchable by "tags," or keywords users have assigned to their own pictures. A search on "Grand Canyon," for example, brings up 67,730 photographs; "Golden Gate Bridge," 21,639. Order is further imposed by user groups indexed by subject, for example, "nature," "politics," "sports," and "food." The travel category alone has some 10,352 groups. Photos on Flickr can also be "geotagged," or assigned to map coordinates or addresses, so that others can find your pictures by clicking locations on a map of the world.

A site with similar tagging functionality but a more elegant interface is SmugMug. Here you can customize the look of your image collection with various thematic templates, such as "seasons," "holidays," and "sports," and then invite your friends to browse them for free. You pay $40 a year for the privilege.

Photo.net attempts to be comprehensive, offering not just photo sharing among its approximately 514,000 members, but also classified ads, equipment reviews, a learning center with tutorials, and discussion forums on such subjects as "lighting," "classical cameras," and "digital darkroom." Users post their images to a critique forum. The highest-rated shots appear as "top photos," so you can quickly view the best and skip the rest. "This site has a broad range of information," notes Westergren. "I particularly like the camera shopping forum, where users share good and bad experiences buying cameras."

Or, forgo the networking sites altogether and put up your own site, as the pros do. Some consumer-level image-editing software programs—such as Adobe Photoshop Elements—will automatically arrange your photos in a Web format. You then upload the files onto the Web space allotted to you by your own Internet service provider. Or pay extra to host a site through a domain registry like Network Solutions. "It's easier than a lot of people think," says van Overbeek. "Once you get the page up, circulate the URL among people you know who care about photography, and ask for their feedback."

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