How to share photos without blasting them all over the internet

Show off cute baby pics without losing your privacy.
A woman standing by the ocean, using her phone to take a photo of the sunset over the water.
Keep your photos between you and a select group of people. Mantas Hesthaven / Unsplash

This story has been updated. It was originally published on February 9, 2018.

When you’ve got a photo to show off, you don’t necessarily want to plaster it all over your Twitter or Instagram accounts for the whole world to see. For example, you might want to display a photo of your adorable tot for his grandparents—without giving Facebook the opportunity to record his facial features for posterity. Luckily, plenty of apps will help you share a picture with only a select group of people.

To choose the best method, you’ll have to take a few things into consideration, such as the cloud service you already use to store your photos and the technical know-how of the people with whom you plan to share these images—for instance, if your grandparents only have email, a private WhatsApp chat is out of the question.

Cloud storage services

If you already back up your photos with cloud-storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive, you can use these programs to create shared folders. While select groups of invitees can view and add to the contents of these folders, no outsiders get to access them. This option is simple and effective, but if you exceed your free quota of storage, you may need to pay for more space.

[Related: How to get the most space in your cloud storage—without paying to upgrade]

Dropbox excels at sharing folders. Start by creating a folder of the pictures you plan to share. Open this folder in the web interface, click Share, and enter other people’s email addresses to invite them to join. When they receive your invitation, they can sync the folder to their own Dropbox if they have an account, or view the pictures in a web browser if they don’t. You get 2GB of space for free, and after that, you’ll have to pay to gain more space—2TB of storage costs $120 a year.

Google Drive works along similar lines. Open a folder in the web interface, click on the folder’s name at the top of the page, and choose Share. As with Dropbox, you can invite others via email, and they can then access the folder through their own Google Drive accounts or by viewing the folder in a web browser. Google gives you 15GB, shared between Drive, Photos, and Gmail, for free. If that’s not enough, you can pony up for upgrades, which start at $2 a month for 100GB of space.

Windows or Microsoft app fans might prefer OneDrive. From the web portal, go into a folder, and then click Share to let the photo frenzy begin. You’ll get 5GB of space for free, and upgrades start at $2 a month for 100GB of room.

What about Apple devotees? Sign into iCloud, open or create a folder, and click the share icon (a silhouette of a person next to a plus sign). Then add the emails or phone numbers of the people you want to share it with. It’s as simple as that, like all the others.

Google Photos and Apple Photos

These apps—Google Photos comes built into Android and Apple Photos into iOS—offer quick and easy ways to share any of your stored images with a small group of people. They make a good option if you already use the services to back up your pictures, and if your contacts use them as well.

Between the two, Google Photos has an advantage because it offers apps for both Android and iOS (Apple Photos works best if all participants, sharer and recipient alike, have a Mac, iPhone, or iPad). If you’re using Google Photos on a computer, move your cursor over the image you want to select, then click the white circle with a check mark. Select any other photos (by clicking on separate images or holding Shift and clicking a second image to grab everything between the two). On a phone or tablet, long-press on a photo to select it, then drag your finger to choose a bunch or tap each one individually. When you’re done picking photos, hit the Share button, which looks like a box with an upward arrow in the iOS app and a sideways V in the Android one. If your contacts also use Google Photos, you can add these pics to a shared folder that friends can view and add photos to. Alternatively, if they don’t have Google accounts, you can email them a link that they can follow to view the shared photos in their web browsers.

[Related: The one move that will select all the photos on your phone]

With Apple Photos, it’s best to do the sharing from your phone. Launch the Photos app, choose Select, pick the photos you’d like to share, and tap the share button in the lower left. From here, pick Add to Shared Album to create a shared folder of pictures that anyone with an iOS or macOS device can join. Don’t see that option? Open the Settings app, tap Photos, and turn on the toggle switch next to Shared Albums. If you’re sharing pictures with people who use Android or Windows systems, you’ll have to hit the Mail option instead. This will send the photos to your recipients as email attachments.

Private Facebook groups

You may be reticent to share photos with all of your Facebook contacts, but the social network does have tools for limiting the people who see your posts. And one of those tools is the private group.

Sure, these groups make a good virtual meeting place for your kids’ soccer teams and your old college friends, but you can also use them for private image sharing. Open the Facebook website, click Groups on the left of the page, then choose Create new group. From the Choose privacy dropdown menu, select Private. Name the group, add your chosen members, and only those invitees will be able to see inside.

This option works best when multiple friends and family members want to post pictures of kids as they grow up, or add images from special occasions like parties and weddings. It’s also ideal for a chatty group that enjoys leaving comments. As an added bonus, most of the people you’ll want to invite will already have a Facebook account.

Instant messaging

If you don’t care about organizing and archiving your photos, try an option that’s quick and easy: Start an instant messaging group chat and begin posting pictures to it. Pick this convenient method if you want group members to immediately see new pictures pop up on their phones, or if you’d like to give them the option to leave comments and informal chats between images. However, unlike some of the other options on this list, this one is not great at retrieving older pictures, viewing photos as a gallery, or organizing your snaps.

You can choose just about any messaging app, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Chat, iMessage, and Instagram. Just make sure that all the people with whom you want to share have installed the same app.

[Related: 6 secure alternatives to WhatsApp]

Also bear in mind that some of these apps make it easier to look back on the pictures you’ve already posted. For example, in a Facebook Messenger conversation, you can view all photos that have been shared to the group by tapping the chat name at the top and scrolling down to find View media & files. In WhatsApp, you can also see the photos that have been posted in a thread: On an Android device, tap the menu button (three dots) in the top right and choose Media; on iOS, hit the thread title and select Media Links, and Docs.

Shared email inboxes

The key advantage of email is that it works everywhere (on laptops and phones of every description) and for everyone (even those who don’t have a Facebook account or own a smartphone can handle an email address). So create a shared inbox and give a small group access to the log-in information, allowing members to add or view picture-laden emails from any device or location.

To get started, make a new email account through whatever service you prefer. Then share the login details, ideally through word of mouth so they can’t be hacked, with your trusted friends. To add new pictures, simply send a message to the new address, attaching one or more photos to your email and using the subject headers and body text to include descriptions.

This option won’t provide the organization and editing tools that Apple Photos and Google Photos will, but it’s simple, effective, and widely accessible to less tech-savvy folks. As a bonus, you can BCC your personal email address when you send messages to the shared account, thus safely backing up all of the images.