There are plenty of options for storing your photos online. They come with various capacities, capabilities, and price points. But what if you want to have the power of accessing your image library anywhere, and potentially sharing it with others, without a monthly fee or needing to worry about how private a particular cloud service really is? The good news is that it is easier than ever to set up your own private cloud for photo sharing. As a bonus, you’ll have the infrastructure to get remote access to other portions of your data. We’ll show you how.
Synology DS1517+ offers 10-Gigabit performance at a reasonable priceWhatever server you share from needs to be reliable and always ready. As a practical matter, NAS units are optimized for that, while consuming less power than leaving a more traditional PC server running. They also come pre-loaded with the type of software and remote access capability that makes things a lot easier. So, while you can mirror the steps we show here using an always-on PC, we’ll be using a purpose-built network server. In this case, we’re using a Synology DS-1517+ 5-bay unit (See on Amazon), that also features 10-Gigabit connectivity for high-speed access to our photo library locally. However, you can use just about any current model NAS from Synology, or from QNAP or Netgear, among others. We’ll be using Synology’s new Moments application, but Qfoto from QNAP, and ReadyCLOUD from Netgear offer similar functionality for users of those units.
Decide if You Want Your Cloud Server to be your Primary Photo Library
First, you’ll want to decide if your NAS (See on Amazon) is your primary storage for images, or simply a backup copy of the images on your computer. If it will be your primary image library, then you’ll want to make its storage directly accessible from your PC. If not, then you’ll want to use a sync utility, like Synology’s own Drive or an application like Allway Sync or GoodSync to keep it updated.
Plan Out Your Access and Sharing Needs
Next you have some choices about the type of sharing you want to set up. Synology offers three different ways you can get remote access to your photos. The lowest level is simply to share them as folders of files, and use its included WebDAV server to allow you to map them as a drive from a remote computer. But that doesn’t provide any organizational or viewing extras. Photo Station, also an included package, is a robust solution to allow you not just remote access to your photos, but the ability to group them into albums, view them in a variety of ways, share them with other people or publicly, and customize how they will experience your photo gallery. Synology markets Photo Station as being suitable for professional photographers looking to highlight their creations.
Finally, there is a new option, Moments. Moments is more of a personal tool, as it is much weaker at photo sharing with others. But it not only has seamless integration with your mobile devices, but also built-in place, subject, and face-based tagging for quick organization. So if what you want is a substitute for Google Photos or iCloud for your personal photos, Moments is the way to go. If you want to put a public face on your image library, or build a system where you can share with others while also allowing them to contribute, then Photo Station is the better choice.
Setting up Synology’s Photo Station
Like most NAS Packages, Photo Station is easily installed from the Package Manager, and is just as easy to turn on. It relies on Synology’s Media Indexing Service for its organizational capabilities, but has its own permission setup. You can tell it to use the same user accounts as your NAS, or let it create Photo Station-specific users. From within Photo Station you can set up Albums, give them permissions (or share them with a password), and customize the look of your online gallery. Once you have photos in your albums, either by uploading them directly or mapping your photo folder on the NAS to a local drive on your computer and placing files there, you can view your albums by date or by geographic location. You can also tag your images with keywords, or manually tag faces.
One feature that is kind of cool is that Photo Station has Pixlr and Aviary built-in, so you can easily edit any image directly using either of them. Obviously that isn’t a full replacement for Lightroom, Photoshop, or your other favorite powerhouse editor, but particularly if you’re on the road it can be a quick way to make some needed changes to an image before sharing or sending it.
Photo Station provides a variety of sharing options. You can connect it to social media services and share your photos directly to them. Or, it will create a link to a folder you can send to others, either with or without password protection. If you’re sharing as part of a team, you can create user accounts for your other team members, and they can access the full power of Photo Station through their browser or through Synology’s DS Cam mobile app.
To get to Photo Station from outside your local network, you’ll need to either do some DNS magic to provide users with a persistent domain name, or you can register your NAS using Synology’s provided QuickConnect option. With QuickConnect, your NAS gets a web address that allows users to access it without needing to do port forwarding. Once you’ve set that up, Photo Station is accessible at /photo, or through the links to specific albums or images that you create for the purpose of sharing them. Since Albums can be nested, it might make the most sense to have one that is your public face (if you want one), and only share access to it and its sub-albums.
Synology Moments: A Personal Cloud
Recently, Synology has addressed a more automatic and more personal system for photo sharing, called Moments. It relies on their new Drive application (think of it as a private version of Google Drive), and allows you to not only quickly add images from your network, but can automatically back up photos you take with your mobile devices. As it adds images, it automatically tags them with place names and even by subject, using similar technology to what Adobe has added to Elements and Lightroom CC, and of course Google does for Photos.
I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of the subject tagging in Synology’s Moments
I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of the subject tagging in Synology’s Moments, although it did mis-identify a stone house as a church in this case. Like Photo Station, Moments has free mobile apps in addition to its web interface. Currently, Moments is missing many of the features of Photo Station for collaboration and the management of metadata, so it may not be ideal for power users or pros looking to showcase their work, but it is a quick way to create your own private AI-powered photo cloud.
Caveats Before Setting up Your Own Photo-Sharing Cloud
The most obvious caution before setting up your own photo sharing system is to think about what that means for reliability. If you want your images to always be accessible, you’ll need to make sure the combination of your ISP, router, electrical power, home network, and NAS have nearly perfect uptime. In our case, for example, we employ two ISPs with a fail-over router, and battery backups on the router and NAS to help ensure accessibility. Less obvious are the bandwidth constraints. Many ISPs don’t optimize for upload speed. But it is the upload speed from your location to the internet that limits the download or browsing speed of anyone looking at your images.
Also, many ISPs, like Comcast, now have data caps on residential accounts. Those caps include both upload and download, so if you have a lot of people accessing your photos, they could cause you to blow through those caps and accrue additional charges. Finally, you are giving the outside world access to your local network. Even using QuickConnect, there is potential exposure. Right now I don’t know of any specific vulnerabilities other than the simple one that hackers can try to log in by brute force trying a variety of possible QuickConnect URLs, but it is one more element you’ll need to make sure stays secure.
The good news is that it is easier than ever to set up your own private cloud for photo sharing, whether just for you or to collaborate with others or showcase your work. All without any monthly fees or the risk of hosting your photos on someone else’s computer.