How to Share Photos with Dropbox

Dropbox is primarily designed for backing up and syncing files. But it's also a very handy way to share photos quickly and easily.
Dropbox is apparently in the process of upgrading and changing its photo galleries feature. The changes mean that old gallery links won’t work anymore. I’ll update the info below, but in the meantime, here’s some info from Dropbox on the issue.

Dropbox doesn’t have the bells and whistles of something like Flickr. But then, it wasn’t built primarily for photos. But over the years, the developers have added a few nice touches for sharing images that now make it one of the easiest, quickest, and most reliable ways to share photos. If you have to get photos to clients or are just sending snapshots to family, it’s one of the best ways.

Sure, you could set up your own FTP server or use Amazon S3. That will give you more control, including the ability to use your own domain name and branding. But it’s also much more complicated. And complicated means more time and more things that can go wrong.

Dropbox, on the other hand, is drop-dead simple and very reliable. And now that they’ve increased their storage quotas for the Pro plan, it’s a very cost-effective way to get 1 TB of online storage space. Just as importantly, it’s also intuitive for the viewer to look at the photos, so you don’t have to send another set of instructions explaining how to work the darn thing.

How to Upload Photos to Dropbox

The most bare-bones way to get images into dropbox is to sign into Dropbox in a web browser and click on the Upload icon at top right. You don’t need to specify that they’re images–they’re just like any other files. Once it comes to browsing those files, Dropbox automatically determines that they’re images.

But uploading through a web browser is a bit of a chore. There’s a much better option: use the Dropbox app. That runs silently in the background on your computer and automatically syncs your files with the versions online. It’s not perfect–I wish it wasn’t such a CPU hog at times–but the Dropbox app is remarkably reliable and very simple to use.

Once you have the Dropbox app running, anything you save under the Dropbox folder will get uploaded and synced automatically. When it comes to sharing photos quickly and easily, you can put that to good use.

How to Share Images with Dropbox

After saving your images to a folder under the Dropbox directory on your hard drive, there are a few ways you can get the link to send to someone.

The quickest way to share a folder is to go into Finder or Windows Explorer, right click on the folder name, and choose Share Dropbox Link. You’ll end up with a long link with randomized numbers and letters that looks a bit like this:


You can also get the share link through a web browser by logging into your Dropbox account and browsing to the folder.

You can then send that link to anyone for them to view the images. You might have to wait for a few minutes while the Dropbox app uploads and syncs the files on the server, but once that’s done, you’re good to go.

By default, anyone with that long, randomized link can access the photos. It’s pretty unlikely that anyone’s going to guess that URL, but if you want something a bit more robust than security through obscurity, there are some things you can do when logging into your account through the web browser.

When you click on the share link icon through a web browser, you get the additional options of password-protecting the folder and adding an expiry date. I find the expiry date to be especially useful for delivering files to clients.

How to View Images in Dropbox

You don’t need to do anything special to identify the files as images. Dropbox does that automatically and creates preview images. The file formats that Dropbox supports for automatically generating photo previews are:
– .jpg and .jpeg
– .png
– .tiff and .tif
– .gif
– .bmp
– .ai
– .psd

Any other files, including RAW files, will simply show up as regular files without photo previews.

In a web browser, your images will show up in a grid of square thumbnails, like this.

Viewing images is intuitive for the user–they just click on an image and it opens a simple gallery with the larger preview images against a black background (there’s no way to customize the background). Moving through the images is just another click. So there’s not a lot of room for confusion, which is a virtue in itself.

In the bottom right are a few further functions such as downloading that individual image, viewing the original (rather than the rescaled preview version that’s automatically generated), or getting a link for that specific image.

I’m referring to images here, but the same processes work just as well with many video formats as well.

How to Download Multiple Images from Dropbox

There are two main ways that the view can download all of the images in a folder. The first is when viewing the gallery grid in a web browser, there’s a Download button at top right. You can either download as a single Zip file or copy directly to your own Dropbox folder (requires you to be signed in to Dropbox).

There’s also a one-step shortcut. All you do is change the last number in the shared link address. The “dl=0” at the end means “download = no”. Change the “0” to a “1” to change it to “download = yes”. So the viewing version would be:


and the downloading version would be:


The only thing different is the last digit.

Sending Photos from Lightroom to Dropbox

The easiest way to send photos from Lightroom to Dropbox is simply to export your photos to your Dropbox folder on your computer. Assuming you’re running the Dropbox service on your Mac or PC, the files will then get uploaded automatically.

If you want more control, you can set up a Lightroom Publish Service to a folder on your hard drive. That gives you the benefit of being able to continue to manage the files, including updating them easily. It essentially creates a photostream using Dropbox.

To set this up, in Lightroom’s Library module, go to the left-hand module and scroll down. Under Publish Services there’s a Hard Drive option. Click on the Set Up link. You’ll then get a configuration screen, like this. For the saving location, just choose a directory under Dropbox. You can also control things like filenaming, size, format, and watermarks.

There is a bit of a catch with doing it this way, and that’s that you can’t change the export folder once it’s set up.

The Publish Service gets locked to one specific folder, so it’s not ideal for on-the-fly sending of different batches of images to different people. But you can create multiple instances of the Hard Drive Publish Service. Just right click on the Publish Service and choose “Create Another Publish Service via ‘Hard Drive’.”

Making Dropbox More Powerful

One of the great things about Dropbox is that there are a bunch of third party add-ons that make it even more powerful. If you wish something about using Dropbox had been automated, there’s a reasonable chance someone has had the same thought and developed an app to take care of it.

Want to drag and drop photos and get a sharing link in one step? Something like Dropzone or FileChute is there to help.

Wish the photos on your phone could be backed up to Dropbox automatically? The Dropbox team have themselves taken care of this one with the Camera Upload function.

Another useful function is that you can create Albums if you use the default Photos folder under Dropbox. Here’s more info on that.

View Comments (25)

  • Is it me, or has dropbox disabled their web gallery functionality in favour of their Carousel service...?

    • The web gallery functionality in regular Dropbox is still working normally for me. I'm using Carousel for IOS on my phone, but I can still share photos in Dropbox the regular way.

      • It's weird, but when I'm in the Photos folder, and I right-click to share the link, it brings you to a Dropbox browser window where you see a list of files rather than a gallery. I'm on Mac Yosemite. This is pretty frustrating. Is there a way to activate/share the gallery from Dropbox.com, maybe?

        • A few things to try...
          - In the browser view, you can toggle between thumbnails and file list using the switch at top right.
          - Are the images "standard" images? They're not encoded somehow such that Dropbox doesn't recognize them as images?
          - Try duplicating the folder and see if the new version works any differently. From time to time I find that the thumbnails don't build properly the first time.

    • I don't know of any way to have the Dropbox app convert formats like that. One way is to download the file, convert it on your computer, and reupload. There are also 3rd party online apps that can access the image from your Dropbox account, convert the file, and then save it back into your Dropbox account, like this one. I haven't tried them and don't know what permissions you have to grant to let it work.

  • I send photos from Lightroom to my hard drive and then through Dropbox, but the receiver says they are blurry. What are the ideal LR settings to export for sending from Dropbox?

    • There's nothing inherently about Dropbox that should make them blurry. Two possibilities immediately come to mind: typically blurry means the images are too small. So the first thing I'd check is the export sizes. If those are right, it might be something to do with how they're viewing them. If they're looking at them through the Dropbox app or through a web browser on a slow connection, Dropbox might be serving them low resolution versions to save on bandwidth (basically, as a courtesy to the end user). A better bet is to have the receiver download them to their hard drive on their computer or to their tablet etc and view them that way.

  • Great info, Thanks. I uploaded a bunch of .mp4 gopro footage from a trip to DropBox & now want to quick view it to keep the nuggets for making a movie. Any idea on how to get to a good quick view program from DropBox. Downloading form DropBox takes a long time. Thx

    • If you still have copies stored locally and are using a Mac, Fileloupe works well. But quickview while storing the files remotely is trickier, and I can't think of anything that would fit the bill.

  • I have a Dropbox main folder (whose link I have shared) and several subfolders: let's call them F1, F2... In F1 are a set of photos P1, P2...P20, say. When visitors have looked through the photos, then can easily exit P20 and get back to F1. But how can they then reach F2 etc? Clicking the browser back-arrow takes them back to P20, P19...! The problem is that visitors can't see my folder structure in order to navigate through it. I feel obliged to instruct them to R-click or otherwise pull down the browser menu that shows all the previous windows (with the main folder at the bottom of the list), as I don't think this trick is obvious. Is there another way for visitors to jump back to the main folder, that I've overlooked? (I have of course been putting myself in their position by looking at my folders while signed out of Dropbox.)

  • Hi guys! I am a fairly new Dropbox user so I would love some help with this. My friend and I recently went on a trip to Hawaii and we live on different sides of the country (Vancouver and Ottawa). We are trying to share our photos over dropbox, but when I try to download the photos that have been uploaded to dropbox to my mac I can only view them as 'previews.' I was hoping to share them on FB and to make a calendar of our trip so I would really like access to the photos. Thanks in advance for your help :) :)

    • A few things to check. Firstly, don't right click on the images to save them. There are better ways that give you the original files, not the generated viewing previews. Are you using the Download button top right when in the folder view (ie. a grid of all the photos)? That should zip up the entire contents of the folder and download it to your hard drive. You can do the same thing on individual images, but it's obviously more tedious with multiple images. Another option is that whoever created the folder can go into the settings for that folder on the Dropbox site and click on the "Share Folder" link to add collaborators--that will add the same folder to your Dropbox as well, so you can both work on it simultaneously. This is different from the "Share link" function.

  • I have shared a folder of photos with a friend. How long are the photos available for viewing?

    • By default, indefinitely until you delete them or revoke the sharing. If you've upgraded to Dropbox Pro or Dropbox Business you can specify and expiry date.

    • There are services available that can connect to multiple services at once and let you manage them in a single place and cross-post. Both Hootsuite and Sendible let you pull directly from Dropbox and post on social media accounts.
      PictureLife was a good one that was image-centric, but they've closed shop. There are ways to automatically trigger uploads from Dropbox folders to Buffer too. And using IFTTT recipes like this one is another good option to automate it.

  • Dropbox pro will not allow you to post pictures, only links to the pictures. That is $10.00 wasted. Plus, I cannot get back the old Dropbox that worked fine for me until 30 days are up. THANKS A LOT (sarcasm)

    • It does--I use it all the time and have just now tested to make sure nothing has changed in the past few days. You get a different behavior depending on whether you're copying the folder's shared link URL, "Sharing", or "View on Dropbox." And also whether or not you're signed in through a web browser. Here's an example. That's on my Dropbox Pro account.

  • Wondering if you can help. I use a Mac Book Pro and I'm running out of storage because every time I save an image to Drop Box it also saves it to my hard drive (my files) folder as well. Is there a way around this?

    • The feature you want to turn on is called selective sync. Here's Dropbox's explanation of how to use it in Mac, Windows, and Linux.

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