Dropbox Photo Sharing – A How-To Guide

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 Photos
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Dropbox doesn’t have the bells and whistles of something like Flickr. Then again, it wasn’t built primarily for photos. But over the years, Dropbox’s 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 a great option.

Sure, you could set up your own FTP server, roll your own cloud service, or use a dedicated photo-sharing site and service. Those will give you more control, including the ability to use your own domain name and branding. But they’re also much more complicated and time-consuming to set up. 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 their Plus and Professional Plans to 2TB and 3TB respectively, it’s a cost-effective way to get plenty of online storage space.

Perhaps even more 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 in to 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 then 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.

Dropbox Photo Sharing - web browser

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—it’s a security through obscurity model—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.

Dropbox Photo Sharing-web-permissions

What Image File Formats Does Google Create Previews For?

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 generates preview images for automatically include the ones in this table. The right column shows the maximum image size that will be processed to generate a preview–files larger than that will be treated as regular files, and no preview will be generated. The third column identified image file formats that will only be previewed in the web browser at dropbox.com and won’t show up in the Dropbox desktop app.

File type Size limit
.3fr 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.ai 256 MB or 50 megapixels
.arw 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.bmp 100 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.cr2 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.crw 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.dcr 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.dcs 200 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.dng 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.dwg 100 MB
.erf 200 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.gif 100 MB or 50 megapixels
.heic 100 MB or 50 megapixels
.jpeg 100 MB or 50 megapixels
.jpg 100 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.kdc 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.mef 200 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.mos 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.mrw 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.nef 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.nrw 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.orf 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.pef 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.png 100 MB or 50 megapixels
.ppm 100 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.psd 1024 MB or 50 megapixels
.r3d 200 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.raf 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.rw2 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.rwl 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.sr2 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.svg 48 MB or 50 megapixels
.svgz 48 MB or 50 megapixels
.tif 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.tiff 200 MB or 50 megapixels
.wbmp 100 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.webp 100 MB or 50 megapixels Web only
.x3f 200 MB or 50 megapixels

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

Dropbox Photo Sharing Grid View

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.

Dropbox Photo Sharing Options

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).

Dropbox Photo Sharing Download Images

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 file naming, size, format, and watermarks.

Lightroom Publish to Dropbox

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 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 Uploads function.

Dropbox used to have a Carousels function for viewing photos. That has been discontinued and is no longer available.

David Coleman / Photographer
by David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

33 thoughts on “Dropbox Photo Sharing – A How-To Guide”

  1. are there any devices out there for sale where i can constantly view my dropbox pictures in my front room. i used to have a device that i could put a pendrive into and it would automatically play all of my photos like a slide show. is there an equivalent for dropbox?

    • There are definitely some devices that do that with memory cards, thumb drives, and some even with their own cloud service, but I’m not aware of any that can connect to Dropbox specifically. I can’t say for sure they don’t exist, but I haven’t come across any.

  2. Just bought a new iMac . previously when posting photos to a site .I click on the photo logo in face book and go to drop box pick my photo .before I got a preview.now a generic jpeg logo.? is this a Facebook issue.?

  3. HI David, I couldn’t find a way to “commnent” but I could click into someone’s reply so just did it that way to comment – sorry. Thanks for the article, very informative and helpful!

    My question is this, if I send high resolution photos through dropbox – can the person I am sending them to download them to their computer? Or Is there a safety type feature that I could access? I always save in highest res in Lightroom (jpg) and would like to avoid having to go back and resize each and every photo for security purposes. Thanks so much!

    • Hi Yvonne. Which app are you using to add the captions? It’s not a simple yes or now because it depends on how those captions are saved and which app you’re using to add them with, because different apps handle it differently. There are three main ways that apps can use to associate captions (or metadata) with images.

      • Embedded IPTC metadata. This saves the caption (and other metadata) within the image file itself. So if you share or copy that file, the metadata goes along with it. JPG is the most common format that this works well for.
      • Sidecar files. If you’re shooting in the RAW image format, the caption information is probably saving in a separate file called a sidecar file. Lightroom, for instance, saves them as XMP files that have the same name as the image but the .xmp file extension. So you end up with two related files, with the image in one and the text information in another much smaller file. Depending on how you’re using Dropbox and how you’re backing up your files in Dropbox, these .xmp may or may not be backing up alongside the main image file.
      • Database associations. Some apps and online services save the caption information or other metadata in a central database rather than as a file per se. In this case, the caption doesn’t travel with the image file when you copy or back it up.
  4. 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?

  5. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.)

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

        • Interesting. They must be rolling it out gradually–it’s still working the old way on my account. Thanks for the tip!

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