Backing up your data is an essential part of your photography workflow. While many photographers still advocate for using physical external hard drives, there are also many online services where you can store your images. In this article, I will go over the pros and cons of several popular sites to backup your photos online. Please note that these photo solutions are constantly changing their features, so always check with them directly to verify any details.
Photo backups versus photo sharing sites
It’s important to note the differences between a designated photo backup services and photo sharing websites. Traditional photo backup services such as Backblaze and CrashPlan focus purely on backing up data and can be set to backup an entire computer or hard drive. This is good in the sense that you can have everything you’ve ever created on your computer saved to the cloud. However, these backups end up being extremely large files and they take extra time to retrieve. So if you need to constantly and quickly access your backed up photo data, it may not be wise to rely solely on these types of providers.
Photo sharing sites, on the other hand, are not meant to be comprehensive backups of your entire computer. Many of these sites impose limits on the types and sizes of files that can be uploaded. Thus, photo sharing websites are best used to upload, store, and share edited photos.
How I backup my photos
My advice is to have a backup for your backup. As a professional photographer who shoots primarily in RAW, I have terabytes of data to store, but I don’t generally need frequent access to those original files. I opt for CrashPlan to do automatic backups of my RAW images, in addition to storing them on external hard drives.
My photography business is such that I constantly need to dig up old high-resolution photos to present to clients, and CrashPlan doesn’t give me easy, immediate access to those files. So I save edited, high-resolution copies of every photo I take and upload them to SmugMug. This way, I have quick access to the photos and can easily prepare an online gallery to share and sell images to clients. I also have Google Photos set to do automatic online photo backups anytime I save a new JPG image to my computer. In the end, I have four ways of backing up my photos.
These are comprehensive backup and cloud storage solutions meant to hold large amounts of data. Set them to automatically backup your entire computer or hard drive, and practically any file type or size will be accommodated. On the plus side, these backup solutions are pretty affordable for what they offer. However, it can take a long time to backup huge files, and file restoration can also take a bit of time.
One of the most popular backup solutions, Backblaze can automatically backup an unlimited amount of data from a single computer (note; it will connect and backup external drives as well). There’s no restriction on file type or size, and there’s only one pricing plan. It costs $5.00 per month or $50 USD per year for a Backblaze account. You can even pre-pay $95 for a 2-year plan. It’s an affordable and reliable solution for making sure everything on your computer is backed up.
Virtually the same as Backblaze, CrashPlan also offers automatic computer backups. The main difference is that CrashPlan offers several different subscription plans. Included in the free plan is an automatic backup to a local hard drive or another computer. If you want to backup your data to CrashPlan’s cloud, the cost is $5 per month to backup one device for unlimited cloud storage and mobile file access. To add an extra device (as many as 10), the Family Plan is available for $12.95 per month.
Amazon Cloud Drive
At $11.99 a year for unlimited photo storage (or free for Amazon Prime members), Amazon offers competitive cloud storage solutions, but at some expenses. The main downside to Amazon Cloud at the moment is its lack of features when compared to other more established solutions. For example, a desktop client must be used to upload files larger than 2GB, there are no automatic backup features, and stored files are not automatically updated. Given these underdeveloped features, Amazon Cloud Drive at this moment seems more like an off-site hard drive rather than a true backup solution.
Formerly known as SkyDrive, OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage solution that works with Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices (but still no Linux). Base plans include a generous 15GB of free storage. Paid plans start at $1.99 a month for an extra 100 GB, or $6.99 for 1TB of space. The main downsides are a slow upload and download speed, a 10GB size limit per file, and the need to have a Microsoft, Outlook, or Xbox Live account in order to access OneDrive. This may be a hurdle for those who don’t use any Microsoft or Windows products.
The photo storage solution offered by Google takes a slightly different approach than that of Dropbox or Flickr. Google Photos offers unlimited backup of a wide variety of file formats (including RAW images). You can also set automatic backups to occur whenever a new photo is taken on your mobile device or saved to your computer. However, all photos and videos must be under 16 megapixels or 1080p HD video.
If you upload larger files under the unlimited plan, your files will be compressed to fit these maximum size requirements. The only way to upload original, full resolution images is to opt for a plan with limited storage. In a way, this makes sense. You pay for more storage space if you need it.
Photo Sharing and Image Hosting Websites
These websites were not originally meant to be comprehensive backup solutions. However, many photographers have begun using them as such. Most of these websites have limitations when it comes to data storage or file types that you can upload. Thus, they may not be the best all-around backup solution for your photos, depending on your needs.
One of the most popular tools to backup photos online is Dropbox. It exists in the form of a mobile app, website, and desktop app and allows you to store all types of media including photos, documents, videos, and other files. Anything you add to Dropbox can be immediately accessed anywhere when you log in via the corresponding website or app.
Using the free version gives you 2MB of storage space, but you can purchase additional space. Dropbox made an attempt at pushing an automatic photo backup feature in the form of Dropbox Carousel. However, this app along with Dropbox’s email app Mailbox shut down in early 2016. Thus, it’s questionable if they will make future investments into further feature development.
Yahoo’s venerable photo solution, Flickr, has withstood the test of time and continues to be popular among amateur and professional photographers. Even with a free account, you get 1TB of photo storage space. However, you cannot get more than 1TB of space, even with a paid Flickr Pro account. Instead, the paid account just removes ads and gives you access to your account stats. While Flickr isn’t the best for sharing photos with clients, it does give you the option to license and sell your photos.
The main downside to Flickr has to do with file size limits. Uploaded photos cannot be more than 200MB and videos must be 1GB or less in size. Additionally, RAW images cannot be uploaded.
SmugMug, Zenfolio, and Photo Shelter
These three paid photo-sharing websites are popular for presenting and selling photos to clients:
However, the push for offering unlimited photo storage has elevated these sites into becoming viable ways for photographers to backup images. All three sites also offer components that help you build your photography website. SmugMug and Zenfolio are among the most affordable, while PhotoShelter is more expensive.
So which photo backup solution is best for you? It truly depends on what media you are looking to backup, how often you will access it, and your budget. Whichever solution you choose, remember to always have a backup for your backup. Also, please remember that these services are constantly offering new promotions and features. The information in this article may change, so always check directly with the provider to verify details.
How do you backup your photos? Let us know in the comments below.