Although I may or may not be one of them, most photographers I know are sticklers for file organization. For some of us, the thought of having random image files littered around the desktop is enough to have us chewing our nails with anxiety (again, I may or may not be just that neat ;) ), and as much as a hierarchy of neatly ordered folders satisfy our needs, there’s always the need to backing up. Luckily, we all have a few options…
The Physical Photo Backup Option
Naturally, keeping work safe and sound (and easily retrievable) is essential for anyone working with hundreds of digital files. The golden rule is to always have your photos backed up in at least two locations. For me, this have always been my hard drives – my laptop and desktop computers and the Time Capsule (since I am a true Apple person). Also, I consider whatever SD card I’m shooting on to be my temporary backup and all those USB flash drives I use to transfer files between my computers. However, hunting around for the flash drive isn’t ideal if I’m on the move and want to quickly find, show, or use a certain file. Also, let’s not forget that things can go wrong… very wrong. Such as fire wrong. Fire could mean all my physical data storage lost in one fell swoop. Alas, that brings us to…
The Cloud Option for Photographers
There are, quite literally, hundreds if not thousands of cloud storage options out there but we’ll compare and contrast only the few big ones today.So, let’s take a look at what they offer for us photographers. The main cloud storage services are all great, but how do they stack up for professional photographers?
Space and Pricing: 5Gb (free), 15Gb ($20/year), 25Gb ($40/year), 55Gb ($100/year)
If you are just like me and own the Apple’s products, you’re probably aware of the company’s iCloud service already. In a nutshell, it’s a central server to which your iDevices all have automatic access and near-instantaneous synching. It’s a fantastic way of transferring photos between your iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPod, iMac, MacBook without having to use wires. It’s also a brilliant backup service for your data should your phone go amiss. Unfortunately, its usability for non-Apple users is limited, the folder management system is non-existent and the free space is limited to 5Gb.
Space and Pricing: Up to 18Gb (free), 100Gb ($99/year), 500Gb ($499/year)
Dropbox was one of the first cloud services to find mainstream acceptance, and it’s easy to understand why: the service is very easy to set up on every web-connected device you use, operates just like a standard Windows folder and supported sharing with multiple people. In essence, it’s flexibility is perfect for the photographer who likes to keep everything backed-up, organized and instantly accessible with very little hassle. Pricing for extra storage is also very competitive, but the only grumble (and point worth noting) is that the free 18Gb above can only be gained by hassling your friends and colleagues to get an account. Otherwise, the standard free account only gives you 2Gb.
Space and Pricing: 5Gb (free), 25 Gb ($2.49/month), 100 Gb ($4.99/month), 400 Gb ($19.99/month), 1Tb ($49.99/month)
Previously known as Google Docs, the Google Drive incarnation is part of the company’s unwavering campaign to coral all of its tools into one place (so users access everything – from Gmail to Google+ – via one single account). This is arguably very useful if you use Google’s products. The pricing is also better than everyone else on this list, even without the option to save with a yearly payment. They’re also the only service I know of which offers up to 16Tb of space – probably a bit overkill, but if you shoot a lot of film as well as photography, the higher options may be extremely useful. So, it’s perfect for photographers, then? Unfortunately, no.
There are two things which makes me hesitant to recommend Google Drive, but I will point out these are personal axes I have to grind. Firstly, the web-based navigation is clunky, prone to odd errors and very ill-suited to work around folders. Secondly, I’ve found it headache-inducing when accessed via an iPhone and no decent app exists as far as I’m aware of. Personally, I think Google Drive is a fine solution for sharing files and working on collaborative projects, but as a backup service for large numbers of photo files, I find it lacking in its current state.
Space and pricing: Technically unlimited – see below
Owned by Google, Picasa is superior when it comes to organizing image files and albums (as you can imagine, since that’s what it’s designed for). The only issue is that it only offers you 1Gb of free storage. Bad news! However, images under a certain size aren’t counted, so technically you can have unlimited storage on Picasa. Great news! Unfortunately, this size limit is only 800×800, or 2048×2048 if you use Google+ – this can be a hinderance if you’re a HD photographer. Bad news! Thankfully, you can upgrade your storage space at the same cheap rates as Google Drive. Good? Well, you get the picture.
Other cloud-based services exist, of course, and I’d like to encourage you to do your own research to find what works best for your own personal needs (and there’s nothing wrong with using more than one). Lastly, I’d like to tip a nod to the New York Photography School – while we’re often left to work out such technicalities of the business ourselves, they offer excellent tuition to set students up for the main part of the job: producing beautiful photography! So, check them out!