There is no greater fear for any photographer than losing your precious photos. Camera gear can be replaced. Your archive of photos that you’ve poured your heart and soul into can’t. If you’ve ever experienced the heartbreak of losing photos forever, you’ll know about the importance of a solid photo backup strategy.
Backing up your photos is one of the least glamorous parts of being a photographer, but one of the most important. This is especially true if you have a photography side-hustle. Nothing will ruin your business as surely as losing a client’s photos because you didn’t back them up.
Take it from me, having had two backup hard drives corrupt on me, a little effort now will save you a lot of pain later. I was lucky that there were only personal photos on those drives, but it didn’t hurt any less.
You likely already have some sort of physical storage for your photography, but you should also use online photo backups. If you’re relying purely on your computer and physical hard drives to store and backup your photos, you’re at risk of losing everything.
Hard Drives vs Online Photo Backups
Hard drives fail all the time. In fact, all hard drives fail eventually. It may be years from now or it could be tomorrow. It doesn’t matter whether they’re cheap or expensive, SSD or HDD, they all fail.
Even if you use a RAID system or you have copies of your photos on multiple hard drives, they’re still at risk. What would happen in the case of a natural disaster or fire in your home or office? What about a burglary? Thieves love shiny electronic things.
The 3-2-1 Photo Backup System
Physical hard drives are a great way to backup your photos, so I’m not suggesting you don’t use them. I’m suggesting you adopt a 3-2-1 photo backup strategy. It’s pretty simple.
- Keep 3 copies of all your files.
- Keep 2 copies on local hard drives.
- Keep 1 copy offsite.
This could look like having one copy of your photos on your computer, one copy on an external hard drive, and one on another hard drive stored at another location.
The weakness of this plan is that it requires you to regularly pick up your offsite drive, take it to your computer, backup your new files, then return it to its offsite location. It’s not going to happen.
This is why you’re better off keeping your offsite backups online. You don’t need to worry about moving hard drives from one physical location to another and you can backup your photos anytime you’re online.
Free vs Paid
As with everything online, there are two options: go the free route and get something good or pay and get something better. You’re likely already using at least one of the many free cloud storage services available like Dropbox. Your devices would have come with storage services like iCloud or Google Drive pre-installed.
These free services are great for backing up the files and photos on your devices. They’re also pretty good for backing up and sharing files on your computer. They’re not without their limitations, though.
The most obvious limitation being storage capacity. The free plans from these cloud services give you between 2GB and 15GB. There is a way to use Google Photos so you can free up space on your phone without deleting photos. Other than this, free cloud storage will never offer enough space for photographers.
Setting up automatic backups with these free services is either complicated or completely impossible. If your backup system isn’t automated, it will either happen irregularly or not at all. You want set-and-forget backups.
Companies like Dropbox are banking on you running out of space and paying to upgrade to a premium plan for more storage space. What you may not consider is how quickly you’ll fill up that extra storage you’ve paid a premium for. I don’t know about you, but I have terabytes of photos in my archive. Premium plans are usually capped at 1-2TB.
Upgrading your existing storage to a premium plan is a good idea, so which one should you use?
Which Service Is Best For Online Photo Backups?
There are too many cloud storage services to compare them all, but these are the services you’re probably already using or have heard of. There are also a couple of services that you may not have heard of, which I highly recommend.
Dropbox is a great service for uploading files to the cloud, especially for sharing with others. I’ve used it for years and I love it. You can set up Dropbox as a drive on your computer, which makes uploading and downloading files super easy. The mobile app is also great.
- 2TB with a free account.
- Premium: $119/year for 2TB.
Apple’s iCloud storage is fantastic if you use their devices. I’ve used it in the past when I used an iPhone, and it always worked flawlessly. It’s especially useful for syncing files if you own multiple Apple devices.
- 5GB with a free account.
- Premium: $11.88/year for 50GB. $35.88/year for 200GB. $119.88/year for 2TB.
If you use any of Google’s suite of apps (Gmail, Calendar, Docs) or own an Android device, you already have an account with Google Drive. As with Dropbox, you can set it up as a drive on your computer for easy upload/download.
Google Drive is also a great free alternative for creating and handling many different types of documents like text documents and spreadsheets. I’ve used Drive for a long time and for many different purposes. In fact, I’m writing this article in Google Drive right now.
- 15GB with a free account.
- Premium: $19.99/year for 100GB. $99.99/year for 1TB.
You may not think of Adobe as a cloud storage service, but they have a great one. In fact, if you subscribe to any of the Adobe Photography Plans, you’re already paying for it. When you use Lightroom or Photoshop CC you have the option to backup your images and creations to Adobe’s servers.
This is particularly useful if you use Adobe apps on more than one device. You might have shared Lightroom catalogues on two computers or want to access your photos on one of the Adobe apps on your iPad. For a few files it’s great, but you’ll likely find that your storage will fill up quickly if you’re creating large files in Photoshop.
- 30-day free trial.
- Premium: $9.99/month including 20GB storage. $19.99/month for 1TB.
If you want a professional photography website, your best option is a service like Smugmug or Photoshelter. Alongside the many features included with these services is online photo backups. Each service has a range of paid plans that includes various storage limits, but Smugmug includes unlimited storage with every plan.
I’ve been a Smugmug customer for years and can’t recommend them highly enough. I especially like the RAW file backup feature and the ability to deliver photos directly to clients from your website.
- 14-day free trial.
- Premium: Range of plans starting at $6/month. 15% off with this link.
Although it’s not specifically for online photo backups, Backblaze is by far the best online cloud storage service I’ve found. The number of features you get for very little money is hard to beat.
Backblaze allows you to set up automatic, unlimited backups of all the files on any selected hard drives, including external hard drives. It’s available for Mac and PC computers. You have the ability to choose which files and folders to include and exclude in your backup. This means you can back up all the files on your computer and hard drive without wasting time backing up your operating system.
Your backups are kept safe on the Backblaze servers for 30 days and are fully encrypted. It features an awesome restore system should you ever accidentally delete something or lose everything, God forbid. They’ll even FedEx you a hard drive with your data on it anywhere in the world if you need it. Pretty great service.
- 15-day free trial.
- Premium: $6/month or $60/year. Try it free with this link.
Don’t Wait For Catastrophe
Implementing a solid photo backup strategy is one of those jobs that easily gets pushed down the priority list and onto the ‘someday’ list. Don’t be one of the many unfortunate photographers who wish they had done it before disaster struck.
Whichever service you choose, make today the day you set up your online photo backups. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did if the unthinkable ever happens.