Whether you’re a professional photographer churning out gigabytes of image files every week or an occasional smartphone snapshooter, every photographer needs a place for the long-term storage of their image files. Sure, that’s what hard drives are for, but hard drives fail. And they don’t exactly make it easy to access files remotely. To solve both problems, consider remote photo storage—cloud-based systems that allow you to archive image files online and access them remotely from computers, smartphones and tablets. There are several options available, with features that will appeal to a wide variety of photographers’ needs. Here’s a look at some of the most popular options for cloud-based photo storage.
Dropbox is a popular and convenient cloud-based file storage system designed to integrate easily with a variety of different workflows—for photographers and regular folks alike. The basic plan is free and holds up to 2GB of data—perfect for those who may just want to store the occasional image file, along with other files and documents in the cloud. Computer integration puts a file folder right on the desktop to make Dropbox function easily, like a local hard drive, with the same simple and straightforward drag and drop functionality. Photographers with more demanding needs will surely prefer some of the higher-capacity plans (1TB, 2TB and even unlimited storage) as well as the simple procedures for sharing image files with friends and clients, whether as proofs or finished high-res deliverables. Price: Free to $20/month.
Users of Apple iPhones, iPads and Mac computers might consider using iCloud to store documents, music and photos. While the unique structure of the iCloud system isn’t particularly well suited for professionals who are likely to want to maintain the type of control and access afforded by other systems, it may be perfect for the casual user who just wants to keep their files safe without having to give it much thought—or that much expense. The real appeal of the iCloud universe is the ability to access image files uploaded from any device on any other device—so iPhone photos can be automatically sent to iCloud for access from computers and tablets, while files uploaded from those other devices are also accessible from the phone. Storage plans include 50GB, 200GB and 2TB options. Price: $.99 to $9.99/month.
Google Drive & Google Photos
The options presented by Google Drive are fairly unique, given the way the cloud-based Drive integrates with other Google applications and can accommodate any and all kinds of files. But for photographer-specific needs, the Alphabet Co. offers Google Photos, a free application that works hand-in-hand with Drive but is built to do some specific things for photographers. Unlimited storage, for instance, for image files up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p resolution. The albums in Photos are easy to access and add to from Android smartphones and other devices. Some computer learning features allow Photos to automatically create and identify albums, learning about your images and what you photograph as you grow at tag your archive. Ultimately the limitations of Photos make it less ideal for professionals, but perhaps perfect for snapshooters. I tend to suggest Photos for those who want simple and automatic uploading of their photos, while Drive is better suited for power users who want a more hands-on approach to files of every size and quality. Google Photos offers unlimited storage of select file types, while Drive includes 15GB free with any Google account, upgradable to 100GB, 1TB or a whopping 100TB. Price: $1.99 to $99/month.
Flickr has been associated with online photo sharing and storage for nearly 15 years, which brings with it some benefits. Namely, Flickr brings a public aspect to photo storage, so rather than just thinking of the cloud as a remote file cabinet, it’s also like displaying those archived images in a public gallery wall. This brings the benefits, of course, of having work seen and shared—for whatever that may be worth. The service also offers editing tools and other convenient features such as integration with Lightroom and Photoshop. In terms of straight storage capacity there are better deals on the market, but when it comes to showing and sharing image files from your cloud archive, Flickr is uniquely suited. 1000GB of storage included. Price: Free to $5.99/month ($49.99 for one year paid in full).
Amazon’s Simple Storage Service, or S3, is not for the casual user. But for businesses with serious cloud-based data storage needs, including the high-capacity needs of photographers and video producers, it offers an ideal balance of simplicity, versatility and cost. S3 can be configured by software engineers to integrate with any number of a business’s web-based data needs—meaning it provides backend storage for countless web-based businesses. But of more interest to photographers is the ability of S3 to work incredibly simply as a drag-and-drop remote hard drive. It’s a little bit of overkill given how much can be done with S3 (varying classes of storage and access speeds are available for a variety of high-end ecommerce needs) but the service is certainly straightforward and useful for photographers too. Once signed up for S3, photographers can use an FTP-style file uploading client to access remote folders in their S3 “bucket.” It may not look as flashy as other services, but for nuts and bolts access to a bottomless cloud-based drive, S3 is as straightforward as it comes. Price: $.021 to $.023 per gigabyte.