Free Cloud Storage Options for Photographers

Today’s post is a guest post from the New York Film Academy

Backing up Photography on the Cloud

The main cloud storage services are all-great, but how do they stack up for professional photographers?

From experience, myself and most photographers I know are sticklers for file organization. The thought of having random image files littered around the desktop is enough to have us chewing our nails with anxiety, and as much as a hierarchy of neatly ordered file folders satisfy our base needs, there’s always the issue of backing up to contend with.

The Physical 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 has always consisted of whatever SD card I’m shooting on, my desktop (transferred there when editing) and a USB flash drive which I copy everything onto about once a month or so.

However, hunting around for the flash drive isn’t ideal if I’m on the move and want to quickly show a prospective client a particular example of my work. In addition, should the absolute worse happen – such as fire or theft at my apartment, heaven forbid – that could potentially be all my physical data storage lost in one fell swoop.

Alas, that brings us onto…

The Cloud Option

There are, quite literally, hundreds if not thousands of cloud storage options out there so today we’ll compare and contrast only the main services, if only because I’ve not personally tried out the lesser-known providers and therefore cannot comment on their security.

Specifically, let’s take an impartial look at how good they are for the professional or semi-pro photographer.

Cloud backup services have really come into their own in recent years; so much so, the amount of choice can be overwhelming. Out of them all, which are most geared towards storing large amounts of photography?

Ignoring the lesser-known services (whose security we can’t verify here), today we’ll be looking at the five big hitters and, specifically, what you can get out of them for free.

iCloud

Space and Pricing: 5Gb (free), 15Gb ($20/year), 25Gb ($40/year), 55Gb ($100/year)

If you own any of Apple’s ubiquitous products, you’ll probably be intimately 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, tablet and desktop mac without having to use wires. It’s also a brilliant backup service for your data should your phone go amiss.

Unfortunately, it sucks as the main option for backing up your entire photo library.

Its usability with non-Apple is limited, the folder management system is virtually non-existent and space is limited to a mere 5Gb. To sum up, iCloud is great for what it’s designed for, it’s just that large-scale photo backups from your main camera ain’t what it’s designed for!

Dropbox

dropbox

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.

SkyDrive

SkyDrive is the flagship cloud storage service from Microsoft, and despite its diminishing popularity does come with some unique perks.

For one, it gives users a 7 Gb free and unrestricted upload space which, right out of the box, beats the other services on this list. This increased to 27 Gb if you own either Office 265 or Office 2013, so it’s a great option for those who work in a heavily Microsoft-based environment.

Additional paid storage offers slightly better value than competitors, so photographers looking to back up large amounts of high-res images will find a home in SkyDrive. In a nutshell, it’s a good all-rounder and integrates well with existing workflows.

Free Storage: 7 Gb and up to 27 Gb
Paid Storage: 100 Gb at $50 per year

Google Drive

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).

google

Space and Pricing: 5Gb (free), 25 Gb ($2.49/month), 100 Gb ($4.99/month), 400 Gb ($19.99/month), 1Tb ($49.99/month)

This is arguably very useful if you use Google’s ancillary products on a regular basis. 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 (a full list can be seen here).

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 woefully lacking in its current state.

Picasa

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 hindrance 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.

Arguably then, Picasa is the ultimate online storage and backup service for photographers. Just be careful not to fall foul of the sizing limits, since the imposed JPG compression can be a horrific detriment to image quality.

Closing Note

Other cloud-based services exist, of course, and I’d like to encourage you to do your own research in order 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 provide excellent tuition to set students up for the main part of the job: producing beautiful photography!

For more information on the New York Film Academy check out their website nyfa.edu

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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