Your Photo Backup Needs a Backup
I have two toddlers, which means I take a lot of photos. For years, I’ve stashed them in Dropbox, because it syncs and shares well, I keep other media and work files in there, and frankly there weren’t many better options when I started. Relying on just one backup system, though, isn’t just risky and short-sighted. It’s totally avoidable.
Dropbox continues to suit my needs today, and I plan to keep up my paid account until there’s a good reason not to. As Casey Newton points out in the Verge, though, Dropbox’s financial future is far from certain. If it should ever go down, I’ll be glad I had a backup for my backup. That’s not Dropbox-specific; any number of start-up storage services are similarly vulnerable. Even the big players like Facebook, Amazon Unlimited Photos, Google Photos, iCloud Drive, and OneDrive aren’t foolproof. A sudden change in pricing schemes could make them unattractive. A security breach, either of your specific account or of the system at large, could wipe out all of your photographic memories.
The most obvious answer is physical storage, and you should do that. But drives big enough for all those pictures can be pricey, and remembering to transfer all of your smartphone’s photo files can be impractical. Fortunately, multiple cloud backups have never been easier (or cheaper).
Back Up New Photos
You probably know this already, but just in case: Your phone will automatically save every photo you take to the cloud service (or, crucially, services) of your choice if you ask it to. Or rather, if you ask those specific apps to. There’s no limit, though, and that’s what makes creating a failsafe so easy.
You’re not lacking for storage service options, but since we’re talking about backing up your backup, we’ll focus on what’s free. No need to pay twice! And if you do want to spend redundant cloud money, the auto-upload process will be roughly the same no matter what service you choose.
Google Photos offers free, unlimited storage with just a few size limitations. Photos can be up to 16MP, while videos max out at 1080p. It’ll store up to 15GB of higher-resolution shots, after which you’ll have to pay up. Your smartphone camera pics will fit snugly under those restrictions, though. And while the new iPhone can shoot 4K, you’ll be fine sticking with regular hi-def.
Setting up free backup is just a matter of a few taps, and the same on both Android and iOS. Open the Google Photos app, touch the hamburger menu icon, select Settings > Back up & sync. From then on, any photo you take will automatically be saved by Google. You can also adjust more granular preferences, like backing up only over Wi-Fi or cellular as well, or storing only photos or videos.
Google Photos has a few fun features as well, like characteristically quality search, and automatically creating animations, collages, and panoramas out of your uploads. Most of all, though, it’s truly free, truly unlimited, and a truly mindless way to hedge your bets.
Amazon Prime Unlimited Photo Storage
Your other “free” unlimited option earns its scare quotes by being bundled with the other offerings in Amazon’s $99 per year membership. If you already have Prime, it’s no extra cost, so you might as well take advantage. If you don’t have any use for Prime, this shouldn’t push you over the edge. (Amazon also offers unlimited storage for any file format for an absurdly cheap $60 per year, but right now we are talking about free things!)
Just download the Amazon Photos – Cloud Drive app from either Google Play or the App Store. From there, go to Settings > Auto-Save and select either Photos, Videos (which will only upload over Wi-Fi), or both. You can also elect to upload only when your phone is charging, or to allow photo uploads over cellular data.
Prime Unlimited Photo Storage isn’t nearly as feature-rich as Google Photos, but it’s an attractive option if you’re all-in on Amazon’s ecosystem, or distrustful of Google’s. Amazon also currently controls nearly a third of the cloud market, if you believe in strength in numbers. Or just auto-upload to both! After all, it doesn’t cost you a dime.
Back Up Old Photos
Resolving to double (or triple) your backups from this day forward helps you plenty… from this day forward. What about the thousands of photos you’ve taken over the years, all stuffed in one digital locker?
This, too, is easily managed, though it requires a modicum of patience. Let’s look again at your two free options, though again, the process will be similar with other paid (or freemium) services.
Most cloud services also have desktop apps, which allow you to replicate folders from the cloud onto your computer. Say, for instance, you’re using Dropbox; just download the Dropbox desktop app, choose Selective sync from the Account menu, and select anything that has photos in it that you’d like to back up. You’ll end up with a Dropbox folder on your desktop, full of whatever you elected to save.
Next, download the Google Photos Backup desktop app and sign in with the Google account associated with Photos. It pre-selects some desktop folders, like Photos, which you can back up or not (personal preference!), but to get to your Dropbox pics, click Add… and get to them with the Finder. From there, choose High quality if you want to keep things free. Then go live your life while Photos uploads in the background for the next several hours or days.
One added benefit to backing up your Dropbox (or wherever) photos on Photos is that Google will still work its collage and animation magic, even with years-old pictures in a giant batch update.
Amazon Prime Unlimited Photo Storage
Same sort of drill here; just download the Cloud Drive desktop app and sign in with your Amazon account. You’ll be shown a variety of folders you can opt to back up or not (Pictures, Movies, Documents, Movies, Desktop). To get to your select cloud photos folder, though, you’ll have to either drag and drop from your desktop or select Browse to upload.
From there, you’re once again free to go about your non-backup business, secure in the knowledge that your photos will, after a long upload period, be doubly secure.
And you’re set! Other than the sitting around and waiting for various uploads and downloads to happen in the background, you can make a picture-perfect replica of your photo collection in just a few minutes. Time well spent, if it means a better chance of holding onto a lifetime a memories.
Oh, and seriously, put them all on a hard drive, too. Just, you know, whenever you get around to it.