Should I be Backing Up My Digital Photos to the Cloud?

By Zach McCabe in Art Tutorials > Photography Tips

We all know we should back up our computers. None of us seem to do it, however. To me, talking about backups is kind of like talking about flossing. . . Until it hurts no one wants to listen. Fair enough.

I, however, have already lost plenty data and have needed a few teeth drilled, too. Bad luck? Maybe. But if you—ahem—feel my pain, keep reading. :)

Most of us keep a couple of hard drives around to backup our photos. Nearly everyone has USB flash drives stashed in drawers, on key chains and under couch cushions.

But what about just uploading all your photos to the cloud? You could access your archived photos anywhere. You would have another layer of security for when your vintage hard drive finally dies.

In some cases using the cloud to augment your other backup strategies can be a great idea. But there are always pros and cons, especially depending on which service you use.

First, Flickr is great, but it’s not a backup tool

I’ll start by crossing off all of the well-loved photo sharing services we all tend to use. Flickr, Photo Stream, Adobe Revel, etc.

Most of us figure that photo sharing sites are a great way to back up our photos. After all, the pictures are online right? Well, not exactly. . .

Yes, everyone’s snapshots are magically transported by iCloud to Photo Stream; Adobe Revel is weird but promising; and Flickr—well, Flickr is both textbook, inspiration AND portfolio.

However, services like these aren’t designed to store data and are poor choices for backing up your pictures. File sizes are capped. Uploading and downloading your photos isn’t quick or easy.

In addition, there is no guarantee that a picture, or even your entire account, won’t be deleted without prior notice. (Always back up your backup. Always.)

So use them to share your pictures and NOT for a backup.

So what about the cloud you already have?

The usual suspects, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon, and plenty of others DO offer cloud storage that could be potentially useful.

The benefit to these types of services is that you are likely already using several of them already. The learning curve is negligible. The cost is low, or free.

In this case, it also doesn’t matter whether you are interested in uploading photographs or spreadsheets, because these solutions aren’t specifically tailored to photographers.

The interface might not be the easiest to navigate, and your data may or may not be encrypted. Your data will likely be capped at somewhere well under 10GB unless you start paying a subscription.

Meanwhile, how long would it take to upload (or download if your hard drive crashes) a terabyte-worth of photos if you needed to replace all of your photos?

There are still too many complications to make backing up to the cloud a mainline solution for photographers.

There are bigger, better clouds, but. . .

Even with the current problems of backing up photos to the cloud, it’s easy to imagine potential scenarios that do make sense. Out in the real world plenty of photographers have already incorporated the cloud into their workflow, just like everyone else.

Photographers use the cloud to archive portfolios, as a way to have yet another backup of their best work, and as a way to collaborate on projects with clients, editors and designers.

There ARE cloud storage solutions designed photographers and other creative professionals – PhotoShelter and Adobe’s Creative Cloud come to mind.

These options tend to cost more than some of the above-mentioned options because they include more specific, more powerful features, more storage space, and professional support.

These are typically marketed to people for whom photography is a business. If you already use Adobe products, or if you want to keep a few hundred gigs backed up in the cloud, it might be worth it.

Even so, these aren’t foolproof solutions.

No backup is foolproof, even an expensive backup. Just ask any grizzled old photographer-techie about how things went with Digital Railroad. (Always back up your backup. Always.)

My opinion is that the cloud is yet another handy tool.

Experimentation is quick and in some cases, cheap or free. Good companies, like the ones mentioned above, offer free 30-day trials of their products and services. While for most photographers it is still more practical and cost-effective to buy hard drives for backup, I think it is worth testing out strategies that incorporate cloud storage.

Try it and see if it’s potentially useful for whatever needs you envision.

Remember, though, that redundancy is the core concept with backing up your images. I’ll say it just one more time:

Always back up your backup. Always.


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