Online backup options for photographers

Glenn Fleishman
31 May, 2011
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Advancements in digital photography have made it easier than ever for you to protect your images with regular backups from a home or work computer to an external hard drive. But for on-the-go photographers, augmenting that setup with an online service so you can back up from the field and on the road is important.

Send it home with the Eye-Fi

Your photos are at greatest risk right after you’ve taken them, but before you’ve transferred them to another location. If you’re unable to immediately offload images to your backup disk, you may find a wireless upload system like the Eye-Fi useful.

With models ranging from US$49.99 to US$119.99, the Eye-Fi is an SD card with built-in WiFi radio. After you shoot, the card uses a secured WiFi network you’ve preconfigured, or one of Eye-Fi’s for-fee hotspot locations, to upload your photos. You can wirelessly upload photos to 25 different image-sharing sites – including Facebook, MobileMe  and Flickr – or to a computer, depending on the way you’ve configured your setup. Every Eye-Fi model can transfer JPEGs and several kinds of movie files and the most expensive card – the Pro X2 – can also handle Raw files.

The Eye-Fi has a built-in WiFi radio so you can upload photos wherever you are

If you want to upload selectively, you can configure the software to transfer only images and video that have been tagged.

To access your photos from the web, for sharing or online backup, you can use the Eye-Fi View service. Seven days of your upload history are included at no cost if you own an Eye-Fi card, while a year’s worth of unlimited storage and photo – and video – sharing costs US$49.99.

Sync to the cloud

Cloud syncing services – which allow you to wirelessly transfer and store data online – have become both affordable and popular in the last few years. With Dropbox or SugarSync, you can store a copy of your photo library, duplicate individual images, or even upload pictures from your iOS device.

You can store up to 2GB of your files and photos on Dropbox for free

Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, and charges US$9.99 per month for 50GB or US$19.99 per month for 100GB. By default, Dropbox backs up older versions and deleted files for 30 days; if you’re a paying user, you can enable the Pack-Rat option in Preferences to keep these files forever.

SugarSync has a 30-day free trial with 30GB of storage or a 5GB free plan. For-pay plans start at US$4.99 per month for 30GB and go up to US$39.99 per year for 500GB. Deleted files are kept indefinitely.

Share and archive

While a photo-sharing service isn’t the most reliable primary backup method, it does provide an excellent supplemental prong in your backup attack.

A free account from Flickr isn’t the ideal backup option, because it lets you retrieve only your 200 most recent uploads. The IS$24.95 per year Flickr Pro gives you complete downloadable access to your full photo collection and provides unlimited photo and HD video uploads. Flickr stores the original file in GIF, JPEG, or PNG format; other file types are converted to JPEG for storage.

Unless you request that the company erase your account, Flickr Pro retains your full photo collection – even if you don’t renew the membership.

If you move services, everything you add to Flickr can be extracted, along with its image metadata. Third-party printing service Qoop can create DVD backups from your Flickr data for US$14.99  per CD or US$19.99 per DVD; our collection of over 9,000 photos would theoretically fit on just five DVDs.

Flickr Pro gives you complete access to your full photo collection

SmugMug offers three for-pay options: Basic (US$5 per month), Power (US$8 per month), and Pro (US$20 per month). All accounts allow unlimited uploads of JPEG, PNG and GIF images; the Power and Pro accounts support any HD video shorter than 10 minutes.

You can download each uploaded gallery in full by clicking the Download All option from a generated email link. Of the non-standard image formats, SmugMug also offers SmugVault, which will back up Raw files, PSDs and videos.

SmugMug charges a fixed US$1 per month in addition to separate storage and data-transfer fees. Each gigabyte of storage alone will cost US$0.22; to move photos into storage, it’ll cost US$0.30 per gigabyte; to copy them out, you’ll pay another US$0.51 per gigabyte.

Double the backup, double the fun

If you want to make sure your images and other files are secure from multiple angles, you can use Code 42 Software’s CrashPlan to back up your computer both locally and online.

The CrashPlan software is free for making local backups of your photos to an external hard drive; the company’s for-pay service, CrashPlan+, adds additional features to the software such as scheduling options and better encryption, but more significantly, it gives you Internet-based storage.

CrashPlan lets you back up your entire Mac online

Storing up to 10GB online from a single computer starts at US$2.50 per month, while unlimited storage for one computer is US$5 per month and unlimited backup for two to 10 computers runs US$12 per month. (Sign up for a one-year or longer contract and you can greatly reduce the monthly fees.)

Using CrashPlan’s Backup Sets option, however, you can store a full clone of your computer on an external drive and only send the bare essentials over the Internet so as to reduce your storage and bandwidth costs.

If you’d like a clone of your entire drive to be stored online, you can pay US$125  to US$165 for Code 42 to send you an empty 1TB drive for your initial backup (the cost varies by shipping). After filling the drive, ship it back, and the company will seed your archive with those files.

If you need to restore a file from the online backup, you can use the CrashPlan software to bring it back to your computer; if you want a full hard copy of your files, you can pay a fee (similar to the cost of cloning, depending on shipping) for Code 42 to ship up to 1TB of compressed files back to you.

Back up before it’s too late

It’s likely you’re accumulating gigabytes to tens of gigabytes of photographs and video a month if you’re shooting or recording regularly. Even if you habitually toss out bad images and clips, the rest of your collection will need some sort of protection.

Accidents happen. If you don’t protect your photos, you might suddenly find yourself bereft of your digital memories.

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