The best way to back up a photo library

Doug Drinkwater
4 March, 2015
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Photo backup, help, macworld australiaIf you have treasured photographs, or you take photos for a living, you won’t want to lose them. We investigate the best options for backing-up your photos to avoid losing your treasured memories (or those of your client).


Apple’s iCloud comes baked in with iOS and, by and large, it doesn’t disappoint; you get 5GB of free storage, and photos are automatically backed up and synced across all your Apple devices – including your Mac, iPad and iPhone.

iCloud is easy for manage and iCloud Photo Sharing can be enabled to easily share and collaborate on photo albums. You can also manually sync photos to the cloud, although this can be cumbersome.


It is not faultless though; iCloud is ring-fenced in the Apple ecosystem and its security was famously exposed last October. For an extra $1.29 per month users receive 20GB; $4.99 for 200GB; $12.99 for 500GB and $24.99 for 1TB. 5GB is also not much considering this is per each Apple ID, which not ideal if you have an iPhone and iPad.

It is, however, a worthy contender in this list.

Remember: Should you want to disable iCloud’s auto-back-up feature, you must go to Settings, iCloud and disable My Photo Stream.

iCloud Photo Library

iCloud Photo Library is currently in beta, but you can set it up now. It stores every photo and video you take, making them accessible from your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and eventually your Mac once Apple launches Photos for Mac.

Once set up all the photos and videos you take will be stored in iCloud, so you will be able to access your library from any device, anytime you want.

Unlike with Photos in the Cloud, you aren’t limited to how many photos you can access (the cut for Photo Stream is still 1000, and that’s all you will get if you don’t update to iCloud Photo Library). You still get 5GB storage for free, but if you need more then prices start at $1.29 a month for 20GB.


Another benefit is that if you edit a photo on one device those changes will show up on the other devices.

iCloud Photo Library is limited by how much iCloud storage you have. If your photo library is huge and you don’t fancy opting for the 1TB iCloud storage option, just remember to open your Mac regularly to sync the images from the cloud. Also, while it’s in beta we wouldn’t recommend relying on it.


Dropbox is arguably the poster boy of cloud storage, and it’s easy to see why.

The service is available cross-platform, it is exceptionally easy to share links to albums and to use the desktop software to drag-and-drop files into. In addition, hi-res images are supported and there are no file size restrictions on Dropbox Business. It’s also very quick to enable the auto-uploading of photos (including over Wi-Fi or cellular when using a mobile app).


And while the amount of free storage (2GB) isn’t much, you can top this up by referring Dropbox to friends (500MB for each friend, up to 16GB in total) or completing the Getting Started tutorial (250MB). Uploading photos automatically nets another 3GB.

The new Carousel application is a neat dashboard for viewing, sorting and sharing images, while content is encrypted in transit and at rest.

Dropbox isn’t perfect, especially given the limited free data, and the inability to control how files are presented, but there are few cloud services this versatile.


Box offers more free storage than Dropbox with 10GB on joining, while the 100GB which arguably betters Dropbox’s offering. The web UI is simple and easy to organise, and it offers desktop sync software and strong security. Files are AES-256 encrypted in transit and at rest.

However, Box is badly let down by having no option to sync by default – instead, you must log in and specify which folders you want to upload.


Microsoft’s OneDrive might be a mainstay of Windows devices but it is a strong cross-platform service with numerous benefits.

For example, Office365 subscribers get 1TB of OneDrive storage, new users receive 15GB free and signing up for automatic back-up adds another 3GB. The service also promises full image back-up, and supports Two-Factor-Authentication (2FA), which is an extra security layer.


Google Drive/Google+

There are numerous advantages of using Google Drive for backing up photos; the prices are reasonable, there is unlimited storage for ‘standard’ image sizes, and a generous 15GB of free data, while you can tweak the quality of uploads using ‘Auto Awesome’ mobile apps. It also supports 2FA.

The disadvantages are that the 15 GB is spread across Gmail, Drive and Google+ Photos, full-size images cost money and you’ll need a Google+ account (which you’ll already have if you use Gmail).

Crucially, there’s no way to automatically upload photos from phone to Drive. You should instead use Auto Backup feature in G+ apps, which will send photos to your rarely-used G+ profile.


Backing up your photo gallery to iTunes is a viable alternative to iCloud, especially if you have a large number of files.

The process involves plugging your iOS device into your Mac/PC, selecting iTunes and clicking ‘This Computer’. However, these USB back-ups only happen when you sync your device, which some people rarely do.

It’s worth clicking the ‘Encrypt local backup’ option under the iTunes Backup option as this saves all account passwords from your iOS devices, removing the chance someone else will intercept them and restore your data – and account details – on their own device.

Hard drive

You can’t go wrong with an external hard drive, as it remains one of the most cost effective, secure and convenient way of backing up photos and other data.


You can pick-up a hard drive for reasonable prices. The larger you go the more likely the HDD will drag power from the mains and not USB 2.0 or 3.0. HDDs are extremely cost effective, reliable and simple to use. But they could equally be lost, stolen or corrupted.


There are various other services and products that will help you store photos, but you might not have thought – or come across – all of them.

Facebook, for example, offers 2GB of free data with uploads set to private. Its limited storage, and the image quality or privacy terms, are not ideal, but it remains an option.

Instagram is a more obvious choice as it lets you upload an unlimited number of photos and short videos for free, while Flickr offers a tempting 1TB and a slick interface for free (don’t expect to back-up videos).

SugarSync and Space Monkey are less obvious choices; the former has apps on every platform but is expensive, while Space Monkey neatly combines cloud and HDD in a 2TB HDD that is free for the first year.

And of course are also inexpensive optical discs (CD-ROM, DVD and Blu-ray), Flash memory sticks and thumb drives.


There are clearly a number of options to consider when backing up your iOS photos, but my choice would be Dropbox for automatic cloud sync with a hard disk drive in reserve should anything go wrong. Alternatively, you might prefer iCloud with iTunes.

In the meantime, we wait in anticipation for Apple’s iCloud Photo Library.


2 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Andy Carver says:

    The only backup solution worth using is an external Harddisk with time machine. All the other services you mentioned are syncing services. Delete one delete them all.

    Time machine is easy free and it works.

  2. Ben castan says:

    You can also use AWS glacier.. Costs almost nothing. Downside is the 4 hour retrieval time. But as an archive rather than a back up it is excellent.

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