Cloud Photo Storage & Backup for Photographers

Storing and backing up your photos in the cloud is now a viable option. But not every cloud storage service is a good fit for serious photographers. Here's a rundown of some of the best options.
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Online photo storage backup in the cloud is coming of age. It’s now viable to include cloud storage as part of a broader strategy for backing up your large image archive. But there are still some challenges that relate specifically to serious photographers’ needs, and those are what I’m focusing on here.

Services like Dropbox and iCloud are wonderful for smaller amounts of data and everyday syncing. But if you’re counting your RAW files in the thousands, they don’t really cut the mustard.

There are other options that do. Some are fully automated with an app that runs in the background of your computer and automatically handles the backup process. They’re essentially set-and-forget services. Others provide server space for you to manually upload your files to. Some offer encryption; some don’t. Some give you easy and quick access to your images; some don’t.

What the “best” option is for you depends on the specifics of your workflow, how much control you want, whether you want to back up every photo or just the keepers, how much security you need, and how much you’re willing to spend. There’s no one single service that is going to be a perfect fit for every photographer’s workflow and preferences. There’s a lot of information below, but it’s worth taking some time to find the solution that works best for you. Some services offer free trials, which is a great way to see whether it’s a good fit without committing your whole workflow down a particular path.

Quick Recommendations for Cloud Photo Storage & Backup

There’s no “right” answer to which option is best. But if you’re looking for guidance, here’s what I’d recommend based on my own experience of trying a bunch of different alternatives over the years. I have much more detail on these further down the page.

If you just want to keep things simple: Backblaze or Carbonite are both worth a look. These are general backup services that are simple, reliable, and cost-effective. These are a good first layer of cloud backup, and they’re great options for an off-site backup of your computer–not just your photos and videos. For extra security, you can add an optional extended version history on Backblaze, increasing the standard 30-day saving of old versions or deleted files to 1 year or forever.

If you want other features geared more specifically to photographers: Photoshelter or, if you’re already using Zenfolio or SmugMug, add the optional online storage add-ons they offer. I personally use PhotoShelter and have been doing so since they started. Their service includes much more than just rock-solid cloud storage, including portfolio websites and storefronts for licensing digital images and selling prints.

If you want maximum control: Amazon S3, Amazon Glacier, or Microsoft Azure. The one I’m now using is BackBlaze B2. These are all very powerful cloud storage services that aren’t limited specifically to image files, which gives you that high level of control, but by themselves they’re backend services, which means that you’ll need to find or develop a way to interface with them (more details on that below).

1. Backup 2. Backup 3. Backup

The standard recommendation–and one that I agree with–is that the minimum threshold for having your data “backed up” means that you have at least three copies of your files and that they should not be all in the same place and on the same media. More than three can be even better so long as it doesn’t become so onerous to keep track of everything that the backup system falters–there is a point at which managing multiple backups can become a chore that starts becoming a negative. But aiming for a minimum of three backups provides a good target.

In addition to your main working files, you should have at least one local backup on something you can hold in your hand, like an external hard drive, Blu-ray discs, DVDs, or, maybe even tape. Something like Time Machine on Mac is a good place to start. Those backups are convenient as your first line of defense and are the most convenient to restore from if you need to. But there’s not a single media type that provides a perfect long-term storage solution. Hard drives fail. Blu-ray discs and DVDs get scratched and are mostly unproven over time. Tape isn’t really practical or cost-effective in many cases. And pretty much all physical media formats are susceptible to bit rot over time. Formats also change–floppy disks, anyone? And when was the last time you broke out a tape drive? So you need something else as well.

That something else should be off-site. If your house or studio burns down and reduces your computer and the fancy network drive sitting next to it to a heap of molten plastic and metal, you’re in trouble. There are all sorts of ways to keep an off-site backup. One of the easiest is to swap out periodically out a hard drive that’s kept physically elsewhere, like the office, at home, or even with the in-laws. Basically, you want it to be somewhere that isn’t going to burn if your house burns down or a hurricane floods your house. The hardest part of that, of course, is the doing it part. There’s no real way to automate it, and skipping the swap out for a few months could lead to a lot of lost data.

In recent years, fast internet connections and exponentially cheaper data storage costs have made it more viable to use online cloud storage as an added off-site option. They can be very effective, often easy to use, and can be surprisingly cost-effective.

That said, I don’t recommend relying on any online cloud storage as your primary or only form of backup for your images. Most of the time, these services are very reliable. But there are just too many things you don’t control to put all of your eggs in one basket. The internet goes down. Servers get hacked. Monthly subscription fees don’t get paid. Terms of service get revised without notice. Companies go belly-up (like Digital Railroad in 2008 or both BigStash and Photokeeper in 2015) or bought out by Facebook (like Instagram). In short, cloud backups are good options for including as one part a broader backup strategy, but they aren’t a backup strategy in and of themselves.

Peter Krogh The Dam BookIf you’re looking for more detailed discussion of overall strategies for backing up and managing your images, Peter Krogh’s The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers is a great place to start.

Usage Scenario for Comparing Cloud Photo Storage

Before we get started, I should explain what expectations I’m using in the discussion below, because there are a bunch of different ways that photographers might want to integrate the cloud into their workflow.

The real-world benchmark I’m using here is backing up 1TB of RAW files.1 Of course, many of us have far more than that. But 1TB suggests you’re a serious shooter and not just taking the occasional family snapshots in JPG. You need something more flexible and robust than posting your photos on Facebook.

I’m specifying RAW files for several reasons. One is that many pro and serious shooters shoot RAW.2 Another is that they tend to be large files and create large archives.3 Another is that some of the dedicated photo backup solutions explicitly exclude RAW–there are many more options for backing up JPG images than RAW, but if a service supports RAW, it also supports JPG. And most importantly, protecting your RAW files is analogous to protecting your film negatives. They are the archival masters and can’t be replaced if lost.

I’m also going to assume that you have a fast broadband connection. Don’t even think about online backup of large photo archives if you’re on dial-up or flaky wifi. And storing large amounts of data on the cloud only really makes sense where you don’t have metered internet usage. If you’re somewhere like Australia, where metered internet plans are common, the costs of just uploading the data over broadband could well end up being prohibitive before you even start thinking about storage costs.

But assuming you have a fast broadband connection that isn’t metered and that doesn’t include bandwidth caps, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the initial upload of 1TB to online cloud storage is going to take a while regardless of what option you go with. I don’t mean go-grab-a-coffee long. I mean days or weeks. But with some services, it’s unacceptably long (i.e., months or years). So it’s worth knowing what type of service you’re getting ahead of time. Once that initial upload is done, the day-to-day delays in uploading are usually much more manageable because they should just do an incremental backup of any data that’s new or updated.

And finally, all of the options I’ve outlined below work on both Mac and Windows.

Prices change. The prices I’ve used below are accurate to the best of my knowledge at the time of writing, but you should confirm them directly with the service or software provider before handing over your credit card details.

Cloud Photo Storage Services

A number of sites and apps catering their offerings specifically to photographers include robust online backup features.

Photoshelter

Photoshelter used to market itself as a bullet-proof backup service for your images (hence the name, presumably). At one time, it had its own curated stock photo business (Photoshelter Collection), but that’s long gone. These days its marketing leans more heavily on web portfolios. And it’s much more full-featured than just backing up. Among its other built-in features are functions for selling, showcasing, sharing, and organizing your images. But their backup remains as solid as it ever has.

Photoshelter is designed specifically for image files. Support for RAW files is included by default. It does not currently support video files–it has been talked about for many years, but I’m not holding my breath. After an aggressive and extensive update several years ago caused too much backlash and upheaval to customer workflows, Photoshelter has become painfully slow on updating. Thankfully, though, the core service is solid.

Photoshelter backups are not automated, and so it isn’t a set-and-forget service. You manually upload files to the system. There are several ways to upload files, including through the web interface, by FTP, through a Lightroom export or publish service, or through PhotoMechanic.

They have a few different plans that vary by features and image storage. The Pro plan now includes unlimited storage for $49.99/month. Other fees are involved if you take advantage of their e-commerce services.

I’ve used Photoshelter for over a decade now. And while I don’t tend to regard them primarily as a data backup service, I do store some master RAW files in the system alongside many more master TIFs, and I’ve always found its data storage to be fast, reliable, and accessible. It’s also a very useful way to serve responsive photo galleries if you’re using an external website or blog (so long as your external site isn’t on HTTPS). They’ve been promising to renew their efforts to make improvements, but in recent years that has been rather slow going.

Zenfolio

Zenfolio is another full-featured online photography service to help you showcase and sell your photos.

By default, the regular Zenfolio subscription options include minimal RAW file storage (up to 2GB for Unlimited, Premium, and Premium Business accounts/none for the Basic Plus plan). But you can add it as an optional extra. You’re charged for it on top of your regular subscription fee.

Prices are on a per-usage basis and vary slightly by location. In US dollars, it’s $0.085/GB/month. So backing up 1TB will be $85 per month.

The backup isn’t automated–you have to manually upload the files you want to back up.

General Cloud Backup Services

There are also many general backup services designed for most other file types that work just as well with RAW files. Some are better than others for our purposes of backing up a large archive of RAW images.

Carbonite

Thanks to a healthy marketing budget, Carbonite is one of the best known of the online backup services. It works with most file formats, including RAW files. It uses a backup app that runs in the background on your computer to automate the process.

For a while, Carbonite choked upload speeds. They’ve now done away with those and offer 3 unlimited plans which varying degrees of features and priced accordingly. The Basic Plan is $72/year but doesn’t include backing up external hard drives (you can add that as an option–and extra–service). If you want to add that feature as included, as well as being able to backup multiple computers (a desktop and a laptop, for example), you’ll need to step up to the $288/year plan.

When you install the app, not all file types are included by default in all plans. But you can change that in the settings.

Backblaze

Backblaze is an automated set-and-forget online backup service. It works with most file formats, including RAW files. The Backblaze app is native to PC or Mac and does not use Java (some people, like me, prefer not to use Java apps).

Now that Carbonite has abandoned its mandatory bandwidth throttling, Backblaze and Carbonite are very similar in terms of core features–unlimited backup, unlimited restores, fully automated, and a flat fee. But I find Backblaze to be much cheaper for the functionality I need.

How much you can upload each day will depend on your internet connection. I routinely get upwards of 200GB per day on my fast connection. You can also manually throttle the speed if you’re having network issues, and you can turn off backups when you’re running a laptop on battery power.

Backblaze also includes fine-grained controls over what files get backed up, scheduling when they are backed up, and notifications.

And one of the great features of Backblaze for backing up RAW files is that you can backup external hard drives as part of the standard service–it’s not an optional extra and doesn’t add an extra fee. So long as those drives are connected to your system at least once every 30 days, they’ll be treated just like the rest of your storage. If you’re using something like a NAS, that’s a very useful feature. It supports USB, Firewire, and Thunderbolt external drives but not ethernet-connected network drives.

Restoring a smallish amount of data by downloading is convenient and quick. When you log in to your account online, you’re given a familiar file browser. You can browse for the files you need or search. You can also specify a timeframe within the past 30 days for when the files were backed up, which can come in very handy if you’ve accidentally overwritten files. Once you choose the files you want to restore, they’re zipped up, and you’re sent a direct link to download the zip file. There’s no specified maximum file size for download restoring, but the larger the restore size, the longer it takes in the queue. The largest I’ve done was about 60GB; it took about 24 hrs to be sent the download link. The download link for smaller restores usually gets sent within minutes.

If you need to restore larger amounts of data, you have two further options that are shipped to you: by USB Flash drive (up to 128GB / $99) or external hard drive (up to 3TB / $189, refunded if you return the drive within 30 days). While shipping the data might sound like a slow way to get your data, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s faster than downloading a 3TB restore.

I’ve been using Backblaze since 2009 and have been very happy with it. I’ve had to use the download restore for smaller batches of files many times and have used the hard drive option to restore a large archive when an external drive crashed. More recently, I’ve also added their B2 service into the mix of my automated backup routine.

Backblaze has a very simple pricing structure. It’s $7/month per computer with discounted rates if you pay for a year or two up front.4 There’s also a business plan that’s a flat-rate $50 per year per computer. All plans include unlimited data storage.

There’s also a mobile app that you can use to access your files on the go.

And unlike many of the other online backup offerings that use Amazon’s or Rackspace’s cloud storage, Backblaze maintain their own datacenter and have custom-designed their own storage pods.

CrashPlan

CrashPlan is another general backup service that handles most file formats, including RAW. It’s an automated service, with a Java app running in the background on your computer.

For a monthly subscription (with discounts if paid yearly), you get unlimited online storage. You can back also back up external drives. And as an extra precaution against accidental deletions, they also keep all of your deleted files unless you explicitly tell them not to. That can come in very handy if you discover a few days later that you accidentally deleted something.

They used to offer a consumer version known as CrashPlan Home for $5/month, but they’ve now shifted their focus to business clients. The CrashPlan for Small Business plan is a flat rate of $10 per month per computer or file server.

CrashPlan also offers a seeded backup option where they send you a hard drive, which you fill up and send back to them to get the backup started. It can save a lot of time with that initial backup. The seeded backup service includes return shipping.

And if you need it, there’s also the option of restoring your data by them sending you a hard drive with the data loaded on it. There’s a charge of $164.99 for that.

PolarBackup

PolarBackup is a newer service based in the United Kingdom; I haven’t personally tried it yet. They have a few different products. The Personal product is an automated set-and-forget backup service that offers similar functionality to Backblaze and Carbonite, with unlimited backup to the cloud on Amazon’s AWS infrastructure. It’s also aiming to beat the other services on price, with a $4/month personal plan (when paid annually). Their Business plans are priced according to storage capacity, starting with 1TB, and are again very competitively priced.

Zoolz

Zoolz has changed some of their offerings. What was once known as Zoolz Home now seems to be BigMIND Home. A key difference is that the new version has a discovery layer built over the top that uses artificial intelligence to make it easier to find and sort your data. That includes photo detection and image recognition for search and smart filters. The backend storage is on Amazon’s AWS service, but what I can’t find with the new version is information about storage limits and capacity.

They also offer more conventional cloud storage that they’re categorizing with their business products.

Google Drive

Google eased into the cloud storage market surprisingly slowly. Their Google Drive offering started mostly as a way to integrate Google Docs and to sync documents so that they could be available on all your computers and devices. Initially, the storage space it offered was good but not enough to back up photo archives.

That’s changed. Google Drive now offers very large storage space plans at very reasonable prices. The 1TB plan is $9.99 per month [Note: Since I originally wrote this, Dropbox has matched this 1TB plan.] Even the 10TB plan is a very reasonable $49.99 per month. And you can go all the way up to 30TB ($149.99/month).

And in a nice touch, Google Drive even has built-in support for generating RAW previews.

Google Drive works with an app that gets installed on your computer that automates the sync process. Your files are then available on your hard drive, through the website, as well as on your mobile devices.

But there is a big catch when it comes to backing up large image archives. You have only limited control over which folders are synced–it all has to go in a Google Drive folder on your computer, and everything under that gets synced. That means you can’t back up external hard drives or network drives.

And be careful if you want to use the same Google Drive account on more than one computer. By default, Google Drive mirrors the same folders on all your computers as well as with the online version. So if you’re not careful, you can very easily end up creating a duplicated 1TB (or larger) archive on both computers. That’s great for having redundant backups, but your laptop might hate you for it. There’s some control over excluding folders from sync to that particular computer in the Google Drive app’s preferences (under the Sync Options tab), but for now, it’s not very flexible.

Google has also launched a Google Cloud service that is exponentially more powerful and also more complicated. It’s more akin to Amazon’s AWS ecosystem, and while it can be used for simple file storage, that’s not really the most sensible use case for it.

Dropbox

Dropbox’s offerings have been evolving periodically. The current plans for individuals that are relevant here are the Plus (2TB for $11.99/month) and the Professional (3TB for $19.99/month). They also have business plans, some of which include unlimited storage, that are priced by the number of users.

Dropbox’s core strengths are geared toward file syncing and more general backup, but the ability to be able to select which folders are backed up and synced makes it a useful option for backing up photo archives. It can also be a very straightforward way to quickly share images and files with clients on an ad hoc basis.

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft is another one that storage plans that are somewhat of a moving target as they evolve. The current 1TB plan is now known as Office 365 Personal and is priced at $6.99/month. For larger amounts of storage space, you’ll need to step up to the business plans which are priced by user.

The plans are packed with features, but many of them might not be relevant to what you need for backing up photos. If you already have a OneDrive account or are looking for a one-stop cloud for business use, it’s worth a look, but it makes less sense to head in that direction just for backing up files.

SugarSync

SugarSync is another all-purpose automated sync and backup service. It works with most file formats, including RAW files. It’s similar to Dropbox in many respects.

SugarSync offers plans with higher data storage quotas. Their Business plan with 1TB of storage space is $55/month. As with Dropbox, you’ll want to carefully select the syncing options so that you don’t unintentionally back everything up to your laptop as well.

SOS Online Backup

SOS Online Backup has a lot of very attractive features, including affordable price plans, strong end-to-end encryption, what they call “infinite storage,” no file size or type limits, as well as version history and archiving. It also works by default with external drives and network drives (NAS) and doesn’t require the drives to be connected after they’re backed up. There are also mobile apps for accessing and manually backing up data. Like several of the others, there’s a sync service app that runs in the background, and you can set the schedule of when it runs.

It has plans for a single computer or bundles of five computers. You can find more info here

But there are two areas I have concerns about. One is that it’s hard to cancel your account–there’s no easily identifiable way to do so through the online dashboard. Another is that there’s no obvious way to contact support. These are both important negatives in my book.

GoPro Cloud Service

This is a special case for photographers or videographers shooting with GoPro cameras. GoPro has their own cloud backup service that’s one of the core features of their subscription service (it has been known at various times as GoPro PLUS or just GoPro). It includes unlimited cloud storage, and you can backup from the mobile app, directly from the camera, or via the web. It’s especially useful to for automatic wireless uploads of photo and video files directly from your camera.

It only works with GoPro cameras. You can buy a subscription separately, or it is sometimes included as part of a bundle deal when you buy a camera directly from GoPro.com. You can find more details about it here.

Making Your Own Cloud Storage Solution

If you’d rather have fine-grained control, you can also roll your own backup solution.

While it’s possible to host your own server as a data backup, creating a standalone, robust backup solution is often more trouble than it’s worth. But if you have a secure off-site location for a server, funds for hardware, and the technical chops to set it up and maintain it, it’s certainly possible.

A good middle ground is to use a hybrid solution of using commercial storage space with your own syncing and backup routine. That way, you can use something like rsync or any number of other sync apps running locally on your computer (Syncovery, ChronoSync (Mac), Acronis True Image (Windows), and Cloudberry Desktop are all worth a look).

Rolling your own backup solution gives you the most control over what gets backed, when, and how much it costs. But it also means that if everything goes pear-shaped, it’s up to you to fix it.

Amazon Cloud Storage

Amazon offers two cloud storage options that are suitable for backing up images. Many of the automated backup services use Amazon S3 or Amazon Glacier for their data storage. And there’s no reason you can’t use them directly yourself.

Amazon S3

Amazon S3 is scalable data storage. Have 4 petabytes of images to back up and a large budget? Go for it!

You pay for the data storage you use as well as for uploading, downloading, and accessing the files. Setting it up is more complicated than setting up one of the automated backup services, but once you’ve got it set up how you like, it’s very flexible, very reliable, very fast, and in the right circumstances, can be quite cost-effective. It can also be a useful way to send large files to clients, and when set up correctly, can essentially serve as a practically infinite cloud drive.

If you’re setting up Amazon S3 for the first time, though, take a careful look at the pricing structure and monitor your usage closely, at least at first. It’s easy to get sticker shock if you go hog wild in that first month as you experiment by uploading hundreds of gigabytes. There are several variables that go into determining the costs of S3, but in the most basic version, with 1TB of data stored, adding another 60GB during the month, and not doing any restores will set you back something like $30. Restoring 50GB will increase the total monthly price to something like $34. Restoring 1TB of data would increase the total to around $146. You can find the official Amazon S3 pricing here.

One option that’s worth looking at if you want to go the S3 route is their Reduced Redundancy option. That slightly reduces Amazon’s guarantee that your files are safe while also reducing the price. And when I say “slightly,” I mean it. As Amazon explains it: “Amazon S3 standard storage is designed to provide 99.999999999% durability and to sustain the concurrent loss of data in two facilities, while RRS is designed to provide 99.99% durability and to sustain the loss of data in a single facility.”

Using the same scenario above (1TB of data, 60GB going in), it would be about $25 (compared with $30 on regular S3), and adding 50GB restore would increase it to about $29 (compared with $34 on regular S3). Restoring 1TB of data would increase the total to around $146.

Amazon Glacier

If you’re aiming for a true backup system where you don’t need rapid access to the files themselves and very, very rarely need to restore them, Amazon Glacier might be a better option. It’s similar to S3, but it’s a stripped-down version and is, therefore, cheaper, with the storage price running at $0.01 per GB. Like Amazon S3, for all intents and purposes, it is limitless data storage.

But with that cost-saving comes a disadvantage of there being a lag between you requesting files and actually getting them, unlike with S3, where the files are constantly accessible. Glacier gets its name from cold storage, which is not designed for anything destined for rapid use.

The pricing structure of Glacier factors in several variables, but it’s basically 1 cent per GB for storage. Assuming you back up 1 TB of data and don’t retrieve or restore any of it, it comes out at $10/month. Unlike S3, there’s no charge for uploading data to Glacier–you’re only charged when you download data. But that’s where Glacier can really hit you. There’s a sliding scale for the prices, depending on how quickly you need your data. While there’s no cost for uploading to Glacier, downloading involves both a retrieval cost and a transfer cost. In a worst-case scenario, when you need 1TB back urgently within 4 hours, it’ll set you back in the neighborhood of $1900. If you can wait 24 hours, it drops down to just over $400. If you can wait 72 hours, it’s down in the $200 range. In short, Glacier is very cost-effective for storing large amounts of data that you rarely access, but it can be expensive if you ever need to retrieve that data quickly. You can find the official Glacier pricing here and an unofficial calculator here.

Backblaze B2

The folks at Backblaze have launched their own cloud storage service, called B2. It’s functionally similar to Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure but with much lower fees and costs–about 1/4 of the cost of S3.

It’s now open to everyone. One important consideration is that while more and more third-party software is starting to support it–including some of my favorite go-to apps like Transmit and ChronoSync–not all of them do. So it’s worth checking first to see if your preferred apps already play nicely with it.

Amazon Cloud Drive

While Amazon Cloud Drive has itself been around for a little while now, they’ve fairly recently made a play to position it as a place to store your photos with Prime Photos. Their offerings change–it started as unlimited photos and has more recently started adding limits–and it’s not suitable (or designed) for professional use.

Wasabi

Wasabi is a newer cloud service. Their headline claim is that they’re “80% cheaper than Amazon S3.” Or, more explicitly: “Wasabi’s pricing model of $.0059 per GB/mo ($5.99 per TB/month) with no additional charges for egress or API requests means you don’t pay to access your data.” That model can be particularly attractive if you’re accessing the backup data a lot. Services like Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud would charge you for accessing and downloading the files, but Wasabi doesn’t.

In several ways, it’s similar to Amazon S3 but cheaper and with a more user-friendly interface. Their service is fully S3-compatible, which extends to plugins and services, and they’re very transparent with their pricing. In addition, the pedigrees of the people behind it, as well as its performance claims and pricing makes it well worth watching. They have a 30-day free trial that lets you store up to 1TB.

Other Options for Cloud Photo Storage

Here are some of the many other cloud backup services that are potentially of interest for this type of use but that I haven’t yet had a chance to take a good look at.

  • Internxt is a cloud file storage service that puts a heavy emphasis on privacy and security (they call themselves a “zero-knowledge” file storage service). Your files are encrypted before they’re uploaded, so there’s no way for anyone to access unencrypted versions on the cloud server–not even the service techs. This is the first of what is intended to become a family of privacy-focused products. The first 2GB is free. And the prices are very competitive. The 2TB personal plan paid month to month is around $12 (prices are in Euros, so the conversion to USD fluctuates a bit), and you can get a discounted rate for paying annually. Interestingly, there’s also a Lifetime plan that is good value in comparison to setting up your own local storage (eg. about $585 for 10TB Lifetime storage). And there are desktop and mobile apps, as well as a web interface. They also have business plans for multiple users.
  • Tresorit is a general data cloud backup service. It’s a Swiss service that puts emphasis on security, encrytion, and privacy. A single user account with 1TB is $30/month. They have multi-user accounts that can work out cheaper on a per-user basis.
  • SpiderOak is another general backup service that puts emphasis on privacy. They have single-user plans for 1TB for $12/month.
  • Box used to be known as Box.net, and in that form, they were actually one of the earliest players in the space. I haven’t tried them recently, though. The personal plans are limited to 100GB, but their business plans come with unlimited space for $15/user/month.

Not Recommended

There are many other alternatives for cloud storage, each with its own pros and cons. Most of the services listed below are very good in their own way and are well-suited to other purposes. But in terms of backing up large archives of RAW image files, they have shortcomings.

  • PhotoDeck. There’s a lot to like about PhotoDeck, and it’s been coming along in leaps and bounds in the past several years. For a long time, PhotoDeck didn’t support RAW files, but they do now. Now the only reason I’m keeping it in the “not recommended” column is because of the storage space limits that come with the plans. The top plan, at $100-$120/month, includes 500GB of storage. Lower plans include 100GB or 300GB. For selling and sharing images, that’s probably plenty. But it’s not really designed for archival backup.
  • Flickr. Flickr can accept RAW files (they’re converted to JPG), but it’s not well suited to archiving large numbers of photos for the purposes of backup. It’s really designed for sharing, not archiving.
  • 500px. There’s a lot to like, but it doesn’t support RAW. It’s really designed for sharing and showcasing, not archiving.
  • Photobucket. Doesn’t support RAW files. It’s really designed for sharing, not archiving.
  • Facebook. The world’s biggest photo-sharing site doesn’t support RAW and isn’t suitable for large-scale backup.
  • Google+. While Google+ had a good reputation as a more photographer-friendly social media platform than Facebook, and it did indeed accept RAW files (and is especially good at converting them to JPGs), it has now been shuttered. Google Drive is a better bet [see above].
  • JungleDisk has moved away from consumer use and is now aimed more at businesses. While they can still act as an intermediary service connecting to cloud storage providers like Dropbox and Google Drive, they’ve branched out into other areas. So it’s not really a good fit for backing up photos anymore—at least, not in any straightforward sense.

Come & Gone

There have been a number of services that have launched with much fanfare but failed to stick around. Normally, I wouldn’t mention them, but I’ll list some of the notable ones here for two reasons: in part as a matter of record in case people are looking for services they’ve heard about by name, and in part to underline the point that relying on third-party services for your backups can involve the risk of the third-party service going belly-up.

  • Digital Railroad. In its day, Digital Railroad was very promising and quickly established a following amongst professional photographers. But a lot of photographers got burned badly when Digital Railroad folded very suddenly in 2008.
  • Mozy. Carbonite bought Mozy in 2018 and subsequently shut it down, presumably integrating Mozy’s existing customers into Carbonite’s service.
  • PictureLife was bought by SmugMug in 2016 and the standalone service was shut down.
  • SmugVault. SmugVault as a separate offering was shut down in 2016.
  • Wuala shut down at the end of 2015.
  • Mosaic. It was a Lightroom-specific service that was paired with an online backup archive service. At some point in late-2015 or early-2016, its website started to point to ON1’s main website, with no mention of what became of the archival service.
  • Photokeeper. Another promising beginning that failed to get enough users to make it a viable business, and it closed up shop in late-2015.
  • BigStash. A promising feature set was thwarted by business realities, and the company closed up shop in July 2015 before making it out of beta.
  • Photokeeper shut down in 2015.

  1. To be pedantic, 1TB actually equals 1024GB. Some of the plans of the services discussed above offer plans they specifically refer to as 1000GB plans. But for the purposes of this discussion, I’m using 1TB and 1000GB interchangeably. 
  2. Many sports shooters and photojournalists shoot in JPG. But chances are that any backup service that supports large numbers of RAW files will equally well support the massive JPG image archives those shooters generate. 
  3. There are ways to reduce the massive file storage requirements of RAW files. Some involve lossy compression; some use lossless compression. Many cameras offer a setting for saving compressed RAW files. After the fact, you can use specialized tools like Adobe’s DNG Converter or Rawsie to compress RAW files
  4. The rate for BackBlaze backup had been set at $5/month ($60 per year paid up front) for many years. In mid-August 2021, they increased it to $7/month ($70 per year paid up front or $130 for two years), citing massive growth in customer storage (that I can certainly understand). 
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60 Responses

  1. Hi David –

    Thanks for this very helpful information. I am looking for a freelancer to help me implement backup / synnchronization between 2 Drobo devices and the cloud. Can you recommend any people?

    1. I don’t have any specific recommendations, I’m afraid. But there’s not really anything particular about them being image files that would require a specialist in working with photos. They’re just files, after all. So any tech/computer person should be able to help. The only potentially tricky part would be if you’re also trying to synchronize something like a Lightroom catalog, especially if you’re hoping to be able to work with it from more than one device. But aside from that, it’s a matter of file synchronization, which is a relatively straightforward process for any computer tech worth their salt. If I can offer some advice based on my own trial and error over the years, though, it’s to ask them to keep things as simple as possible without getting too convoluted with fancy tricks or features. Convoluted tends to become a problem in a year or two when things change and you need to update/fix/change something about the backup system.

  2. Surprised I didn’t see Gsuite mentioned! It includes your own Google Drive, and although it’s only 30GBs for the $6 plan, from $12 and up you get 1TB, and if you’ve got more than 5 users, it’s actually unlimited space. It’s very limited, of course… but for archival purposes, it works, particularly if you’re uploading stuff that’s already been properly tagged and sorted.

  3. Hi David!

    What is your take on pCloud? They have the web and pCloud drive access options. This allows you to use pCloud drive from Finder on Mac as if it was a local drive. I personally am not looking for a backup, but rather a dedicated photo storage option and that is why backblaze will not work for me unfortunately. pCloud seems really easy to use and has excellent pricing options. Even a one time payment option for 500 GB or 2TB, I am so tempted to pull the trigger so I don’t have to worry about paying for that monthly. Until I need more that is LOL. Your article has been extremely helpful but you made no mention of pCloud and it seems like an excellent option so I’d love your thoughts. I decided to start with the free 10 GB plan to sample it first. Am really curious what your thoughts are before I purchase! Oh and they do support RAW, a number 1 requirement for me, they even support RAW image previews!

    1. It has been quite some time since I tried it, but I believe that it still does not support photo previews of RAW files. But for other purposes, it treats them as normal files.

  4. About six months ago I quit my job at private company and became a freelancer. I knew a lot of tips and tricks about cameras, photos editing, etc. But I had never worked with clients from the order beginning till the end, so I still had some issues that was unclear to me. Let’s say, I was confused about how to decently secure and share every file (photos, invoices, screenshot and others that contain sensitive information). At my work-place we had Tresorit and it was useful tool for our company, but I was not sure if I really need this one for one person only. So I read loot of reviews and recommendations, and finally found Nordlocker as an alternative for my files protection https://nordlocker.com. It grabbed my attention due to its super fast encryption for files of any type, so easy and simple to use. It can be used for free and encrypted files can be sent via email or whatever you like. I’m really satisfied with this one, not only me but also my clients are calm.

  5. Hi! The link to the detailed review of Amazon Prime Photo is #404. Is that article available? Being updated? No longer existing? Very curious about that service as I’m a long time Prime member. Thank you.

    1. Sorry about that. I originally wrote the article shortly after Prime Photo launched. With refinements and new features added to the service, the post became quite out of date and I haven’t had a chance to rewrite it.

  6. I’m looking at Backblaze B2 and I’m wondering exactly when you wrote that it is too new to recommend? I’m a professional hobbyist :) so I have somewhere around 1TB of files that I’m consolidating and backing up. It looks like Dropbox, OneDrive and many others max at 1TB of storage and B2 offers per GB payment plan which makes sense to me since I may be over 1TB but not looking at accumulating massive amounts of files anytime soon…
    Thanks!

    1. That was shortly after it launched while it was still in beta. Since then it’s exited beta and I’m using it as a routine part of my workflow. From my experience it has been rock solid–and a lot cheaper than Amazon S3.

  7. Hi David – have you heard of / used Pic-Time Curious of your assessment and if this is a product you would consider for cloud data storage specific for photographers?
    Someone recently recommended CrashPlan, however it seems your PhotoShelter may be your top recommendation for photographers?
    Thanks,
    Annette

    1. I haven’t used it, but from what I see it seems more geared toward portfolio and marketing rather than backup. But looks like an interesting option that I’ll try to take a closer look at.

      Crashplan and Backblaze are some examples of general backup apps. They’ll do everything, not just photos. Something like PhotoShelter is different in that it has the capability for large-scale manual backup of image files as well as a bunch of tools geared towards photographers sharing, selling, and backing up their photos.

  8. Am shopping for a web-based photo storage back up (I’m a professional) to supplement my external hard drive, and have read a couple of your reviews/articles ~ thanks for the wonderful information and comparisons. I wonder whether you have any thoughts on Pixieset? I have an account there after reading about it (which I’ve done nothing with as yet), but you’ve made no mention of it.
    My goals with a cloud-based system are to minimize the number of files on my hard drive when traveling, while still being able to access them to work on them, as well as to have a third, off-site back up. I do not do many photos for clients, so a portfolio for sharing isn’t important to me, and I use other methods for sharing in the case of family photos.
    Thank you for an input you can provide.

    1. While I haven’t used it, Pixieset is aimed more at a different problem: selling photos online and giving clients access to certain images. So it’s more of a portfolio and client area. To support that, they do offer storage with their paid plains, with 1TB being $40 a month and larger plans also available—they use Amazon cloud for their storage, so it’s very safe. You can only upload JPGs, not RAW.

  9. I am looking into cloud backup systems for an upcoming extended trip to asia, the only problem is that I am not bringing a laptop and from what I understand with most of the photography oriented systems you pay for an account on one computer, so you wouldn’t be able to upload to your account from any computer. Do you know of any way around this? I was hoping to upload 10 000+ RAW files to cloud storage over a 9 month period, as a backup system in case my memory cards and external harddrive get stolen while travelling. awesome post by the way!
    thanks, Shawn

    1. Most of these can also work simply through a web browser where you upload manually. Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft Onedrive are good all-purpose examples. But others like Smugmug or Photoshelter can also work perfectly well that way. It’s not always the quickest upload speeds through a browser, and you’ll be limited by the speed and reliability of the computer you’re using–that can be all over the place. You’ll also need to take the usual precautions when logging in from shared computers since you never know what else is installed on them. The portable backup devices haven’t really gotten with the cloud program yet. The new WD MyPassport Wireless Pro does cloud backups, but it’s not cheap and you’re limited to Adobe Creative Cloud storage, which isn’t a lot and is requires one of the more expensives Creative Cloud plans.

  10. It appears Picturelife service is gone (already on your not recommended list). The service simply stopped working over a week ago and they don’t answer e-mails or requests to download the backed up photos. Not a nice thing for them to do.

    1. Thanks for the tip. It looks like they had some hosting issues (discussed on their Twitter feed, but they were supposedly resolved. If you still can’t access the service there might be more to it. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that their “shiny new help center” leads to a 404.

  11. Nice review. Onedrive prise is a lot more interesting if you optin for a Office365 subscription for home. 1Tb for 5 users, and a pretty decent price of approximately 10USD a month..

  12. Check out http://www.photokeeper.net. New cloud photo backup service specially for photographers. Automated backups from multiple computers and devices, EXIF search in cloud, private albums and much more.
    Disclaimer: I am the developer :)

  13. I tested a lot of these services for exactly the same purpose, even used some for over a year (gDrive, Onedrive, Bitcasa, Picturelife, SugarSync, Zoolz, Crashplan, Backblaze, Flickr …). But I finally settled with Dropbox. Dropbox is a very matured company with a sustainable business model, I don’t have to change my Lightroom workflow for it because it backups my photos on a file level, it supports block-level sync, is very fast, stable and just reliable, Carousel is a nice addon for photography and I used Dropbox anyways for syncing files across mobile and other devices.

    Backblaze is a good choice if you have more than 1 TB to backup and/or want to pay less. But it has the downsides of actual just being a backup-service, $5/m is just one device, it’s not for sharing and collaboration work and (the most impotent downside) it’s very slow (at least in Europe). A fellow photographer friend of mine uses it and is just happy about it.

    1. Yes, I’ve been using Dropbox since they launched in 2008 and have used their paid plans for as long as they’ve offered them, and it’s great–but I use it for other things that require synching. But even with the 1TB plan I have, it’s not nearly enough storage for me to back up all my photos. And you’ve no doubt figured this out–but for anyone else reading this–Dropbox by default syncs to all your computers. You can selectively sync (here’s how) so that not everything gets copied to all your computers, but you have to proactively set that up. Otherwise you can find hundreds of megabytes (or more) of photos from your desktop trying to go onto the much smaller hard drive of your laptop. I also find that the Dropbox client app can really bring things to a grinding halt from time to time as it compiles its indexes and checks for updates. But as I said, I find Dropbox to be great as a synch service but I prefer not to use it as strictly a backup service.

    1. I’m afraid I haven’t really tried Mylio, and until I work with it properly I can’t square the talk of “all your photos” etc with the 25GB of cloud storage in the highest plan. With high resolution RAW files, that can be a morning’s worth of shooting. So I really need to play with it properly to understand what it is I’m missing.

  14. Thanks David for this great rundown of all the options.. . I’m trying to consolidate many different hard drives and computers with duplicate images and am hoping to find not only archiving software or cloud database, but also one that can help facilitate this process. Do any of these platforms allow for automated duplication deletion / comparison to archive only the high res? I also dream of an archive that can be searched visually with facial recognition or color/patterns as shown in these imprezzeo demos:

    Mostly I’ve been using lightroom so perhaps it’s best to sync with mosaic which I’ve just discovered through you. But a lightroom archive of 200,000 images seems like a nightmare. Also I’d like to avoid paying sizable monthly fees when it seems like others like amazon and flickr are offering so much storage for so little.. .

    Any thoughts on not only a storage solution but consolidation and search optimized platform as well?

    Thanks !Lars

  15. Another to look into for backup and sync is SpiderOak – the viewing online can be done, but it isn’t really for that. Its like backblaze in some ways, but for me much better. I have some folders that I sync between computers, some that I share with others, and then also have others purely for backup. The files are version tagged with the ability to retrieve previous versions. If you follow them on Facebook or twitter, they will occasionally have promotions for TBs of data or unlimited data in the $100-$200/yr range as well.

  16. I was all set to sign up to BackBlaze till i read this: ” Backblaze is not designed as an additional storage system when you run out of space. Backblaze mirrors your drive. If you delete your data, it will be deleted from Backblaze after 30 days.” I recently experienced this with another cloud service, and it’s my own fault for not reading the fine print. To my shock and horror after deleting some files from my computer, thinking they were ‘safe’, they had been deleted from the cloud when i deleted them from my drive….i am on the hunt for storage that will not only back up my files but keep files i want to delete from my drives to make space. I don’t know that it exists while also being affordable.

    1. Yes, Backblaze is a true backup service rather than cloud storage. For what you’re after, better bets will be things like Amazon S3 (perhaps with Jungle Disk if you want automation), Box.net, or Rackspace. In general, costs are determined by how much data you want to store and how often you’re accessing it.

    2. An interesting option that takes a different approach is something like PicBackMan. And I should also have mentioned Amazon Prime Photo, which I’ve reviewed here. PictureLife is also worth a look.

      1. Considering the reviews on PicBackMan I don’t think it stands as a reliable option…

        People are talking about a “black hole for online payments with no online way to cancel”

        1. Interesting–thanks. I haven’t really taken a good look at it, but thanks for the tip. That concept seems interesting, but that’s not the kind of reviews you want.

  17. Very very good post. Thank you for that =)

    Have you looked anything into automated cloud storage that syncs and runs on a nas? Now that would be something!

    1. Yeah, that would be nice. Rolling your own with a combination of something like rsync and Amazon S3 is always an option. I can’t think of any standard turnkey options (that aren’t in the enterprise level of pricing) that would fit the bill.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve added it above. While I find a lot to like, it still doesn’t quite work for me as a way of backing up and easily restoring large archives of photos. But that’s, of course, a subjective judgment, and its workflow might well suit some users.

  18. Microsoft OneDrive now offer 1TB storage, as you predicted, also with Office 365. What do you think of their offering? In a quick trial, OneDrive integrates with Windows Explorer with some background synchronization. The price as of December appears similar to other products you list.

    1. I’m afraid I haven’t tried it. But based on specs it does appear similar to some of the other options, as you say.

    2. Once OneDrive offered the unlimited storage option, it was the one for me. The unique part to OneDrive over the others is that you can access your photos from anywhere, as they have an app for most devices. I love having access to show my work everywhere I go.

    1. Revel is aimed more at snapshots, with all its marketing really targeting family photos. It has its virtues, but it’s not really the same kind of service as the ones above. It’s more like Google’s Picasa or what used to be Kodak Gallery (now Shutterfly).

  19. Wow…a lot of great information! Amazon Drive recently offered its Prime customers unlimited free photo storage including RAW files. I was testing it and it seems that folders can be uploaded but I see no way to select a particular folder for download. My choices seem to be an individual image or the entire group (in my case around 15k images). This is a huge disadvantage if I am correct. Have you had any experience with the branch of Amazon Drive? Thanks.

  20. Very happy to have found this. Thank you! I just started a long overdue external hard drive edit and reorganization project yesterday and am interested in adding cloud storage. Before reading this post I was interested in finding out more about Dropbox and Amazon but thanks to you I’m going to check out Backblaze.

    I have a couple questions if you don’t mind…If I am backing up my external hard drives to Backblaze will my files and folders appear the same in their browser as they do in mine? If I delete or add one folder or just a few images to my external hard drive will these changes automatically be made on Backblaze too? Does it automatically back up EVERYthing on my computer and external hard drives or would I have the ability to manually select what is backed up?

    1. Hi Cathy, Glad it’s useful. Some answers to your questions:
      – The file structure will be retained, so if you’re using folders or directories they’ll be retained when you go to find them through Backblaze in a web browser. You can also search by filename.
      – Yes, it automatically synchronizes, so if you move or delete a file from your local hard drive, that change will be mirrored on the Backblaze version. But Backblaze also saves previous versions, so if the deletion on your hard drive was unintentional you can go back and find the older version Backblaze.
      – When you install Backblaze it backs up most of your computer’s internal hard drive default. It doesn’t include some of the system files, etc. You can change which files it backs up in the preferences in the Backblaze app. You need to manually add external drives the first time (if I recall correctly–it’s been a while since I’ve had to do this), which is easily done by connecting the hard drive and simply checking a box in the Backblaze preferences.

      Hope this helps.

      1. p.s. My issue is the part where your external hard drive must be connected at least once in 30 days. There are times when the computer and hard drives are separated for more than 30 days…so I will have to come up with a different option.

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