14 Foolproof Ways to Keep Your Photos Safe in the Cloud

Your photos are priceless, but photo storage is not.

Credit: Ben Keough
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A few weeks ago, I experienced every photographer's worst nightmare. My external hard drive got disconnected while I was in the middle of editing in Aperture, my data was corrupted, and a library repair failed. Suddenly, the more than 10,000 photos I'd been collecting since I was kid were gone.

I'm not a complete idiot—I had a backup. Unfortunately, it was six months out of date and missing hundreds of newer photos and videos. That's when it hit me: If I'd just spent a few dollars each month on a photo storage service, I could have avoided this disaster.

So I've spent the last couple weeks comparing photo storage service in search of the one that best meets my needs. I've examined everything from Google+ to Flickr, Ipernity to Smugmug, and found that there are solutions for just about everyone. Here's a rundown of the top options, and how they can best serve you.


500px

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Best for: Professionals
Key Features: Portfolio Tools, Sales, Multi-Platform
Pricing Tiers: 20 Photos per week, Free; Unlimited, $25/year; Portfolio, $75/year; Adobe Bundle, $165/year

500px is essentially Flickr with an even sexier interface and more pro-friendly options. On top of portfolio and sales features, the service even has a deal with Adobe that bundles a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop + Lightroom) with an unlimited subscription to 500px.

Unfortunately, 500px doesn't support RAW files, video, or auto-upload. That said, its quality-to-quantity ratio is unmatched, since the site has amassed an unrivaled community of skilled enthusiast photographers. It also has one of the cheapest unlimited storage plans, starting at just $25 per year.


Adobe Revel

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Editing Tools, Multi-Platform, RAW Support, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: 2 GB, Free; Unlimited, $6/month

Considering it's an Adobe product that connects to Photoshop and Lightroom, it's perhaps a bit surprising that Revel doesn't include more pro features. It's targeted squarely at consumers, offering apps for every platform, video and RAW support, and even some lightweight editing features.

Revel gives you 2GB of free storage, which you'll burn through quickly. Your only other option is an unlimited plan that costs $6 per month.


Amazon Cloud Drive

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Multi-Platform, RAW Support, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: Unlimited Photos, $99/year; 5 GB, Free; 20 GB, $10/year; 50 GB, $25/year; 100 GB, $50/year; 200 GB, $100/year; 500 GB, $250/year; 1 TB, $500/year

Over the past couple years, Cloud Drive has become a surprisingly strong option. While it doesn't offer anything geared toward professionals, it does provide plenty of basic storage for Amazon Prime subscribers.

Your $99 per year gets you unlimited photo storage in Cloud Drive, along with Amazon Instant Video streaming, monthly Kindle book offers, and complimentary two-day shipping. The service even supports some RAW formats and basic video. One shortcoming: Videos (and some RAW files) don't fall under the same unlimited umbrella as photos, meaning videographers will have to pony up for additional monthly storage costs.


Dropbox Carousel

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Mobile Apps, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: 5 GB, Free; 1 TB, $9/month

Despite its distinct name and branding, Carousel is essentially just a photo viewer for images stored in your Dropbox account. Still, it offers some nice sharing features and can automatically upload photos from all of your devices. With the focus being primarily on social media and hassle-free backup, this is a service clearly aimed at amateurs and smartphone photographers.

With that in mind, the only real downside is Dropbox's limited storage tiers. You either get 5 GB free, or have to pay $9 per month for 1 TB. Competitors like Apple and Google offer far more varied tiers and price points.


Flickr

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Best for: Prosumers?
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Editing Tools, Mobile Apps
Pricing Tiers: 1 TB, Free; Ad-Free, $50/year or $6/month; 2 TB, $500/year

Marissa Mayer has made a lot of changes during her brief tenure at Yahoo, but perhaps her greatest accomplishment has been giving Flickr a much-needed facelift. The class-leading social photography service now sports a world-class web presentation and glossy mobile app, but the biggest game-changer is its free terabyte of storage.

Still, Flickr has its faults. Video support is rudimentary, there's no RAW support at all, and photo upload and organization tools are woefully limited. The new Camera Roll feature chronologically organizes your photos, and there's a new Flickr Uploadr for Mac, but both are still in public beta.

But when you get 1 TB for free, I guess you can't really complain.


Google+ Photos

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Editing Tools, Mobile Apps, RAW Support, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: Unlimited Low-Res & 15 min. video, Free; 15 GB, Free; 100 GB, $2/month; 1 TB, $10/month; 10 TB, $100/month; 20 TB, $200/month; 30 TB, $300/month

Google+ might be a barren wasteland as a social network, but it offers one of the best photo storage solutions out there—far better than Facebook.

The service will automatically upload photos from all of your devices, and features some powerful editing features. The coolest is the "Auto Awesome" feature, which automatically adds effects and enhancements to your auto-uploaded photos. My personal favorite is a twinkling effect that it add to pictures of lit Christmas trees. (Don't worry... if you're not into that, the effects can easily be removed.)

As for storage, Google provides plenty of options. If you just want to use it for emergency backups, there's unlimited free storage for photos up to 2048px resolution and videos under 15 minutes in length. If you need better quality backups, you get 15 GB of all-purpose storage for free. From there, you can go all the way up to 30 TB, with four intermediary tiers.


iCloud Photo Library

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Editing Tools, Mobile Apps, RAW Support, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: 5 GB, Free; 20GB, $1/month; 200 GB, $4/month; 500 GB, $10/month; 1 TB, $20/month

Apple may have spurned its professional users by killing off Aperture, but iCloud Photo Library is a much better solution for the average consumer than clunky old iPhoto. The service automatically uploads all of your new photos, includes non-destructive editing tools, and even supports RAW files and video. However, there are some notable downsides.

For one thing, the service is still in beta for iOS devices, and Apple has yet to release an app for Mac—it won't be available until later this spring. Then there's the fact that the service naturally only works for Apple users. And when it comes to cost, Google and Dropbox are both cheaper solutions.


Ipernity

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Mobile Apps, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: 200 MB per month, Free; Unlimited, $30/year

The majority of Flickr users cheered Marissa Mayer's drastic overhaul of Flickr, but there are always some people who hate change. In this case, many of the haters left Flickr and joined Ipernity.

The service lacks a lot of the bells and whistles of its competitors, providing only mobile apps, a desktop upload tool, and basic video support. But you get unlimited storage for $30 per year—can't argue with that.


Photobucket

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Editing Tools, Mobile Apps
Pricing Tiers: 2 GB, Free; Ad-Free, $10/year; 20 GB, $30/year; 50 GB, $50/year; 100 GB, $90/year; 200 GB, $170/year; 500 GB, $400/year

Ah, Photobucket. You may have forgotten about the ancient photo hosting service—made obsolete by better instant-sharing sites like Imgur—but it still exists and actually offers some solid storage plans.

Editing tools, automatic uploads, mobile apps, and a desktop upload tool are all here, but there are some serious shortcomings. Photobucket has no RAW upload capability, limited video support, and its storage prices are more expensive than rival services.


Picturelife

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Mobile Apps, RAW Support, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: 8 GB, Free; 25 GB, $50/year; 100 GB, $100/year; Unlimited, $150/year

Picturelife is yet another consumer-oriented service. It lacks portfolio, sales, and editing features, but makes up for it with auto-uploads and mobile apps. The service also has a desktop upload tool, and gives you 8 GB to start.

The biggest downside is cost. An unlimited plan will cost you $150 per year—six times the cost of an unlimited plan with 500px.

Picturelife was recently acquired by StreamNation, but the new owners haven't made any significant changes to the service.


Shoebox

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Multi-Platform
Pricing Tiers: Unlimited Low-Res, Free; Unlimited, $5/month

Shoebox is another startup similar in principle to Picturelife and Dropbox Carousel. It has an app for every major platform and an auto-upload feature. Video support is in beta on Android and coming soon to other platforms, but there's no RAW support or professional features.

Similar to Google+ Photos, Shoebox has an unlimited free option that stores photos at 1024px, as well as an unlimited full-resolution option at $5 per month.


SmugMug

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Best for: Professionals
Key Features: Portfolio Features, Sales, Mobile Apps, RAW Support, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: Unlimited, $40/year; Portfolio, $60/year; Sales, $150/year; Business, $300/year

SmugMug is another great option for professionals trying to grow a business around their work. The family-owned and operated service is a little pricey—$60 per year to customize your portfolio and $150 per year to sell photos—but offers excellent customer service and some slick-looking gallery templates.

The basic $40/year plan is quite robust, providing a healthy amount of customization options and your own subdomain at smugmug.com. Every plan offers unlimited JPEG uploads, with file sizes up to 50mb per photo and videos up to 20 minutes in length. Smugmug also offers decent mobile apps and multiple desktop upload plugins for programs like Aperture and Lightroom. RAW support will cost you a few cents extra per month, depending on how much you want to upload.


StreamNation

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Best for: Consumers
Key Features: Automatic Uploading, Mobile Apps, RAW Support, Video Support
Pricing Tiers: 20 GB, Free; 100 GB, $48/year; 500 GB, $108/year; 1 TB, $168/year; Unlimited, $228/year

This startup bills itself as a one-stop backup service for all of your digital media. Since photos are a big part of that equation, the service has a desktop uploading tool that works with Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, and even iTunes. StreamNation will also connect to all your photo-oriented social networks (like Instagram and Flickr), and cloud storage services like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.

The biggest drawback? Its prices are higher than competitors like Dropbox, iCloud, and Google+. Still, considering how many different resources it can draw from, and how many different kinds of files it can handle, it might be worth the extra cost.


Zenfolio

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Best for: Professionals
Key Features: Portfolio Tools, Sales, Mobile Apps, Video Support, RAW Support
Pricing Tiers: 4 GB + 2 GB/year, $30/year; Unlimited Storage, $60/year; Hosted Website, $140/year; Business Features, $300/year

Unless you're a professional photographer, you've probably never heard of Zenfolio. The service is great for pros, as it offers the ability to create a portfolio website and sell photos with very little fuss. RAW and video support, as well as upload plugins for Aperture and Lightroom, are other features that make it very easy for working shooters to integrate Zenfolio into their workflow.


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Which did I end up with? Ultimately, I chose two of the consumer-grade solutions—Google+ Photos and iCloud Photo Library. I'm not a professional, so I don't really need the extras offered by the likes of 500px or SmugMug.

I currently take a lot more photos and videos than I have time to edit, which makes Google's "Auto Awesome" feature perfect for me. G+ also does a great job of highlighting my best shots, making it easy to pick which ones to show friends and family. I also ended up adding a 20GB iCloud plan, since I take a lot of photos with my iPhone and prefer its granular editing tools to Google's.

What will you choose? Tweet It

But the beauty of these solutions is that they cater to all sorts of different needs. What will you choose?

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