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The best cloud storage for photos in 2021: free and paid

digital camera with SD cards and a USB drive arrayed next to a laptop
(Image credit: Unsplash)

With the arrival of the smartphone camera, photos have become the primary medium for documenting our day-to-day lives, as well as our most precious moments. Now, we take pictures almost all the time—be it for family albums or social media. 

The challenge, however, is how to securely store all these photos. For that, we need a platform that’s safe as well as convenient. Gone are the days of hard disks and thumb drives: the best way to store your favorite photos these days is to use cloud storage. In this guide, we look at the best cloud storage for photos, both free and paid.

What is cloud storage?

Simply put, cloud storage is a collection of physical servers located in an offshore data center that’s connected to the internet at all times. As the servers are maintained by established businesses that have been doing this for a very long time, you can store your favorite images, videos, and other media without fear of it getting damaged or stolen. 

Since the servers are always online, you can access your photos and videos regardless of where you are located, as long as you too are connected to the internet.

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The 3 best cloud storage providers for photos right now

1. IDrive - great features and security at competitive prices
IDrive is one of the best cloud storage services, as well as a great photo cloud storage solutions. Its free plan comes with 5GB, while plans go up to 5TB and 10TB. Unlimited devices can be backed up, while automated uploads and facial recogntion features are also included.
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2. Google Photos - great free service and top features
Google Photos is an excellent, easy-to-use and beginner-friendly service, offering 15GB of free storage (images up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p). A paid Google One membership expands storage, and removes file size limits, while photography-oriented features include date and time categorization and facial recognition.
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3. Flickr - combining cloud storage and social networking
Flickr doubles as both a cloud storage platform and a photo-sharing social network, allowing you to upload 1,000 videos on its free account. Its paid plan removes adverts and upload limits, while a timeline feature organizes files by date and time, allowing followers to see your uploads.
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The best cloud storage for photos available

IDrive's homepage

IDrive is an excellent cloud storage service with great value for money plans (Image credit: IDrive)

1. IDrive

Value-for-money photo storage solution in the cloud

Free tier: 5GB | Storage size: 5TB | Number of devices: Unlimited

User-friendly UI
Automatic image uploading
Great security
Expensive extra storage

IDrive ranked first on our list of the best cloud storage services of the year—and for good reason. It offers some of the most affordable subscription plans, with generous storage space and lots of additional features. The free plan comes with 5GB of storage, which is enough for most casual users. 

If you are a professional photographer who uploads a lot of high-resolution images, you may want to upgrade to a paid plan sooner rather than later. In that case, IDrive offers 5TB of space for $79.50 a year and 10TB of space for $99.50 a year.

IDrive also has some really exciting features specific to photo storage. For example, the Auto Camera feature allows you to automatically sync every image on your device to IDrive as soon as it is taken. You can do this with an unlimited number of devices.

Another thing worth mentioning is the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition technology. Advanced AI is used to group photos together by category in IDrive, making it easier for you to sort through multiple image albums. Learn more about this cloud storage provider in our IDrive review.

Google Photos' homepage

Google Photos is great for photographers and home users alike (Image credit: Google Photos)

2. Google Photos (Google Drive)

An excellent option for photographers and personal users

Free tier: 15GB | Storage size: 30TB | Number of devices: Unlimited

Streamlined interface
Powerful AI
Generous free plan
Relatively complicated

Google Photos is an excellent free service for storing photos and videos. It offers 15GB of free storage, but you must keep in mind that this space is shared across all other services from Google, including Gmail and Google Drive. The free plan allows you to store high-resolution images up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p. 

Professional photographers might want to consider a paid membership to Google One, which expands your total storage and removes any limits on individual photo and video size. Google One offers several plans to choose from, starting at 100GB for $11.99 a year, all the way up to 30TB for $299.99 a month. 

Google Photos offers a series of photography-oriented features within its cloud storage platform. It uses powerful machine learning technologies to categorize photos by date and time, whereas facial recognition helps you easily find all photos of the same person.

With a streamlined interface and excellent usability, Google Photos is one of the best ways to store your photos on the cloud. It’s also very beginner friendly and easy to use. To find out more, read our Google Photos review.

Flickr's homepage

Flickr is a photo-sharing social networking website with cloud storage (Image credit: Flickr)

3. Flickr

Dedicated photo storage and sharing platform for everyone

Free tier: 1,000 photos | Storage size: Unlimited | Number of devices: Unlimited

Unlimited storage
Extensive social sharing features
Limited supported file formats
Free tier has a maximum of 1,000 images

Flickr has over 87 million registered users, is one of the oldest photo sharing platforms on the web, and doubles as both a cloud storage platform and a photo-sharing social network.

Flickr lets you upload up to 1,000 videos on a free account. The cost is covered via paid advertisements, which aren’t very intrusive to user experience. However, if you’d rather do without the upload limit and the advertisements, you can pay for a premium account at $7.99 a month or $71.88 a year. 

Flickr is designed for photo sharing. Each user has a timeline where photos are organized and displayed by date and time. Any other user can follow the uploader for updates on their timeline. You also get the option to hide photos from your timeline using its privacy settings. 

However, Flickr only lets you upload images in the JPEG, GIF, and PNG formats. So if you’re looking to upload a RAW file, you’re out of luck. Flickr also auto-compresses every image you upload for better download speeds, which can turn some professional users off if they use the platform as their primary storage service.

Find out more about this photo cloud storage leader in our Flickr review.

Creative Cloud's homepage

Creative Cloud is a great photo storage option for Adobe users (Image credit: Adobe)

4. Creative Cloud

Cloud-based storage solution offered natively to Adobe users

Free tier: N/A (seven-day free trial) | Storage size: 10TB | Number of devices: 2

Clean and well-designed UI
Integrates with all Adobe software
Compatible with most platforms
No free plan

Since moving to its cloud-based subscription model, Adobe now offers cloud storage solutions to all its users. Adobe Creative Cloud is a great storage platform for all your creative work, including photos and videos, but it’s also the only storage platform on this list without a proper free plan. 

However, it does offer a seven-day free trial for the entire platform, so you can test it out before deciding whether to pay for the premium plans.

The cloud storage is offered for free to all users who subscribe to Adobe’s suite of creative software. Depending on your subscription tier, you may get access to either 20GB or 1TB of storage space. However, this storage space can be upgraded with an additional purchase all the way up to 10TB.

Creative Cloud uses clean, sober image galleries and a pleasant user interface to showcase all of your work, making it easy to share your progress and work in tandem with other professionals. If you already have need for image manipulation software like Photoshop or a vector art tool like Illustrator, the attached cloud storage comes as an added bonus for your purchase.

Creative Cloud apps are available on iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. The cloud storage platform is fully compatible with most creative file formats, including RAW. There’s no automatic image compression, and full image quality is retained on upload. Read our Creative Cloud review to learn more about the service.

Dropbox's homepage

Dropbox is the largest cloud storage platform out there (Image credit: Dropbox)

5. Dropbox

Professional storage solution for all file types

Free tier: 2GB | Storage size: Unlimited | Number of devices: 3

Supports all file formats
Fast backup and sync
Auto uploads media files
Expensive high tier plans

Offering excellent features and great customer support, Dropbox is the largest cloud storage service, with over 400 million registered users and more than 600 billion individual files stored on its platform. The platform also boasts some exciting features for photographers and creatives.

A brand new Dropbox Basic account gets you 2GB of free storage, which may not be enough if you’re looking for a professional cloud storage service. Luckily, Dropbox keeps its prices affordable and within reach of most personal as well as professional users, starting at just $11.99 a month for 2TB of space. The plans go all the way up to unlimited storage for businesses.

When it comes to storing photos, Dropbox has some interesting features up its sleeve. The first is an auto-upload feature that automatically backs up all the photos from your device’s camera roll as soon as they are taken. This feature even works on desktop computers, by automatically scanning connected camera cards or mobile devices.

If you want to edit photos after uploading, Dropbox synchronizes all your photos with your operating system’s file management system, be it Windows File Explorer or macOS Finder. If you edit a photo on your desktop, it is automatically synced to the cloud to save you the trouble of a reupload. As an added plus, Dropbox offers file versioning and file retention features, so your old photos never get lost.

Learn more about the system in our comprehensive Dropbox review.

OneDrive's homepage

Microsoft OneDrive is very similar in interface design to Windows 10 (Image credit: Microsoft)

6. Microsoft OneDrive

Cloud-based photo storage in a familiar environment

Free tier: 5GB | Storage size: 1TB | Number of devices: Unlimited

Familiar UI
Microsoft Office integration
AI-based photo search
Can’t expand storage over 1TB

Microsoft OneDrive was built to resemble the Windows 10 interface, visually speaking. It integrates seamlessly with the Microsoft 365 business suite and Windows 10 operating system, making it possible to securely store your favorite files without having to navigate an unfamiliar user environment.

OneDrive offers 5GB of free storage to all new users. If you want more, you can always upgrade to 100GB of space for $1.99 a month. If even that’s not enough, OneDrive lets you expand your storage space to 1TB by upgrading to a Microsoft 365 plan for $69.99 a year.

OneDrive is a no-frills cloud storage platform for any file format. However, that doesn’t mean it comes without any special features for photo storage. In fact, OneDrive offers options for photo tagging, album creation, and AI-based photo search.

The best thing about OneDrive is how familiar it feels to someone coming from the Windows interface. Microsoft 365 integration also allows you to easily manage files created using Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Read our OneDrive review to find out more about the cloud service.

Best cloud storage for photos: 5 things to look out for

There are a few things you’ll want to take into consideration when choosing a photo cloud storage provider: 

Freemium. Many providers will give you a small amount of free space, and then charge monthly or annual fees for more. Prices vary widely, so before you start moving all your photos onto a provider’s free option, check how much it will cost you to expand later on.

File formats. All cloud providers will allow you to backup and share JPEG and GIF files, so you should have no trouble there. However, be sure to read the fine print if you need to store TIFF or RAW files.

Internet speed. Cloud storage providers invest heavily in powerful servers and high speed connections, but if your own internet speed isn’t great, it will make uploading and downloading files a nightmare. If that’s the case, you’re better off investing in a good external hard drive until you can increase your internet speed.

Photo displays. Your choice of provider may depend on whether you want your photos to be seen by others, and displayed attractively. Only some providers, like Flickr, support this.

Access anywhere. Of course, the main advantage to cloud storage is being able to access your photos anywhere. For the best experience, make sure the provider you choose has native apps for your devices.

How to choose the best cloud storage for photos for you

There are plenty of great photo storage services out there, but how should you work out which is the right one for you? To figure out if a particular service will work for your use-case, take into account key factors such as how easy it is to access the platform from a mobile device and whether any gallery sharing features are included to help you promote your work.

Another important consideration is the size of your photo library and the number of images that you’d like to store online. The average 16 megapixel JPEG photo requires 4.8MB of space, so if you have a 500-photo back catalog to upload, you’ll need to find a cloud photo plan that gives you at least 2.5GB of storage. Fortunately, most cloud storage services won’t charge for that amount of space.

However, if you want to preserve original image information, you might wish to upload far larger RAW format files. 500 RAW 16 megapixel photos will take up approximately 2.5TB. In most cases, you’ll require a monthly subscription for such a significant volume of storage.

Ritoban Mukherjee

Ritoban Mukherjee is a freelance journalist from West Bengal, India. His work has been published on Tom's Guide, TechRadar, Creative Bloq, IT Pro Portal, Gizmodo, Medium, and Mental Floss. Ritoban is also a member of the National Association of Science Writers.