Your photos, and the memories associated with them, are precious. There’s no better way to make sure they stay safe than by using a secure cloud storage provider. Plus, it makes it easier than ever to back up your photos and share them with others. Long gone are the days of burning CDs, or even carrying around a thumb drive full of photos.
Cloud providers, like those we’ve tested for this article, provide easily accessible online storage for the masses. There are a variety of different providers, offering anywhere from 1GB to 1TB of free online storage.
Cloud storage not only reduces the risk of your pictures being lost or destroyed because of hard disk failure or losing a USB key, but makes it easier to access your photos from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection. Your personal computer, tablet, smartphone, even a friend’s computer or public terminal can all be used to securely access your photos.
Cloud storage services enable you to restrict access to your photos with a password, and share them privately and securely with others via private web links. Some providers, like Google Photos and Microsoft OneDrive, integrate easily with email applications for even easier sharing.
Whatever your needs, we’ve scoured the internet for the best cloud storage websites, and compare them below. Some are designed specifically for photos, while others are general-purpose providers that have great photo-management features.
IDrive is not only one of the best cloud storage services today, but also a great solution for storing your photos. The free plan comes with 5GB of storage, which is enough for about 1500 3MB photos.
That’s plenty of storage for regular users, but professional photographers will probably use it up quickly with higher-resolution images. In such cases, users can upgrade to 2TB ($52.12/month) or 5TB ($74.62/month) plans.
IDrive allows users to backup photos from an unlimited number of devices onto a single account. With the “Auto Camera” feature, this process can be automated, with photos and videos stored at the original or compressed quality.
Finally, users can take advantage of the facial recognition feature to automatically group photos across all devices associated with the account.
pCloud is a somewhat untraditional cloud service: rather than being charged a monthly rate, you only need to pay once for a lifetime subscription with 2TB of storage. Although an annual plan is available, after just four years of use, it’s cheaper to pay the one-time fee. Thus, while more expensive in the short-term than other solutions, in the long run, you’re going to save a bundle.
You also get 2TB of shared link traffic (when you share a download or streaming link from your storage), custom branding for your shared links, and 30 days trash history. The trash history includes versioning as well, so you can always pull up older versions of photos you’ve modified within the last 30 days.
pCloud supports thumbnails for most RAW files, which is great for photographers. There’s also a pCloud plugin for Lightroom, to easily upload your photos to the cloud, and a browser extension to save videos and images, using pCloud like a scrapbook or notepad.
Adobe Creative Cloud was built with photographers and artists in mind. As such, it offers a number of image-oriented storage solutions, with an intuitive and pleasing interface. Collaboration is made easier thanks to Group Libraries, enabling colleagues to share folders of resources and photos, although you can choose to hide photos you wish to keep private.
Of course, Creative Cloud integrates seamlessly with the Adobe suite, including Lightroom and Elements, so you can quickly edit photos in the cloud directly from the apps. Adobe goes one step further with Gmail integration for easily sharing photos outside the workplace.
Native apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android make uploading and managing your photos a breeze, with support for RAW formats.
The big drawback here is the cost: the cheapest plan comes in at $9.99 per month ($119.88/year) for 1TB of storage. While this is twice the storage of Microsoft OneDrive and includes Lightroom CC, you miss out on Office 365.
If you’d rather have less storage and more apps, there’s a second $9.99/mo plan with 20GB of cloud storage that includes Lightroom and Photoshop.
Dropbox is a legacy name in cloud storage, with years of experience providing a fast, secure service with plenty of space. An intuitive and familiar file folder system makes it easy to organize your files, and you can access them anywhere with native apps for iOS and Android.
One of Dropbox’s biggest strengths is the fact that it’s been around for so long and has such a widespread online presence. As a result, Dropbox is probably compatible with most of the apps you use, for seamless integration with many photo editors.
The basic account is free and includes 2GB of storage, with the possibility of getting an extra 500MB of space for referrals.
The Dropbox Plus account comes with 2TB of storage for $9.99 (£7.75) per month billed annually, with an additional 1GB for referrals (up to 32GB). You also get remote device wipes, 30-day version history, priority email upload, and the ability to restore your folders or entire account to a specific point in time .
Dropbox is versatile and powerful, yet simple to use, and a great solution for storing RAW files.
Google Photos is a dedicated photo cloud solution, which may prove more useful to you than Google Drive. The latter is a robust cloud storage solution and part of G Suite, with free business-grade apps. (Actually, we even use it in our own office.)
Google Drive, however, is made for sharing files and collaboration, and not necessarily keeping a photo collection. You certainly can use it as such, but you won’t find as streamlined an experience.
Instead, opt for Google Photos, a separate platform with 15GB of storage for all your high-resolution photos (up to 16 megapixels) and videos (up to 1080p). Unsurprisingly, Google leverages powerful AI and machine learning to categorize your photos by date and place, making it easier to find specific shots, and for facial recognition, so you can find all the photos of a specific person.
Google Photos is free with a standard Google account, but those 15GB are shared with other apps, like Gmail. For more space, you can opt for Google One with 100GB at $11.99 per year, 200GB at $29.99 per year, 2TB at $99.99 per year, 10TB at $99.99 per month, 20TB at $199.99 per month, or a whopping 30TB at $299.99 per month. Which is a tonne of photos.
Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage will feel immediately familiar to those who have experience with Microsoft Office. Of course, OneDrive integrates seamlessly with the Office suite, making uploading, organizing, editing, and collaborating on files a breeze. OneDrive takes its visual cues from Windows 10, so it’s fairly intuitive to use.
That being said, OneDrive was not built with photographers in mind, and so lacks many of the features we’ve seen thus far.
Pricing is similar to Google Drive, with 5GB of free space, and 100GB at $1.99 per month. However, the 1TB option is a great value, at just $6.99 per month or $69.99 paid yearly, including Office 365 apps (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.). At the time of writing, Office 365 and OneDrive can be installed and accessed on an unlimited number of devices.
For just an additional $3 per month, you have an additional six Office 365 licenses, making this a great solution for families or small businesses.
Flickr has chosen to take a slightly different approach to online storage. The company, now owned by SmugMug, Inc., allows users to store 1000 photos and videos for free, rather than providing a specific size limit. This is great news for those of us with high resolution files.
The cost is covered by unobtrusive ads, but if you prefer to do without, you can pay $7.99 per month or $71.88 per year for Flickr Pro+, which comes with unlimited storage.
Flickr was built for photo storage and sharing, and it shows: your photos are displayed in an appealing photostream, and other users can follow your stream and leave comments, making this a veritable social network for photographers. Of course, you can privatize any photos you like.
That being said, Flickr only allows you to upload and display JPEG, GIF and PNG images. If you need to upload RAW files, Dropbox is a better solution, although you miss out on the social aspects, and some great discounts that come with the paid plans (for applications like Creative Cloud, Blurb, SmugMug and Priime).
5 things to look out for in cloud storage for photos
There are a few things you’ll want to take into consideration when choosing a 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.