The Painless Way to Back Up Your Smartphone Photos

Camera and Photos apps in iOS 9


If you’re like most tech users, you probably take an assortment of photos on a regular basis — the latte shot, the pet portrait, the family photo, the candid group shot, the artistic snap of your city’s skyline or your living room decor — and you probably depend on your smartphone for a lot of them. You probably know that you should back up all of those photos, but if you’re like lots of busy guys, you spend more time thinking about the vague consequences of something happening to your phone or your virtual photo album than actually doing something about backing up and protecting those digital memories.

Brian Barrett reports for Wired that relying on a single backup system to stash all of your photos — whether of road trips or growing toddlers, parties with friends, or family vacations — is a risky and short-sighted strategy.  Whether you choose a startup like Dropbox, or a storage solution from big players like Amazon (Amazon Unlimited Photos), Google (Google Photos), Apple (iCloud Drive), or Microsoft (OneDrive), the future of your chosen backup location is never 100% certain. “A sudden change in pricing schemes could make them unattractive,” Barrett warns. “A security breach, either of your specific account or of the system at large, could wipe out all of your photographic memories.”

An obvious backup plan, no pun intended, is to also store your photos on some kind of physical storage. For many people, that’s a good strategy, but for others, buying a hard drive large enough to hold all of those photos can be cost-prohibitive. And using an external hard drive to back up your smartphone’s photos, especially if you take a lot of them, is a task that’s easily delayed or forgotten. But the best way to back up your photos is the plan that you’ll actually adhere to, so a better contingency plan for most people is to make multiple cloud backups.

The best tool to take advantage of in putting a little bit of photo insurance in place is your smartphone itself, assuming that you regularly use it to take photos (and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t?). Barrett points out that your phone can automatically save every photo you take to the cloud service, or cloud services, of your choice. That means that if you download and configure the app for your chosen cloud service(s), it’s easy to create a failsafe that will prevent your photos from being wiped out in the case of technological catastrophe.

There are a number of excellent, often free, options for backing up your photos, and then backing up that backup in the event that something goes awry. Barrett notes that if you’re using multiple cloud services, there’s no need to pay twice, and the auto-upload process will look largely the same regardless of which service you choose.

Google Photos offers free, unlimited storage with only a few limitations. Photos can be up to 16MP, and videos max out at 1080p. You can store up to 15GB of higher-resolution shots, at which point you’ll need to pay. But your smartphone photos shouldn’t surpass those restrictions, and while the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus can shoot 4K video, most people won’t notice the difference if they stick with regular high-definition. The process of setting up automatic backups is the same on Android or iOS. In the Settings section of the app, you’ll just navigate to Back up & Sync, and then Google will automatically save every photo you take. You can choose to have the backups completed only over WiFi, or choose whether you want both photos and videos backed up.

Amazon Prime Unlimited Photo Storage is an option that’s free for Prime subscribers. So if you’re already paying $99 for your subscription, you might as well take advantage of the cloud storage — though Barrett counsels users who don’t already have Prime not to buy a subscription just for the photo storage. Once you download the Amazon Photos Cloud Drive app on Android or iOS, you can open the Settings section and select Auto-Save. Choose photos, videos, or both. You can choose to upload only over WiFi, or only when your phone is charging. Amazon’s app isn’t as feature-rich as Google’s, but it does get the job done, and is a good choice either for people who are skeptical of Google’s ecosystem, or who want another easy auto-upload option.

Google and Amazon’s options are among the best when it comes to free options. Other popular choices for users willing to pay a small fee monthly include Apple’s iCloud, where the monthly cost of storage plans was recently slashed, or Dropbox, which offers the Carousel app that’s a popular solution for people already on the auto-upload bandwagon. Dropbox’s basic membership offers 2GB for free, or you can opt for Dropbox Pro’s 1TB for $9.99 per month. iCloud storage tiers are 50GB for $0.99 per month, 200GB for $2.99 per month, or 1TB for $9.99 per month. If you’re already paying for either Dropbox or iCloud, you should take advantage of their options for automatically backing up your photos. iPhone owners who also use a Mac should turn on iCloud Photo Library, or users who already pay for Dropbox storage should navigate to the settings section of the Carousel app to select backup options.

Barrett notes that another important part of your backup strategy, especially if you’re just getting around to turning on automatic and redundant backups now, is to back up the photos that you’ve already taken, and probably stored in only one cloud backup. The best way to do that is to use the desktop version of your chosen cloud services. If you have thousands of old photos saved in Dropbox, for instance, sync your photos to a folder on your desktop, and then select that folder to back up to, say, Google Photos. The same process applies if you want to save your Dropbox backup to Amazon’s Cloud Drive, or any other free or freemium cloud storage service. And while you have a folder of your photos saved to your desktop, go ahead and transfer to an external hard drive, so you’ll have an extra backup — just in case.

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