When it comes to precious data there’s not much that can match the importance of our digital photos. Whether it be images of that amazing holiday you took with your friends, memories of a wedding day, or the records of your progeny as they grow up, those photos are invaluable and irreplaceable.
Backing them up is more than a good idea, as the thought of a hard disk crash or burglary robbing you of more than just your computer is a horrifying one. Of course you can burn digital photos to a DVD, copy the entire photo library to a flash drive or external hard disk (all of which you should do anyway) but if you then store those copies next to your computer, fire or flood could still destroy everything in one go. Thankfully there are plenty of affordable options for backing your files up in the cloud.
Flickr has long been a popular site with those wanting to store and share their photographs online. Membership is free and you can upload 300MB of photos every month. There are a few limitations though. You can only view your last 200 uploads, even though the others are safely stored. Paying for a pro account (around £16 per year) means you can store an unlimited amount, which also includes videos - still a very good deal.
You may have also heard of Photobucket and Smugmug which offer similar services. But if your needs don't require a photo-specific service (and your library is a modest size), then the various free storage options offered by Dropbox, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Box, Amazon’s Cloud Drive, and Google Drive can be a handy way to add peace of mind.
Many of these services offer up to 5GB of online storage for free, and as the average size of compact camera and smartphone images is around 2-3MB, this would allow you space for around 2,000 of your favourite photos and still leave a bit of room for a few documents. The best part is that you can access your photos wherever you are, as long as you have an internet connection.
Of course you could even back up the same - or different - photos to multiple services for extra security or extra free storage respectively. As most people have a Google account we’ll explain how to use the Google Drive online storage facility to back up your images and bask in the glory of a job well done.
A word of warning: make sure you copy - rather than move - your photos into the Google Drive folder. This will create duplicate copies on your hard disk, but it's worth using the extra space. If you don't do this, you'll effectively have only one copy of each photo. If you (or someone) accidentally deletes this on the Google Drive website, the deletion will be mirrored in your local Google Drive folder and the photo will be gone.
How to save your photos to Google Drive
1. Visit www.google.com/drive and, if necessary, create an account by clicking on the Sign Up button. If you already use any Google services, such as YouTube, Gmail, or Google Calendar, then you should use your existing account details to log in to Drive. Google unified all accounts last year to make things a bit simpler for its users.
2. Now you will be presented with the Drive screen which shows all the files you have stored online. Before we can continue though you’ll need to download the Google Drive app itself. There’s a link under the menu column on the left hand side which says Download Google Drive. Click this, accept the Terms of Service and let the program install.
3. Sign back into Drive when prompted by the pop-up box, and then click on the option to Start Sync that will appear in another pop up box. This will mean that the online files you place in Drive will also be synched with the Drive folder on your PC, so you can access them even if you are offline.
4. Once your new Drive folder is synched up you’ll see a message telling you that you can now start moving files. The newly opened Explorer window will show Google Drive as a regular system folder, so now just drag or copy your photos straight into the Drive folder as you normally would on your hard drive. However…
5. …before doing this, it’s a good idea to create a Pictures folder within your Google Driver folder to keep things neat. Right-click as you would in any Windows folder, choose New and then Folder from the menu that appears. You can then copy your photos to this folder - they can be in folders and subfolders: the structure will be preserved in Google Drive.
6. Any files placed in the local Google Drive folder will automatically sync with the online version. This may take some time if you've copied all your photos at once. You can monitor the progress by clicking on the Drive logo in the taskbar or returning to the browser where your images will slowly start to appear.
Next page: Syncing your phone with the cloud
Syncing your phone with the cloud
Thanks to the impressive advances in mobile technology many people now use their smartphone as their primary camera. A bonus of this is that there are several services which offer the ability for your iOS, Android and, to a lesser extent, Windows Phone 8 hansdet to automatically send copies of your photos to their web storage facility.
Google+ is one, Flickr’s excellent new app allows a similar functionality, as does one of our long term favourites in the online realm - Dropbox.
To set up this very useful feature visit www.dropbox.com and signup for a free account. You’ll be given a complimentary 2GB to start with but you can earn more space by recommending the service to friends or on social networks.
Signing up to the syncing photos online option gives you an additional 3GB of free storage, which will be enough to protect a very healthy amount of snaps.
Now simply download the app to your smartphone, turn on photo syncing (being sure to set the preferences to uploading over Wi-Fi only, thus avoiding a nasty shock when your next phone bill arrives) and you’re done. Each time you take a photo from now on they will be marked for upload when you reach a Wi-Fi connection.
If you install Dropbox on your PC, Mac, or Linux machine (one of the reasons we love Dropbox is the platform neutral nature of the service), then the photos will also appear there automatically, meaning you have multiple copies on different servers and devices.