The 10 best cloud storage services for photographers

The 10 best cloud storage services for photographers

Whether you’re an occasional snapper or a semi-pro fanatic, the loss of a lifetime’s worth of photographs is a disaster nobody wants to face. Hopefully, you’re already in the habit of regularly backing up to a second (or even third) hard disk, and storing this well away from the original files. But in reality, even this level of precaution will not totally safeguard you from potential misfortune; a badly timed combination of technical malfunction and an “act of God” could still conspire to erase all your visual memories in an instant.

Rather than putting all your eggs in a single basket, most professionals advise making an additional backup of all photographs online for extra security and peace of mind. But which cloud storage platform to choose? Check out our online photo backup guide for the full lowdown on the best online file storage, organization and viewing platforms for photographers currently out there.

The 10 best cloud storage services for photographers

Cloud-based photo services: what to look for

Not so long ago, if you wanted to deliver a large number of high-resolution photos to someone, you’d either have to mail them a hard disk or send a couple of gigabytes at a time via suspect file-sharing services such as RapidShare or Megaupload. As these sites would often delete your files after a period of inactivity, they clearly didn’t make for a practical long-term storage solution either. Meanwhile, your best option for an online photo backup and viewing platform was likely something along the lines of Photobucket or Image Shack: ugly, unwieldy, and offering only very limited space.

Now cloud storage services are cheap, convenient and offered by pretty much everyone and their dog. While this is great news for photographers – with our endless gigabytes of data to back up – some of these platforms are more suitable for photo storage than others. This is particularly the case if you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated than merely a virtual storeroom in which to dump all your files and then forget about them.

Thankfully, there are now many cloud storage platforms marketed to photographers, and these tend to offer an array of additional services beyond simple backup. For example, it’s now quite common to find advanced options for viewing, organizing, data-tagging, adding captions, sharing and delivering files. Even selling prints of your photos! However, there’s still a considerable degree of variation even between these photo-specific platforms, and so it pays to first consider what your own needs are as a photographer before then looking into the precise services offered by each of the main contenders.

Of initial concern for most people will likely be the convenience (or otherwise) of a platform’s user interface – not to mention the tasks it will permit you to carry out with your files once they are uploaded. However, there’s also the question of storage format to consider; for any serious photographer, the ability to store RAW files is going to be one of the most important requirements. Yet, surprisingly, this option is not offered even by some of the self-avowedly photo-oriented storage sites.

While we would advise photographers of all levels to shoot their photos as high-resolution RAW files, we realize that for many beginners, casual shooters, or those mostly using smartphones, a lack of support for uploading RAW files is not going to be a deciding factor when choosing cloud storage. For this reason, where a platform is otherwise very photography-friendly and offers some genuine advantages, we have included it in our list even if storage of RAW files is not currently permitted. Aside from this, and even putting RAW support aside, each photographer’s needs will likely differ quite significantly. With that in mind, this guide is designed to offer readers the necessary information to compare currently available cloud storage solutions in order to select the best option for their own uses.

500px

Source: https://500px.com/

You likely already know of 500px as a social network and “marketplace” for photographers. What you may not know, however, is that by signing up for one of their “Awesome” or “Pro” accounts, you also get access to unlimited storage.

Bizarrely, for a platform that claims to be geared toward the professional as much as the amateur, 500px lacks RAW support. However, if this is not a major concern for you, their pricing is competitive when compared with other storage providers, and becomes even more so if you’re also on the lookout for some of the other services a paid 500px membership includes: a photographer’s profile, public and private galleries, a dedicated app, the ability to collect photos by other photographers, and a listing in the 500px directory.

500px at a glance

  • Storage: unlimited
  • RAW support: no
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: yes
  • File sharing/sending: yes
  • Automatic file backup: N/D
  • Cost: various price plans, from $2.50 to $12.99 per month

Amazon Drive

Source: https://www.amazon.com/clouddrive

Using Amazon for your cloud storage needs might feel a little like going to Home Depot to get burritos: you certainly can, but it’s not necessarily the first place that comes to mind. But while there’s nothing worse than a bad burrito, in many ways storage is just storage, and Amazon offers a good service at reasonable rates.

In fact, if you already have an Amazon Prime account and just need somewhere safe to back up your files, then look no further, as Amazon already has you covered with free unlimited photo storage.

Amazon Drive at a glance

  • Storage: from 5GB to an unlimited number of photos, depending on the price plan
  • RAW support: yes
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: no
  • File sharing/sending: single images only
  • Automatic file backup: yes
  • Cost: Free with Amazon Prime account, which costs $119 per year. Otherwise, you get 5GB of storage free with a regular Amazon account, or you can go for 100GB for a cost of $11.99 per year.

Backblaze

Source: https://www.backblaze.com

Unlike some of the other platforms we look at here, Backblaze’s cloud storage is not a secondary add-on to some other service, but rather their primary raison d’etre. Backblaze is no more and no less than a serious, dedicated, file sync and backup service provider. From a photographer’s point of view, the downside to this is that there’s no flashy interface, no pretty image galleries, no networking opportunities, no community feedback or pro photography tips.

However, if you’re just in the market for a secure, no-frills vault for your photos, Backblaze is the place. “Unlimited Files. Unlimited File Size. Unlimited Speed” is their tag line, and it’s hard to find fault with that.

Backblaze at a glance

  • Storage: unlimited
  • RAW support: yes
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: no
  • File sharing/sending: yes
  • Automatic file backup: yes
  • Cost: $50 per year

Carbonite

Source: https://www.carbonite.com
  • Offering secure data backup for individuals and businesses, Carbonite occupies a similar position to Backblaze. Again though, there are no facilities for conveniently viewing, organizing or adding metadata to your photos. However, any such changes you make to your files locally on your computer will be remotely updated by Carbonite’s automatic backup service.

Carbonite at a glance

  • Storage: unlimited
  • RAW support: yes
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: N/D
  • File sharing/sending: yes
  • Automatic file backup: yes
  • Cost: from $59.99 per year to backup one computer, to $269.99 for multiple devices

Dropbox

Source: https://www.dropbox.com

You’re likely already familiar with Dropbox; for several years they’ve bridged the gap between old-school file-sending services such as Mediafire and the newer breed of large data cloud storage services.

If you haven’t checked Dropbox out for a while, though, you’ll likely find that there have been a few new developments. For example, although it’s been possible to save RAW files on Dropbox for some time, any RAW files you upload to Dropbox now will also be viewable as a preview image, making the platform a much more convenient solution for both backing up and organizing photo libraries.

What’s more, Dropbox has added a bunch of handy tools for sharing and sending images, and you can now design presentations, add captions, logos etc. and even keep tabs on viewer behavior by means of built-in data tracking tools.

While Dropbox has significantly altered their price plans over the last few years, this doesn’t seem to have made services any cheaper, but instead just served to camouflage rising rates. What’s more, their “unlimited” storage plans are in fact initially capped at 1TB of data, with the requisite that you contact them personally asking for an increase to this limit should you require more space.

Dropbox at a glance

  • Storage limit: 1TB on individual plan; theoretically unlimited on Advanced plans, but for this privilege, you’ll need to pay out for a minimum of 3 users and then write to Dropbox begging for more space.
  • RAW support: yes
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: some
  • File sharing/sending: yes
  • Automatic file backup: yes
  • Cost: $8.25 per month for an individual user; $20 per user x3 for Advanced plan (i.e. at least $60 per month)

Flickr

Source: https://www.flickr.com/

Flickr is, of course, known first and foremost as a social media platform for uploading, sharing, viewing and commenting on photos. But due to the need to store all those uploaded files somewhere, it is also one of the longest-running cloud storage services for imagery out there. The combination of social media networking opportunities, image viewing and organizing tools, and free file storage space makes Flickr a pretty appealing option for the casual photographer.

However, on the downside, there’s a maximum size limit of 200MB for image files (1GB for videos). And while this won’t be a problem for most users, anyone hoping to upload huge files shot using medium-format cameras, or containing multiple Photoshop layers, will find their attempts blocked. Worse still, Flickr doesn’t allow users to upload RAW files at all.

If you can live with looking at ads each time you log on and don’t need to upload large files, then Flickr makes for a great free photo storage solution. However, as the paid version offers no increase in storage space, has the same file size restrictions as the free version, and doesn’t support the uploading of RAW files, more serious photographers should probably spend their money elsewhere.

Flickr at a glance

  • Storage limit: 1TB
  • RAW support: no
  • Automatic file backup: only with paid plan
  • File sharing/sending: some
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: some
  • Cost: Free with ads; $5.99 per month without ads

Microsoft OneDrive

Source: https://onedrive.live.com/

While Microsoft’s cloud storage solution shares features such as automatic syncing and easy remote access with many other platforms we look at here, one further advantage of OneDrive Premium is access to the Office 2016 range of apps. Similarly, if you already have Windows 8.1 or later installed, or use Office 365, then you already have access to OneDrive too.

Beyond this, OneDrive offers plenty of options for creating and sharing photo galleries and folders, including time-limited links. However, there is currently no option to protect such links by means of a password. One major drawback: Although RAW files can be uploaded to a OneDrive account without issue, Microsoft currently doesn’t offer any facility for previewing those files online, which many users find frustrating. The limit for a single file uploaded to OneDrive is 10GB, which is more than enough for any photo file you might conceivably need to upload.

Microsoft OneDrive
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Microsoft OneDrive at a glance

  • Storage limit: 1TB
  • RAW support: you can upload RAW files, but not preview them
  • Automatic file backup: yes
  • File sharing/sending: yes
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: yes
  • Cost: $1.99 for 50GB; $6.99 per month for 1TB

Photoshelter

Source: https://www.photoshelter.com/

Photoshelter pitches itself as an all-around professional solution for photographers. So while they offer many different services – including websites, marketing tools, and e-commerce capabilities – it also means that they take the provision of cloud storage facilities very seriously, too. Consequently, access is made as easy and convenient as possible, and there are various facilities for tagging, sharing and delivery of images. Not to mention selling and licensing them.

For Pro account holders, there’s no limit to either the size or quantity of files that can be stored in the Photoshelter cloud. Similarly, the platform allows users to upload every possible format of image file – including, of course, RAW. Be warned, though, that you’ll need to pay a high price in order to take advantage of all the excellent services that a Photoshelter Pro account provides.

Photoshelter at a glance

  • Storage limit: 100GB for a standard account, unlimited for Pro users
  • RAW support: yes
  • Automatic file backup: no
  • File sharing/sending: yes
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: yes
  • Cost: $45 per month when billed annually

SmugMug

Source: https://www.smugmug.com

SmugMug is very similar to Photoshelter, in that beyond mere cloud storage, the platform also offers services such as website building tools, password-protected galleries, extensive image-tagging and captioning facilities, and even e-commerce solutions. Where SmugMug primarily differs from Photoshelter, though, is in the price: while both offer unlimited storage, an entry-level SmugMug account costs approximately the same per year as you’d pay each month for a Photoshelter Pro account!

SmugMug at a glance

  • Storage limit: unlimited
  • RAW support: yes, but need to pay extra for SmugVault extension
  • Automatic file backup: no
  • File sharing/sending: yes
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: yes
  • Cost: from $3.99 to $25 per month (paying annually)

Zoolz

Source: http://home.zoolz.co.uk/

Zoolz differs a little from the other platforms we look at here. Rather than just being a regular cloud storage service that you can access from anywhere at any time, Zoolz is a more specialized company offering long-term file storage solutions at an affordable price. This means that while storage is secure, it’s a little less convenient for making and retrieving regular backups of your image library. Instead, your original high-resolution files are put into “cold” storage, from where they need to be “ordered” in advance before being taken out of the deep freeze – a process that can take several hours to complete. In the meantime, you are given access to low resolution “hot” copies of these files, which are always instantly available for browsing.

This restriction, of course, means that Zoolz will not be everyone’s first choice for cloud storage provider. However, the platform offers a preview feature for RAW files that not only makes it a better solution for photographers than most other cold storage services around, but in fact more suitable for serious shooters than some of the most-popular instant-access solutions we look at here – many of which don’t allow the uploading of RAW files at all, never mind any kind of preview facility for them.

Zoolz at a glance

  • Storage limit: from 7GB upwards
  • RAW support: limited to only Canon, Nikon and Sony RAW files
  • Automatic file backup: yes
  • File sharing/sending: yes
  • Photo viewing, organizing, tagging: no
  • Cost: free and upwards

Final thoughts

If we just consider quality and range of services, the most serious option for photographers is likely Photoshelter Pro; fulfilling, as it does, all our basic requirements bar automatic backup and excelling at a whole lot more besides. Sadly, Photoshelter Pro also comes with by far the heftiest price tag of any of the platforms we look at. Although, to be fair, by paying this extra premium you get much more than just the cloud storage.

For those unlikely to make use of all of Photoshelter’s extra tools and facilities, or just unwilling to pay out such a huge fee, SmugMug comes a pretty close second place. And, if you go for their cheapest price plan, also makes for a very affordable alternative.

Meanwhile, for more casual photography enthusiasts, other options such as DropBox or Amazon Drive will undoubtedly be up to the job and won’t break the bank.

Finally, for those in need of a good long-term backup solution, but not overly concerned with speedy retrieval times, Zoolz is the one to look into.

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