In the digital era, online cloud storage is a natural progression of how we save our images. Some photographers reject the idea of keeping their images in the cloud, but others welcome the ability to access their work anywhere — at least, anywhere with an internet connection. Love it or hate it, the technology is here to stay, and it’s developing quickly.
From household names like Google Drive to smaller organizations such as Photoshelter, there are plenty of options for keeping your images safe and secure. Here are the best cloud storage services for photographers.
What is cloud storage?
In case you’re not familiar with the concept of storing your images online, allow us to give you a quick introduction to what it is and how it works.
Traditionally, you would transfer your photos from your camera to your computer. The files would exist on your hard drive, and there they would stay. You might have a backup hard drive to keep a copy of your work, but everything was stored locally and offline.
Storing your images online isn’t too dissimilar to this concept, but instead of keeping them on your own hard drive, you upload them to a huge online server (the “cloud”). Companies such as Dropbox and Microsoft own these online servers and offer you a certain amount of space to store your work. Most companies offer a few gigabytes for free, but if you’re a heavy user, you can pay a monthly or yearly fee for more storage. For example, you can purchase 100GB of storage with Google Drive for $1.99 per month — that’s less than a cup of coffee!
As affordable as that sounds, the big difference between cloud storage and using your own hard drive is that you have to pay a subscription price indefinitely to keep your images in the cloud, whereas a hard drive is a one-time expense.
Cloud storage: The good
There are many benefits to saving your work to an online server. Firstly, you can access your images from pretty much anywhere. This is great if you need to make a quick edit on the move, or have to share a folder of images with a friend, family member, or client. This wasn’t possible when your photographs sat on a hard drive on your computer at home.
You also remove the physical element of the hard drive. Even a small portable hard drive is something extra you have to carry with you, and you’ll likely need to bring a computer to access it. With cloud storage, you can access all of your files from your phone or any other internet-connected device.
Then there are the horror stories about hard drives becoming damaged or corrupted, leading to data loss and often astronomical data recovery fees. Many photographers have also had their gear stolen and their images along with it. In many ways, cloud storage eliminates these issues and offers peace of mind. Sure, your computer could still get stolen, your hard drive could still crash, but your photographs will remain secure.
But like anything, online storage isn’t perfect. There are some downsides which tend to be the main reason people refrain from taking the plunge into using a cloud server for saving their work.
Cloud storage: The bad
Unfortunately, there have been cases of hackers obtaining personal files from cloud services and distributing them. Hacking usually happens to more high-profile people, like celebrities, but it’s a risk anyone who uses a cloud service takes. It’s important to note, however, that this kind of thing is extremely rare, and the major cloud storage companies take extreme measures to keep everyone’s files safe and secure.
Another off-putting factor is how companies use your data, and the terms of service are often vague and difficult to understand. In general, you always retain ownership of your content, but there are other reasons to be wary. Google, for example, uses artificial intelligence to scan your images to recognize faces and objects. This data helps you find specific photos quickly by searching for the things that are in them, but given Google’s broad terms of service, this same technology could be used to show you targeted ads based on what’s in your photos, and that’s something that makes many people uncomfortable.
For working photographers or anyone in need of large amounts of storage, the cloud can also become quite expensive compared to local storage. A 2TB plan with Dropbox, for example, costs $10 per month, but you can buy a 2TB portable hard drive for about $60. After just one year with this cloud plan, you will have paid twice as much for the same amount of storage, and the costs will continue piling up every month. Depending on how you work and what you need, that might be worth it for the convenience afforded by the cloud, or it might not.
Depending on your bandwidth, cloud services can also be slow. If you want to back up RAW files, for example, it may take hours — even days — to sync a large library of photos. If you only shoot a few pictures here and there, this won’t be a problem, but professionals or any other photographers who shoot hundreds or thousands of photos at a time may not find the cloud so convenient.
The best cloud storage services for photographers
Adobe Creative Cloud
When Adobe introduced a redesigned version of Lightroom, it also ushered in a new era of cloud-based workflows for photographers. Starting at $10 per month, the Creative Cloud Photography Plan offers access to Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic CC, and 20GB of cloud storage. Additional storage can be added at a rate of $10 per month per terabyte. The storage isn’t the cheapest out there, but you have to remember you’re also getting access to industry-leading creative applications as part of that cost, including Lightroom CC for mobile and numerous other Adobe mobile apps.
The Creative Cloud is unique in that it designed specifically with photographers in mind and allows for all manner of filetypes, from JPEGs to TIFFs to RAWs, to be automatically synced and accessed from virtually any device, be it a Mac or PC, tablet, or phone. This integrated support for RAW images is what makes the Creative Cloud so appealing to photographers. You can import a RAW photo on your desktop at home, then edit that same RAW file later on your phone while on the bus. You can even work with your RAW images on, say, a work computer that doesn’t have any Adobe apps installed by accessing your Creative Cloud account through a web browser.
The one potential downside of the Creative Cloud is that you need to be embedded in Adobe’s ecosystem to get the most out of it. If you’d rather use something other than Lightroom for organizing your photos, then this service isn’t the best choice. If you enjoy Adobe’s apps, however, it’s a no-brainer.
Google Drive is a fast, easy to use, well-designed cloud storage service. Google offers 15GB of free storage, all you need to do is set up an account. It’s simple to organize your folders, and you can color coordinate them if you like to make things a little fancier.
Drive also makes it easy to share your files. You can e-mail a folder directly to someone else or share the direct link with them. You have the option of selecting view, edit, and comment depending on how much control you want to give the recipient over the folder/images.
Paid monthly subscriptions start at $2 for 100GB, $3 for 200GB, and $10 for 1TB. Larger companies can expand storage up to 30TB for a monthly fee of $299.
Photoshelter is more than a cloud storage service. It’s a professional website builder that allows you to create a content site for your portfolio. Its plans include — but are not limited to — design templates, a store builder for which you can sell your work, a custom domain, and cloud storage.
Because it offers an all-in-one service, Photoshelter is a popular choice amongst the enthusiastic amateur and professional photographer. However, because it provides multiple services, plans cost a little more than the competition. The basic $13 package comes with just 4GB of storage. To match Google’s 100GB plan, you have to hand over $30 per month — but of course, you get the other features with that. Unlimited cloud storage is part of their “Pro” package, which costs $50 every month.
pCloud saves five copies of your files on their server. So, in the rare chance that one file became corrupt, you would have four other versions of it to ensure you did not lose it forever. Adobe Lightroom users can use the pCloud plugin and save their edits directly to the cloud server. pCloud is also capable of previewing most RAW files, so you don’t need to convert them to view your images when using the web or app version.
pCloud has two types of subscription options, annual and lifetime. Like the other options above, you can spread a yearly fee over monthly payments. For $4 per month, you get 500GB. For just $8, you get 2TB of storage. For lifetime access to 2TB storage plans, customers have to pay a one-time fee of $500.
Like Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive is clear and easy to use. Granted, the user interface is rather unattractive, but when it comes to keeping files safe, it gets the job done.
You get 5GB of free storage just for signing up. Paid plans start at $2 per month for 100GB of storage, but with these basic packages, you’re losing out on some core features. Options such as expiring share links, ransomware detection and recovery, files restore, and password-protected share links are all reserved for the premium packages.
For the more expensive plans, you’ll get 1TB for $7 per month (or a yearly fee of $70) or 6TB for $10 per month (or $100 yearly.)
Don’t trust the cloud? Make your own
If you’re still not ready to commit to moving to online storage, there is a hybrid option. Many hard dive manufactures offer personal cloud solutions, such as Western Digital’s My Cloud series. Such network-attached storage (or NAS) devices let you store your photos locally but access them remotely, without uploading your data to a server owned by someone else.
This approach is a great way to transition into the cloud storage world while still sticking with the tried and tested method.
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