There's loads to think about when picking the best online photo storage for your images. How much space do you need? Do you need to store RAW files or will JPEGs do? Do you want other people to be able to browse your images, or are they just for you? And, of course, are you looking for a free service, or are you willing to spend a monthly or yearly fee to get the storage you need.
Whether you are shooting reams of images on a high-resolution DSLR or just want a space for your smartphone snaps, online photo storage is the way to go. Physical hard drives are great but expensive, and of course are subject to all the perils of physical devices like fire or accident. Keeping loads of images on your computer will slow it down by clogging up the hard drive, not to mention the danger of losing it all in a system crash.
A single, easy-to-use online archive is the thing to choose, with cloud storage that you can access anywhere, at any time. The best online image archives provide easy organisation of your images, with grouping, albums and other arrangements on offer.
Of course, it's not always smooth sailing. You're dependent on the strength of your internet connection of course, and wobbly Wi-Fi can mean hours spent watching the upload bar slowly crawl to 100%. There can also be the issue of the changing nature of the online landscape; if services run out of money due to dwindling user base, they can and will shut down! This can lead to some time spent frantically downloading photos if you've been relying on one service for all your storage needs.
However, if you've got the patience, some cloud storage platforms offer nifty features like file management automation, with geotags and metadata used to group together photos by location, date taken, who's in them (using facial recognition), and the camera or device with which they were taken. They're definitely worth exploring if you, like most photographers, have more images than you know what to do with!
Free vs. paid cloud storage
Free services usually come with strings attached, mostly obviously a severely restricted storage capacity. Only if you pay a monthly or annual subscription do you get to sample the best features and access to more useful capacities.
Best online photo storage in 2021
The best online photo storage (free)
This is the big one. As long as you agree with its restrictions on image quality, Google Photos will automatically upload and backup every photo you ever take on a smartphone (when it's on Wi-Fi), and extract every image it finds on your computers. What's more, it does it all for free.
However, there are a couple of catches; as it uploads your photos, it will downscale them to 16MP versions, and reduce any 4K videos it finds to Full HD 1080p quality. If that doesn't appeal, and you'd rather upload in maximum quality, that's OK with Google, but it will then restrict you to storing 15GB. That's quite a downgrade from 'unlimited', but it's relatively generous. Still, even if Google Photos isn't perfect for professional photographers, it's still a pain-free way of backing-up a phone and keeping a usable copy in the cloud of every photo you've ever taken.
Once everything has been uploaded – something that takes a while, obviously –Google Photos has all kinds of algorithms on board. Auto-enhancing, automatic tagging, image recognition to find your face and group together anything with you in. There's also an animation creator that will create occasional GIFs from burst sequences, and slideshow video options too. Despite these playful features, Google Photos is genuinely impressive software. Plus, a mind-boggling 1.2billion photos are uploaded to Google Photos each day, so algorithms will likely keep improving.
The only trouble is Google tends to have some great products, but then cease support for them at relatively short notice. That's what happened to its last foray into photos, Picasa. Click here
Though Dropbox is a rather simple cloud-based file storage service, it's particularly good for photos. Unfortunately, the free Basic version isn't much use since new users get a paltry 2GB of online storage – that's not going to stretch very far.
However, it's worth experimenting with if you're the type of photographer who likes to store all of their photos in folders on a computer, and wants to keep it that way. Although it's a cloud storage solution, the Dropbox software installed on a desktop or laptop PC or Mac can be used to selectively sync folders. Once it's set up, it's simply a case of dragging and dropping photos into a folder that will then automatically sync. It's great for syncing files and folders across several computers. The Dropbox app can then be used to view your photos on phones and tablets, though it's also got a camera upload option that auto-uploads all photos taken on devices.
If you want only the safety of a backup without ceding manual control of your photos, Dropbox is a pretty hassle-free solution for laptop/desktop PC/Mac users. Click here
Flickr isn't a name you hear as often in the photography community as you used to. However, since being bought by Smugmug in 2018, the service is still offering extensive storage for photographers. At the free tier, you can host up to 1,000 photos, and as long as you don't mind a few intrusive ads inserting themselves between your images, you'll have an attractive platform on which to show them off. You can of course upgrade to the paid tier to get rid of both the file cap and the ads; this is available at various tiers, and can be snapped up for around £55 or $75 annually.
If you don't just want storage but are also looking for a platform that will display your photos, for free, Flickr is definitely the one to choose. The 1,000 photo cap should be more than enough to keep a clean, diverse gallery of your images, while you'll also find it easy to organise them and tag them with appropriate data.
A portfolio platform will not appeal to photographers who can't bear to delete old silos of Raw files. If you're the kind of photographer who likes to keep piles of old images 'just in case', the likes of 500px will only appeal as a way to showcase your very best images.
However, there are photographers who will very happily delete almost all of their photos, keeping only a few of their very best. If that's you, consider putting them on 500px, a community of over 13million photographers from 190 countries that's all about quality over quantity. As well as getting feedback from other photographers, it also acts as a platform for licensing, so members can make money.
Naturally, 500px does allow its users to upload photos in original resolution, but there is a big catch for users of its free version; it permits only seven uploads within any seven-day period (it used to be 20), and 2,000 uploads in total. Various upgrade offers exist, with 'Awesome' ($3.99/month) bringing unlimited uploads, 'Pro' ($4.99) allowing you to showcase your photography business, and 'Pro + Adobe' ($11.99), which adds an Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan for access to Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop software. Click here
While you need to pay to get the most out of iCloud, Apple's proprietary online storage software will provide you free photo storage to the tune of 5GB. So while you're not going to get your archives on there without paying, it makes for a decent stopgap and a useful asset to have if you find yourself needing to do a lot of quick, temporary image hosting.
If you're already in the Apple ecosystem with your devices, getting an iCloud account is a no-brainer. You'll be able to access your images anywhere, at a moment's notice, and it works in conjunction with the Photos app to make organising your images as easy and streamlined as possible. The lack of Android support means it's probably not one to choose if you're not already an Apple convert, but if you are, 5GB of free storage is tough to argue with.
The best online photo storage (paid)
IDrive is a fast, easy to use cloud storage solution which lets you easily sync files stored on your computer, as well as on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive. There’s 5GB of free storage to start you off, while the $69.50 IDrive Personal plan buys you a year's worth of 5TB storage, and 10TB can be had for a very competitive $99.50 a year. Both capacity options are also regularly discounted to make them even more of a bargain.
The simple web interface allows you to easily share files by email or to social media sites, and you can sleep easy knowing up to 30 previous versions of all files are retained should you need to roll back to an older version of an image. What's more, while there is support for continuous file syncing, files on the cloud don't have to be automatically deleted should you delete the version on your local hard drive.
Like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, IDrive also offers a clever facial recognition feature to help you organise your image portfolio, and it's able to sync images across your mobile devices.
Livedrive is unusual among cloud storage providers as it offers unlimited storage, and if you only need to back up the contents of one PC or Mac, the monthly cost is very reasonable. Back-up is automatic and mirrors any changes you make to a file on your computer, and up to 30 previous versions of edited files are stored in case you need to roll back to a previous file version. To back up multiple computers (up to 5), the Pro Suite is the package to go for. This also lets you back up your mobile device, as well as giving you 5GB of Briefcase storage. Briefcase is Livedrive's file syncing service which functions much like Dropbox, giving you an online drive where you can store you're most-used images, videos and documents for easy access while you're on the go from any computer or mobile device. Briefcase also makes it easy to share files and folders securely, with the option to password protect a shared file. Livedrive can be accessed via its website, or a dedicated app for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. Stored files are protected by AES-256 bit encryption, along with two-factor authentication when you access your account.
pCloud is a relative newcomer to the cloud storage scene, but it's making waves, and it's easy to see why. This is one of a few cloud storage companies to offer a one-off, lifetime payment option. If you can stomach parting with £350, you get 2TB of storage for life, plus benefits like 2TB of download bandwidth for sharing images and videos (uploading is unlimited). Alternatively, £175/$175 will buy you a lifetime's 500GB of storage and the same again in linking/streaming bandwidth. pCloud also offers annual subscription plans, with the same 500GB/2TB storage options priced at £47.88/$47.88 and £95.88/$95.88 per year respectively, which works out at £3.99/$3.99 and £7.99/$7.99 a month.
It's not only the lifetime storage option that makes pCloud attractive. You can access your files from a PC, Mac, mobile devices or the web, with pCloud storage appearing as a local drive on a PC or Mac for ultimate ease of access and backup. What's more, for an extra $3.99 a month, you can upgrade to pCloud Crypto so each stored file can be encrypted and password protected.
Smugmug isn't really cloud storage in the conventional backup sense - it's a website builder designed to host image and/or video content. Think Flickr (no coincidence - Smugmug acquired Flickr in 2018) but with a major overhaul and many more features. The main draw here is you can uploaded unlimited numbers of images and videos, albeit with a few limitations. Images must be less than 150MB each, and videos need to be under 3GB, and with a max res of 1080p and duration of 20 minutes. The other catch is that, being a platform designed for displaying photos online, not just storing them, image file types are restricted to web-friendly JPEG, GIF, PNG and HEIF formats - no Raw or TIFF support here. You do however get a mobile app that enables image editing and archiving on the move, while the display options for uploaded images and videos are extensive, as are the media sharing features. Four pricing options are available: the $8.40/month Basic plan gives you a simple but modern website design, but with restricted customization and a .smugmug.com website URL. Upgrading to the Power plan adds much more customization, including 21 web templates, right-click image protection and a proper domain name for $13.20/month. The Portfolio plan adds web store options so you can make some cash from your snaps - it costs $32.40 a month. The topmost Pro plan is even more eCommerce focused, with extensive marketing, checkout and stock inventory options - it's targeted at professional photographers, hence the $50.39 monthly fee. All four plans can be discounted by around 30% if you buy annually rather than monthly. Smugmug is so advanced it really needs to be tried, and thankfully you can sign up for a no-commitment 14-day free trial to see everything it has to offer.
Google Drive is a huge cloud storage service that enables you to store any file type and has a sliding pay scale depending on the services and the size of storage you want. You get a generous 15GB for free, but there’s also a wide selection of paid upgrades. 100 GB currently costs £1.59/$1.99 per month, 200GB £2.49/$2.99 per month, and 2TB £7.99/$9.99 per month. There are even 10, 20 and 30TB options, but they’re hugely expensive. An added bonus is, like Apple and Microsoft, Drive isn’t just about storage, as it’s also integrated with Google’s cloud-based productivity apps that rival Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Dropbox has been the go-to cloud storage choice for years. You get a rather paltry 2GB for free, so really you’ll need to step up to the 2TB ‘Plus’ plan at £7.99/$9.99 a month, albeit charged annually, at an up-front cost of £95.88/$119.88. This also gets you extras like easy file sending and 30-day account and file recovery. A 3TB ‘Professional’ plan is also available, but it’s geared towards small businesses, and isn’t great value for most photographers.
Dropbox’s simple interface enables you to drag and drop the files you want to store online into a Dropbox folder on your machine and then these are automatically stored in the cloud, mirroring what is on your device. If you delete a photo from your computer, it can be set to delete from the cloud. Using the mobile app for iOS and Android is equally easy.
Although Dropbox doesn’t offer a dedicated imaging application like iCloud Photos, the simple folder structure design will appeal to those who like to have full control over the way their files are stored and organised.
iCloud is the most logical cloud storage choice if you’re already an iPhone or Mac user, such is the seamless device integration of Apple’s ecosystem. As with Microsoft Windows and OneDrive, iCloud is neatly integrated into the Mac Finder app, making for super-easy file backup and sharing across devices. The connection is so slick that selected folders on your Mac’s internal hard drive will automatically upload to iCloud, and if you delete a file from your machine, it’ll also be deleted from the cloud.
Apple also includes access to web versions of apps like Pages and Numbers for easier on-the-go productivity. The Photos app is available across Apple devices, as well as directly through a browser. It enables you to quickly access, organise, download and share your images in one of the most streamlined interfaces available.
iCloud starts at just £0.79/$0.99 a month for 50GB of storage, while 200GB is £2.49/$2.99, and 2TB £6.99/$9.99. You can also get 5GB for free when you sign up.
Being a Microsoft product, OneDrive cloud storage is deeply integrated into Windows 10 so it can be accessed from the operating system much like a physical hard drive or SSD, making for an effortless cloud backup solution. There’s also a Mac OS app to enable a similar experience when using a Mac, though perhaps inevitably it’s not as slick as the iCloud ecosystem. OneDrive can also be used on iOS and Android mobile devices.
The photos section is just one part of OneDrive and it boasts clever features. There’s extensive raw file support, as well as the ability to automatically recognise the content of your images and tag them, making it easy to search for images by content or theme.
One Drive offers 5GB of storage for free, while 100GB will set you back a fairly accessible £1.99/$1.99 a month. £59.99/$69.99 will buy you a year’s subscription to the Microsoft 365 Personal plan, which gives you 1TB of storage, along with a useful file recovery service and access to online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.