After your scanned photo files are safe on your computer, or on a USB stick, or on an external storage device, you need to think about storing photos in the cloud!
Many people are puzzled by talk of “the cloud”. The thought of having photos in the cloud can sound mysterious, or even dangerous.
In this article I am going to break it down for you. I will explain what ‘the cloud’ is, why it’s important for you, and the different cloud options to choose from. This review focuses on the big name players because if you are going to be storing photos in the cloud you want to be sure that the cloud of your choice has a fair chance of being around in 10 or 20 years time.
What is the “Cloud” and why store photos in the cloud?
The cloud is an internet-based storage and sharing solution that allows you, or anyone you give access to, to see, edit and print these files from any device.
As an example, let’s imagine that you have had some photos scanned and you are wanting to share them with family members. But you have a problem. Half of your family lives on the other side of the city and the rest are living overseas. One solution would be to email a select group of photos to your family members. This creates two problems.
- You have too many that you want to send, and
- If you reduce the size of the files (in order to be able to send more), your family won’t be able to enjoy the photos in high quality.
So, emailing photos is a poor solution for both storage and sharing.
What about Facebook? You could create a “closed group” on Facebook, invite family members to join the group and use the group for photo sharing. Yes, you could do this, and it might work for you. However, some family members aren’t on Facebook and would be left out. Also, Facebook isn’t really set up as a file sharing platform.
So, Facebook is an OK solution for sharing photos, but is a bad solution for storage.
Your best solution is a dedicated cloud service.
Storing photos in the cloud – what are your options?
Apple has its own storage solution called “icloud”. (Typically, this is where photos taken on an Apple iphone end up). Apple’s Cloud service is a free service up to 5gb, which means you will be paying for space shortly after signing up. If you are a couple or a small family looking to share digital photos and you all have Apple devices, then potentially you could use Apple Cloud to host these files and you could each have access to the photos through Apple’s photo streaming service.
The problem is, Apple solutions are very tied into the Apple ecosystem and when you move outside of that it becomes unworkable to share photos stored on Apple cloud. It is more suited to personal users looking for extra storage for their phone pics. I do not recommend Apple as an archiving solution for scanned photos. Neither do I recommend it as a sharing platform.
Dropbox is another cloud storage solution. It is like having a group of filing cabinets in the cloud – folders and files. From time to time you might give the key to a drawer (or a single folder) to somebody else so that you can collaborate on work, or download information, or organise photos. It does this really well and it is a fairly open environment. Unlike Apple, you aren’t forced to be part of the Dropbox community to get access to the area you want to see. Your family only needs to click the link you provide them and they will have access to a specific folder of photos. Depending on their access rights, other uses can also upload photos of their own to the same folder that is being shared. A computer, tablet or phone can be used to upload, download and view files. Super convenient!
The only downside with Dropbox is that it isn’t a dedicated photo sharing platform. It treats photos, simply as files in a folder. So as an interface for photos, it’s not pretty, but it works. Dropbox is free for the first 2gb. That’s 2-300 photos stored in jpeg. Not much. So, have your credit card handy and pay for a plan.
OneDrive is a similar solution to DropBox. It may appeal to those who are familiar with Windows and wish to stick to icons and commands they recognise. It’s a good storage solution and has the credibility of the Microsoft brand behind it. Again, like DropBox, it doesn’t have a slick interface for dealing with photos.
Google Photos is designed specifically for photos. It is based around “albums”, not folders. A photo uploaded once can be assigned to various albums. One thing… if you’ve got a number of photos, all in different folders on your computer and try to upload them to Google Photos it will not preserve your folder system. However, if you upload to Google using a third party “uploader” program such as Picbackman it will preserve your computer ‘folders’ as ‘albums’ in Google Photos.
One of the great benefits of Google Photos is intelligent facial recognition, and it can organise your newly scanned photos into albums based on a face. It will even work out that a 10 year old Mary Lou is the same person as 50 year old Mary Lou and put it in an album called Mary Lou. Then, if you want to share that album with Mary Lou, you simply send the link via email from within the app.
Using Google Photos
To use Google Photos you will need a Google account and the Google Photos app for your phone (if you want to access pics from your phone). These are both free, and the storage is free, to a point. Meaning, you can upload photos as full original resolution, but when you hit 15gb across all of your google related apps put together (including gmail) then your account will be “full” and you will need a plan to keep using. One solution is to get into the settings of Google Photos and select the option to upload as “compressed photos”. This will allow unlimited uploading of photos. Which is great if you want to limit the sharing of photos purely to other people viewing the photo on a screen.
But here’s a warning! If you are using the compressed/unlimited option in Google Photos, DO NOT treat Google Photos as a backup solution. These photos are suitable for screens, but they are not suitable for editing, printing or archiving. Personally, I use Google Photos for the convenience of sharing images that will be viewed on devices. I do not use it as my one stop storage solution.
Review of cloud-based storage and sharing options
So let’s review your options and the associated pros and cons.
In summary, those looking for a cloud based solution for their photos need to consider their own specific needs. These include:
- the number of photos and size of the storage they need
- The amount they are prepared to pay each month
- How important it is / or isn’t to have a photo-centric interface
- Whether cloud based photo editing functionality is important to you
- Do you want to use facial recognition technology to organise your photos into albums of people?
- How secure/private your files will be?
- Flexibility to upload files of differing formats. For example, video files and Apple’s new HEIF format
- Simplicity of uploading whole folders and having these folders preserved in the upload
- Ease of downloading multiple files from the cloud
- Can you share photos with others who are not subscribers to the platform where your photos are?
For true backup of important scanned photos, you either have to pay for a Dropbox or Google plan and upload the photos as original high resolution OR be content to back up your scanned photos onto an external storage device.
Trying to share original high resolution photo files via a cloud service can be frustrating. This is because upload speeds are a lot lower than download speeds. So try just choosing a selection. Don’t imagine that you can easily upload the 5000 slides you had scanned as super high res tif files! It would take your average home user several weeks of constant internet connection (with no Netflix happening!) to upload 30 years of scanned files.
An Alternative to storing photos in the Cloud
Another option you might want to consider, that doesn’t include any of these subscription based cloud servers, is a home-based cloud solution, known as NAS (Network Attached Storage). This is basically an external hard drive connected to your wireless internet at home that you can access from anywhere. Anyone you choose can also be given access to part of the drive from their wireless network.
A NAS system won’t have a fancy photo interface like Google Photos, but it will avoid monthly fees and save you worrying about privacy issues. However, be prepared to pay out some up-front cash to get set up. Just google the options, or check out this review, then go for a product with 4 or 5 star reviews and a local warranty.
Also, keep in mind – even if you do have an effective cloud based storage and sharing option, you still need to have a backup of all those files on an external drive. Your files are too valuable to be exclusively kept in one place.
I’d love to hear what you think! What solution have you found for storing photos in the cloud? What do you see are the advantages and disadvantages of various platforms? How do you feel about storing your photos in the cloud?