The rise of iPhone photography has resulted in a need for more storage, a gap that many have tried to fill with hard-drives, thumb drives and cloud services. Macworld investigates which is the best for backing up your images.\
The difficulty here is that we have photos from three different devices that we are trying to back up to one location. Currently there isn't a simple way to do this.
How to back up your photo library with Apple's iCloud
This isn't a great solution to the problem of backing up your photos, as we will explain. However, because it's an Apple service, and you'd probably assume that it would provide the solution to backing up your photos, we will start by explaining why it doesn't.
Apple's iCloud comes baked in with iOS and, by and large, it doesn't disappoint; you get 5GB of free storage and it essentially means that if you lose your iPhone or iPad you can just recover your old back up onto your new device.
You may be wondering whether iCloud provides a means to back up your photos - perhaps so you could remove them from the device they are stored on.
This is where iCloud Photo Library could provide the solution, but unfortunately doesn't.
If you sign up to iCloud Photo Library all your photos can be accessed on all your devices, and any changes you make to an image will be replicated on all the devices too. Since the image is stored in the cloud you'd be correct in believing that meant that you could delete them from the device you took the photo on.
However, should you try to delete a photo from your iPhone, for example, you will see the message that it will be deleted from all your devices and from iCloud. There is no option to keep the image in iCloud.
You could choose to download the full res image in Photos on your Mac before deleting it - that should make a 'back up' of the image on your Mac, and allow you to continue to view it on your iPhone. But if you delete it from your Mac, it will be lost from iCloud too.
While you could manually sync the photo library on your Mac with iCloud, this wouldn't be the ideal solution as you won't have the full res versions of every photo on your Mac.
There's another issue with iCloud, its security was famously exposed in October 2014 and some of the prices are not that cheap. And that free 5GB is not going to go very far.
How to back up your Apple photo library with Dropbox
Dropbox is arguably the poster boy of cloud storage, and it’s easy to see why.
The service is available cross-platform, it is exceptionally easy to share links to albums and to use the desktop software to drag-and-drop files into. In addition, hi-res images are supported and there are no file size restrictions on Dropbox Business. It’s also very quick to enable the auto-uploading of photos (including over WiFi or cellular when using a mobile app).
And while the amount of free storage (2GB) isn’t much, you can top this up by referring Dropbox to friends (500MB for each friend, up to 16GB in total) or completing the Getting Started tutorial (250MB). Uploading photos automatically nets another 3GB.
The Carousel application is a neat dashboard for viewing, sorting and sharing images, while content is encrypted in transit and at rest.
Dropbox isn’t perfect, especially given the limited free data, and the inability to control how files are presented, but there are few cloud services this versatile.
How to back up your Apple photo library with Box
Box offers more free storage than Dropbox with 10GB on joining, while the 100GB which arguably betters Dropbox’s offering. The web UI is simple and easy to organise, and it offers desktop sync software and strong security. Files are AES-256 encrypted in transit and at rest.
However, Box is badly let down by having no option to sync by default – instead, you must log in and specify which folders you want to upload.
Read next: Photos for Mac review.
How to back up your Apple photo library with OneDrive
Microsoft's OneDrive might be a mainstay of Windows devices but it is a strong cross-platform service with numerous benefits.
For example, Office365 subscribers get 1TB of OneDrive storage, new users receive 5GB free. The service also promises full image back-up, and supports Two-Factor-Authentication (2FA), which is an extra security layer.
You must have a OneDrive account, while security-conscious will be aware of the on-going court cases with the US government on data sovereignty.
How to back up your Apple photo library with Google Drive/Google+
There are numerous advantages of using Google Drive for backing up photos; the prices are reasonable, there is unlimited storage for ‘standard’ image sizes, and a generous 30GB of free data, while you can tweak the quality of uploads using ‘Auto Awesome’ mobile apps. It also supports 2FA.
The disadvantages are that the 30GB is spread across Gmail, Drive and Google+ Photos, full-size images cost money, and you’ll need a Google+ account (which you’ll already have if you use Gmail).
Crucially, there’s no way to automatically upload photos from phone to Drive. You should instead use Auto Backup feature in G+ apps, which will send photos to your rarely-used G+ profile.
How to back up your Apple photo library with a hard drive
If you would prefer not to use a cloud service, a better idea would be to set up a separate storage device and move the photos currently stored on your Mac there.
You can't go wrong with an external hard drive, as it remains one of the most cost effective, secure and convenient way of backing up photos and other data.
You can pick-up a 1TB HDD for as low as £40, a 2TB version for £60 and 3TB for around £80. The larger you go the more likely the HDD will drag power from the mains and not USB 2.0 or 3.0.
HDDs are extremely cost effective, reliable and simple to use. But remember they could be lost, stolen or corrupted.
To move your photo library to a separate hard drive, follow these steps:
- Quit Photos.
- Copy the Photos Library by dragging it from the startup volume to your external volume.
- Once complete, hold down the Alt/Option key and launch Photos.
- In Photos, select Photos > Preferences, and in the General tab, click Use as System Photo Library.
This isn't going to create a back up as such, instead it will move your photo library from your Mac to a separate device.
Read next: How to keep your photos safe on your iPhone.
How to back up your Apple photo library through other methods
There are various other services and products that will help you store photos, but you might not have thought – or come across – all of them.
Facebook, for example, offers 2GB of free data with uploads set to private. Its limited storage, and the image quality, or privacy terms, are not ideal, but it remains an option.
Instagram is a more obvious choice as it lets you upload an unlimited number of photos and short videos for free, while Flickr offers a tempting 1TB and a slick interface for free (don’t expect to back-up videos). Amazon Cloud Drive is attractive for Amazon Prime customers, while Mega gives you 50GB for free and above-average security.
SugarSync and Space Monkey are less obvious choices; the former has apps on every platform but is expensive, while Space Monkey neatly combines cloud and HDD in a 2TB HDD that is free for the first year.
And of course are also inexpensive optical discs (CD-ROM, DVD and Blu-ray), Flash memory sticks and thumb drives.
How to back up your Apple photo library: Summary
There are clearly a number of options to consider when backing up your iOS photos, but our choice would have to be either iCloud or Dropbox due to their abilities of offering automatic cloud sync. We would also recommend having a physical hard disk drive backup in case anything should go wrong.