Over the last couple of months I've been thinking about backing up my photo collection online, and I've finally bit the bullet and got it done! I touched on using off-site back up in a previous post about the best way to organise your photos. (If you didn't read this, essentially, you want at least two copies of your photos stored in seperate locations. For example, I have my primary copy on an external hard drive, and back these up onto CD's monthly). There are a couple of reasons why I have decided on using an off-site service. The first is that whilst I have two copies of my photos they are still in the same physical location. That means if there was to be a fire or some other disaster at my home, then all my photos would be lost - forever. Some may say it's an unlikely scenario, and maybe it is, but I'd rather be safe than sorry when dealing with all my visual memories - they are the one thing that is truly irreplaceable. The second reason is to reduce the amount of CD's we have lying around the house - it just seems to make more sense to me to back these up online, particularly as off-site storage is so cheap these days. The third is - my hard drive will fail one day just like the one in your computer eventually will, so I'd like to ensure that I get to my images easily and in one place without too much trouble.
First of all, let me very very quickly run through what options I found that were available (although please bear in mind I am by no means an expert, there could be other options out there!) The first was cloud storage - where you usually have a folder placed on your computer desktop where you drag the files into that you want to copy. The second was a computer back up and restore, which back ups all your files, including your photos, and will restore everything to your computer should it crash. This generally runs along in the background updating as it goes, so you don't need to do anything. The last option I looked at was sites dedicated to photo sharing and storage.
I knew I didn't want computer back up so it was between cloud sharing and a photo sharing site. After a bit of consideration I went for a photo-sharing site. The reason? I take a lot of photos of Callum, my family and my "mom" friends children so I am doing a lot of showing or downloading photos for people. I don't mind this, but being able to share them online should be an nice easy way to reduce my workflow even further and share photos with my family. The two I had narrowed it down to were Flickr Pro at $24.95 per year and SmugMug at $40.00 per year although there are lot of other sites around that do the same thing. (Although you can get Flickr for free, it is pretty useless for photo back up - you can only see and download your last 200 photos online, and photos are compressed if you download them. This is true of a lot of free sites) Both Flickr Pro and SmugMug have the following features that I liked:
-Max individual photo file size of 50MB
-Retrieve all or individual photos at any time in a variety of formats
-Upload JPEG, GIF and PNG files
-Photos are absolutely not compressed either for storage, or for download
-Upload photos directly from Lightroom / Photoshop
-Apps to allow you to upload photos taken on your iphone directly to your flickr/smugmug account
Although it is more expensive, in the end I plumped for SmugMug for the following reasons:
- Increased privacy - you can password protect selected galleries (with different passwords!) or entire site
- You can hide individual photos in a gallery from your visitors
- You can block your "site" from appearing on Google or searches
- You have the facility to order prints, canvases, photobooks etc direct just by clicking on the photo you want (available from a variety of different vendors)
- Visitors do not need to have a SmugMug account
- You can store RAW or Photoshop files for a very small extra free ($0.125 per GB per month!) which you can't do with Flickr
- The ability to upgrade to Power Account which allows you to right click protect your photos (no copying) which was quite important to me as I may be dipping my toe into the waters of paid work in the future.
- The clarity of the photos on the web is brilliant, as is the display / catalog options
In short, either Flickr or SmugMug would have been suitable and it was a close call - but the little extra touches from SmugMug did it for me and made it worth the extra. Whatever option you choose, if you are looking at storing your photos off-site try to find out about the following:
- Make sure your photos aren't compressed in any way, either in storage or on download
- Try to get unlimited storage - photos can add up over the years and you could find yourself paying more down the line
- Ensure you can download your photos individually or in a group at any time and uncompressed
- Go for a reputable company - many sites have been known to close, especially free ones and you don't really want the hassle of trying to upload everything again!
- Make sure you don't have to order a certain amount of prints per year
There is one small drawback to storing online - the amount of time it takes to upload several years worth of photos, but once it's done it will be a doddle to upload as I go.
As you can see there are a lot of options out there and what works for me might not necessarily work for you, plus I am definitely no expert in this area! I hope this has at least given you some ideas and things to look out for should you go down the road of off-site photo storage.
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