Your Photos Are Irreplaceable. Get Them Off Your Phone

Your Photos Are Irreplaceable. Get Them Off Your Phone

Important photos?  When’s the last time you backed up your photos? Would you be upset if you lost them? You see where we’re going here, right?

As the resident tech expert among my family and friends, I often find myself making house calls when someone’s computer won’t cooperate. During a recent project, I found myself tasked with swapping out a hard drive, and I asked the person if he needed me to back up his photos and other data first. He said, “No, I backed up that computer to an external drive a few months ago, so I should have everything.”

“What about all the photos you’ve taken since then?” I asked nervously, already knowing the answer.

“They’re on my phone,” he answered matter-of-factly, as if they’d be anywhere else.

I have no problem fixing other people’s computers. In fact, I rather enjoy it, and I rarely charge money for my efforts. But that work comes with a price: They have to sit and listen to me lecture them on the importance of regular, consistent backups. And you can bet I gave him an earful. The answer is always the same: “I know, I know, I just need to find the time to set it up.”

I’m here to tell you it takes only about 5 minutes, and you should do it right now.

You Can Never Get Your Photos Back

Photos are unique in that they capture a specific moment in time. Your psych paper can be rewritten (however hastily), music can be downloaded again, and your tax forms can be filled out from scratch. It isn’t fun, but these documents are usually replaceable—the photos of your trip to Croatia and the videos of your daughter’s first steps can never be re-created.

And yet, tons of people keep their most precious data—their photos—on the smallest, most fragile device they own, which they carry around with them everywhere, constantly at risk of loss, theft, and breakage. We don’t usually think of phones as requiring backups—most of my backup sermons are specific to computers—but you absolutely need to get your photos off your phone, regularly, and onto another platform for long-term storage.

And getting them onto your computer is only part of the equation. Your computer is only slightly less fragile than your phone—hard drives fail all the time, and I have personally experienced both my phone and computer breaking at the same time.

So for the love of all that is holy, back up those photos to the cloud. You have two options for doing so: You can regularly offload your photos to your computer, then back up your computer with a tried-and-true cloud service like Backblaze, or take the easier route and back your photos up directly from your phone.

How to Automatically Back Up Your Pictures

There are plenty of apps dedicated to uploading, storing, and editing your photos, and you may have to explore each to figure out which is best for your use case. But here are some of the most popular, and how you can turn on their automatic backup features.

Google Photos: Google Photos is my preferred photo service, thanks to its reasonable prices, easy-to-use interface, and wealth of features (like facial recognition, automatic collages and slideshows, and built-in editing). All users get 15 GB of free storage, though it’s shared across all your Google services, so you’ll likely have a bit less than that for your photos. You can back up an unlimited number of photos compressed to a certain quality, but uploading them in their original quality counts against your storage space, and will probably require a subscription to Google One starting at $1.99/month for 100 GB. I recommend uploading in original quality, since lower-quality images may not look as good when printed for framing or photo books.

To set up Google Photos’ automatic uploading, download the Google Photos app for Android or iPhone, log in, then tap your profile photo in the upper right-hand corner. Tap Turn on Backup and adjust your backup settings as you see fit. Your photos should regularly back up to the cloud for safekeeping, and you can download them one by one or in batches if you ever want to print them out.

iCloud: If you’re using an iPhone, you probably have iCloud Photos turned on by default, which ensures your photos are backed up to Apple’s storage service. However, iCloud only offers 5 GB of space for free, and it’s shared with your iPhone backups and other data—so if you want to back up all your photos, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for more space. iCloud storage starts at $0.99/month for 50 GB (and going up from there, with equivalent pricing to Google One—though Apple also has its own upcoming Apple One subscription that bundles Apple Music, Apple TV+, and more with your iCloud storage). I find Google Photos to be a more feature-rich service that’s easier to use, but if you already subscribe to iCloud, or you want something firmly in Apple’s more privacy-focused camp, iCloud could be worth looking into.

To ensure your phone is backing up photos to iCloud, open the Settings app on your iPhone, scroll down to Photos, and flip the iCloud Photos switch on. You can then choose to remove photos from your iPhone as space is needed on your device, which could be handy.

Flickr: Flickr offers 1,000 uncompressed photos for free, which is great if you have a lot of hi-res photos—though automatic uploading from your phone (and unlimited uncompressed photo storage) requires a Flickr Pro account at $6/month. It’s a good service if you want to make your photos publicly available for all to see, alongside photos from other amateur and professional photographers.

To turn on automatic upload, open the Flickr app for Android or iOS and tap the profile button in the toolbar along the top. Drag the screen down and tap the three-dots menu that appears in the upper right-hand corner. Select Auto-Uploadr to enable the feature.

Amazon Photos: Amazon might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think “cloud photo storage,” and its service might not be quite as full-featured as Google’s, but it holds its own. Most importantly, though, Prime members get unlimited storage for full-resolution photos. So if you already pay for Prime to get two-day shipping, you don’t have to pay anything extra for your photo storage, which is awesome—though you only get 5 GB for videos, so once you reach that limit, you may have to upgrade your plan.

To get your photos off your phone and onto Amazon’s service, you’ll need the Amazon Photos app for Android and iOS. It’ll prompt you to auto-upload your photos on first install, but just in case, you can enable the feature by tapping More in the bottom-right, then going to Settings > Auto-Save and adjusting your preferences there.

Dropbox: Dropbox is not a photo storage service per se, but its mobile app can automatically upload photos from your phone, so it’s suitable as a backup if you already pay for Dropbox space (a free account offers only 2 GB).

To turn on automatic uploading, open the Dropbox app for Android or iOS, tap the menu, and scroll down to Settings. Tap Camera Uploads to turn the feature on and adjust your settings

Note that with any of these apps, you may need to adjust your phone’s battery-saving features in order for them to upload in the background. For example, on my Android phone, I had to go to Settings > Apps > Three-Dots Menu > Special Access > Optimize Battery Usage > All Apps and turn off battery optimization for Dropbox—otherwise it would only upload photos when I opened the app. On an iPhone, you may need to head to Settings > Dropbox and turn on Background App Refresh (and turn on background uploading in the Dropbox app). So tweak those settings and test the app’s auto-uploading feature and ensure it works properly before you start filling your phone with precious photos—you don’t want to live with a false sense of security. Once you’re done, though, you can rest easy knowing your photos aren’t going anywhere—even if you accidentally drop your phone in the river.

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