picture backupWhat’s the first thing that you do when you are back from a vacation or from a family wedding? You probably connect the digital camera to your computer and transfer the photographs (a better word would be “memories”) from the camera to your hard-drive.

You’ve following this routine for quite some time and, as a result, a few hundred thousand photographs reside on your computer now neatly tagged and arranged in folders. But wait, do you have a backup plan for these “priceless” digital photos?

How to Backup your Digital Photos

There are basically four ways by which you can backup your photos at home:

1. Backup your photos on CDs and DVDs – This is a cheap and easy option but please remember that disks have a finite shelf life so pictures that you burn today on to a DVD disk may not be accessible after few years.

2. Use an external hard drive – You can get a portable 500 GB drive for less than $100, they connect to your computer via USB (or Firewire) ports but again, you can’t expect an external hard drive to last forever.

3. Use Network Storage – If you have pictures across multiple computers, you can use a network attached storage (NAS) device likeApple’s Time Capsule to automatically backup all your digital content in one place.

[*] The HP device can transfer files to Amazon S3 so you have an added layer of protection.

4. Use an online backup services – You can use photo-sharing websites (like Flickr) or an online backup service (like Mozy) to put your photos on to the “cloud” and access them from any other computer.

For most users, the best option for preserving digital photographs is often “online backup” because it doesn’t require you to burn DVDs (which are unreliable anyway), you don’t have to invest in any new hardware and your photos are likely to last forever as long as you pay the yearly bills.

Online Backup for your Digital Photos

There are again four different routes for online backup:

#1. Online backup services like Mozy that offer unlimited storage and allow not just photographs but files of all types.

#2. Photo-sharing services like Flickr or Picasa Web Albums that allow you to store both photographs and video clips online.

#3. File-synchronization services like Dropbox, SugarSync or Windows Live Mesh.

#4. Online storage services like Amazon S3 or Windows Live SkyDrive.

What should you use?

Well, photo-sharing sites allow you to visually browse pictures in the web browser itself while a backup service like Mozy will first require you to download the photos on to the computer before you can show them to your visiting grand-parents.

File-synchronization services like Live Mesh not only provide online backup but they also save a copy of your digital files (pictures in this case) on to your other computers so even if your main hard-drive suffers a crash, you can quickly retrieve files from the other computers.

The Cost of Online Storage for Digital Photos

If you only have a few hundred photos on your computer that occupy anywhere between 1-2 GB of storage space, you can enjoy any of above backup services for free but if your storage requirements are slightly more, you probably need to for a paid version.

Now here’s a visual graph that compares the storage cost of various online backup services where you can safely store your priceless photos.

Flickr Pro costs around $25 an year and you can store unlimited number of pictures here though the maximum size of individual pictures should not exceed 20 MB (bad for professional photographs who shoot in RAW – see comments).

Picasa Web Albums on the other hand lets you purchase storage on-demand so you only pay $5 per year for 20 GB of online storage but end-up paying $100 for 400 GB of storage. Like Flickr, images uploaded to Picasa Web Albums can be no larger than 20MB and are restricted to 50 megapixels or less.

Live Skydrive is the best online storage service – it offers 25 GB of free space (50 MB limit for individual files) and that should be enough for most home users. You can upload picture libraries from your desktop to Windows Live SkyDrive using the free Windows Live Photo Gallery client though it’s only available for Windows.

Online backup services like Mozy cost around $60 per year respectively but here you get unlimited storage, your files are automatically backed up  (in the background) and there are no restrictions on file-size.

SmugMug, another popular photo-sharing site, offers a service called SmugVault that uses Amazon S3 to backup your photos, videos and all other file-types that you can imagine. They have a relaxed 600 MB per file limit and you pay the normal Amazon S3 rent for files that are not photos.

Amazon S3, where you pay only for what you use, is very reliable (their SLA promises 99.9% uptime) turns out to be very expensive if your yearly storage requirement exceeds 10 GB.

online photo storage prices

Here’s another representation of the same graph – Yearly costs (in $) vs. storage offered (in GB).

Windows Live SkyDrive offers 25 GB of online storage space for your pictures for free though there’s no option to purchase extra storage. In paid services, Google’s Picasa offers the best value for money if your photo collection can fit in 20 GB else a Flickr Pro account probably makes more sense.

Picasa desktop software makes it easy for you to upload and download photos from Picasa Web Albums. Flickr provides an uploading utility but you need to rely on a third-party hacks to download the original (full-resolution) albums from Flickr.

Related: Never use your Web Host for File Backup