The 5 Best Ways to Backup Digital Photos

Digital photography — particularly on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad —  has many advantages over traditional film, but unfortunately, security isn’t really one of them.

Digital photography — particularly on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad — has many advantages over traditional film, but unfortunately, security isn’t really one of them. Unlike prints or negatives, digital images can be lost forever in a catastrophic hard drive failure, or even accidentally deleted with a few clicks of the mouse. Here are a few ways for Apple users to make sure those digital memories don’t vanish before their eyes.

Store Photos Across Multiple Libraries

The best offense for any potential disaster is a good defense: The latest versions of Apple’s Aperture ($79.99, Mac App Store) or iPhoto (free, Mac App Store) not only share the same library format now, they also allow users to access multiple libraries — even those spread across different storage media. This process is easier with Aperture since the feature is baked into the software, but with a keyboard shortcut or third-party application like iPhoto Library Manager ($29.95, fatcatsoftware.com), the same trick works in iPhoto as well.

The concept is simple: Move older, unused, and duplicate images to a separate library stored on an external drive, preferably one that doesn’t see daily use. By launching Aperture or iPhoto with the Option key held down, you can easily switch between libraries at will; with the application open, File > Switch to Library does the same. This tip works best when libraries are stored on some kind of redundant storage like a Drobo or network-attached storage (NAS), or in conjunction with the advice offered in our next method, which also has the benefit of freeing up precious internal space on modern flash storage drives.

Archive Photos in the Cloud

If you happen to be a person who isn’t very proactive about keeping a good backup of digital photos, syncing them to the cloud is a great way to “set it and forget it.” There are an endless variety of services with Mac desktop clients, and many of them offer generous amounts of free or cheap storage as well. Some of the more popular options include Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, MediaFire, and Bitcasa, and many offer mobile apps that can be configured to automatically back up the Camera Roll of iOS devices.

The same services also work with libraries from desktop applications like iPhoto, Aperture, or Adobe Lightroom, although you’ll want to make sure to save these files in a folder on internal or external storage that’s set up to sync from desktop to cloud for faster local access, rather than a network-based drive dependent upon internet access; Bitcasa offers such an option, and other cloud services can do the same using software like ExpanDrive ($49.95, expandrive.com).


Use free or cheap cloud storage to back up digital photos from, no matter where they might reside.

Use Cloud Photo Services as a Backup

Speaking of the cloud, mobile shutterbugs are increasingly embracing the convenience of carrying entire photo collections in their pocket. Services like Picturelife, Adobe Revel, and ThisLife make it easy to back up photos from iOS or Android devices as well as Mac or PC, providing an additional layer of security plus the tools necessary to organize and edit photos from anywhere, no matter which device or web browser you happen to be on at the time.

However, consumers should be wary of putting all their eggs in one basket. As the demise of startup Everpix in late 2013 taught us, nothing is forever. Remember Kodak Gallery? (They wound up being bailed out by Shutterfly, the online print service that now owns ThisLife.) While Revel is backed by longtime software giant Adobe, companies launch, promote, and eventually fold products all the time. It’s a good idea to find one you like and stick with it, but also use apps like Amazon Photos (which offers free photo storage for Prime members) or otherwise import backup copies on the desktop for redundancy.