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Best cloud storage 2020 for photos and pictures: free and paid

Best cloud storage for photos

Don't risk your images; whisk them up into the safety of the cloud. Here we test six leading options to find the best cloud storage for photos. Backing up your photos is hardly a blast, and that was especially the case back when that meant spending time burning them to CDs.

Fortunately, keeping your photos safe is now much easier thanks to the cloud. Put simply, 'the cloud' is just techno-jargon for online storage. You can choose from numerous websites offering anywhere between 1GB and 1TB of free remote hard drive space.

Backing up like this doesn't just eliminate the hassle of dealing with discs or hard drives, it also enables you to access your photos from anywhere with an internet connection. The ability to share photos is another bonus, while websites like Flickr let you exhibit your images to the world, with scope for other users to leave feedback.

Of course, if you'd rather keep your photos private, most cloud storage providers make it easy to set restrictions to make images accessible only to your password-protected account, or to anyone with a private web link.

We've compared six of the best cloud storage websites; three aimed at photographers and three suited to general storage.

A screen capture of pCloud's Windows 10 interface

(Image credit: Image Credit: pCloud)

1. pCloud

The best way to store multiple file formats

Easy to use
Stores any file type
Proven legacy

pCloud is not your traditional cloud storage provider; it is one of the very few ones who provide you with a lifetime storage subscription which means that you only have to pay once to get, well, 2TB of storage. To prevent abuse, you also get 2TB of download link traffic per month. Photographers will love the fact that you can see thumbnails and previews of most RAW files in the web and mobile versions of pCloud, as well as in pCloud Drive for macOS and there's even an official pCloud plugin for Lightroom that makes it possible to upload photos directly to your pCloud account. Also nifty is the browser extension that allows you to save videos and images directly to your pCloud account, which you can use as a scrapbook. Remember as well that you will be able to keep file revisions for up to 30 days and that you can create an entire static HTML website with its own URL.

2. Dropbox

The best way to store multiple file formats

Easy to use
Stores any file type
Proven legacy

Dropbox is great for storing pretty much any digital file type. Organising files is a cinch thanks to the intuitive folder system, plus you can access your files on the go with apps for iOS and Android. All this and 2GB of storage is free with a Dropbox Basic account (you can get an extra 500MB of space for referring a friend up to 16GB). A Dropbox Plus account offers 2TB for $11.99 (£9.4) a month or $119 (£93) a year, and you can get 1GB per referral (up to 32GB). You do get remote desktop wipe, 30-day version history, priority email upload and the option to restore folders or your entire account to a specific point in time, in a case of accidental file deletion, crashes, and similar disasters. For its versatility and simplicity, Dropbox is superb, especially if you just need to store RAW files.

3. Google Drive

Cloud storage at its finest, but overkill for simply storing photos

Free productivity apps thrown in
Unlimited photos
AI photo assistant
Can be daunting at first

Drive (a paid plan is also called Google One) isn't just another cloud storage provider, it's also home to several free business-grade office apps (heck, we even use it in the office here). Like Dropbox, Drive is geared towards file sharing, with multiple users able to modify shared files. You can store photos on Drive, but it doesn't offer the same stylish setting as more photography-focused online storage.

Instead, use Google Photos which offers unlimited storage for high resolution photos which are up to 16-megapixel in size. 15GB of free storage comes with Drive, although this is shared by other Google apps like Gmail. Google uses AI and Machine Learning to automatically label people within pictures and uses metadata (date and place) to make searching easier. You can increase the allocated space to 100GB for $1.99 (£1.5) per month, 200GB for $2.99 (£2.3) per month, 2TB costs $9.99 (£7.5) per month, while 10TB  costs $99.99 (£75.5) per month. Additionally, new plans were added, 20TB for $199.99 (£151) per month and 30TB for $299.99 (£226.5) per month.

"Cloud storage is important for photographers as localized back-ups of images are never totally safe, even if you have mirrored copies on two separate drives. Using a cloud storage solution means your images are kept safe, while you can access them from any device."

Phil Hall, Photography Editor, TechRadar

4. Microsoft OneDrive

Offers a good balance of versatility and value

Free productivity suite thrown in
Cheaper 1TB storage than the rest
Less photo-focused than competition

Microsoft's cloud storage offers a very similar set-up to its arch-rival, Google Drive. Anyone familiar with the Microsoft Office suite will feel right at home with OneDrive's integrated office apps. OneDrive adopts the same look and feel as Windows 10, so it's easy to navigate. However, it isn't designed solely for photographers, so don't expect the same viewing experience as you get from Flickr. Pricing is close to Google's, with 5GB for free and an extra 100GB costing $1.99 per month. However, Microsoft's 1TB option is better value at $6.99 per month (or $69.99 paid yearly), and includes the Office 365 package. Add another $3 per month and you get six licenses to use, more storage and bonus features like one hour Skype for free. Since October 2nd 2018, subscribers can install Office (both plans) on an unlimited number of devices.

5. Flickr

Offers tremendous bang for no bucks, providing you stick to uploading JPEGs.

Unlimited storage with Flickr Pro
Can't store RAW files

Where most cloud storage providers make you cough up for more than a few gigabytes of storage, Flickr - now owned by SmugMug, Inc. - offers the storage of 1000 photos and videos for free, with unobtrusive adverts covering the cost. If you'd rather go ad-free and with unlimited storage, you can for a $7 monthly fee or $60 annual fee for Flickr Pro+. What makes Flickr stand out is its ability to display your photos in an attractive photostream. Other users can follow your activity and comment on your shots, or you can make images private, making it a real social network for amateur and professional photographers alike. Flickr is designed for presenting your shots rather than just storing them, so it'll only display JPEG, GIF and PNG images. Dropbox is better if you need to upload RAW files but you won't get stats on your photo views or 15% savings off Adobe's Creative Cloud (with the annual plan, you also get discounts for Blurb, SmugMug, and Priime).

6. Adobe Creative Cloud

Photography-focused storage and great value

Focused on photography

Adobe Creative Cloud offers a number of different cloud-based storage solutions specifically for photographers and provides photography-orientated storage with attractive image galleries. Group Libraries enable colleagues to add photos to one shared folder, and you're free to make any photo private. There's integration with Lightroom and Elements, and you can make quick edits when needed. Uploading is easy, with apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. There's also support for RAW file formats. The cheapest tier is expensive though at $119.88 per year for 1TB of storage. That's twice what Microsoft OneDrive provides but you do get Lightroom CC although you then lose Office 365. Opt for a lower storage capacity (20GB) and you can get Photoshop and Lightroom Classic thrown in for free.

7. Canon Irista

Performs well, but other providers are better value

Attractive interface
Good social media integration.
Extra storage is pricey

Note: The service will be closed on January 31, 2020. You can read more about it on their FAQ page.

Irista is designed to rival the likes of Flickr and Adobe Creative Cloud, giving you a gallery-driven interface that's for displaying your shots in style. It accepts JPEG and common RAW file formats and is easy to use, with options to filter images by camera or lens type and arrange shots by year, tags and EXIF data. Social media is heavily integrated, so you can upload images to Irista, share them to Facebook or Flickr and track any Likes or comments. Six subscription plans (although the website seems to be changing so you might not see the plans until you signup for free) allow you to increase Irista's free 15GB of storage to either 100GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 5TB or 10TB. You can get the cheapest 100GB plan for $2.25 a month, the most common 1TB plan for $12.99 a month or if you want the 10TB plan for the biggest storage, you'll have to pay $129.99 on a monthly basis.

5 things to look for in cloud storage for photos

Freemium: Most storage providers give you some free space, with extra capacity available for a monthly or annual fee. Prices vary considerably, though, so make sure you get a good deal.

File formats: If you just want to back up or share JPEGs, then pretty much any provider will fit the bill. However, you'll need to choose more carefully if you'll be storing TIFFs or RAW files.

Internet speed: Don't fork out on a premium cloud storage subscription if your internet connection runs at a snail's pace. Consider spending the same cash on a fast external hard drive instead.

Show off: Not all online storage websites will display your photos in attractive galleries for the world to see them at their best.

Keep moving: Cloud storage is great for keeping your photos accessible on the go, so make sure your preferred provider has apps to help view and upload images from your mobile devices.

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