From letting you review your images before they’re printed to automatically reducing “red eye,” digital photography has given us a lot. One big drawback: How do you create order from the hundreds (OK thousands) of digital images in your possession?
For many of us, using an online photo storage service makes a lot of sense—these services are free or cheap, and they offer organization and sharing options to make our lives easier. Plus, online photo storage can be a great way to back up all your precious memories.
Whatever option you choose, make sure you have your photos in more than one location (either to one of these photo sites or a similar service). Back in the days of film, people could lose decades of photos in a fire or natural disaster. Today, if your photos are backed up in the cloud, even an everyday disaster like a dead hard drive won’t be a problem.
Take a look at our rundown of the most popular digital storage services to decide if one is right for you:
If you’ve already got an Amazon Prime subscription (which runs $99 per year), have we got some news for you: You’re already qualified for Amazon Prime Photos! This means you have unlimited photo storage as well as space for 5GB of video or non-photographic images—PDFs and the like. If you don’t have a Prime subscription, the same Unlimited Photos plan costs just $12 per year.
Once you’re logged in, Amazon Prime Photos automatically organizes your shots chronologically, though you can also opt to organize them by personal preference. One knock against the decidedly no-frills service is there doesn’t seem to be any easy way of searching through your photos, though there are of course available apps for PC, iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire so that you can upload, download, view, and search.
Apple’s iCould Photo Library is all about organization, so if you’re the type who like to get granular with his or her photo collection, this is the service for you. (Especially if you already use one or more Apple devices.) Organize your pictures and videos by date, time, even location. Zoom all the way out to the “year” view before jumping month to month, or group them by geographical location and see your photos plotted on a map. Perhaps best of all, iCloud Photos Library is already built in to the iPhone, iPad, or Mac, so setting up the service is a snap. (The iCloud web portal allows you to view and download pictures from computers that aren’t made by Apple.)
One of the few drawbacks is that iCloud Photo Library isn’t very large: You only get 5GB of free storage if you opt for the free service, though you can quadruple that storage for just $1 per month.
Yahoo’s Flickr has been a big name in photo storage for years, due to its flexibility, options, and the largest free storage capacity of all the big boys. For no charge, Flickr offers you 1TB (1 terabyte), which is enough to host half a million shots. For those interested in divvying up their digital photos by category, Flickr’s got you covered (though critics say the interface can be confusing), and even allows you to group, tag, comment on, and share your pix on social media. You can also get the free Flickr app for both iOS and Android to send all your photos to the cloud. Flickr also offers a Pro membership for $5.99 per month, which removes ads and offers more organizing options.
For no charge, Google Photos offers real-time backup of what you shoot on your phone, plus virtually unlimited storage. One caveat: Your larger photos are automatically compressed to a 16-megapixel resolution and all videos are compressed to 1080p. Still, unless you’re a professional shutterbug, that shouldn’t be too big a deal.
While the web interface is nice and straightforward, Google Photos’ “assistant” feature automatically groups shots based on date and location, but you can also search your photos for specific objects, animals, or scenery. You can even search photos via Google’s facial recognition features with impressive, dare we say frightening, accuracy.
If privacy is your thing, consider LifeCake. Acquired last spring by Canon, LifeCake is a private storage and sharing platform designed with parents in mind, letting you organize your pix and videos into a shareable timeline. You can also caption each image or create slideshows set to music from your device, and only those you invite to come look can do so. While the first 10GB are free, LifeCake’s unlimited storage option will run you $4.99 per month.