When you’re using a 3-2-1 backup strategy for your photos, choosing the right cloud storage for the all-important off-site copy is a critical decision. I chose wrong for several years, and paid the price.

There are two main categories of cloud storage you can use to backup your photos: two-way sync cloud storage, and one-way sync cloud storage. Both have their benefits and drawbacks.

Two-way sync cloud storage for photographers

The purpose of two-way sync storage is to keep multiple copies of files on separate devices in sync, as well as acting as a backup. OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive and Lightroom all fall under the category of two-way sync storage.

Let’s say, for example, you have a desktop computer and a laptop, with a OneDrive account set up on both. If you change a file on your computer, the changes are sent to the OneDrive cloud, and then propagated to your laptop. The result is that all copies of the file are always identical, as long as both computers are connected to the internet.

With two-way sync cloud storage, files on multiple devices are kept identical at all times.

If you often work on multiple computers, two-way sync storage is extremely useful. It’s perfect for documents that we open, edit, share and collaborate on. However — and this is where I made the wrong call for my photo cloud storage — it’s expensive, and the storage cap is too low for large photo collections.

When my photo collection didn’t take up much space, I started out using Google Drive as my cloud backup. When my file topped over 2TB, however, I was in trouble. There were no two-way sync services which offer over 2TB of space for personal users at a price I could afford.

I considered Lightroom, as it has cloud storage specifically for photos. However, it doesn’t offer enough space for my whole catalog. Realistically, I don’t need every single photo I’ve ever taken in my Lightroom cloud. I just need the ones I’m currently working on stored there temporarily (see more on my Lightroom and Lightroom Classic workflow here).

So, I decided to start backing up into a second Google Drive, by paying for two 2TB accounts. As you can imagine, this quickly got confusing, both in the cloud and on my computer! Not to mention expensive. As my photo collection grew, I reached the top of my now-4TB cap. As I started to look down the barrel of paying for a third Google Drive account, I ran by accident into the perfect alternative.

One-way sync cloud storage for photographers

Enter one-way sync cloud storage. Services like IDrive are specifically designed as backup cloud storage only, without the two-way sync features. In exchange, you get vastly more space for your money. At time of writing, IDrive offers 5TB of storage for just over $50 a year: Compare that to Google Drive’s 2TB for twice the price.

One-way sync services scan your files for changes and copies the new or changed files to the cloud storage. If your computer fails, you download the copy from the cloud and away you go. For photographers who need to preserve original files, this is ideal. RAW photo files are not, after all, documents that we need to open, edit and synchronize across multiple devices.

With one-way sync cloud storage, a backup of files is periodically uploaded to the cloud.

When I switched cloud storage over to IDrive for my photo collection, it took some time to re-upload everything again (IDrive does offer a free instant transfer service which I didn’t take advantage of). But when it was done, it was a matter of set-and-forget. My IDrive sync schedule runs every night, making sure everything is always safely backed up.

What type of cloud storage should you use for your photos?

I recommend that you choose your photo cloud storage based on the size of your photo collection. If you have more than 2TB of photos (or think that soon you might!) then a service like IDrive is going to be cheaper and easier to backup to in the long run.

After all: If it’s not easy to back up your files, then we all know it’s going to get shoved to the end of the to-do list for another day. And that’s when data loss happens!