If there is one thing I am obsessed with when it comes to technology, it’s my pictures. I keep them extremely organized and culled. I am equally as fanatical about getting them backed up. When it comes to music, movies, and TV shows – I can rebuy anything I lose due to hard drive failure. When it comes to pictures of my family, no amount of money can recreate them if I lose them. Over the years, my strategy has evolved as services have changed. I’ll do my best to keep this article up to date as things change in the future.
iCloud Photo Library
I wrote about iCloud Photo Library vs. Google Photos a few months back if you want to look at the differences. No, iCloud isn’t free, but I think it’s worth the money if you are using all Apple devices. I pay $10 per month for the 2 TB plan. I am only using around 250 GB right now, so I have plenty of room for growth.
For backup #1, I am using iCloud Photo Library. This service puts a copy of all of my media on Apple’s servers, and that means if I lose my iPhone, iPad, or MacBook Pro, I can sign into a new device using my iCloud account, and all my media will be there. One thing to remember is that iCloud Photo Library is a sync service. Syncing means that if you delete a photo on one device, it’ll be deleted elsewhere. For that reason, I don’t consider iCloud Photo Library a true backup.
If your Mac can hold all of your media, I recommend having iCloud Photo Library download all of your media. This can be done in Photos > Preferences > iCloud. By keeping full resolution copies offline, I can enable a few more backup mechanisms.
Time Machine Backups
Because I keep a copy offline, I can use macOS’ Time Machine app to create another copy of my entire library. External hard drives are incredibly inexpensive these days (2TB and 4TB models can be bought for less than $100, and here is a USB-C model if you need it). I keep a drive at work and one at home. The one at work is backed up daily. The one at home gets backed up on the weekends. I am now up to four copies (my laptop, iCloud Photo Library, and two external drives).
Going back to my original recommendation of keeping an offline copy of your iCloud Photo Library, I also think having a service like Backblaze makes a lot of sense.
Backblaze will automatically back up all your files including documents, photos, music, and movies. Unlimited files. Unlimited file size. Unlimited speed.
For $5 per month (or $50 per year), you can backup all of the contents of your computer (including any external drives that get plugged in at least every few weeks). Backblaze’s app for Mac is native (no Java), and it’s extremely fast. If you’ve got a fast internet connection, Backblaze can saturate your connection if you want (how fast it backs up can be customized).
One thing that makes Backblaze different from something like iCloud Photo Library is that it’s a one-way backup. It’s not trying to sync data between devices, but instead, take what is on your Mac and back it up.
Sign up for a free trial of Backblaze here.
Even if you are all in on Apple hardware and services, an excellent final backup might be something like Google Photos. The free version downscales your photos slightly, but if you are already keeping all of your copies in iCloud Photo Library, Google Photos can be just a fail-safe to all your other methods.
I upload my media from the iPhone app. So as I add new pictures to my library from my Mac (or take Photos on my iPhone), the Google Photos app uploads whenever I open it on Wi-Fi. If you have a vast library, it’ll take a while to back it up, but you’ll be left with yet another complete copy of your family photos.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the security of your online accounts. Getting locked out of your online accounts. Apple, Google, and Backblaze all offer two-factor authentication. Enabling this allows you to add another layer of security. You can use an app like Authy or 1Password to generate the codes for Google and Backblaze. Apple’s method includes using another trusted device to verify new devices (using your iPad to verify a new iPhone, etc.). I advise to use unique passwords on all of your accounts and use two-factor authentication whenever available
By deploying this system, I have ended up with multiple backups in multiple locations (home, work, and offsite with Backblaze). You don’t have to do everything, but I would advise to not just rely on iCloud Photo Library. You should be doing a 3–2–1 backup strategy. 3–2–1 means that you have three copies in 2 location, and 1 of them is offsite.