How to Back Up All Your Photos Without a Cloud Subscription

You don’t necessarily have to pay by the month to keep your photos and videos safe.
You don’t necessarily have to pay by the month to keep your photos and videos safe.
Photo: Liz Weddon/Unsplash

The photos and videos you’ve captured are probably the most important files on your phone, which is why Apple, Google and other storage service providers want to give you ways to get these pictures and movies up into the cloud as quickly as possible. As convenient as that cloud storage is, it usually comes with a monthly subscription that you’re then locked into paying.

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Even if the monthly subscription fee you’re paying is a low one, they all add up. Affordability aside, not everyone wants to be committed to an ongoing fee just to keep their photos and videos safe. Plus, what happens when you want to switch devices or storage providers?

But you can keep your photos and videos backed up without a monthly fee. These aren’t all free—you might need to buy physical storage like hard drives and computers, for example—but if you already have hardware you need, you won’t have to pay more each month to store the increasing amount of photos and videos you have.

This is the sort of scenario where there are many different approaches you can take. We’ve outlined some of the most basic ones below, but if you’ve got a better solution set up, let us know in the comments.

Make full use of your free space

You can still use Dropbox for syncing purposes, even if you don’t pay for any extra cloud storage.
You can still use Dropbox for syncing purposes, even if you don’t pay for any extra cloud storage.
Screenshot: macOS

Even if you don’t pay Apple, Google, or Microsoft a monthly fee for cloud storage, you can still take advantage of their excellent syncing software to get your pictures and videos transferred to a computer—it’s just that you’ll only be able to keep a certain number of files in the cloud at any one time.

Apple gives everyone 5GB of iCloud space for free, and it’s the same 5GB limit with Microsoft’s OneDrive. Google gives users 15GB of free room spread out across Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos, while Dropbox caps free accounts at 2GB. These aren’t huge amounts, but you can use the mobile apps offered by these companies to sync photos and videos to the cloud as you take them, and then to your other devices.

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For example, Dropbox for Android or iOS will automatically back up images and videos from your phone, and if you install the Dropbox client for Windows or macOS, then files will show up on these other platforms too. All you then need to do is to remember to move your files out of Dropbox before you hit that 2GB limit. The other cloud-syncing services we’ve mentioned work in a similar way.

Note that to sync iPhone photos to Windows you’re going to need iCloud for Windows. Google Photos is less suitable for this job, because there’s no automatic sync to Windows or macOS feature once your files are in the cloud: You would have to download them manually to your computer once they’d been backed up to the web from your smartphone.

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Assuming you then remember to regularly move photos and videos out of your storage-capped folders to different locations on your laptop or desktop computer, you’ve then got two copies of all of your files—one on your phone, and one on your laptop. Ideally you want another backup as well, but we’ll cover this in a minute.

Take the manual approach

Your iPhone (and its photos) will pop up right in File Explorer in Windows.
Your iPhone (and its photos) will pop up right in File Explorer in Windows.
Screenshot: Windows
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You don’t have to rely on any of the apps we’ve already mentioned to copy photos and videos from your phone to your computer, because connecting the two with a cable still works. There are some differences in the methods depending on the platforms you’re using, but simply copying and pasting files from mobile to desktop remains an option if you don’t want to use the cloud.

On Windows, both Android phones and iPhones should show up in File Explorer a few seconds after you’ve plugged them in, so you can see the photo and video folders and copy the files straight out (you might have to tap File transfer/Android Auto from the USB Preferences notification first when connecting an Android device to get this to work).

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You can also still use iTunes for Windows on a PC to create a complete backup of your iPhone, photos and videos included. Apple may eventually get around to releasing separate Music, TV and Podcast apps for Microsoft’s operating system, but there should still be a computer backup option to be found somewhere.

Another piece of software worth knowing about is Your Phone for Windows. If you’ve got an Android phone, this will link the two together so you can sync photos and videos wirelessly, no cable and no File Explorer necessary. You’ll also need the Your Phone Companion app for Android on your actual smartphone.

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Over on macOS, a connected iPhone shows up in Finder. Either run a full iPhone backup to save your photos and videos to your Mac, or sync them via the Photos tab. For Android, you need the Android File Transfer program made by Google—once it’s installed, you’ll be able to use it to browse through the files and folders on any connected Android device, and to copy photos and videos over to your Mac.

Backing up your computer

The built-in File History is one of your backup options on Windows.
The built-in File History is one of your backup options on Windows.
Screenshot: Windows
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The benefit of having your files in the cloud is that they’re not lost if your home gets ransacked or burned to the ground, and both your phone and computer disappear in one way or another. If you’re not going to use cloud storage for your photos, you still need to guard against these eventualities, which usually means having a separate external hard drive with your photos and videos stored in a different location.

Getting the files onto the drive is easy enough: You could use something like Time Machine on macOS or File History on Windows, or check out the backup software that came with your hard drive (most include a utility or two), or just copy the files over manually in Finder or File Explorer (you just need to remember to do it regularly).

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You could keep your backup drive at the office, or at a friend or relative’s house, or even in a safety deposit box. Should something happen to your originals, at least one copy of the copies can be recovered, though you will need to make sure it’s kept as up to date as possible (and if it becomes the only copy, you need to copy it again as soon as possible).

Another option is a Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive, which connects directly to your home network or a network somewhere else (like your office or your parents’ house). NAS makers often bundle software for connecting to these online storage boxes remotely, so you can copy photos and videos to them from anywhere. In some ways it’s a bit like having your own personal cloud storage solution, only you pay all the money for it up front, and you need to manage your own security and privacy.

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Cloud storage and backup for your photos and videos is hard to beat for convenience and simplicity, which is why so many people use it without thinking. If you want to avoid monthly fees, though, other options are available, and if you can get into a regular backup routine, then it’s more straightforward and less expensive than you might think.

DISCUSSION

By
Daynox

I back up my entire “command center” every single week. Have been doing so ever since external drives were a thing. Sitting on the side of my desks are 8 external drives, 6 are 2tb and 2 are 4tb drives. I also backup my phones and tablets every week. I see no reason what so ever to pay for someone else to keep my shit “safe”...