How to back up photos from your phone

hand holding phone as photos are floating into a cloud

Your phone’s camera is accessible at a moment’s notice. From selfies to historic events, the possibilities of what you can capture are nearly limitless. Unfortunately, your phone’s storage space is limited, and backing up your phone is a necessary task to protect and preserve those cherished photos.

Backing up your photos also frees up your phone’s memory space, so you’ll never miss another picture perfect moment because the insufficient storage available message popped up when you hit the shutter button. There are different methods to backing up photos from your phone, and some are only available for specific models.

External Hard Drive Backup

Hard drive backups are ideal because they’re accessible to everyone, no matter what type of phone you have, as long as you can transfer your photos from the phone to your computer. For PC and Mac, connect your phone using a USB cable. On the PC, unlock your phone so the PC can find it. From there, open the Photos application. Click Import > From a USB device. At that point you should be able to select which photos to import and where to save them on the PC. Remember where you save the images, because you’ll go back to this location to transfer the photos to the external hard drive.

On a Mac, the process is the same, except you’ll be working in the Mac Photo application and selecting File > Import once your phone is connected via USB. Then, simply drag your selected files or individual photos to the external hard drive.

Besides printing out your photos, an external hard drive is a great way to keep a physical backup. This is a fail-safe measure in case something glitchy happens to an online database, like iCloud or Dropbox.

iOS Backup

If all your devices are members of the Apple family, there’s an efficient backup option for photos called iCloud Photos. When you turn on iCloud Photos on your linked Apple devices, photos are automatically stored and updated on your phone, Mac, iPad and any other devices you’ve linked. They’re also stored in their original resolution and automatically saved in iCloud. To use this feature, remember to update to iOS 10.3 or later on your iPhone and OS X 10.10.3 on Mac.

It’s important to note that this synchronization also works with deletions, so if you’re using iCloud Photos on your devices and delete a photo on your phone, the photo will also be deleted from the other linked devices. However, you can recover any photo deleted within the last 30 days from the Recently Deleted album.

Apple recommends the additional measure of backing up photos stored in iCloud in a different file or hard drive, that way you can clear up space on your iCloud account every so often.

Google Photos Backup

If Android and Google are more your style, there’s also an app available in the Google Play Store that automatically backs up photos from your phone. Using the Google Photos app, your photos are automatically saved to your online Google Photos library, where they’re stored securely and privately. Once a photo is backed up, it remains in your Google Photos library, where you can log in and access it — even if you delete it from your device. Check to see if your photos are properly backed up by opening the Google Photos app on your Android phone, signing in and selecting the Photos option.

Google Photos is a phenomenal option for photo hoarders because it offers an unlimited amount of storage space, as long as you allow your photos to be compressed to high-quality resolution. But if you must save your photos in the much larger RAW file format, only your first 15GB of space are free. Beyond that, you’ll pay $1.99/month for a plan that allows 100GB of storage space.

Other Automatic Photo Backup Options

woman using phone to take a picture of sleeping baby

If you’re not devoted to team Apple or team Android and their respective applications, consider a third party automatic photo-backup service. Amazon Prime members have access to Amazon Photos, which lets you back up and share photos at full resolution for free. Download the Amazon Photos app to Android or iPhone for automatic backups from your phone. Dropbox has been storing photos since 2008, and this service also features automatic backups. A single-user Dropbox plan starts at $11.99/month for 2TB of space.

Back Up Your Backups

The best method to saving your phone’s photos is to back them up in at least a couple of places. Even if you’re able to automatically back up to iCloud, Google Photos or another database, it’s wise to also back up the photo files in an external drive. An external drive isn’t a perfect solution by itself since the drive can fail. But online backups come with risk too.

As The New York Times reported, Kodak was once a successful photo company trusted by many photographers who used its photo storage site. When the company went bankrupt in 2012, Kodak Gallery shut down and took down the photos stored on its site with it. If you have a backup in an online database and a backup on an external hard drive, your precious photos are much more likely to remain protected.

You don’t have to delete the photo of your grandma, that perfect-lighting selfie or the picture of your kid covered in spaghetti. By backing up your photos, you can free up phone space, protect photos in case something happens to your phone and preserve the original file data, which can degrade in versions that have been copied and shared many times. Don’t put all your photos in one place, though, backing up in two locations is key to truly protecting your pictures.