Hi all. Apologies for not getting a post out to you last week, I was up in Cairns visiting family and having a some R&R time. Because I’ve been traveling a lot this year I have been working hard to make everything I do as mobile as I can. I essentially run a virtual office with almost everything online. I’ll talk about all the online tools I use to make that happen in a later post, but today what I wanted to talk about is online storage for photos. If you want to see where I’m writing from today you can check out this pic on Instagram.

The main tool I use for online storage of images is a very simple one. It doesn’t involve any special servers or FTP sites and it’s very cheap. What I use is Picasa Web Albums.

The big benefits

  • Access to full size hi res images from anywhere. If a client asks you for a copy of an image while you’re in tropical North Queensland you can access it straight away.You don’t have to have someone stationed in an office somewhere, and you don’t need to have delays.
  • Backup. The more you backup your images the better and for me having my images on Google’s super computer is far safer than my personal backup drives. Big computing companies have people whose sole job is to make sure that data is safe and secure. They have cluster strategies and all sorts of redundancies that individuals will struggle to match.
  • Delivery. Picasa is very simple tool for delivering images to clients. It’s by no means perfect and with any system your clients may not have used before there will be a learning curve, but it has a visual interface and they can leave comments and all sorts of other things. I still prefer a disc as the final product of my work because it’s yet another backup and it’s super easy to use, but I do find Picasa a good proofing tool.
  • Speed. Images are one of the big factors that slow down websites. Text and numbers are tiny, tiny files compared to a 5meg high res jpeg. If you’re trying to host lots of images yourself you’re either going to slow your site down big time, or alternatively you’re going to be paying a lot of money both for a server, but also for the internet charges. A strategy to speed up websites is to host any images, video or audio on a dedicated service. There are lots of ways to do this, but Picasa is a pretty simple solution for images. You can give clients a link to Picasa itself, but if you have a WordPress site you can actually embed Picasa images into your own site. The beauty of this is that Picasa is still sending the pictures out to the world, rather than your servers doing the heavy loading. This is what we did for the Victorian Architecture Awards where we had to display 154 images on a single page and receive 50,000 page views. My little site would have died normally, but by using Picasa it kept working.

About Picasa Web Albums

Picasa Web Albums is a free Google product and it has two parts. The first is a desktop program that is similar to Adobe Lightroom which allows you to organize photos easily. It’s not as powerful as Lightroom for editing, but if you’re on a budget I highly recommend using it if only to give order to unruly collections of photos. It makes dealing with 1000’s of pics easier. If you’re using Google’s new social media platform Google Plus then you may already be using Picasa. Photos on Google plus are meant to be using Picasa as the back end software, but with some visual improvements. On that note, it should be said that Picasa Web Albums isn’t pretty. It’s simple, but not in an elegant way. It is however quite powerful and what most people don’t know is that you can purchase incredible amounts of data storage space for images via Picasa.


 Storage size and cost

Here’s a quick summary of the storage and costs involved with Picasa [Last updated 28/08/2012]

Storage Price
1GB Free
80GB $20/year
100GB $4.99/month ($59.88/year)
200GB $9.99/month ($119.88/year)
16 Terra bytes! Available upon request

The plan I currently use is a $20/year 80 gig plan, which I consider a complete bargain. (The storage upgrade button is not obvious and is just a small link at the bottom of the Picasa site.)

What do I upload?

I don’t upload every image I take to Picasa for two reasons. Size and speed. The first issues is that if you’re taking a lot of RAW images you can easily use up 16 Gig of data in a single day of shooting, which would mean my 80Gig plan would run out in just 5 shoots.  What I do instead is just backup the final images I select from the shoot. So If I took 700 images on the day I might upload somewhere between 20 and 80 of them. The second issue with online storage is upload time. Most domestic internet connections are asynchronous, which means that the upload and download speeds are not the same. You might have super fast download speeds, but chances are your upload speed is almost like dial up (maybe not that slow, but’s its definitely slow). This means that when you’re uploading large photo files it can take a long time. A set of final photos are around 2 gig for me at the moment, so to get them online I need to let my computer work away for several hours. Typically I do this overnight. The time it takes to upload images is therefore the biggest downfall of online storage.

What are you using?

There are lots of other backup options out there like Amazon’s S3 service too, so if you’ve used any of them please post a comment below.