Promises


These cactus flowers are a treat for the eye.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. There will be new life at the end of the long winter ahead. No matter how dark the days are, there’ll be sunshine ahead. That is what these cactus flowers promise in the middle of the dull winter day. There was a brief sunshine, though, when I took this photo. Probably to underline the message.

I take this opportunity to introduce my new photo site, Bitscape. After using Flickr for 8 years and other photo sharing tools (Picasa, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram more recently) for the past few years, I figured it’s time to move on to something more user-friendly and easy-to-use. I was looking for a tool to address 3 needs: 1. create online albums/galleries to showcase photos, 2. make it easy to share photos with friends and families through social media and emails, and 3. make it easy to create online backups of photos.

After some research, I decided to use SmugMug as it fulfils all 3 needs. It comes with plugins that make it easy to upload photos from Adobe Lightroom, which I use for processing photos, and other photo software. It’s easy to use and to share photos with others. The best of all, it offers the option to archive photos on Amazon’s servers. Even if I decide to stop using SmugMug one day, or worse, I lose the photos on local hard drives, they’ll be available on Amazon for retrieval. I still have to test the retrieval process, though.

Here are some thoughts on a few other tools and services that I have tried/explored. For the past couple of months, I have been working on implementing a proper data backup plan as over the years our family has gathered a large amount of data/content in multiple computers and hard drives, a substantial amount of which are photos and videos. I have finally put in place the structure and process for backing up all data using the 3-2-1 approach, meaning all data will have 3 backup copies (apart from the original), 2 of them in physical external drives (1 for local backup and 1 for offsite storage) and the 3rd copy in the cloud. I will write separately about how my backup plan is laid out so that the backups happen regularly without any effort and I can retrieve data from them in case of an eventuality (the most probable is the failure of one of the old drives). And all this without investing in expensive gadgets.

While finding online backup solutions for normal documents is not difficult, it’s not the case for archiving photos and videos online. Free or cheap online backup and sync services such as Dropbox and Google Drive have storage limitations and although they now include features like thumbnails and slideshows, they are not particularly feature-rich as photo site services. I came close to using Amazon Cloud Drive because of their reputation for solid data storage infrastructure, and also because it offers a few cool features: it can also backup photos from mobile devices (iPhone and iPad for us), and stream all photos to  mobile phones and tablets, and it’s easy to download/restore your data. But its limitation (similarly to Google Drive and Dropbox) is that it cannot backup and sync data that is on external drives, and your computer’s hard drive space may not be enough to store all photos and videos. Also, you cannot create a photo site to showcase your photos. I have been using BackBlaze for backing up my data online for some time now and have been pleased with its functionality, but it’s not very efficient when it comes to large amount of data. Besides, it’s a purely backup solution. 

Flickr was good for showcasing and sharing photos until Yahoo! stopped investing in it for several years: the recent improvements to Flickr’s interface leaves a lot to be desired. Notwithstanding its offer to host 1 TB of photos for free, I find it no comparison with newer photo sharing sites like 500px, Shutterfly, Photobucket and Instagram. I’ve been using 500px for some months now and it is a highly efficient tool for professional photographers to showcase and sell their work. I may still use it for my serious work (when I reach that level), but it doesn’t meet my other needs.

I found two new services that I seriously considered. Adobe Revel is a new service for creating online albums that can be shared easily on other sites. Photos and videos can be streamed on mobile devices, although videos didn’t play well when I tried. It’s cheap for unlimited photo uploads. Its disadvantage is it doesn’t allow to create custom photo sites or a proper backup mechanism.

Mosaic Archive is a service founded by photographers who wanted an easier way to share and backup photos directly from within Lightroom, with the option to have photos available on mobile devices. That’s why I keenly tried it, and also because it uses Amazon for hosting clients’ data. But after downloading the 190MB+ desktop software, I couldn’t get it to work. I am worried about using a big application along with Lightroom which is no lightweight despite its name. Plus, their restoration mechanism involves shipping an external hard drive across the Atlantic, which may turn out to be expensive in the unfortunate case that I need to retrieve my photos from them.

Considering everything, SmugMug scored better over the rest for my purpose, particularly for creating a custom site with easy sharing options, and for a reliable backup option (although it’s not automatic, only what I upload gets backed up). Along with SmugMug, I will probably use Amazon Cloud Drive for backing up photos from our iPhones.

If you are thinking of a backup system for your photos, read David Marx’s well-considered piece on how to go about it. In my next piece, I’ll describe how I went about following those steps.

If you already have a backup system in place, what are you using and how does it work?

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