Although cloud storage prices have been continued to drop at impressive rates, they have remained out of reach for many serious amateurs and professional photographers who have accumulated years’ worth of image files. This has been particularly true for the purists among us who religiously shoot RAW and tend to create huge multi-layer Photoshop files. Improvements in DSLR sensor technology have also pushed file sizes upwards as well, with the majority of DSLRs now capable of producing 16MP to 36MP images.
I have always considered a cost effective rate for 1TB to be the juncture at which serious amateurs and professional photographers would consider backing-up their photo archives to the cloud. Google’s dramatic cloud storage price drop this week has finally reached this tipping point. As of today, storing 1TB of image files on Google Drive will cost $9.99/month. This is a huge announcement that will ripple across the photography community and cause many people to change their back-up strategy.
1) The Economics of Google Drive
$120/year (rounded) for storing 1TB of your images in the cloud may sound a bit expensive compared to a one-time purchase of a 1TB back-up drive for $70-$100. But you have to consider that one good flood, fire, hurricane, burglary, or power surge may wipe out both your primary and secondary drives. As I write this, I am staring at 5 external hard drives on my desktop. While hard drive technology has been getting more reliable over the years, I have found that on average, I have one hard drive go bad per year. And although my stepsons have a great time destroying the defunct drives with sledge hammers, I rarely look forward to restoring back-ups, buying additional drives, and other related challenges that can chew up quite a bit of time.
Would I rather forego dealing with an annual failed hard drive exercise and spend more for Google’s Cloud Storage solution? At the previous price of $49/month, it simply wasn’t cost effective, at least not for a serious amateur photographer. For $9.99/month, however, Google’s Cloud Storage represents a tremendous value. It eliminates the fear and concern of relying solely on an in-home back-up strategy and having to waste time dealing with hard drive failures.
What’s the net cost of a Google Drive 1TB plan compared to backing up my files to an in-home hard drive? $120 (annual 1TB plan) – $80 (annual cost of replacing a hard drive) = $40/year. The other issue to bear in mind is that Google Drive provides redundancy for your photo archive based on its network of sophisticated data centers. You would actually have to have multiple hard drive back-ups of your photo archive in order to match Google Drive’s offering. But again, one good calamity and all your hard drives could be lost.
The best part regarding Google Drive reaching this critical pricing threshold? These prices are going nowhere but down as technology improves and Google and its competitors – Microsoft, Dropbox, Amazon, etc. – leapfrog each other in their desire to gain market share. Here’s how the cloud storage vendors stack up as of today:
The other cloud storage providers will have to approximate or beat Google’s new price if they are to remain competitive in this fast growing market. Within another year, I would not be surprised to see 2TB offered for as little as $5/month. At that point, I suspect we will see a drop in the number of external backup hard drives purchased by individuals, since the economics, benefits, and convenience of cloud storage will represent a far better value. For the frequent travelers who rarely find themselves at home and have modest storage needs, I can even imagine that they might use Google Drive as their primary drive, with their PC or tablet serving as temporary storage.
2) Of Pack Rats And Men
Contemplating Google Drive’s price drop for the 1TB $9.99/month plan, I decided to do a bit of analysis on my photo archive. Starting in 2007 with my humble 10MP Pentax K10D, I accumulated ~45GB of files. I took pictures of anything and everything. At the time, I was thoroughly enjoying my renewed interest in photography and the move from film to digital. I honestly believed many of my photos and Photoshop enhancements were pretty good. With a bit of education, time, and experience, however, I now look back and wonder what the heck I was thinking! At best, perhaps 5-10% of my early photos are worth keeping – and I am being extremely generous with this estimate! And most of those would suffice as high resolution JPEGs, not RAW or PSD files.
Over the years, I upgraded through a series of DSLRs (K10D, D300, D7000, D800 and infrared converted DSLRs – D40X, D90, and D7100). The amount of storage I accumulated in any given year continued to steadily increase. In 2013, I managed to capture, process, and store 365GB of image files. I have shot RAW files exclusively since picking up a DSLR, despite the fact that this was clearly overkill in many situations. God forbid I take that once-in-a-lifetime photo only to find that I only have a JPEG version to edit! Horrors! The other reason is that is simply not very practical to constantly switch back and forth between JPEG and RAW file formats.
I have also determined that part of my genetic code is related to the Pack Rat (genus: Cantseme Tuletgo). If and when I do manage to let something go, it almost always has claw marks on it. Unfortunately, this bad habit extends to importing photos into my Lightroom catalog. I continually promise myself to show more discipline in the future, but never quite manage to separate the wheat from the chaff. And the day when I set aside a few hours to conduct that massive Lightroom clean-up operation? Well, that keeps getting postponed for all kinds of flimsy excuses. If I were shooting high resolution JPEGs, my bad habits wouldn’t be such a big deal. But constantly shooting a 36MP D800 in RAW mode without ever cleaning up your photo archive? Well, that’s the stuff that drive manufacturer CEOs dream about…
Failing to collapse my multi-layered Photoshop files? Apparently I am guilty of not being able to part with my collection of Photoshop layers as well. In 2007, such sloppiness cost me 97MB for my largest Photoshop file. In 2013, exiting Photoshop without collapsing layers cost me 677MB for a single file!!! Ouch…
3) Cheap Storage, Lens Boxes, And Flat Stanley
After 7 years of shooting extensively in RAW format using some of the best DSLRS made, and having some bad habits relative to flattening my Photoshop files, I have accumulated 2TB of data. So why do I have 2TB of image files? Primarily because storage prices plummeted over the years and thus I have paid less attention to how I managed my files.
My 97MB file? It was one of my favorite photos of our friends’ beautiful daughter and her good friend. But did I need to keep over a dozen layers in the PSD file, which were the result of some of my early Photoshop experiments and training exercises? Nope…
At least the 97MB file was a decent picture. The 677MB file mentioned above? Was it a stunning landscape? Perhaps a beautiful buck with steam coming out of his nostrils on some winter morning at sunrise? Could it be an infrared photo of the majestic Canadian Rockies? Maybe it was a photo of my beautiful wife, Tanya, against a backdrop of Washington, DC’s stunning cherry blossoms? None of the above… This monster file turned out to be a multi-layered Photoshop photo of the box for my Nikon 300mm f/4, which I sold last summer! Apparently I was tinkering with some adjustment techniques, created 10 layers, and never got around to flattening them. Collapsing the layers reduced this file to ~182MB. Considering what I did with the picture – post it on my eBay listing, a 1000 X 700 image at ~1MB was all I needed! And since I sold the lens, I had absolutely no reason to keep even a single photo of the box!
As I looked over 25 of my largest Photoshop files, I found similar results – few of these massive files were worth storing as anything more than a 3000 X 2500 JPEG file. Almost all of them were due to my failure to collapse the various layers and consider what file size/format was appropriate for a given image. In some cases, I found duplicates of these huge files, each representing some different Photoshop experiment. This photo, while showing off one of Pittsburgh’s handsomely painted dinosaurs against the backdrop of Heinz Field, surely didn’t deserve 578MB of hard drive space!
Two years ago, my wife’s cousins asked us to take some photos with their son Danny’s Flat Stanley cutout. I never heard of Flat Stanley and was quite amused by the concept. Not wanting to risk having Danny be psychologically-scarred and/or fail to achieve his ultimate life potential due to a single poor grade on his second grade Flat Stanley project, we took Flat Stanley with us to Washington, DC, New York’s Finger Lakes region, Lake Erie’s wineries, and made sure he saw just about everything worth seeing in our hometown of Pittsburgh. Our reward for taking Danny’s Flat Stanley on a whirlwind tour was having Danny’s sister, Rebecca, send us her Flat Stanley cutout the following year! I found that I had accumulated over 300MB of RAW and JPEG Flat Stanley files. Cute photos indeed, but not quite worth keeping the associated hefty RAW files. I could have simply performed some basic editing in Lightroom, exported the 800 X 600 JPEG files, and deleted the RAW files altogether (or simply taken JPEGs to begin with). Then again, had I landed my own reality television show touring the nation as a Flat Stanley Ambassador, I might have felt differently about the amount of storage dedicated to my Flat Stanley photos.
Suffice to say that after a detailed inspection of my photo archive, I realized that I do not have 2TB worth of valuable image files, this despite having had multiple DSLRs at any point in time and shooting quite extensively over the course of 7 years. Once I complete some image housekeeping, I will end up with between 500GB – 750GB of images in RAW, PSD, and JPEG formats. And this is probably a conservatively high estimate. Thus I probably fit within the $6 – $10 per month plans. At these rates, however, I will simply sign up for the 1TB plan.
4) What About Privacy?
What do Google’s Terms of Service mean for the files I upload to Google Drive?
As our Terms of Service state, “You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.”
We do not claim ownership in any of your content, including any text, data, information, and files that you upload, share, or store in your Drive account. What our Terms of Service do is enable us to give you the services you want — so if you decide to share a document with someone, or want to open it on a different device, we can provide that functionality.
To sum it up:
So, for example:
- We will not change a Private document into a Public one;
- We will not use a Private document for marketing or promotional campaigns;
- We will keep your data only as long as you ask us to keep it.
- You can take your data with you if you choose to stop using Google Drive.
If you can identify with some of my bad habits, you may also have been a bit lax in your accumulation of images, determining when to shoot RAW vs. JPEG, or keeping your PSD files to a minimum size. With a bit of photo archive clean-up, you may discover that your photo archive is probably comfortably below the 1TB threshold as well.
If so, Google Drive’s 1TB $9.99/month plan represents a great way to finally incorporate secure cloud storage backup space into your photography workflow at a cost effective price (or the other Google Drive plans if you have less demanding storage needs). And by the time you need more than 1TB, I suspect Google will have dropped the price yet again. Don’t forget to configure the Inactive Account Manager feature which provides archive access to a designated family member or friend should you become incapacitated (or worse!) and wish to have them access and manage your photos. This is a handy feature that anyone using Google Drive should avail themselves to.
What do you think? Will Google Drive’s dramatic increase finally encourage you to use cloud storage for your photo archive back-up needs?