Your photos and videos are likely to be some of the most precious files you have on your smartphone. Even if you’ve got new photos and videos taken with the camera synced to the cloud though, what about the pictures your family send you over WhatsApp? Or the Instagram Stories you post? Here’s how to make sure every photo and video on your devices is getting backed up.
The basics of photo and video backups
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to services that will take every picture and video you snap with your phone, and sync them to the cloud and your other devices. They all do more or less the same job, though the details and pricing differ.
Dropbox (Android/iOS) was doing this job beautifully before it was trendy, and is still among the best options out there—the only downside being you only get 2 GB of storage space for free, so you’ll probably have to upgrade to 1TB for $13.99 per month.
Google Photos (Android/iOS) is arguably the best option right now, not least because it offers an unlimited amount of storage if you don’t mind your photos getting resized to a maximum of 16 megapixels, and your videos downgraded to 1080p. If you want to store all your files at their original resolutions, you get 15 GB of storage for free (across all Google services), with upgrade prices starting from $2.49 a month for 100 GB of space.
After an unsteady start, Apple’s iCloud Photo Library (built into iOS) is now a perfectly decent option too: It just doesn’t work particularly well with Windows, won’t work at all with Android, and is pretty basic on the web too. You get 5 GB for free and then have to pay from $1.19 a month for 50GB of cloud storage.
All these apps are simple to set up, and once configured, will send all your photos and videos to the cloud for you (and download them on your laptop, if you want). If your phone drops in the ocean, you’ve still got all your precious memories left.
There are yet more options of course — OneDrive (Android/iOS), Amazon Drive (Android/iOS), Flickr (Android/iOS), and so on and so on. It isn’t too important which one you opt for, as long as you’ve got at least one suitable app in place, and know how to get it backing up everything on your devices.
Backing up other photos and videos
To go beyond the basics—that is, beyond the photos and videos you snap that go straight to your phone gallery—you need to dig a little deeper into app settings to get everything. We’re talking about edited images you might post to social media, say, or photos that might get sent in a conversation in a messenger app.
Google Photos handles this best on Android: From the app menu, choose Settings, then Back up & sync, then Back up device folders. You’ll see you can get Google Photos to cover every folder from every app you use, from Hangouts to Instagram (the app also prompts you to back up folders when it detects new ones).
iOS doesn’t give apps this level of file system control though, which means Google Photos for iOS doesn’t work in the same way—you need to either configure each app individually (see the section below) to get it to work with Google Photos directly, or to save images and videos to the Camera Roll, from where they’ll then get sent to Google Photos.
It’s a similar story with Dropbox on iOS: You need to get apps to save images to the Camera Roll, then to Dropbox. Dropbox for Android can back up specific folders besides your camera gallery, but you need third-party apps to make it work—Dropsync for Android is one of the better ones, for instance, as is FolderSync for Android (which works with a bunch of other cloud services in addition to Dropbox).
If iCloud Photo Library is your backup service of choice on the iPhone, you need to do everything via the Camera Roll. Many apps will include a setting to save pictures and videos you receive to the phone, of which more in a moment, but iCloud Photo Library itself focuses on just the media inside Apple’s own Photos app.
While it would be nice to have a single toggle switch to back up all the photos and videos from your phone at once, the only app that really comes close is Google Photos — and then only on Android with its folder selection. If you don’t use this method, then you’ll have to go through all your apps one by one.
Settings for other apps
In most cases, if you want photos and videos from your apps saved to the cloud, you need to save them to the main photo and video gallery or your iPhone or Android phone. Fortunately, most apps let you do this without too much trouble.
Take Instagram for Android and iOS, for example: Tap the Profile button (bottom right), then the Menu button (top right), then Settings. Select Original photos to find the option save your Instagram snaps to your phone’s gallery, and Story controls to save photos and videos posted to your story too (you also get an individual Save button every time you post something to your story).
Snapchat for Android and iOS works in a similar way. Tap your avatar (top left on the camera screen), then Settings (the cog icon, top right), then Memories—make sure Memories & Camera Roll is selected on the Save Button menu, and every time you tap the Save button before posting, a copy is saved to your device (and then to your connected cloud services) as well as to Snapchat’s own Memories library.
You may well get a lot of photos and videos sent to WhatsApp for Android and iOS, if you’re in one or more group chats, and in this case everything that comes in is automatically saved to your phone’s gallery—no further action required. If you want to hide WhatsApp media from your gallery, by the way, tap the Menu button (top right), then Settings and Chats, and untick the Show media in gallery box.
In Facebook Messenger for iOS, tap your avatar (top left), then Photos, videos & emoji, and turn the Save to Camera Roll switch to On. Anything that comes in or that you share yourself should then appear in the main Photos app too, and can be backed up to your cloud storage platform of choice.
Over in the Facebook Messenger Android app, however you need to choose Photos & Media from the list of settings. Oddly, Facebook seems to have removed the option to save incoming pictures (it was there recently), but you can turn the Save on Capture toggle switch to On to at least save anything you share. For everything else, you can save photos and videos individually, or point Google Photos or Dropbox to the Messenger folder as explained above.
As for Apple’s default Messages app, shared photos and videos in threads are now automatically saved to the Camera Roll with the introduction of iOS 12. Previously, you needed to save them one by one via the Share button, but that’s no longer necessary.
No such luck on the Android Messages app, at least not yet: You still need to open individual photos and videos that have arrived from your contacts, then tap the rather quaint Save button (top right), which will then save the images and clips to your photo gallery where they can be backed up.
That covers the main options, but rinse and repeat for any other apps you might have installed on your phone: Just make sure that photos and videos aren’t already being automatically shared to the main gallery app on your device, otherwise you’re going to end up with a lot of duplicates.