There are several cloud-based services that will store digital photos and videos for free or for a few dollars a month. I use the two biggest services, Apple Photos and Google Photos. There are some subtle differences between the two services, but both are free and both do two things that are especially important: they keep your precious images safe from disasters like fire, theft or a hard drive crash, and they make it easy to view your photos any time and anywhere, whether you’re using a mobile phone, a tablet or computer.
If you use an iPhone, iPad or a Macintosh computer, Apple Photos is the logical choice. The program is included with the operating system for each of those platforms. Google Photos is likewise built into Android mobile phones and tablets.
The Google Photos app is available for free in Apple’s iTunes App Store for Apple mobile devices, but there is no Apple Photos app for Android devices. Mac and Windows computer users can log into either photo service using a web browser.
The deal is similar at Apple if you want to use the iCloud Photo Library for offline storage. The first 15GB block on iCloud is free and, like Google, a 50GB warehouse costs $.99 a month. How much storage is that in the real world? I used iCloud to store about 22,000 files, mostly still images but also a few videos. That put me just over 50GB, so I jumped up to 200GB for $2.99 a month.
Once your account is set up, you can point the service to your photo libraries and it will automatically scoop up every photo or video it finds, a process that could take a day or more, depending on how many files you have. If you want to be selective, you can log in from the web to drag and drop.
Apple and Google both let you do some basic editing from any device. You can rotate, crop and lighten a photo from either platform while Apple includes a few additional options such as filters and redeye removal.
Both Apple and Google will display photos grouped by date, but you might want to organize them further by sorting them into topics such as people, places or events. Those collections are called albums and they can be shared, another great reason to put photos online. When you create an album, you can designate who else can access it. With a shared album, invited friends or family members can add photos and post comments for the whole group to see.
While there aren’t many differences between the two services, each has a few special tricks. Apple Photos makes it easy for users to create projects such as photo books, calendars, cards and slideshows. And they can order prints with just a couple of clicks.
Google excels in making quick animations and collages. If you’re not sure how to do it, Google will jump in without you. Every few days, I get a message from Google telling me it has taken a group photos that seem to be related and mashed them into a short animation. That’s my idea of a smart computer program - one that does my work for me.