Photo of computer and external hard drive

Should I backup or sync photos? Is there a difference?

Many people want to backup or sync their photos. Even more, think they are already doing one or the other (or both!) but I think we need to clear the air here a bit. Today, I’ll help you decide whether you should backup or sync photos…or if you need to do both!

image showing what a photo backup looks like

What is a photo backup?

When you decide to backup your photos (or any other files, for that matter), you’re actually completing a one-way communication between, let’s say, your smartphone and your computer. You are sending copies of your photos from your smartphone to your computer.

It’s important to note here that this is just one-way communication: your computer is not sending the photos back to your smartphone. You’re simply creating a “copy” of what you currently have in another location.

image showing what photo syncing is

What is photo syncing?

When you decide to sync your photos (and, again, any other files), you’re completing a two-way communication. Let’s use the same analogy as before. When you sync your photos between your smartphone and your computer, things are different than a traditional backup.

If you delete a photo from your smartphone and you initiate a sync, the same photo will delete from your computer…and vice versa. This is that two-way communication, where those photos are remaining identical in more than one location.

Is one better than the other?

It’s not that one is necessarily better than the other, but rather that you understand the difference between them and use them both.

Use the 3-2-1 Method for backups

The 3-2-1 Method for backups is simple:

  • 3 copies of your data on…
  • 2 different mediums (i.e. devices like a computer or external hard drive) and…
  • 1 offsite (i.e. cloud storage or external hard drive kept in a safe deposit box)

How the 3-2-1 Method works

On your computer, you have a photo of you from graduation called graduation.jpg. That’s your first copy.

You have scheduled an automatic backup of your computer (where that original graduation.jpg photo is located) using an external hard drive or Apple’s Time Machine, for example. That is your second copy.

You have also scheduled an automatic backup of your computer to a cloud service like Backblaze. This backup continuously scans your computer for new information and backs it up to the cloud. This is your third copy.

Why the 3-2-1 Method works for backups

Backups are just that: backing up your main computer’s information in case of an epic failure. If your computer crashes, you have two other backups to work with to restore the information you lost. If you have a fire or flood or some other catastrophic event where two of your backups are gone, you have the third backup (a cloud solution) to retrieve that lost information.

When you accidentally delete your entire 2019 photo album from your computer, you can easily go to your backup and copy the folder back to your computer.

I use iCloud/Google Photos. What is happening there?

iCloud and Google Photos are actually syncing programs. If you delete a photo from your iPad and it’s syncing with iCloud, then you are deleting that photo everywhere iCloud is syncing to, which includes your iPhone, your iMac, and maybe your MacBook (if you have both).

The same applies with Google Photos. Once a photo is deleted, it’s deleted from everywhere that is using Google Photos to sync (iPhone/Android, tablet, desktop, laptop, etc.).

What about social media?

Social media is a great place to share your beautiful photos and adventures, but they should never be considered a backup for your precious memories. Furthermore, most of these platforms will decrease your image file size, therefore making them more difficult to print because the quality has been downgraded to save space.

Lisa, what do you do?

As a photo organizer, I have a routine. I have a hub on my computer, which is automatically backed up to Backblaze. I make a copy in pCloud (a cloud storage solution) and on an external hard drive manually. I have a calendar reminder each month to do this (on the 5th of every month, in my case).

I’m going to start organizing my photos. What should I do first?

Well, you can start by scheduling a free consultation with yours truly. 😉 Regardless of whether you organize yourself or you hire someone to assist you, back up the mess before you start and before you start moving any files. If something happens during the organization process, you have the original backup to refer to.

Looking for the best apps to back up your phone photos? Lisa has created a PDF of her favorite 8 apps–access it now!

Want to chat with Lisa about your photos? Book a 20-minute FREE call now!


  1. Dionne Merriott

    Great explanation!

  2. Andi Willis

    I think this is a concept that trips up a lot of people. Thank for clarifying

  3. Caren

    Very good information and I appreciate your detailed explanation.

  4. Margarita Ibbott

    I was always confused by the deleting process. I hate when it tells me I’m deleting from everywhere. I just don’t want it on my phone anymore. How do I do that? Get it off my phone and stay in my Google Photos or Dropbox (or both???).

    • Lisa Tonjes Moritz

      Margarita – If you are doing Camera Upload with Dropbox – that is a backup. If you delete from your phone it will remain in Dropbox.

    • Lisa Tonjes Moritz

      In regards to Google Photos, there should be an option that says Ultilies – Free up space – it will ask if you are ready to free up space and then it removes the photos from your phone but then they remain in Google photos


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