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Back Up Smartphone Photos Using Dropbox

I’m going to take a small departure from my usual PC-centric discussions, and talk for a moment about using your smartphone.

Specifically, since I’m such a fan of Dropbox, I want to show you how to install and use Dropbox as an automatic way of backing up the photographs you take using your smartphone.

I’ll use my old Android-based Samsung Galaxy Note for these examples, but the concept applies to just about any smartphone running either IOS or Android.

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Install the Dropbox app

Go to the Google Play store on your mobile device, and search for Dropbox.

Dropbox in the Google Play store

Tap on Install. The installer will confirm the permissions used by Dropbox.

Dropbox App Permissions

Tap on Accept.

That’s it! Dropbox is installed on your device. The installer will return to the Google Play Store page, and the “Install” button will change to “Open”. Tap Open to start Dropbox.

Configuring Dropbox

I’ll assume you’ve already created a Dropbox account. If you haven’t, I recommend performing that step by visiting Dropbox.com on the web and setting up your account there.

Back in the mobile app, enter your account credentials and click Sign in.

Dropbox Sign in

One of the reasons I like Dropbox over some of its competitors is that it supports two-factor authentication. Since I have that enabled, Dropbox next sends me a text message with my security code. After clicking Sign in, Dropbox presents a screen into which I must type the code that was just sent.

Dropbox Two Factor Authentication

It may seem a little odd to get the text message on the same device to which I’m installing Dropbox. This prevents someone else from signing in to my account on their own Dropbox app, because even if they somehow know my password, they won’t have access to the text message on my phone. Once you’ve signed in successfully on your mobile device, you won’t need the second-factor code again unless you explicitly sign out.

Click on Submit, and Dropbox is good to go.

Enable auto-upload

Before letting you move on, Dropbox offers the automatic upload feature.

Turn On Automatic Upload

This is why we’re here. Turn on “Include videos” if you like (as I did), and then tap on Turn on Camera Upload.

Dropbox will begin uploading and backing up the photos you’ve already taken. From now on, however, photos you take will be uploaded almost immediately.

Uploaded where?

Accessing your uploaded photos

Dropbox simply creates a new folder: “Camera Uploads”.

Dropbox Camera Uploads folder

Examine the contents of that folder, and you’ll find all your photos1.

Dropbox Camera Uploads contents

If you have Dropbox installed on more than one device, and you’re signed in to the same account on each device, the photos will be automatically download to2 all those devices as well.

Controlling the upload

The Dropbox app’s Settings menu includes several options that allow you finer control over exactly what and when Dropbox uploads.

Dropbox Settings

Naturally, you can turn the entire upload feature off. Unless you have another app doing the same thing, or have some other strategy for backing up your photos, I don’t recommend this.

Because data transfers on your mobile provider network can count against your data plan or limit, and different people have different plans with different limits, you can choose to have Dropbox upload only when connected to a Wi-Fi network. I’m allowing it to upload no matter how it’s connected.

If using your mobile provider data plan is enabled, you can still control how much gets uploaded by setting a specific size limit on uploaded files. I’ve elected to allow anything up to 25 megabytes in size to be uploaded when connected to my mobile provider’s network; anything larger than that will upload only when I’m connected via Wi-Fi.

Yet another way to manage what gets uploaded is to allow or prevent videos from being uploaded. Videos tend to be much larger than photos. Once again, I’ve elected to allow both to be uploaded.

Dropbox or another service?

I’ve used Dropbox throughout this article as my example because it’s popular, ubiquitous, robust, and supports two-factor authentication. But it doesn’t have to be Dropbox.

Many cloud storage and cloud photo applications, including Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google’s Drive, Flickr, and others, provide very similar functionality. In fact, so many apps now offer to automatically upload your photos from your mobile device that it’s almost a problem, because you have to keep declining the offers to replicate functionality you already have.

Regardless of which you select, automatically uploading your photos and videos means you’re almost immediately backed up, as long as you have an internet connection of some sort.

And as we know, backing up is a very good thing.

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Footnotes & references

1: The observant reader might notice that the thumbnails in that image reflect the other images on this page. The screen shot capability of the Samsung mimics a camera, so as each image was captured, it was automatically uploaded to my Dropbox account, and then downloaded to my desktop machine, where I was writing this article.

2: Downloaded to PC installations, but otherwise simply made available to other mobile apps signed in to your Dropbox account, and on Dropbox’s web interface.

19 comments on “Back Up Smartphone Photos Using Dropbox”

  1. Great article. Thanks.
    I use a dumb-phone, with a 2GB card for pictures, etc.
    Not using a smart-phone, doesn’t mean one can’t keep backups in the cloud. I like Dropbox, but I use GoogleDrive. I keep my pics and an encrypted copy of my contacts list, and an encrypted copy of my med-list in the cloud. I manually sync my phone folders occasionally, especially when I make an important change, such as a new pic of my girlfriend, or a change in my meds.
    It just feels better, knowing that this info is always available, and backed up.

  2. Thanks Leo – great article, as usual. I looked on my iPhone 4S and saw that I had set up Dropbox photo sharing but it hadn’t backed up any of my photos from the last year or so. I discovered I had at some point turned off location sharing for Dropbox in my iPhone Settings/Privacy/Location Sharing. Turned that back on and DropBox immediately started backing up the rest of my iPhone photos.

  3. Thanks for the article Leo. Dropbox installed and just as you descripted and all went smoothly it did take a bit longer to load the 9 photos I had in my album than I thought it would. I like the choice of being able to choose between Wi-Fi and Data as we use a family plan and some months we are pretty close to our Data limit.

    I don’t keep a lot of photos on my phone, I like to dump them on to my computer fairly regularly which I BU 3 ways one to the Cloud everyday. This of coarse includes a daily Image BU via Macrium Reflect.

    It only makes sense to back up your camera photos and videos on our phones as we should be backing up our computers. Once again thank you for your tip on doing this important part of our BU process’.

  4. Buried in all the good info Leo provided was two factor authentication. I use two factor for financial and other sensitive sites (if available), but after catching this ‘hint’ I’m going to set it up wherever available when I do my annual password update this year. Thanx Leo … after being hit in the head a few times I usually get it!

  5. Hi leo,

    Thanks for the article, it is very informative.
    I have 2 questions.
    1. What is resolution of the pictures it stores on Dropbox? Is that the original resolution of the photo?
    2. How can I download the photos with original resolution when needed in the future?

    Thanks!

  6. I have two Dropbox accounts – my personal account and one from my employer. Is there an easy way to use both of these for photos on my phone.

    At regular intervals I like to separate the photos on my phone into a Work and a Personal folder. Then I copy all manually to similar folders on my computer and delete some of the oldest ones from the phone. Then I manually back up (copy) the updated contents of the desktop folders to the cloud.

  7. If you delete a photo from your smartphone (e.g. Samsung S4 DCIM>camera folder), is the photo in your dropbox deleted too?

    Sometimes I took a bad shot and I will delete it maybe in a few seconds/min from my phone DCIM>camera folder, the bad shot should be already stored in Dropbox.

    Thanks.

    • Once uploaded to Dropbox, deleting it from your phone won’t delete it from Dropbox. That may be a minor inconvenience. If deleting it from you phone did wipe it from Dropbox, it would be a disaster.

      • It it possible to set only save to dropbox only and do not save to DCIM>camera folder?
        So all photos is only saved in one location in dropbox, if I delete the photo it is deleting from dropbox.

  8. Hi, great article. I have been looking for info on the resolution of the photos that go to Dropbox. You answered that it was the original resolution, but I was wondering if you are positive about that. I see a difference between my Note 4 pics in my gallery and the ones in Dropbox. The ones in Dropbox seem less sharp. I have it set for the pics to download via WiFi and have been extremely happy with Dropbox as a service. My one question before I wipe all the photos on my phone is the resolution when transferred to Dropbox. Thank you! PS – I have not downloaded any photos off of Dropbox yet, so I will try that and see how the photos look when I do that.

    • The best thing you can do in that case is copy a few photos from your phone to your computer and test to see if the size is the same.

  9. I like redundancy. For backing up photos I use Dropbox, Box, Google Drive. OneDrive. Flickr, Photobucket, Google Photos in addition to numerous flash drives and DVDs. 🙂

  10. Hi Leo…

    Another great article, but may need just a slight tweak of an update.

    As of today, the automatic camera roll backup feature is only available as part of a 30 day trial after which your trial will turn into an auto-renewing $9.99/month service with 1TB of space. The ‘Basic’ plan gets you 2GB of space and you must manually select the photos you wish to back up. Still another good resource for free cloud storage!

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