Today’s Ask How-To Geek is a bit of a role reversal: most people want an easy way to get their photos from their phone to their Facebook account but we’re solving a problem for a reader who wants to get his Facebook photos from his account to his phone. Read on as we show him how.
Dear How-To Geek,
This is one of those problems that I know has a solution, but because the search terms I’m using are so closely related to the problem I’m not trying to solve… I’m having a real heck of a time just finding the thing I want.
Here’s the situation: I have a Facebook account. I pretty much use it for sharing family photos with friends/family. It’s essentially the 21st century version of the dad-wallet-photo album. I want to be able to sync all those photos (that come from all sorts of different computers, tablets, etc.) to my phone. Specifically, the issue is that I travel a lot and have really terrible cellphone reception with my current provider. This means if I rely on actually connecting to Facebook to show someone a family photo, I may never get it loaded.
What would you suggest? Everything I find when searching is all about apps and tricks for getting pictures from the phone to Facebook, but I want to do the opposite! I’m using a newer Android phone, for what that’s worth.
Part of the reason we love reader emails so much is because they often times get us thinking about a problem we didn’t know we had. You’re right, it is pretty annoying to want to show somebody a cute picture of your kid that’s on Facebook (but not on your phone) when you’re in a poor reception area.
Your request proved to be tricker than we anticipated, although specifically for the reasons you outlined: most people want to shotgun their photos onto social media sites, fewer wish to siphon them down.
The most obvious way to accomplish what you want to accomplish (although it is neither automatic or ongoing) is to simply look at your Facebook account on your phone when you’re in an area that has good service, press and hold on each photo you want to save, and select “download” to save the file to your phone. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t attempt this trick as early versions of the Facebook app were missing the feature.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to locate one on your behalf, there seems to be no single application out there that will download past photos. Fortunately, you only need to do the past download once (because we’re about to show you how you can automate the process for future photos). In order to get your photo backlog on your phone you’ll need to either manually select and save each photo or follow our guide to bulk downloading your Facebook data (and then grabbing all the photos from the resulting archive).
Once you have your old photos stored safely, then we have the matter of preventing your future self from going through this hassle again. To that end (and if you’re willing to spend a few minutes setting the system up) we’re going to leverage the versatile IFTTT (IF This Then That) system to automatically sync your Facebook photos to a cloud storage system. To learn more about the general principles of IFTTT and the recipes that drive it, check out our handy IFTTT guide here.
You’ll need a free Dropbox account (or you can use your existing one) and you’ll need a free IFTTT account. Armed with those two things and your Facebook account, you can then plug those values into [an IFTTT recipe that automatically backs up your new Facebook uploads to Dropbox](https://ifttt.com/recipes/9075-keep-all-the-photos-you-upload-to-facebook-in-one-safe-place).
Now you (and any other readers following along at home) might be thinking “Now wait a minute. This just copies the photos from one web-based service to another web-based service. How does that help when you’re out of range of the cellphone towers?” That’s a perfectly reasonable concern to have at this point, but we have one final trick.
You can either manually update your Dropbox folder via the mobile app when you know you’re going to be traveling somewhere without service in order to manually sync your photos to a local directory or, much more efficiently but introducing one extra little layer, you can use a handy app called Dropsync. Dropsync has a free/Pro setting but the free setting is just fine for our purposes as we only need to sync one folder. By default Dropbox doesn’t actively two-way sync to mobile devices to avoid using up your battery and data plan. Dropsync adds in selective syncing so you can keep the folders you want synchronized to your phone (and leave the larger files you don’t need synced alone).
Install Dropsync, select the folder your Facebook photos are automatically backed up to, and set that the folder you wanted automatically synced. From then on all your new uploaded photos will get dumped into that folder and then synced to your phone.
It’s definitely not as convenient as Facebook offering an offline mode where your files are locally synced, but it gets the job done. And, even better, since you’ve taken the time to set up an IFTTT account you can now use IFTTT recipes for tons of other purposes; we’d strongly encourage you to browse the recipe directory.
Have a pressing tech question? Shoot us an email at email@example.com and we’ll do our best to help.