I started this post some time ago when the problems I had with Apple Photos on our Mac were getting too much to ignore. Regardless if you are a Mac or PC user, the greater issue of digital photo storage and organization remains the same – personal computers are not designed to perform a function of this magnitude.
The Picture Problem
Have you ever tried to access an Apple Photo from another site? For example you want to upload a photo to Shutterfly. So you go to Shutterfly and select ‘add photos’ and then the thinking circle just keeps spinning, and spinning, and spinning. Your photos never show up to select, or maybe some show up but others don’t. I found this was happening more frequently and was very frustrating as I use photos for my business.
We stored everything on our laptop….all 20,000+ photos & videos of our life and I very much wanted a manageable, non-redundant, cleaned up (no screenshots, pics of receipts, memes, and other crap that ends up on our devices) cache of organized pictures for casual browsing AND a backed up copy for “just in case”. My husband is my tech support so naturally I went to him to get help with our digital photo organization problem. After days of going round and round trying to articulate my problem and find a solution I realized it really boiled down to this:
Our brains are not equipped to catalog and manage thousands upon thousands of photos, yet that’s the world we now live in. And the problem is only getting worse.
It already has. Compare the number of digital photos you took in 2005 to just last year. The number is staggering and the more it grows the more your stash turns to trash. That might sound harsh but no one will EVER be able to go through and enjoy all of those files. It’s just never going to happen and good luck searching for something you don’t even remember you have. While I’m not advocating deleting everything, I am saying maybe it’s time for a mindset shift. Store, select, and backup – let’s discuss each.
When exploring our storage options the main issue we were running into was Apple Photos. If you aren’t a Mac user skip down to the options. Our MacBook storage was getting maxed out, and no surprise with all of the photos and videos we were storing locally. I first wanted to dump ALL of it to an external hard drive. Easy enough right? WRONG. We could not get all of our photos to export successfully from Apple Photos to our external hard drive. After around 500 files, error after error would pop up and it would just shut down. That’s a big problem and Apple doesn’t make it any easier. They hide the file structure of your photos and make it impossible to just grab a folder and save elsewhere. The next step was to turn to the cloud.
There are lots of cloud storage providers to choose from with many options to consider for digital photo organization. Free vs. paid, storage size, photos only vs photo + video, picture quality, shared accounts, searchability – all considerations. Let’s talk about a few options:
If you are an exclusive Apple user this is probably the most convenient option as your devices are set up to use this service. You only get 5GB free, however (that is tiny!), after that there are monthly fees. It stores photos & videos in the original resolution and can be shared with friends and family. You can also save document files and collaboratively share with others – but I’m just focusing on photo & video storage here.
If you are a Prime member, unlimited full-resolution photo storage is free and up to 10GB for videos (which won’t get you very far). If you want more video storage it’s a fee. You can also share an account with no duplication as long as you are using the same Amazon login. I even enjoyed the user interface on my Android phone, however, we could NOT figure out how to get Apple Photos to backup to Amazon without manually selecting each and every file. You also have to select files individually to download from Amazon Photos if you want to pull them off. With over 20,000 files that was a big NO thank you, especially when we had the next option.
Storage is free and unlimited – however file sizes are optimized, meaning any higher resolution images you have may be shrunk. This isn’t a big deal unless you plan to print large scale photos at a later date. You can pay a monthly fee for additional storage of original unmodified files. Here’s why it was a better option for us though – we happen to live in one of the few locations that have Google Fiber. As Google Fiber customers we get 1 TB of free cloud storage to store our original photos and videos. We successfully uploaded all of our Apple Photos and you can easily back it up to Google Drive in zip format.
This is the most important step – selecting smaller group of photos from each year that can be reasonably looked through and enjoyed. I personally make a physical photo book each year from Shutterfly. Shutterfly also stores unlimited photos for free. I’ve used Shutterfly for 15+ years and every project I have created is still stored and available for reprint today. If something happens to one of my photo books I can reprint it. I also have all of the photo albums available to view and download if needed. At the end of each year, I go through our photos and pull out the best, upload them to Shutterfly into an album labeled with that year then create a photo book with those pictures.
If you aren’t into creating photo books the same concept can still apply electronically. Go through your photos at least annually and pull out the best into an album labeled something like “Best of 2019”. Remember the 20 pictures you took of the exact same thing? Narrow it down to one. Once you have this curated set of photos BACK. IT. UP.
The cloud is great, but it’s out of my control. I don’t think Google, Amazon, or Apple are going away any time soon or suddenly, but I do want to be able to have everything in my possession just in case. Shutterfly is my current backup. Does it make me nervous that it’s out of my control? A little, but if I really wanted to I could pull off the albums and save to an external hard drive.
Google Photos also makes it easy to zip all of our files to Google Drive. While this is technically the same service provider, it’s at least redundant and we could transfer those zips to an external hard drive as well.
I don’t like the idea of our digital lives living in multiple places around the web, it’s unsettling in a way. My husband told me if it bothered me so much to start by deleting Facebook. Touché. But as I told him, I don’t want things spread here and there in the chance that something happens to one of us. Who will know where everything is and how to access it? So let me leave you with this.
Whichever storage solution you choose make sure to record the details and logins in your vital records so the memories that matter most are preserved for the ones you love.
Which is truly the point of all these photos in the first place. Did you find these digital photo organization tips helpful? Find more recommendations like 10 space-savings products under $10.
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