Traveling across the country has created chaos in my photo library. For my peace of mind, and ability to take more pictures, it’s time for a plan!
In this article I will go through some options for long term storage and organization techniques.
Photo Storage Priorities
- Don’t exceed the capacity of my storage location.
- Have a backup in case of (digital) catastrophe.
- Don’t use excessive bandwidth moving photos around – data plans are expensive.
- Be able to enjoy my trips again and again, browsing through photos of where we have been.
- Be able to share some of these photos with family and friends, but perhaps not with everyone.
Now over the years I have collected over 40 GB of photos. So I have learned that these goals are simple to meet for the occasional snapper, but get progressively harder as your library gets larger.
To meet these goals we need a process and a set of tools that simplify our life and are still fun. Remember taking film pictures and putting them into photo albums? Now THAT was fun. (Hmmm, not so much).
More than one camera …
There is one more wrinkle to the problem for people who really like to snap pictures. These crazy people have more than one camera! Do you have a digital camera with extra lenses? Or maybe just a little Canon PowerShot that has more features than your phone has? In this case we need a solution that addresses more than one camera.
Just tell me the answer …
So now that we understand the problem(s) let’s look at some possible solutions. The problem is fundamentally, “WHERE do I put all of these pictures?” With a follow-up question of “HOW do I organize them once they are there?
- The most obvious storage option is to leave them on the phone or camera.
- Problem: this is limited storage so it will fill up
- Problem: it is hard to share photos directly from a camera
- Another option often used is to post them to Facebook
- This works for a few photos, but not your whole library
- When you post the pictures they are shared. Most of my photos don’t need to be shared, just stored.
- The next storage possibility is the hard drive of my computer.
- This actually works fine if you can get your phone photos to your computer.
- Problem: How often do you back up your hard drive? Drives fail on average about once every 4 or 5 years. Of course losing your laptop or getting it stolen are also possibilities.
- At least back up photos to an external drive.
- Use an online photo service to store and organize your photos
- Problem: you might have a cost for storage
- Problem: you might have to pay for your data provider if you move too many photos at a time
As you can see from this list, there is no perfect option. The BEST option will depend on how many pictures you take, how many different cameras, and how expensive your data plan is.
So what’s a photographer to do?
Let me make an assumption that your world is similar to mine in that we are both traveling and taking pictures. My photo process goes like this:
- Take lots of pictures on both my phone and my fancy digital camera.
- On my phone, delete pictures immediately that are garbage.
- Using the tool available for my phone move the good pictures to my computer and delete the rest. (See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for more information).
- On my digital camera, copy photos to the computer. Delete pictures that are garbage.
- My computer now has all of my photos. Continue to purge as much as you can.
- Backup all photos to external hard drive or online storage (see variations below)
- Create folders/albums to be shared.
- Share those folders to your friends.
Step 6 is the crux of the problem. Where do we store our photos?
Backup hard drive
If you choose an external hard drive to backup your photos, you primary problem will be how to do it often and easily. I recommend a windows app called BeyondCompare to easily move only the new files to your hard drive. I have been using it for years. It is an excellent use of $30.
An external hard drive solves your backup problem, as long as that drive doesn’t get lost. However, it really doesn’t help with sharing. So if you share you photos, you will probably still need an online solution, but only for your shared photos.
Online Photo Storage and Sharing
There are several web sites that are worth evaluating for storage and sharing. They all have different strengths. We will quickly look at iCloud, Google+ (Picasa), Facebook and Flickr. Other sites are available. Some, such as Snapfish and SmugMug are really designed more as print houses or ways to sell your photos, so we will not go into them here.
If you are an iPhone user, you are probably already using iCloud. See Part 1 of this series for information on how to sync your phone with iCloud and get your photos to your computer from there. The weakest spot of iCloud is the limited size. You have 5GB free and then spend $.99 / month for another 50GB. This space is also being used by various apps on your phone, so it gets used up fairly quickly. The second issue with iCloud is that you really don’t share iCloud libraries to friends and family.
My favorite use of iCloud is as a way to get photos from my phone to my computer. For that, it is perfect!
If you are an Android user, your automatic choice is Google Photos. See Part 2 for information on using Google Photo as storage for your photos from an Android. If you are familiar with Picasa, you know these tools already, as Google Photo is the new version of Picasa. Google provides 15 GB free. An upgrade runs $1.99 per month for 100 GB. Higher upgrades are also available. Google has two nice benefits. The Editing tools come from Picasa and they are some of the best available in the online world. For some great tutorials on using Picasa, see PicasaGeeks.com. These guys are really good! Of course editing on your computer is a better option if you need more detailed work, but Picasa tools are excellent for core tasks. The second benefit over iCloud is the ability to share your albums directly from Google.
One approach I see a lot of casual photographers use is just posting to Facebook. This actually works fairly well. Facebook claims there is no space limit. They do limit each album to 1000 photos, which is probably too much for an album anyway. The main problem here is that the photos will be “optimized” when you upload them, so you lose the original quality of the photo. You also need to be careful that you are not “sharing” photos that you really don’t published but just stored. Pay attention to your privacy settings if you use Facebook for storage.
So I save the best for last, what can I say?
If you truly need a lot of space, Flickr is the storage option for you. They provide 1TB of storage for free! You could easily store your entire library here and never pay extra. Of course, you will certainly pay for it in your data plan if you do it all at once! Flickr has a great folder/album storage system and allows easy sharing to your friends and family. In fact you can just send them a link and they won’t have to create an account. Or if that makes you a bit nervous, you can send them an invitation to make an account to see your pictures.
One interesting benefit of Flickr for iPhone users is that you can post a photo directly to Flickr if you so choose. That kind of circumvents the process, but it is quick and easy!
Of course, perfect doesn’t exist. Flickr has no photo editing options so you will need to do editing somewhere else. I enjoy editing on my laptop, so that works for me.
So of all the choices, what do I use? As someone with a collection of 40GB plus of photos, from two digital cameras and two phones (husband has a phone of course), and a desire to edit and to share, I had to make some choices.
- First, I do gather all photos to my hard drive. That includes phones using iCloud and cameras using direct connect.
- I put all photos into folders. The folders are named by date and location. So I use “2010-10-18 Texas Big Bend” as a naming convention. This keeps them sorted nicely.
- I delete like a maniac. No duplicates, no blurs, no boring pictures. Delete, Delete, Delete.
- I push the photos to Flickr in their dated folders.
- Then I drag some favorites into albums that I share with others. Don’t forget to add descriptions to these, so your audience will know where you have been.
Note that this process needs to be done a bit at a time. Life is much nicer if you take an evening a week as “photo night” and get that week’s photos done. Too much at once will make you crazy, and overwhelm your data plan. Works for me!!
So tell me, what works for you? I would love to see what process you have chosen to make this a simple and organized process.
If wishes were horses …
Here is a dream for photo management. My mother was a fan of “Creative Memories”. She traveled a lot and had a ton of film photos. So she created photo albums with lots of story mixed into the photos, along with sound bubbles and cute graphics that she cut out and pasted around the pictures. Very fun. We need to write an app for that! We could “publish” our cute photo-albums!