One of the important functions of our job as photo organizers is to counsel our clients on the safekeeping of their photo library — digital images as well as printed photos. Like most professional photo organizers, we’re going to tell you that your photo library should be stored in three different locations. We know from experience that you can’t rely on just one or two locations. Accidents happen; natural disasters happen; technology fails (and usually at the most inopportune time).
Our advice for preserving your digital photo library includes any combination of the following. . . in addition to the device (usually a desk-computer or laptop) which you use to organize and edit your photos.
- external hard drive
- flash drive
- web-based back-up service such as “BackBlaze” or “Carbonite”
- web-based photo organizing service such as “Forever” or “SmugMug,”
- web-based services that sync to your photo device, such as “Google Photos”, “iPhotos,” or “Amazon Photos”
In this list, the items that are web-based are what the industry refers to as “The Cloud.” It merely means that your data is stored and accessed over the internet rather than on a device that sits on your desk or in your hand. That’s precisely what causes some people concern. . . the fear that someone else – someone “in The Cloud” – could see their photos, use their photos, or lose their photos.
Should You be Concerned?
The short answer is “yes,” but only to the point of being cautious and informed so you can make appropriate choices. It has become abundantly clear that web-based services are taking over in most all areas of data management. People have embraced OneDrive, Google Drive and iCloud for storage of computer data files and QuickBooks On-Line is a reliable method of working with company finances. The advantages of these web-based products, and of photo management web-based services, are that they can store vast amounts of data that would otherwise clutter up your own device and you can access your information (and photos) from anywhere in the world (as long as you remember your login information).
Let’s take a closer look at some of the distinctive features of these web-based services.
- “BackBlaze” and “Carbonite” – Both of these are subscription services that cost approximately $5/month. You control which files on your computer to back up (we suggest all files) and the back-up runs continually. Your files are encrypted and the service is highly secure and reliable. You can log-on to their website at any time to confirm that your files are being backed up. If you ever need to recover files (such as when your computer’s hard drive crashes), you can download them from the service’s website or you can request they send you an external drive of all your files.
- Photo organizing services like “Forever” and SmugMug” can be very effective tools for viewing, categorizing, and sharing your photo images. We have found them to be reliable and secure.
- “Forever” prides itself on protecting your photos for your lifetime plus 100 years. This makes it a very desirable service if you want to preserve your photo legacy for your descendants. Your one-time photo storage fee guarantees photo protection and privacy.
- “SmugMug” is a yearly subscription service that gives you flexibility in creating photo galleries while also giving you the ability to share them and/or sell them.
- Web-based services that sync to your phone are a nice way to continually and automatically back up the photos you take on your mobile phone. Once you get the account set up on your phone you can forget about it, except for as quick check every so often to make sure the back-up is still in sync.
- Google Photos/Google Drive – Photos display nicely, you can sort photos into collections/albums, and Google uses an uncanny artificial intelligence system to search and find photos based on pretty much any word you want to use in your search. Google Photos can be installed on both android and iPhones.
- iPhotos – This operates similar to Google Photos, except that it is not as reliable in performing uploads and downloads as is Google Photos.
- Amazon Photos is available through your paid subscription to Amazon Prime. It functions similar to Google Photos and iPhotos but surpasses them in a couple of areas. You can set up a “family vault” where your spouse or children can also back-up their photos. The upload and the download process is very reliable.
It is this category of web-based services that causes some people to worry about photo privacy. Our own personal feelings are that the assurance of backing up mobile phone photos automatically with either Google Photos, iPhotos or Amazon Photos is well worth the very slight risk that any of these three services would see fit to use our photos without our permission.
Use Caution with Social Sharing Sites
It is also important to know what web-based services to avoid (or to use with caution). We enjoy many of the popular social sharing sites like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. and we post photo images on those sites frequently. But we do know the limitations of those sites as well as the risks. We’ll share a few of the most notable with you:
- Do not use social media for a photo back-up option. Too often we see friends putting what appears to be most of their vacation photos on Facebook. Why? If it is because you really think people are going to scroll through all 82 photos of your cruise to the Bahamas, fine (although a better option would be to select a few of your very best images). But if you think you are preserving them for the future, you are mistaken. Social media sites have no obligation to safeguard your photos and your ability to organize or work with your photos there is non-existent.
- Your images may be compressed (not a good thing). Some social media sites compress an image as it is being uploaded to reduce the file size. This means some of the quality of that image will be lost in the upload process. You probably won’t notice it too much when you see the photo displayed on the site. But if you don’t have another copy of that image and you decide to download the copy from the social media site, it will likely be compressed again as it is downloaded, and then you’ll have an image that isn’t the quality of your original. Of course, this won’t be a concern for you if you’ve properly backed up your images in the first place.
- Other people can download your photos. Yes, not just your friends, but friends of your friends also have access to your photos. A simple right-click and a “save as” function puts your photo right into their download file. The reality is, however, that it is unlikely anyone would want any of our personal images. If we were celebrities or royalty, maybe. But that said, use discretion when sharing photos on social media.
When you consider using “the Cloud” for storing and sharing your photos, the bottom line is that the very minimal risk associated with any of the services recommended above (not social media sites) is by far surpassed by the peace of mind you’ll have in knowing that your photo library is backed up to a service that will keep them safe and secure and enhance your ability to access and enjoy your photos and the memories they represent.
We focus on organizing your photos so you can spend your time making more memories to capture. Our passion is to use our organizing skills and love of family history to preserve your collection of photos and to create meaningful ways for you to enjoy and share your photo stories.