Smile! Your Photos are Safe

If you’re a little like me, you have thousands of photos and videos on your iPhone, a few hundred more on your digital camera or fancy DSLR, even more old pictures tucked in a shoebox and an unfinished photobook.


Some of our family photos are stored on my MacBook and others on my husband’s PC. I’ve created online albums on Flickr, Shutterfly, Snapfish and the now defunct Kodak Gallery. I’ve shared photos on Facebook and made my pictures look like old-fashioned Polaroids using Instagram, the popular mobile app that Facebook acquired for $1 billion earlier this year.


You get the picture.


So how do you and I get them organized and protect them from a catastrophe, like my toddler daughter knocking coffee all over my laptop? Here are five tips to help get started.


1. Edit your photos.

It’s easy to take digital photos and so tempting to save all of them. Debra Baida, a former photo editor and now the owner of Liberated Spaces, a professional organizing business in San Francisco, has a simple response: Don’t.


“You don’t need to hold onto every single image you’ve ever taken,” she says. “In addition to occupying less storage space, editing also makes the memories more crisp and concise.”


First, delete blurry photos or ones that have a person, finger or some other obstruction blocking the picture. If you have multiple versions of the same shot, pick just one to save. Select the ones you’d want to publish or share, and then drag the mediocre ones to the trash can.


Another option is to create two albums and sort your best and favorite photos into one and set aside the second tier ones in another folder.


2. Make regular appointments to download and transfer your photos.

So often, photos and videos end up on your smartphone or other gadgets. But if it’s stolen, lost or accidentally destroyed, those memories are gone, too.


“Don’t let them collect digital dust,” says Heather Madden, Shutterfly’s chief storyteller and a mother of three. “Taking five minutes to make sure the memories are preserved will  preserve memories for the rest of your life. It’s probably more important than picking up toys around the house, and it takes less time.”


Some new technology may make it a little less burdensome. A few new cameras come built in with wifi, allowing you to upload photos wirelessly to Picasa and other online photo services, though reviews so far are generally mixed. Another option is to pick up an Eye-Fi memory card for $40 to $100. A memory card with wireless technology, it allows you to back up photos to your computer while you’re on the go or to send them to your iPhone, iPad or Android device or to a photosharing site.


3. Create a labeling system.

Sort your photos into folders or albums with a descriptive name, along with the date or year. Try to be specific, such as “Hawaii Family Vacation June 2012,” rather than just “Vacation.” You can also create albums for each child, for places you often visit (like the park) or for outtakes, those random smartphone photos that are hard to categorize.


Because the computer automatically labels photos as “IMG_202” and so forth, you can also add titles or rename them in batches so that you can search for them more easily. Microsoft Windows, Apple’s iPhoto, Picasa and Adobe, among others, offer this function.


4. Back up photos and videos.

There are many options for backing up photos and videos. You may want to consider more than one.


One basic way is to purchase an external hard drive or flash drive and save your photos on it. The drawback? You have to remember to hook it up regularly. (If you have a recent Mac and Time Capsule, however, it should do so automatically and wirelessly via Apple’s Time Machine program).

Another idea is to upload them to photosharing sites, such as Flickr, Picasa, Snapfish and Shutterfly.  You can easily share them, link them to other sites and services, order prints and more.


But, there are some drawbacks. On Flickr, for example, you can only see the 200 most recent pictures in your photostream with a free account and if you want to store more than a few photo albums at high resolution, you will need to purchase a pro account for about $25 a year. Shutterfly, meanwhile, promises to store all your photos at high resolution and never delete them, but if you want to download them back onto your computer, you will need to purchase a CD of the pictures.


The latest phenomenon is to store, back up and share your photos in the cloud, otherwise known as the web. Apple, for example, offers the iCloud and Google introduced Google Drive in April. Also making a name for themselves are Dropbox, Box and SugarSync. In most cases, they offer approximately 5 GB for free and charge for additional storage space. If your photos are about 5 MB each (smartphone photos are less, photos taken with a DSLR can be more), you could store roughly 1,000 photos in one free account. While that sounds like a lot, you’ll be surprised at just how many photos you might have.


If you also want to back up your videos – not to mention your music and documents – you will likely go over the free alloted space, which means it will cost about $50 or more a year. On the plus side, the cloud can keep all of your photos in one place.


“It’s critical to get your photos backed up online,” says SugarSync CEO Laura Yecies and a mother of four. “For most of us, it’s the classic story. If the house burned down, what would you save? It’s the pictures. And people lose laptops or laptops die more often than houses burn down.”


5. Do something with your photos.

You don’t have to wait for a special occasion to create custom merchandise. There’s a fairly competitive market right now for photobooks, with Shutterfly, Snapfish, Picaboo, Mixbook, Blurb and others vying for your business. Some of them also provide software programs that automatically design a photobook for you.


Need ideas? You can create a storybook starring your child or one that tells the tale about your child’s birth, suggests Madden.  For older children, you can create a family vacation book using pictures that they took, showing their perspective of the trip. “The most important thing is to stay on top of your photos so you don’t feel overwhelmed,” Madden says. “If you take five minutes each day and do more with your photos, you won’t have that guilt.”


Ellen Lee writes about technology for Bay Area Parent. 

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