How I Back Up My Photos in the Digital Age

Memories. In the digital age, we have many photos. Too many. It can be overwhelming to organize to the point that many people simply don't! But when it comes to digital storage for your precious photos, you need to have multiple copies. Hard drives DO fail. It's not a question of if, but rather of when.

So here's what I do to organize my many photos.

I'll explain how I backup the photos, and then how I organize them. This system is built around getting it done, rather than perfection. So it's an ideal solution for normal people – not photographers.

Identify Your Photo Sources

First off, you have to know where all your photo source are.

I have an iPhone 7s Plus. My wife has an iPhone 6s. My kids both have iPad Minis. (Fortunately they don't take a ton of photos, but still, there are some!) Additionally, I have a Sony video recorder, and a Canon Rebel T5i that takes both photos and video (and the video files are huge!)

First, I use the Mac built-in software image capture to transfer photos from my iPhone to my computer. I don't like using Photos on my Mac because of the storage – it hides the files and makes them inaccessible.

(Load image capture by pressing CMD + Spacebar and search for “image capture”)

This point is important in iOS12 and up: Make sure you adjust your settings under photos, otherwise your photos will be converted into other formats and you'll lose the originals.

When you import HEIF or HEVC media from an attached iOS device to Photos, Image Capture, or a PC, the media might be converted to JPEG or H.264.

You can change this import behavior in iOS 11. Go to Settings > Photos. In the “Transfer to Mac or PC” section, tap Keep Originals to prevent the media from being converted when importing.

Automatic Backups with Google Photos

I use Google Photos as an automatic backup.

I regularly load this app and make sure to swipe up to upload any fresh photos.

There are 2 main options with Google Photos. There is a free version that keeps an unlimited number of high quality (slightly compressed) photos and videos, or a paid version that allows full quality, but it limited to to 15 GB for free, and then — $1.99 a month for 100 GB and $9.99 a month for 1 terabyte.

I consider this a cloud, 2nd backup storage. (It is important to have MULTIPLE copies in case of hard drive failure.) So I use the free version.

What I like about Google Photos is that the photos are available on all of your devices instantly. So if I backup on my iPhone, I can easily access them on a desktop by going to google.com/photos

The other really nice thing with Google Photos is the facial recognition. It can with a high level of accuracy recognize faces and categorize your photos for you.

Spooky, but I'm happy about this!

For example, if I want to see photos of my son, Jack, I can search his name and see photos. The other nice thing is that it can also search for “things” so if I search “soccer” it pulls up all of the photos about soccer. or Christmas. Or New York or whatever you search for.

I find the search uncannily accurate.

You can also search for “things” and you'll be surprise how accurate the results are. The side benefit is that if I am searching for a particular photo or event, I usually start here in Google Photos.

If I am trying to find a particular photo, I often search in Google Photos and find the date – then I can find the original on my computer by searching for the filename (ie IMG_9504.jpg) since the search is so good in Google Photos.

Sharing Google Photos

You can share photos with your spouse – or anybody else – which helps make your collection complete, as my wife has photos on her phone that I wouldn't have on mine. This needs to be setup inside of Google Photos.

So every now and then, I just load Google Photos on my iPhone and swipe down to manually initiate sync with the cloud. What's nice about this being manual, is that I have some time to delete really cruddy photos if I want to (but I rarely do.)

Removing Duplicate (and Very Similar) Photos

There is also the Gemini App, which can eliminate very similar photos and allow you to pick the best one. I use Gemini to remove duplicates from my Mac desktop folders. Both are worth taking a look at.

Google Photos also creates (and users can create) albums, timelines — referred to as “stories” — movies or GIFs from stored photos. Sometimes it will put together a little movie of a certain day, or a certain trip we took, or a certain individual. I look at these random videos as a quick little memory bonus (not unlike Timehop) – that I have the option to save. Their auto-movies tend to have a couple bad pictures in the bunch, but it's a nice feature to have a fresh way of looking back at the memories in the past.

Creating Photo Books

It can also auto-create books that can be printed. Again, it tends to pick about 80% of the pics are some of the best, but 20% are not. So these really do require some manual editing. It's the limitation of the AI, currently. But it can save you time. The nice thing about printed books is that they really make your memories stand out. However, having made them for my kids before, they are a daunting, time-intensive task.

Unlike other photo backup services, Google Photos has no limits on the length of video clips. A lot of services, even paid ones, like SmugMug, has a 20-minute limit on video clips. I film a lot of Jack soccer games, so having no limit is ideal for me. Plus, you never know if you have a video you had thought woulkd be backed up, but is skipped because it is too long. So this is big piece of mind for me.

We almost lost all of our photos from our trip to Paris a long time ago, so I know what it's like to fee like when you lose some digital memories. We also lost Jacks 2 yr old birthday pictures and thought these were lost forever – for a couple of years – but fortunatley, we found a backup on an old SD card. Fewf.

NAS Backups

So I have a Synology NAS backup, Dsj413s. That's just an acronym for Network-Attached-Storage.

I have the DSj413s, which is a 4 bay device, meaning it can hold 4 internal hard drives. I have 3 3TB drives currently on my NAS. So I could add another one. I have it setup as a RAID (redundancy backup) so I have less risk.

I use this to backup photos, along with personal documents, and courses I have purchased and videos I have downloaded and want to keep. I also keep all of my old courses I have created. I also take a lot of photos and videos. So does my wife. So it can get filled up fast.

I keep a lot of stuff, but if you prefer, you can substitute a single external backup drive, which should suffice for your photos and videos for quite some time.

On my NAS, I consider this my main, primary backup, with Google Photos as the failsafe. It is important to have a copy of your photos in the cloud (off-site) in case of fire or catastrophy.

I have a photos folder on my NAS called “pix”.

In this, I have photos arranged by year. For older pictures I have scanned, I have those in a “pre-2000” folder.

So here's the sorting part. When I take the photos off my iPhone using image capture, which I do a couple of times a year, I want to sort these photos so they are better accessible for me to use.

I have some categories I'll explain. You will obviously have slightly different categories.

Artwork Inspiration – this is just stuff I like and may want to paint, or use as inspiration for art in the future.

Ballroom: this folder is for all the videos of my son ballroom dancing. His teacher likes him to watch these back so he can learn from them. So I like to keep all of these together in a folder. They can, of course, be sorted by date.

Health: this is all the photos of mole, bruises, cuts or anything else related to health. My wife takes most of these “just in case”, and I don't like these mixed up with the real pictures.

Homeschool: Our sons are homeschooled. If we see something related to that – maybe a play or a book we want to research later, we sort that into this hat.

Soccer: this is where the soccer pictures and video clips live. It's easier to put together a video of his best clips if these are sorted away from the rest of the photos.

To Buy: This is stuff we may want to buy, or if we have bought it already or no longer want it, we just delete it.

Food: OK, we are foodies. So we sometimes take photos of the amazing food we've cooked. (My son Jack is very interested in “presentation” and making the plate look awesome.) So I like these sorted away from the rest of the day-to-day photos and consider these photos more “functional.”

Kijiji: Kijiji is an ebay-like site that is popular in Canada. So if we sees some junk in the basement we no longer want, we snap a pic and drop it in here.

Jack: Jack will sometimes take screenshots of things he likes – like Pokemon screens or whatever. So if it's something functional for him, it gets sorted in here.

Henry: Same as above but for Henry.

Mini-Movies: These are little movies we have edited on an app, like Animoto and I want these to stand out as they have been manually created, so I keep them in their own folder.

Musictoget: If I hear a great song, I often take a screenshot. Later, I'll go track down the artist and may buy the song. I don't want these in my main photos, so I filter them out and delete them once I've bought the song. This is how I discover my new music these days using Spotify and 8Tracks.

Misc: this is for miscellaneous photos,\ or maybe screenshots where I can't tell on my quick pass through where it goes. I may have to open the picture to see which category it would best fit in.

Business Related: These are business screenshots, photos I might use in a work setting, like for removing the background to use on a YouTube Thumbnail, etc, and also video clips I plan to edit and put on my YouTube channel. The videos, I move into a Dropbox folder for video editing.

Banking-Tax Related: These are banking deposit pictures (I take pictures of checks prior to depositing) and other tax related stuff. It's best to separate this out for obvious reasons.

Screenshots: These are just screenshots that don't really have a good category, but I want to keep. So they are not really action oriented, or they would be in another category, but I still want to keep them.

Once these are sorted (I open the folder and make the thumbnails large enogh t to see and drag the pictures, if relevantm, into one of the folders.

I also will delete any photos that are terrible at this stage, or of the floor, or blurry. Thanks kids!

Everything left, is proper “photo” memories, and I copy these into my NAS “pix” folder based on the correct calendar year.

Lastly, I drag the photos out of image capture a month at a time, so I'm only working with a month at a time – which makes image capture less likely to crash out – and makes sorting a much easier tasks as it's broken down by month.

Curated Photos

For photos from a photoshoot, I do all of the above, plus keep a copy in my Dropbox and an extra copy in a free OneDrive account.

And that's what I do.

How do you backup your precious photographic digital memories?

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