Pro tips for saving family photos—before your laptop or backup crashes

Here I am constantly teaching you about the proper storage and organization of everything that is important so that it is safe and accessible. This week the joke is on me.

My oldest daughter is about to get married. As a surprise, I wanted to use one of these digital frames to create a slideshow of alternating images of her and her fiancé growing up and then meeting. (Putting this out won’t ruin the surprise. My kids never read my column.)

I took the plunge into family photos thinking the worst was about to happen when I had fewer wrinkles and pounds, when I didn’t need hair color or glasses, when my kids were still holding my hand and wanting me to tuck them in. Then I learned that there is something worse: not finding these photos.

The chronicle of the first half of my daughter’s life was simple. 15 years ago, I wisely collected all my snaps and had them professionally scanned and burned onto a DVD. I dutifully copied the images onto my laptop and a couple of USB sticks, which I gave out to family members. So far, so good.

Then came the digital age. I saved the unique images to an external hard drive on my PC, we call Disco and programmed Disco to back up my laptop daily. Look, I’m in.

A few years ago I retired my 10 year old laptop and transferred its contents to Disco. Consistent with my decluttering method, I took the old PC to the computer store to have it erased and recycled. A member of the Geek Squad confirmed that Disco did indeed have all the data. The mistake was… I never backed up Disco.

When I got these photos – yes. At Geek Squad, the agent confirmed that Disco crashed and probably took everything with it.

“Do you have a backup?” asked the agent.

“This IS my backup!” I said, rummaging in my purse for a bottle. Since I only found Advil, I took some.

Disco was committed to the Geek Squad Hospital where data surgeons extracted some files and transferred them to a new drive. But while I could see photo filenames, the photos themselves had degenerated into mere strings of code. #&^@*.

“A decade gone?” I asked.

“Gone,” the agent confirmed, adding sympathetically. “It stinks.”

So I called two people: Diana Uricchio, owner of OXO Digital Organizing, an Orlando company that helps people organize their important papers and photos digitally, and Mitch Goldstone, owner of ScanMyPhotos, a company worth more than a billion people scanned images, including my .

As Uricchio puts it, “People have too many photos in too many places and none of them are properly backed up.”


Goldstone and Uricchio recommend the following:

Appreciate the mess. List all the places where you put photos: phones, computers, file folders, shoeboxes, albums, laptops, USB drives, external hard drives, CDs, cloud services, and so on. Then pull them together.

Scan your snaps. Have all non-digital photos scanned. Use a professional service like ScanMyPhotos or rent a quality scanner.

Create a photo hub. Consolidate all your digital photo files in one place, like a new external hard drive formatted for your PC or Mac.

Save now, organize later. Don’t try to edit or eliminate duplicates yet. “That’s a big mistake,” Uricchio said. “Your computer or drive could crash tomorrow.” (Let me tell you!) “Now back up the mess, then edit.”

Don’t rely on social media. Sites like Facebook and Instagram convert high-quality images to low-resolution photos for sharing. Keep the originals in your photo hub.

Secure them. Have three full copies of the master file ready. One on your laptop, one on an external hard drive or flash drive, and a copy either in the cloud or on another external hard drive stored somewhere other than your home, e.g. B. in a locker. Uricchio uses BackBlaze, an automated, cloud-based backup service that costs around $60 per year. Be sure to migrate these copies forward as technology changes.

Connect to the cloud. Make sure your smartphone is set to automatically upload all photos to the cloud, Goldstone said. Options include Google Photos, DropBox, OneDrive, iCloud, and Amazon Photos.

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