Protecting Photos from Disaster

SmugMug Online Photo Backup

I’ve thought a lot lately about how devastating it would be to lose all of my photos.  My computer crash last December didn’t help.

I’ve written about backing up photos before.  I keep all of my photos on my hard drive and then a complete set backed up on an external hard drive.

What if my house burns down?  What if we get robbed?  The external hard drive lives in the same house as my computer, so I would be out of luck if either of these things happened.  I started to realize I needed to back up my photos in the cloud.

I started looking for robust photo storage solutions.  I’m not talking about a free photo service where you can upload your photos and order prints (I  never order prints).  I wanted something that would allow me to store my photos and download full-resolution versions for free if I ever needed to.  Facebook doesn’t count – you can’t get your pictures back after you upload them.

DVDs aren’t an option for me.  I could burn my photos on DVDs and keep them somewhere else, but it isn’t scalable for me.  I have over 20,000 photos.  That takes several DVDs.  Plus, I want to be able to upload photos immediately, not once every few months or so.  Finally, DVDs can get stale if they’re not used for a while.

I’ve decided to try SmugMug on the recommendation of a friend of mine.  There’s a nominal annual fee, but I can keep an unlimited amount of photos in my account.  I can download full resolution photos whenever I want.  I can also share links with friends and let them download full resolution photos.

So far so good.  I’m working on uploading all 20,000 of my pictures.  It’s already starting to put my mind at ease.  I’ll report back and let you know how it goes!


What I Learned from My Computer Crash

Computer CrashRight after Christmas, I was curled up in bed with my laptop fixing the Features page on my blog.  Then BAM!  My computer got smacked with a virus* and became immediately unusable.  It was very scary as I tried to figure out what I was going to lose and how to fix it.

What was surprising was that I hardly lost anything.  Some of my organizational quirks paid off and I am so very thankful.

Lessons Learned About Storing Photos

Aside from the general annoyance of spending half the day restoring my computer to its original factory settings and then reinstalling a bunch of software, it was actually pretty painless in the grand scheme of things.

Back. Up. Your. Photos.  I can’t stress this enough.  Around the middle of November, I had made a copy of my entire photo library and put it on my external hard drive.  That meant I only had to worry about photos I took from then through December.  They were still on my memory card.  No, I don’t let photos rot on my memory card.  I actually sort them into folders as soon as possible.  BUT (this is a big but), I leave the original photos on the memory card until I back up my photo library on my external hard drive.

It turns out the only photos I lost were from an event in November and a Christmas party in December where I swiped friends’ memory cards and copied some of their pictures to my computer.  I really liked those pictures and I’ll be able to get them again.  If I had tagged any December photos in my library, I lost those tags and will have to redo them.

Lessons?  I think I’m going to back up my photo collection at least once a month instead of once every quarter or so.  If I have a big event that has very important pictures, I’ll back it up as soon as possible.

What About Files and Documents?   I actually store quite a few documents in the cloud (like all of my recipe cards) and they were saved.  I’ll share my strategies about that in a few weeks.  I lost a couple wedding scrapbook sketches, but I had already finished those layouts.  I lost a few flourish designs I made for the Silhouette, but I can redo those.

Want more information?  Review my posts from last year about photo organization:

  1. Organizing Non-Digital Prints
  2. Organizing Photos as You Take Them
  3. Taking Control of Your Hard Drive
  4. Advanced Organization Techniques
  5. Organizing Cell Phone Pictures

I still get the shakes if I think about what would have happened if my photos weren’t backed up.

*Yup, I’m aware that a virus is not the same thing as my hard drive crashing.  I’m just being dramatic.

It’s 2012, Have You Organized Your 2011 Cell Phone Pics?

Clean off Cell Phone PicsIt’s 2012, have you organized your 2011 cell phone pictures yet?  It’s very common to take the new year as a time to start off fresh.  I’ve been reading lots of posts and comments from friends who are busily cleaning out their houses and closets.

Hello, this is your cell phone talking.  I have all sorts of awesome pictures from 2011 just hanging out here.  Maybe you should do something with them.

I covered how I organize cell phone pictures last June.  I’ll say it again – your cell phone pictures deserve to be stored and backed up right alongside pictures from your regular camera.

This is triple important for me at this moment because I got a new cell phone and need to make sure and get all the pictures from the old phone backed up before I get rid of it.

Remember – If pictures are from a particular event, consider putting them in their own folder from that event.  If you have a bunch of pictures that don’t go with anything, put them in their own folder for the year.  Mine is called “2011 Cell Phone Random.”  Don’t forget to purge the blurry/bad ones first!

Get going!

The Big Purge

When I covered 35mm/printed photo organization, I said what doesn’t make it into my scrapbook get tossed.  I meant it.

Here is the stack of leftovers.  When I was in college, I trotted down to the photo store almost weekly to develop photos.  I always got double prints.  Thinking about how much that cost gives me the shakes.  Still, that was back in a time when you had to get photos developed if you wanted to see them.  This is also back when your friends had to come over to if they wanted to see them because they couldn’t be shared online.  Ah, memories.

The other shudder-inducing fact:  photos aren’t recyclable.  I’m sending some of these to friends, but the rest will be shredded and put in the trash.  Nothing keeps me from over-printing digital photos now like thinking of the money I spent and throwing it away!

However, I’ve used what I’m going to use.  I’ve scanned the ones I want to save.  Everything else is just a lesson learned because I really value the space that will be freed.

Time to go work on that pile.

On Sequential Numbering

Sequential Photo Numbering

Ah, that pesky issue of sequential photo numbering.

Don’t have any idea what I’m talking about?

Did you know your digital camera sequentially numbers the file names for each picture you take?  It can if you play with the settings.  This means that, for example, the picture you take at 10am is numbered “IMG_5051” and one you take later on that same day is numbered “IMG_5098.”

Why is this important?  When you transfer your photos to your hard drive, your computer will auto-arrange photos by file name.  At least mine does.  If they are sequentially numbered, then all the pictures you took at grandma’s house will neatly display in the order that you took them.

This is useful when you are flipping through pictures and even more useful when you are making things like slideshows.  True, there are programs that let you rearrange the order of photos in the slideshow.  But when I’m putting together a slideshow of photos to show family, it is usually at the last minute and I’m hurling photos into a folder for a DVD with no time for careful ordering.  Sequential numbering keeps everything together so all of my pictures of the Pyramids don’t get mixed throughout the show.

What if I clear my memory card?  What happens to sequential numbering?  This has always bothered me.  The numbering will reset.  Recently, I found myself on vacation with a husband who filled a 2-gig memory card in one day.  One day.   I cleared the card, backed up the photos on the computer, and the numbering reset.  And I cursed a bit.

How do I clear the card and keep sequential numbering?  Yes, you can have it both ways!  I conveniently discovered this after I got back from vacation.  Figures.  When you clear the card, clear everything except the last picture on the card.  Your camera will recognize it and will start numbering new pictures after that picture.

Note – this is how everything works on my camera.  Yours could be slightly different.

Interested in more tips including my 5-post series on photo organization?  Check out my Tips & Techniques page!

Organize Your Photos: Cell Phone Pictures

You thought we were done with photo organizing, didn’t you?  Here’s a bonus post.

You are doing a disservice to yourself if you aren’t organizing your cell phone pictures.  Think about all those moments where you didn’t have a real camera.  Cell phone pictures have stories to tell.

This is part 5 in a series about organizing your photos.  Miss earlier parts?  Visit Part 1 – Non-Digital Prints, Part 2 – Organize as You Go, Part 3 – Take Control of Your Hard Drive and Part 4 – Advanced Techniques.

The Case for Using Cell Phone Pictures

Quality is less of an issue:  Picture quality keeps getting better and better.  I can print pictures from my cell phone in small sizes using my photo printer.  You also have the option of putting a few of them together and then printing the collage in 4×6.

You can free your pictures:  Remember the days when pictures were chained to the phone?  No more.  With most smart phones, you can email pictures to yourself or plug the phone into the computer.  Now would be the time to find that micro-USB cable that came with the phone.  Can’t find it?  Take your phone to an electronic store like RadioShack or Best Buy and get a replacement.  These cords are standard on most phones now.

Important moments without a regular camera:  We’ve all had them.  Maybe the pictures on your phone aren’t “important” but they represent a very interesting slice of life.

How would I scrapbook these or use them around the house?  Use them to compliment larger pictures in a layout.  Or, how about a layout showing what’s on your phone?  That would be really interesting!  I’m working on two wall art projects that use tiny photos and I’m using camera and cell phone pictures together.

Organize Them

Purge:  Admit it, you flip through your cell phone pictures when you’re bored.  Take the time to delete pictures you don’t need anymore like we discussed in the first post.  I take a lot of pictures of products and prices in stores, so it’s good for me to go through and delete them.

Store with your other photos: Every few months, copy pictures off your cell phone and onto your computer.  If pictures are from a particular event, I organize them like I explained in this post.

I also create a catch-all folder for each year of cell phone pictures that don’t belong to a particular category.

Don’t forget to tag them!

Have you done anything cool with your cell phone pictures?  Please share!

Our series on photo organization is finally concluded.  I hope you enjoyed it!  We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming on Thursday.

Organize Your Photos: Take Control of Your Hard Drive

You don’t need fancy pants software to get your photos under control.  They key is: have a system and stick to it.

Don’t be intimidated!  You can get your photos under control.

This is part 3 in a series about organizing your photos.  Miss parts 1 and 2?  Visit Part 1 – Non-Digital Prints and Part 2 – Organize as You Go.

Purge & Share

Purge again:  If you’ve done a good job purging as you go, this should be easy.  Once you load the pictures onto your hard drive and have a bigger monitor at your disposal, delete any bad photos you may have missed.

Pick some to share: Don’t wait around to create albums.  Pick some of your favorites and upload them to Facebook, flickr, or Picasa.  This is great for family and friends who live out of the area who can’t come over and look at your albums.  Remember when we took 7.5 gigs of pictures on our last vacation?  I picked my favorite 200 to share online.  Take a couple prints to your office and tack them above your desk!

Basic Organization

Folders by Date & Event: I copy all of my pictures into folders and title them like this: “Year-Month-Day Event.”  For example: “2010-01-23 Disneyland.”  Naming folders this way means they will auto-arrange in date order on your hard drive.

I’ve also started keeping a “random” folder for each month to throw random pictures I take around the house.  This month’s folder is “2011-06 June Random.”

Want to try this but you don’t know what the dates of half your pictures are?  Try right clicking on a picture or hovering over it with your mouse.  If your camera has the date set correctly, the date taken is embedded in the file on your computer.  This is separate from the date you put it on your hard drive.

Copy and Sort Pictures Regularly:  If you are coming back from a trip, do this as soon as you get home.  For everyday use, set a realistic goal like once a month or once a couple of months.

Why should you do this regularly?  Because while I was writing this post, I found a folder of unorganized pictures spanning several months that I thought I had lost.  Yup, I learned my lesson.

Set a reminder:  Do you use an email program?  Yeah, you do.  Did you know it comes with a calendar?  I’m talking Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo or even Microsoft Outlook.  Don’t use your calendar?  It doesn’t matter.  Figure out your goal and create a recurring event on your calendar.  When you create that event, set it to email you and remind you each time.

I’ll show you with Gmail, but it’s very similar with most programs:

Set how often you would like the event to repeat.  Want to organize photos monthly?  Set it for every month:

Then set a reminder so the calendar will send you an email on that day every month:

I use this technique to set reminders for things like paying bills and remembering when to get my oil changed because I’m nerdy like that.

Yes, this is a lot to think about but you can have a system and it can be very simple!  Still want more?  Stay tuned for some advanced ways to organize.

Organize Photos as You Take Them

Welcome to Part 2 of Organize Your Photos!  Today I’m covering ways you can organize your photos while you are taking them.  These simple tips can go a long way toward conquering your photo collection later on.

Miss the first part?  Check out Part 1 – Non-Digital Prints here.

Organize as You Go

These tips are applicable for long vacations as well as every day photo taking.  The most important lesson of this post is:

Purge pictures before you get attached.
Don’t let bad pictures ever make it to your hard drive.

Let me explain.

While you are out taking pictures:  Take a few minutes to flip through your camera.  Do this while you are in between things or subjects.  On my last vacation, I did this while we were in the car between sites.  If something came out blurry, delete it.  I’m talking pictures that are blurry enough that you can tell by looking at your tiny camera screen.

At the end of the day: If you are on a trip, take a look at your day’s worth of pictures.  For your day-to-day at home pictures, try doing this once a week.  Load your memory card into your computer but don’t copy the pictures to your hard drive.  Scroll through all the photos and delete more blurry ones or others that didn’t come out.  This way, you clear more room on your memory card for the next day/week.

Don’t feel like lugging your laptop on a trip?  On our last trip, we took our netbook with us, which was lightweight and perfect for going through pictures.  We’d take it to the hotel bar, watch the sunset, and go through our pictures over a drink.  If you have a tablet computer, or an iPod, consider looking into how to hook up your camera or memory card to it.  If you don’t have a computer with you, look through your camera again after you are settled for the day.

These “bad” photos are not abstract art.  I have to keep telling myself that.  If I leave them on my memory card and copy them to my hard drive, I’m likely to get sentimental down the road and think I might be able to use them.  Really, they’ll just end up rotting on my hard drive.

Next week, stay tuned for how I organize and back up photos when I get home!

Organize Your Photos: Non-Digital Prints

Welcome to two weeks of photo organization here at Almost Never Clever!

Summer vacation season has officially begun and cameras are going into overdrive.  I’ve put together a series of posts about how I organize my photo collection.  This system is what works for my Type A personality and will be full of tips!

35mm Photos

You’re thinking:  but wait, I don’t use 35mm anymore.  This doesn’t apply to me.

Do you have boxes or albums of 35mm prints in your closet?  What about boxes of old negatives?

I thought so.

I switched to a digital camera my last year in college.  I had four boxes of 35mm prints waiting to go into college scrapbooks.  Today, they’re nearly gone.  Nearly.  Loyal readers will know I’m almost finished with my last college scrapbook.

Here’s how I tackled the boxes.

Step One: Organize

Divide your photos categories:  You could sort them by year or by type such as vacations, holiday, etc.  I had one box for each year in school and then subdivided them by each event.

Label: Label each category and subdivision so you can easily tell what’s in the box when you look at it and when you open it.  I labeled the outside of each box with the year.  Inside the box, I cut up index cards and made little file tabs for each event.

Step Two: Scan and Back Up

Pick which photos to scan:  Not every photo is worth saving.  Go through photos and remove ones that you wouldn’t go through the trouble of scanning.  Because I used a home scanner, I decided as I went along whether each one was worth it.

Scan away:  I used my home scanner and scanned about 80% of the pictures in the box.  I scanned at 600dpi, which is a good quality setting.  Check your settings before you scan.  Most machines default to 200 or 300dpi.  The higher resolution, the larger the file will be.  Make sure you have enough space on your computer.

Consider using a scanning service:  There are services out there that will scan a box of photos for you.  This is a great option if you don’t have a home scanner or don’t have time to.  You can also use scanners at drugstores.  Most stores let you scan as many photos as you can fit on a CD for a few dollars.  Some examples I found online are ScanCafe and ScanMyPhotos.

Negatives and slides:  Many of the above-mentioned scanning services will also digitize negatives and slides.  If you are using a drugstore, talk to them about developing negatives to a CD.

Use Them!

Get them out of the box: If you are a scrapbooker, go ahead and start scrapbooking with the photos in the box.  If you aren’t a scrapbooker, consider putting your favorite pictures into albums.  Use the scanned photos to make lightweight photo books with MyPublisher, Snapfish or Shutterfly.  These are easier to show and manager than thick albums of 4×6″ photos.

Either way, try some format where the photos aren’t stored in boxes and people can actually look at them.  This may seem overwhelming, but if you begin to chip away at it, you’ll make real progress!

Share:  I upload a portion of the scanned photos to Facebook to share with my friends.  If you do this, make sure your privacy settings are locked down so you don’t share old photos with an unintended audience.   If you have a lot of old family photos, consider making CD’s and distributing to your family members so they can enjoy them.  This is a great option if there are other crafters in your family.


Whatever I don’t put in my scrapbook gets tossed.  There are a few small exceptions, but that’s it.  You have the photos backed up on your computer – this makes you free to purge the hard copies and regain your space.

Negatives:  Once you scan, one thing you really don’t need is negatives.  It felt fantastic to toss the box of negatives  and Advantix canisters (remember those?) I was saving for those just-in-case scenarios.

If you thought you could recycle:  I checked with my local waste authority during this process.  Photos are not recyclable.  It feels horrible to have to toss them in the garbage and I cringe when I think about how much I spent to have them developed.  This exercise will cure you from printing too many digital photos down the road.  This is a big reason why I only print as I go nowadays.

Leftovers?  Maybe some of the photos could use a new home?  I call this part sending my clutter to other people sending pictures to friends.  It’s really fun getting something from a friend in the mail.  I include a note telling them they aren’t duty-bound to save them if they don’t want to.

Phew!  Who knew I could write this much about purging pictures?  It really is easy and worth the small one-time commitment in exchange for more space in your home.

Stay tuned for more posts about photo organization!