5 ways to protect and organize your digital photos

Don’t drown in a digital deluge

Friday night selfies. Dinnertime Instas. Slow-mo video of your dog drinking water.

In an age when digital devices never stray further than a hip pocket, it doesn’t take long for photo and video files to pile up. But staying on top of this digital memory dump and protecting cherished moments can be a slog, especially if you’re not in the habit of regular organization.

Between personal pics and client images, Photographic Technology instructor Shaun Scade has amassed more than 100 terabytes of data over the last 15 years (photo sizes vary wildly, but for most non-professionals this would be enough room for about 150 million photos). Staying organized is essential to his business and he teaches a class on digital asset management at NAIT. He’s shared his best photo organization and preservation tips to make sense of the digital chaos and focus on images that really matter.

1. Start small

using phones

If you’re the type who never culls photos or video other than accidental pocket shots, you may have a device with hundreds (and more likely thousands) of media files. For a start, Scade recommends downloading everything into a single folder on a hard drive. But you can’t stop there.

“You try and work from today forward being more organized,” he says. “You have that folder so that one day you can go through and organize it. At least it’s backed up and it’s safe.”

2. External drive or cloud? Why not both!

backup drivesDumping all your files into a folder is a start, but everyone needs backup and cloud-based or external drives are the two options available. External hard drives are handy because they’re small and portable, but they’re also fallible, which is why Scade recommends using a mix of physical drives and cloud-based storage.

When choosing hard drives, Scade prefers models made by Western Digital for their reliability over ones made by Seagate. But even then, he likes to mix it up and not rely on one manufacturer. “That’s because I’m a nerd,” he says.

Once you buy a drive, format it and get rid of the preloaded software – or “bloatware” as some call it, Scade says. If you treat your storage device properly and turn it on at least once every six months to get the drive spinning, you could get 10 to 15 years of life out of it, Scade says.

Just make sure you get a case if you’re taking it around town.

“I’ve had students have their hard drives fail the first couple of months, probably throwing them into their backpack, bending cords and cables.”

3. Get over your cloud fears

syncing to the cloudCloud-based storage is the cheapest and easiest way to backup your photos and videos, Scade says. But you have to get over any distrust of big corporations like Google, Apple or Amazon managing your data.

“Data is getting to the point where there’s no safety, security and inherent privacy anymore,” he says, pointing to the growth of social networks like Facebook and Instagram or even smart home services such as Alexa.

“We’re giving up our privacy and some of that security for the convenience of it.”

Scade prefers Google Photos for personal photos. It’s possible to sync folders from his hard drive so every photo gets uploaded to the cloud. Once there, your files are searchable based on tags such as date, location or even by person thanks to Google’s facial recognition features and your image metadata.

If super-giant tech companies aren’t your thing, Scade also recommends services such as Backblaze or Acronis True Image, which allows you to backup between external drives and from external drive to the cloud.

4. Protect against fire, flood or whatever life throws your way

house fire at nightScade recommends at least two backups to truly protect your memories from physical catastrophe like flood or fire or faulty hard drives.

Because photography is his life and work, Scade backs up files on three physical hard drives – two at home and one at work – and on cloud-based servers. One of those cloud services, Backblaze, allows him to automatically upload files to their encrypted servers.

“If the house burns down where drive A and B are, drive C is still safe,” he says, “and I still have Backblaze.”

Speaking of fire, consider a safe for storing your drives just like you would for a family photo album.

5. Sort it out

sorting through photosOnce you’ve protected your files, it’s time to sift through the memories. Scade organizes folders by year, month and project. Once files are sorted by month, he goes through those folders and separates out the best images in a subfolder for easy access and more rigorous backup.

Once you have a file structure in place, be regimented about sorting, Scade adds. “Spend an hour or so every three months.”

If such a manual process is too daunting, that’s where services like Google Photos come in. Scade also recommends an app called Flick that allows you to swipe left or right to quickly sort photos on your devices. “It’s sort of like a Tinder for photos,” he says.

“Doing that for 10 minutes a day would help reduce all the clutter on your phone.”

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