Pro tips on backing up family photos – before your laptop or backup crashes

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Here, I talk to you all the time about properly storing and organizing everything that matters, so that it’s safe and accessible. This week, the joke is on me.

My eldest daughter is about to get married. Surprisingly, I wanted to create a slideshow using one of these digital frames with alternating images of her and her fiancé as they grew up and then met. (Posting this won’t spoil the surprise. My kids never read my column.)

I dove into family photos thinking the worst would be to face me when I had fewer wrinkles and pounds, when I didn’t need hair color or glasses, when my kids held me always had their hand and wanted me to tuck them in. Then I learned there was something worse: not finding those photos.

Chronicling the first half of my daughter’s life was easy. Fifteen years ago, I wisely collected all my shots and had them professionally digitized and put on a DVD. I dutifully copied the images to my laptop and some USB sticks, which I distributed to my family members. So far, so good.

Then came the digital age. I saved the single images from my PC to an external hard drive, we’ll call Disco and scheduled Disco to back up my laptop daily. You see, I take care of that.

A few years ago I retired my 10 year old laptop and transferred its contents to Disco. In keeping with my decluttering habits, I took the old PC to the computer store to have it cleaned and recycled. A Geek Squad member has verified that Disco has all the data. The problem was… I never saved Disco.

When I went to retrieve those photos – yes. At Geek Squad, the agent confirmed that Disco crashed and probably took everything with him.

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

“It’s my backup!” I said, rummaging through my purse for a flask. Finding only Advil, I took some.

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

“A decade gone?” I asked.

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

So I called two people: Diana Uricchio, who owns OXO Digital Organizing, an Orlando company that helps people digitally organize their important documents and photos, and Mitch Goldstone, who owns ScanMyPhotosa company that has digitized over a billion images, including mine.

Uricchio sums it up in a few words: “People have too many photos in too many places and none are properly backed up.”

Instead.

Goldstone and Uricchio recommend the following:

Assess the mess. List all the places where you have hidden photos: phones, computers, folders, shoeboxes, albums, laptops, USB drives, external hard drives, CDs, cloud services, etc. Then collect them.

Digitize your snapshots. Have all non-digital photos scanned. Use a professional service, like ScanMyPhotos, or rent a high-quality scanner.

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

Store now, organize later. Do not attempt to edit or remove duplicates yet. “It’s a big mistake,” Uricchio said. “Your computer or player could crash tomorrow.” (Let me tell you!) “Flip the mess now, then edit.”

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

Save it. Have three full copies of the main file. One on your laptop, one on an external hard drive or flash drive, and a copy on the cloud or on another external hard drive stored away from your home, like a safe. Uricchio uses BackBlaze, a cloud-based automatic backup service, which costs around $60 per year. Be sure to migrate these copies as technology evolves.

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

Kill the doubles. Once all the photos are safely stored and backed up, you can start organizing. Uricchio uses deduplication software to eliminate duplicate photos, making the project more manageable.

Consider hiring a pro. If you’re technically savvy and have the time, go for it. Or you can find a certified photo expert near you via Photo managers.

Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go”. Join her at www.marnijameson.com.

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