Where have the photos gone? Save your gallery

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Here, I talk to you all the time about properly storing and organizing everything that matters, like having all my photos right where I want them.

Well, 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 fiance as they grow up and then meet.

I dove into family photos thinking the worst would be to face me when I was younger.

Indeed, these photos have plunged me into abyss of feeling. But then I learned there was something worse than finding all those pictures. It’s not about finding them.

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.

Then came the digital age. We stopped saving physical photos in envelopes, drawers, and photo albums, and “saved” them to phones, laptops, and clouds.

As a Super Tech Hero, I saved my PC’s unique footage to a handy external hard drive we’ll call Disco. I scheduled Disco to back up my laptop daily.

A few years ago I retired my 10 year old laptop. I uploaded its content 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.

When I went to retrieve photos from 2008-2018, Disco sent me this message: E: is not accessible. The parameter is incorrect.

At Geek Squad, the agent confirms that Disco crashed, and probably took everything with him.

The agent admits Disco into the Geek Squad hospital, where the data surgeons extract some files and transfer them to a new drive. The photos, however, while I could see them by filename, had degenerated into simple strings of code.

I’m calling two people who might care. Diana Uricchio is the owner of OXO Digital Organizing in Orlando. His company helps people digitally organize their important papers and photos. Mitch Goldstone is the owner of ScanMyPhotos (scanmyphotos.com), a company that has digitized over a billion images, including mine.

To prevent you and your photos from also becoming victims of corruption, 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. Don’t use the average household scanner, which is good for paperwork. 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 type of computer (PC or Mac). Use it as a dedicated HUB, where the best versions of all your photos will live. Transfer photos to the new drive one device at a time.

◼️ Store now, organize later. Do not attempt to edit or remove duplicates yet. “It’s a big mistake,” Uricchio said. “Your computer or drive could crash tomorrow. Save the mess now, then edit.”

◼️ Don’t rely on social media. Sites like Facebook and Instagram are great places to share but not to store photos. 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 outside your home, such as a safe. Uricchio uses BackBlaze (backblaze.com), a cloud-based automatic backup service, which costs around $60 per year. Be sure to migrate them 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. But, if that sounds daunting (yes), you can find a certified photo expert near you through The Photo Managers (thephotomanagers.com).

And they and their photos lived happily ever after.

Marni Jameson is the author of six books on home and lifestyle, including “What to do with everything you own to leave the legacy you want”.

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