How To Store Digital Photos

 A few steps you can take to help handle the overwhelm of organizing your digital photos.

digital photos easily viewed
digital overwhelm

The Digital Photo Storage Problem

Digital Photo Benefits

The advent of digital photography has been beneficial to so many.  Two of the main benefits are that it has lowered the cost of taking photos and it allows you to see the image right away so you know if you “got” the picture. One of the main problems it has created is digital photo storage.

In the “film days”, you would go to a special event and maybe take a roll of 12 pictures, or you would go on vacation and take a couple of rolls of 24 or 36. As the photographer, you had to go to a photofinisher to have your rolls of film developed so you could see the pictures. This forced you to deal with the photos taken.

Digital Photo Problems

Now, you attend that same special event and take 100 pictures and your vacation easily has 500-1000 photos!  Especially with the advent of smart phones!

You receive the instant gratification of seeing the photo right away which lessens the need to deal with the photos taken. This causes the photos to continue to pile up until your phone has no room. Or the photos sit on your computer where no one enjoys them, you often can’t find them, and they usually aren’t backed up. This is a recipe for disaster.

The sheer volume is overwhelming to deal with and paralyzes most people who throw up their hands and do nothing.  They continue to take photos and the problem continues to get worse. They have no system for digital photo storage and no plan in place to enjoy the pictures trapped on their phones and computers.

The Digital Photo Storage Solution

There is no way to go over all of the possible scenarios for your photo situation. There are basic parts though that you need to have in place for your digital photo storage solution. The important part is to start. There are a minimum of 3 parts to your storage solutions.

gather digital media

Digital Photo Storage Solution Part 1 – Set up your Main Photo Hub

The first part of your digital photo storage solution is to create the main hub where your photos will be stored. This main hub is usually your computer or an external hard drive. This is where all of your photos live in their photo library.

Gather all of the sources you have for digital photos:

  • smart phones
  • external hard drives
  • cameras
  • old laptops
  • CD’s and DVD’s
  • cloud storage such as Dropbox, Google  photos, iCloud
  • SD cards, USB drives

Once you have gathered all of the sources for your photos, copy all of the photos into your photo hub.  Don’t worry about duplicates yet, just download them all.

Once you have all of your photos in one location, run a duplicate finder program to help you quickly eliminate duplicates.  On a Mac, Photo Sweeper is a great option and on a PC, Duplicate Cleaner Pro works well.


hard drive crash

Digital Photo Storage Solution Part 2 – External Backup or Additional External Backup

Step 1 has all of your photos in a photo library on your computer or external hard drive as your main hub. Part 2 is a backup of this main library because it is not a matter of “if” your computer or hard drive crashes, it is a matter of “when” it crashes. The hard drives on your computer or external drives are not meant to last forever. The easiest way to create a backup of your photo library, is to copy to another external hard drive.

On a Mac computer, you can use the Time Machine function that automatically backs up your computer and external hard drives if you designate it to do so to your hard drive.  Automatic is your friend. On a Windows based computer you can use Windows backup and restore and choose your external hard drive as your backup location. Again, automatic is your friend. Alternatively you could set a regular time to backup your computer files to an external hard drive.

External hard drives will also eventually fail so it is important to change them out every few years.  (Tip, put a label with the date purchased on your external drive so you know when to change it out.) The newer solid state drives are coming down in price which makes them a viable option for backup. The reason for having your photos on an external hard drive, is the likelihood of both your computer and your external hard drive failing at the same time are pretty slim.  However, there is still that chance, usually because of a natural disaster, so it is important to continue on to part 3.

cloud storage

Digital Photo Storage Solution Part 3 – Online Backup

Step 1 has all of your photos in your main hub on your computer or external hard drive. Step 2 has this main hub backed up to an external hard drive which preferably happens automatically. Part 3 is a cloud/online backup of your photos.  The reason for this is to create a backup of your photo library off site.  Hopefully a disaster never happens in your home, but if it does and your photos are only on your computer and hard drive, you may or may not be able to rescue them. This also gives you a copy in case of theft.

There are many choices for online/cloud backup. It is important to research them to see which one best fits your needs.  Some of the options include Amazon Photos, Google Photos,  Dropbox,  Carbonite and Backblaze.  Note that iCloud is not backup, it is a sync service. Whichever you choose, make sure it is backing up automatically. With all of the online backups, your initial backup will take a long time, but after that, the backups are quick because it is only anything added that is backed up.

With the online backups, you can access and download your photos in case a natural disaster strikes, or the hard drive fairy visits your hard drives and corrupts them, or in case of phone or computer theft.

additional backup

Digital Photo Storage Solution Bonus Part 4 – Additional Backup

The above 3 parts are the minimum you should have for your digital photo storage solution. Once the parts are setup, most of the backing up happens automatically.  The less you have to rely on yourself to remember to backup, the better your system is.

If you want to be super protected, you could also consider backing up your main photo hub to an additional external hard drive that you store off site.  This means it isn’t always up to date and relies on you to retrieve it and backup to it on a regular basis. Depending on the number of photos you take, this might mean weekly (store it at work), monthly (store it at a parent or friend’s house) or yearly (store it in a bank safe deposit box).

You could also use 2 online backup storage systems.  This lessens the chance of losing your backup due to service or business discontinuation or a bug or crash at their site.

Photo Prints Online

Digital Photo Storage Solution Part 5 – Printing

The ultimate archival form of digital photo storage is to PRINT your photos. You will always have your hands and eyeballs to look at a photograph. Technology changes so fast, that we can’t predict what the future will hold.  Will we be able to view photographs stored on a computer? Have you tried viewing a floppy drive lately? Will we able to access the external hard drives? The future technology is unknown so it is important to print your favourite photos.

Notice: print your favourite ones.  Not ALL of your digital photos.  For most people, this would not be feasible as they take way too many photos.  It is important however to regularly print your favourite photos that tell the story of your life.  Slip them into an archival photo box or photo album for safe keeping. Or order them in a photo book format.  Just make sure you regularly print photos so that you and your friends and family can enjoy them.  Most people don’t go over to your house and spend time looking through the photos on your computer, however they will look through a photo album on your coffee table.

Printing is easy at Photo Expressions  directly from your phone, tablet or computer.  Follow the prompts to upload your photos, choose your size and send them in.  Your photos will be professionally printed by lab technicians who know what they are doing (we have decades of experience!).  Each photo is individually looked at and corrected as needed. You will be happy with the quality and the price. We ship your prints anywhere in Canada and shipping is free on print orders $20+.

social media is not photo storage

Bonus Tip 1: Facebook and Instagram as Storage

A little side note here, Facebook and Instagram are NOT a digital storage system for your photos. These platforms are a nice way to share your images with friends and family, but they are NOT storage.  The images here are very low resolution and should you lose the original, are not a good backup.

regularly delete photos

Bonus Tip 2: Delete

As mentioned above, the ease of taking digital photos means you have many many many to deal with.  You will be much further ahead if you can train yourself to delete photos as you take them.

With film you would have taken 1-3 photos of something. Now with digital, you will probably take 10 images of that same something. When you take these 10 images, review them quickly and delete the ones that aren’t great. From the remainder, narrow it down to 1 or 2 of your favourites.

This massively lessens the quantity of photos you have to deal with and lessens photo overwhelm. If you can’t delete right away, then review your photos at night or at least once a week and delete.  You don’t need 10 photos of your dog making basically the same expression. Or 10 photos of your child holding their favourite toy.  You need the best few! This is one of the most important habits you can develop for dealing with photo overwhelm and having a successful digital photo storage solution.

Release Photo Overwhelm

It is important for you to choose a digital photo storage solution that works for you.  Your steps need to be something you can implement and then continue on as automatically as possible. In addition, it is important to pay attention to the technology changes happening around you so that you can upgrade to the latest systems (think floppy drives and VHS tapes). Finally, set an intention that you will PRINT some of your photos so that you can enjoy them and share them with those around you.  They tell the story of your life and shouldn’t sit hiding in a computer or phone. Make it a habit once a month to go through your digital photos and print your favourites.  You won’t regret it!

Here are some tips to organize and store your printed photos, negatives, slides and video.

How To Organize Your Printed Photos

How To Store Printed Photos

How To Store Negatives, Slides, and 8mm video film