The ABC's of Storing Your Digital Photos :: Digital Photo Secrets

The ABC's of Storing Your Digital Photos

by David Peterson 12 comments

If you are like me, you love taking as many digital photos as you can. You go out to shoot, fill up your SD card, and then pull a few more cards out of your pouch before continuing on. By now, you probably have at least a few gigabytes of digital photos on your hard drive. That is a lot to keep track of, and if you don't manage them somehow, you'll end up losing all of your favorites. So, in an effort to make your photo viewing and sharing more enjoyable and less frustrating, I am presenting my tried and true digital photo storage methods. They have served me for years, and I am certain they will serve you.

How to keep your photos safe

The most important aspect of any digital photo storage plan is security. You want to be 100% certain that your photos will be with you in ten, twenty, or even thirty years from now. That means you need to be absolutely vigilant about backing up your photos.

But just because you put your photos on an external hard drive, doesn't mean they will be completely safe. I like to store my photos as if were investing in stocks. The more you diversify, the safer your photos will be. Get an external hard drive, but also invest in an online backup service like Mozy that you can upload your photos to for a low monthly fee. While you're at it, you might as well take advantage of the fact that you can store more than just photos with these services. You can backup your most important files and everything else.

Online storage services aren't 100% secure, but they are far more secure than your laptop or an external hard drive. Both laptops and hard drives are easily lost or destroyed while servers sit in locked rooms and hum away for years. You can further increase your chances of keeping your favorite photos by signing up for a free Flickr account and uploading your photos to it as well. Not only will you get the free storage, you will be able to share your best shots with your friends and family. (Note, I show you exactly how to upload your photos to Flickr when you purchase my bestselling Digital Photo Secrets book.)

As a last measure of safety, take an inventory of your photos every few months. It doesn't have to be completely thorough. Just make sure your external hard drive is still working and that your backup server account is still valid. There is nothing worse than breaking your laptop and forgetting where you put your external hard drive all in the same day. It is a humbling experience that will make you wish you had followed this advice.

Be passionate about the photos you keep

Don't bother storing photos you aren't absolutely excited about. What's the point of taking a bunch of shots and then having to wade through thousands of them just to find the ones you like? Although I must admit that I have a hard time letting go of so many photos, I have found that doing so has made my photo viewing and sharing time all the more enjoyable.

It's always a good idea to do an initial sweep before you store a set of photos from a recent shoot. Go through your new photos and delete the ones that aren't cropped right, have poor lighting, or aren't properly exposed. After you have gone through the ugly ones, you have to start making some tougher decisions. On your second sweep, you need to get rid of the photos that are good but not great. Don't think about it too much. Like I said earlier, if it doesn't excite you, press delete and don't look back.

When you do store your photos, organize them by date. Start with the year and get more specific with it as you go. I store my photos by month, and then I categorize them into folders named after the events where I took them. I find this works better than trying to organize your photos by individual days. It serves as a handy mnemonic device.

Keep pruning your collection

Every now and again, go through your photos and promise yourself you will delete a fixed number of them. It may sound masochistic, but I promise you it isn't. We often feel a fondness for new photos just because they are new. Going back through and paring down your collection will ensure that you are only keeping the photos that make a lasting impression.

I also love to keep a desktop background folder containing my best pictures. Not only is it great to have your desktop constantly cycling through your best work, it also functions as a portfolio. If you do this, make sure you have extremely high entry requirements. If it isn't a WOW photo, it shouldn't belong there.

What other methods do you use to store your photos? Would your photos be safe if the unthinkable were to happen?

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  1. Barb Feggestad says:

    I was glad I stumbled upon this article, (I've been training myself to look even closer at everything on your lesson pages) - on preserving photos, I hadn't thought about it for quite a while. When my father was living, he used to ask me to take some of his old photos to have them redone - even the photo paper was falling apart while the pictures were fading!

    Thanks for having this info here!

    Barb Feggestad
    San Antonio, TX

  2. Paul says:

    One of the things that most people forget is that media and software formats don't last forever. CD,s, DVD,s are not designed to last forever, and depending on the quality of the media that you purchased, they may last less than 5 years. Also the quality of the hardware (CD/DVD writers) that you use will determine whether they can be read by other devices in future.

    Add to this the fact that software formats are constantly changing, and you realise that simply storing them and forgetting about them could be fatal. When you try and open your prized photos of your grandchildren on their 21st birthday, you could be very disappointed. Every few years you should check to see whether the old software formats are still readable. Unfortunately there is no single (and no simple solution).


    • Shimmy vandayar says:

      What about cloud storage?; will that also become obsolete! ? I am taking numerous pics of the children and it would be a shame for them not to be able to see them once I'm not around.

      • David Peterson says:

        Hi Shimmy,

        Well, how can you know the cloud company will stay around? I'd always keep a local copy of all your photos as well as using a cloud company. You should be pretty safe with a large company like Google or Apple, but you never know.


  3. David Peterson says:

    Betty and Dora,

    As Ted mentioned, CDs and DVDs aren't the easiest media to backup to, or retrieve from. They are prone to damage, are hard to store, hard to retrieve, and you can't see what's on the CD by looking at it.

    Online storage is much easier.


  4. Luís says:

    Thanks David. I always appreciate your great advices like those in this article. Thanks again.

  5. Neen says:


    Thanks o Domie and James for the details regarding Slide and Negative to Digital Picture Conversion. The information was a huge help.



  6. Ted says:

    I like the idea of CD and DVD back up, but I've found that once I've done so, I hardly ever go through the trouble of viewing them because of the time and effort involved in locating, waiting for them to load, then searching for the ones I want. After a while, I tend to forget about them, and it's as if I never had them. An online service is definitely the way to go. Another option, although not practical for storage purposes, especially if you have thousands of photos like me, I've taken images of special events and turned them into photo books. These are great for leaving on the coffee table or carrying around with you when you want to share a particular event. These will always blow people away, and the quality of these books are second to none. Most photo sharing sites like Flickr, WebShots, SnapFish, etc. offer these options at a reasonable cost, these books also make great gifts.

    Aloha Ted.

  7. Betty Fry says:

    I too woiuld like to know why you did not mention CD or DVD as storage for digital photographs ?

  8. Dora Anne says:

    You did not mention CD and DVD for back up storage.

  9. James says:

    Go To I've sent thousands of best slide from the past and they do GREAT work then they return them on a disk! But the best thing is that they are the cheapest around but with the best quality.

  10. dornie says:

    Neen, there are several good flat bed scanners that will transfer your slides to your computer. Also, if your not to fussy, their are many slide converters on the market starting as low as $60. Just type SLIDE CONVERTER into search and you will have a great selection. Some you don't need a computer since they load the slides into a memory card, which can then use for storage or to transfer the slides to the computer.

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