Pro tips on saving family photos — before your laptop or back-up crash – The Mercury News

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Here I lecture you all the time about properly storing and organizing all that matters, so it’s safe and accessible. This week, the joke’s on me.
My oldest daughter is about to get married. As a surprise, I wanted to create a slideshow using one of those digital frames with alternating pictures of her and her fiancé as they grew up, then met. (Publishing this won’t ruin the surprise. My kids never read my column.)
I took the plunge into the family photos thinking the worst part would be facing myself when I sported fewer wrinkles and pounds, when I didn’t need hair color or glasses, when my kids still held my hand and wanted me to tuck them in. Then I learned there’s something worse: not finding those photos.
Chronicling the first half of my daughter’s life was easy. Fifteen years ago, I wisely gathered all my snapshots and had them professionally scanned and put onto a DVD. I dutifully copied the images onto my laptop and a few flash drives, which I distributed to family members. So far so good.
Then came the digital age. I saved the once-in-a-lifetime images on my PC to an external hard drive, we’ll call Disco, and programmed Disco to back up my laptop daily. See, I’m on this.
A few years ago, I retired my 10-year-old laptop and transferred its contents to Disco. In keeping with my decluttering ways, I took the old PC to the computer store to have it wiped and recycled. A member of the Geek Squad verified that Disco indeed had all the data. The glitch was … I never backed up Disco.
When I went to retrieve those photos – yep. At Geek Squad, the agent confirmed that Disco has crashed and probably took everything with him.
“Do you have a backup?” the agent asked.
“This IS my back up!” I said, rummaging in my purse for a flask. Finding only Advil, I took some.
Disco was admitted into the Geek Squad Hospital, where data surgeons extracted some files and transfered them to a new drive. But while I could see photo file names, the photos themselves had degenerated into mere strings of code. #&^@*.
“A decade gone?” I asked.
“Gone,” the agent confirmed, sympathetically adding. “It stinks.”
So I called two people: Diana Uricchio, who owns OXO Digital Organizing, an Orlando business that helps folks digitally organize their important papers and photos, and Mitch Goldstone, who owns ScanMyPhotos, a company that has scanned more than a billion images, including mine.
Uricchio puts it in a nutshell: “People have too many photos in too many places and none of it is properly backed up.”
Pretty much.
Goldstone and Uricchio recommend the following:
Assess the mess. List all the places you have photos squirreled away: phones, computers, file folders, shoeboxes, albums, laptops, USB drives, external hard drives, CDs, cloud services and so on. Then pull them together.
Scan your snapshots. Have all the non-digital photos scanned. Use a professional service, like ScanMyPhotos, or rent a high-quality scanner.
Create a photo hub. Consolidate all the digital photo files into one place, like a new external hard drive formatted for your PC or Mac.
Store now, organize later. Don’t try to edit or eliminate duplicates yet. “That’s a big mistake,” Uricchio said. “Your computer or drive could crash tomorrow.” (Let me tell you!) “Back the mess up now, then edit.”
Don’t count on social media. Sites like Facebook and Instagram convert high quality images to low resolution photos for sharing. Keep the originals in your photo hub.
Back it up. Have three complete copies of the master file. One on your laptop, one on an external hard drive or flash drive and one copy either on the cloud or on another external hard drive stored somewhere other than your home, such as a safe deposit box. Uricchio uses BackBlaze, an automatic, cloud-based backup service, that costs around $60 a year. Be sure to migrate those copies forward as technology changes.
Connect with the cloud. Be sure your smart phone is set so all its photos automatically upload to the cloud, said Goldstone. 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 photo doubles, which makes 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 through The 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.” Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.
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