Managing Your Photo Collection in the Smart Phone Age

Posted on June 8, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, OneDrive, Microsoft Consumer Services, Music + Videos with 0 Comments

Managing Your Photo Collection in the Smart Phone Age

For years, I managed digital photos much like digital music, replicating the collection across multiple devices and to the cloud to ensure that our precious memories were never lost. But in a recurring theme, smart phones have changed everything. And it’s time to adapt to this change.

Suffice to say, my photo collection is a mess.

We switched from traditional film cameras to digital sometime in the early 2000s, so there is a weird divide between the photo scans of the previous years—which I’m working to complete, an arduous task—and the more voluminous photos from the digital era. These photos are stored on a NAS in our cellar—previously various traditional and home servers—and across online services, including Google Photos and OneDrive.

But with the arrival of very good smart phone cameras—starting most obviously with the Lumia 1020 in mid-2013—our usage of digital cameras dipped and then stopped all together. And over subsequent smart phone releases—the Lumia 1520 and 930, plus recent iPhones and my wife’s Samsung Galaxy Note—we’ve moved (almost) entirely to our phones for photos.

(I write “almost” there because photos pop into our lives in other ways as well. People will share photos with us, we get school photos of the kids in paper form and then scan them, and so on.)

This change to smart phones has created another divide in the collection. So we have old photos that are scanned, digital photos taken with increasing good digital cameras, and then smart phone photos. The problem is keeping these things together: Smart phones are nice because they automatically backup photos to online services. But the accounts my wife and I use are different, and the photos are now spread out all over the place.

Consider our family photo collection as stored on the NAS: From about 2001 to 2014, roughly, virtually all of the pictures we took are organized and accounted for. They’re all there, and backing up this collection is a relatively easy process.


But since 2014, our inclination to actually download pictures from phones and organize them into event-based folders for each year has declined. So while we have a lot of photos in the 2015 folder, for example, a lot is missing too. And if I look at 2016, I see just two folders, one of paper photo scans (my daughter’s dance recital) and one that contains a single photo someone emailed me.


We’ve taken many hundreds of photos this year. But the photos are on a few phones, in my OneDrive and Google Photos accounts in the cloud, and in my wife’s OneDrive and Google Photos acccounts. They’re not all in each location: My wife’s photos are on her device and in her cloud accounts only. So are mine.

So even though everything is backup, sort of, we need to adapt. We need a way that all of us can see all of our photos, for starters. It’s a mess.

My proposal is this.

Back up all photos to at least two cloud services. Many people seem unaware of this, or suspicious that it will cause problems, but there’s no reason you can’t back up your phone-based photos to multiple accounts. I have chosen Google Photos and OneDrive for various reasons. But Amazon, Dropbox, Apple, and others offer their own services as well. Make sure every photo you take is in at least two different physical locations.

Get photos off the phone at regular intervals. In the past, we used to manually acquire photos from our smart phones, just as we had done for our digital camera-based photos. We could still do that, but we never remember to, and going back over many photos over many months is painful. It’s still important to get the pictures off the phones and into some storage device in the home (as well as in the cloud). But the old way of doing things, for us, is just too difficult. So….

Treat local storage like the cloud. Rather than try to tag every photo that comes off the phone, and then organize them in folders, as we did in the past, we’re going to raw dump photos from each phone to the NAS (via our PC). I’m not yet sure of the time frame for doing so, but I could imagine doing this one a set schedule—monthly, perhaps, quarterly, twice a year, or whatever—or just when the moment strikes. So for example, the simplest storage structure would be the following, where all of my phone-based photos are simply dumped into a folder called Paul’s photos and my wife’s are in Steph’s photos.


Don’t overthink organization. Scrolling through a folder of photos—a month’s worth, a quarter’s worth, even a year’s worth—may seem problematic, but it doesn’t matter. Remember: These photos are all backed up to (at least) two online services each as well, and if you use Google Photos as I strongly recommend, you’ll have no problem finding the pictures you want, while always having a local place (in my case the NAS) that contains all of the photos.

Backup the master collection to the cloud too. It’s important that all of the photos on the NAS (in my case) are backed up to at least one place in the cloud too. I did backup the whole collection to both OneDrive and Google Photos at one point, and with subsequent photos hitting both services too, one could argue that this is sufficient. But what we really need to do, I think, is create a separate “family” account just for photos. Then, backup the entire collection to that account, and perhaps consider configuring all of our phones to sync photos to those accounts as well. We’re still working through the logistics of this.

Long story short, this scheme is literally like managing a music collection, where the old way of micromanaging each file, ensuring that they are all correctly tagged and organized by folder, is no longer necessary or desirable. And in moving to this new way of doing things, we’re no long slaves to technology, but rather letting technology do all of (well, most of) the work: You can find any photo in your collection in Google Photos very easily with search, or by skimming through the collection by date.

I guess what I’m trying to do is make sure all of the photos are safe while minimizing the amount of work my wife and I need to do. The idea is to enjoy the memories, not spend our lives managing them.

Of course, how one enjoys these photo is another story, and there still isn’t a great way to see exactly the photos you want on the biggest screen in the house, in the living room. But that’s something I’m still researching.

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