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Who’s Taking Care of Your Family Photos?


Last night on The Walking Dead (you know, the ONLY tv show I watch), the main character, Rick, and his son, Carl, returned to what was left of their hometown after being gone for however long 3 seasons is in “real” time. They learned that their house had been destroyed, and Carl went on a dangerous mission to grab the only remaining photo of his family – one that was hanging on the wall in a local (now zombie-infested) restaurant.

When the show went off, I started thinking about how accessible my important photos would be if I had to leave my house in a hurry. Not that I’m especially concerned about a zombie apocalypse, but there are plenty of other things that could go wrong.

Both of Jayden’s baby albums are on one of my bookshelves, I recalled. Phew, nothing to worry about!

Then I remembered the box of Jay’s school photos in my desk drawer. The ones I keep saying I’m going to put in an album. And the two shoeboxes in my office closet. The ones on my old computer in a folder called “Camera Dump” that I need to move to the computer I use now. The ones on my current computer. The ones on my phone. The 10 or so disposable cameras (remember those?) from my junior and senior year of high school that still need to be developed the old fashioned way – I don’t know if the pictures would even turn out. Oh crap, and there’s another shoe box in the top of my bedroom that I just remembered as I was typing this.

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

I love technology. LOVE. IT. But this photo situation is a real problem for me and I’m not sure what to do about it. As technology has evolved, I’ve thrown aside the old way of keeping up with pictures in favor of whatever was more convenient at the time, leaving a trail of pictures that would be (1) impossible to track down in an emergency and (2) really difficult to combine into a unified storage format.

Every picture I’ve taken in the last 4-5 years is on my phone and/or computer. I couldn’t tell you the last time I held a physical photo in my hand. People don’t even carry photos in their purses or wallet anymore – they either hand you their phones or tell you to look online. And while I think that’s really cool, I can’t help wondering what would happen if all of us suddenly lost access to our devices or had to flee during a disaster. Could we someday be forced to walk away from all those memories with nothing but a (potentially useless) portable hard drive or SD card?

When my grandfather remarried a few years ago, he moved a ton of old photo albums out to the garage. There simply wasn’t enough room in the house for all those pictures, plus he and my step-grandmother are hip enough to keep up with all their kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids on Facebook. My parents’ physical photos are in a storage tote somewhere in their house – I’m not sure where.

I really can’t think of anyone other than my 93 year-old great-grandmother who keeps up with actual photos, and even she really likes looking at pictures on my iPad because she can see them better.

Tell Me it’s Not Just Me

This is one of those things that will drive me crazy until I do something about it. The problem is, I’m not really sure what to do. Do I go all-digital and keep my physical photos as backups? Do I order prints of the hundreds of pictures stored on my various devices? Should I go around to all my family members and demand that they drag out a bunch of dusty albums so I can scan their photos with my Shoebox app?

What do you do with your photos? Would you be able to find and access them if a disaster happened? Am I a lunatic for worrying about this? I’d love to know what you think!

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. My dad was photo crazy. I literally have over 100 photo albums that are extremely full oh photos that he took. I really need to convert them into digital files because it would be impossible to save them if something happened. They currently take up our whole guest bedroom.

  2. I recently decided to do something about the thousands of photos I had across phones, computers, email, facebook and actual, physical photo albums. I took on the terrible and sometimes overwhelming task of bringing ALL the photos together in one place and then sorting ALL the photos into some kind of system. I am not finished scanning ALL the photos, but I have made headway in that area. I am going mostly digital for now. I will occasionally print pictures that are funny or special, but overall I guess I have trusted the newest technology to never let my photos disappear. If I didn't take so many damn photos, I'd be more willing to print all of them and save them in albums. . . but there'd be 5 or 6 albums of cat photos. And that is just embarrassing! Currently I save my photos on my main laptop, an external drive that is backed-up every Sunday, a USB drive in case the external fails (also backed-up on Sundays), and finally Google Drive. I have Google Drive synced with my laptop so everything is the same across all the platforms I use. There's many other clouds, it's all about personal preference.

    I still don't know what to do about physical copies. If the world does become infected with zombiism, I don't think my digital files are prepared.

  3. Since I hate "stuff" I say take what you can't handle in a have it digitized.

    The physical picture isn't worth anything. It's the memory depicted in the image that's priceless, so would it really matter if it was digital or an a piece of glossy paper with "Kodak" (or whatever brand it is) running across the back?

    [BTW-my shortest, most succinct comment ever!]

  4. Well, if my house burns down it'll take my backup with it. Still, having a backup has saved me twice when it comes to media… never trust a hard drive. I've got 6TB in a RAID 5 on the shelf next to me.

  5. I uploaded most of my pictures to,, and etc, so that in the case of an emergency, I have a backup plan of where my pictures are. I'd have to say pictures (family) are as important as grabbing important certificates or legal documents if not more.

    That reminds me i need to upload the latest ones to snapfish!

  6. I'm older and not as into technology as you are, Andrea, so most of my photos are in boxes. Some of the boxes are stored on my bedroom bookshelf and the other boxes are in a walk-in closet. Very few are on my computer or on cds. I have a box of photos that belonged to my mom before she died and if something happened to them, I'd be heartbroken. I should probably have them digitized but that will have to wait until I'm working again. Anyway, thanks for the reminder about preserving precious photos.

  7. Im in the same position as you, all of my pictures are kind of scattered all over the place. Something to work on I guess :s

  8. moneybeagle says

    Most of our photos are stored digitally. We keep everything on external drives, and then back up the external drives to other external drives as a failsafe. I just need to keep an offsite copy to complete the level of safety, which is admidtelly one thing I don't do today.

  9. Digitise all important physical photo's and put all the digital photo's in one directory and make at least two backups, one of which you store outside your house. I have an network connection to a shed in my garden where I have the second backup. So if our house would burn down I would still have a backup left.

  10. I used to print photos and put them into albums but it does take up a lot of room in my apartment so now I just keep everything on my computer. Then I back up everything with dropbox or onto another harddrive in case anything happens.

  11. I definitely am of the Web 2.0 age. A lot of my photos are on FB and I recently backed up basically all my digital pics to Snapjoy. I have some on an extrnal HD but don't know when I last did a back up.

    My parents have all our childhood photos in physical albums at home. I doubt they have them backed up.

  12. plantingourpennies says

    My MIL is a photo nut and is terrified of losing them, so she started buying sd cards during the black friday sales every year and loading the previous year's photos on them. She makes two copies and puts them in two different safes. It's pretty paranoid, but she really doesn't want to lose all of her pictures.

  13. teinegurl says

    I'm the opposite , I have only digital photos and i want physcial copies. All my digital photos are in seperate places FB, phone, computer, email, google account. I would like to have physcial copies all in one place. Plus i tend to forget about where i stored what photos in what place online if i had one place it would be nice for me. I would love to have a scrapbook made but that is just another thing on my to do list.

  14. Oh my goodness, this is something that I have nightmares about. I really need to get on the ball about backing up our digital photos. I have plans to purchase an external hard drive but in the meantime I think I might take the advice of some of the above posters and upload them to a site like Flickr or Picassa!

  15. I use my computer as location #1, my external hard drive as location #2, and Google's picasa as location #3. The Picasa program is really useful for finding & uploading new photos online. It is really hard to stay organized though!

  16. Nick @ says

    We have a select number of photos that we keep in photo albums around the house. Every picture we take is on my local hard drive on my computer, and they are all backed up to Picasa as well. Many of them are even backed up on dropbox. P.S. I was really mad at Carl for risking his life for a picture, in the zombie apocalypse survival is number 1! 🙂

  17. I keep really good records of my photos. In addition to having them all stored on my computer, I have them backed up to picasa, plus an external hard drive. It would take a lot for even one picture to get permanently deleted.

    The pictures we really like get printed and framed (right now they're all from our wedding and honeymoon).

    I was thinking about my parents' pictures the other day, and most of their pictures are in photo albums. I would be so upset if my baby pictures were destroyed, we have so many family pictures that are sitting in the living room of their house. But who is going to sit there scanning each one?

  18. My parents have boxes full of SLIDES – yes, those tiny carboard thingies that will only go in those round slide projectors. My dream has been to use the newly released slide scanner and upload to a website to share with all family members, who can then print what they want – I wanted to do this last Christmas. Unfortuntely my brother has "borrowed" the machine and the slides from my parents home and now feigns "I don't know what you are talking about" when questioned. __The moral I guess is to never let the "Uncle Kleptomaniac" of your family "borrow" the pictures. Otherwise, adios! __

  19. This has been in the back of my mind for some time now. I've got a ton of family pictures that are stand alone developed photos, and a lot stored digitally in several locations. I really value these photos and memories in general, so I need to figure out a way to store these and make sure I have "backups" of images.

  20. There is no good way to store photos. Physical pictures fade and would be lost in tornados, fires, or floods. Digital pictures get lost as storage formats change (my son's early photos are trapped on an old computer that is too early for external hard drives or flash drives to work, so i can't throw it out but I can't get the photos). Probably the best thing is to back them up online.

    Probably the really best thing to do is to both print them and have then as wallpaper, and look at them constantly until they are indelibly inked on your memory and you are so sick of them that losing them doesn't seem like such a loss.

  21. I love pictures. But I have them in too many places: on computers, CDs, pendrives, albums, just name it. Last time I decided to do something with them, to sort them, put everything in one location on my computer and I want to have one backup. But I like physical photos. I really do. But it's pointless to print out everything. So I decided to buy (at the beginning) five photo albums, each one is for (as an example) 60 pictures. And each one is for one year. In 2013 I'll choose 60 pictures from 2012 I liked, with great memories, important events, places, people or anything I want to print. Each album will have its label and I want to have them in visible, easy accessible place at home. I haven't done that yet so maybe I'll modify this somehow but I like this general idea and it's something that should work for me 🙂

  22. I think about this all the time. I want to come up with a way to organize my pics, but they are literally just spewed all over my computer in tons of different files, etc. It makes me crazy. I try to put some on cds every so often, so I have something off the computer. But I don't know how I'd find any!

  23. Backups are good but only if you stash them in a safe place and don't lose them too! You've just reminded me I really need to organise all my photos they're all over my computer at the moment in no particular order, I wish someone offered a service for something like this.

  24. MutantSupermodel says

    I would do a project. I don't know how often you upload your photos to a photo-printing site, like Snapfish, but I would turn that into a bi-monthly thing. And if you prefer to do the large uploads instead of being ruthless and choosing your favorites, I would also spend a few minutes choosing your absolute favorites and marking them in some way. Once a year, I would order prints of your absolute favorites. You can store them in a small photo album that's just the right size or you can make them into a photobook instead of getting prints. Another thing to think about is printing and hanging framed copies of your favorite photos. Don't put it off, whatever you decide, just take it on one project at a time.

  25. Most of my recent (college and beyond) pictures are stored digitally, but not all of our wedding pictures are… also, all of my old family pictures are a MESS! There’s a baby album or two for each of us kids, but the rest are just chaos in my parents’ basement. We started to organize/scan/etc after my cousin passed last year, but never really finished. I thought about this again this past week when I was helping my friend sort through all of her mom’s old pictures. I feel like if the physical pictures were in some semblance of order, it wouldn’t be so bad for one of us to go through and scan the good ones (do we really need dozens of pictures of pets? Probably not!) and back them up.

  26. I've actually started doing something about it!

    1) I use Webshots as my screensaver. (They're website made a significant change which made me leave forever so I don't even know if it still exists.)

    2) If I see a pic of me/my kids on Facebook or elsewhere, I download it and drag a copy into my Webshots folder and another into my pictures folder (and I rename it so it includes the date taken) which I have organized by year. I also ask people to email cell phone pics to me.

    3) I use Carbonite which backs up the things important to me: pictures, music and recipes!

    4) Starting in 2011, I put together an annual "yearbook" on Shutterfly. I added all the best pictures of the year, inserted captions and little stories and Shutterfly printed them into a bound book which I gave to my mother for Christmas! I'm giving her the 2012 album for Mother's Day so it can include Christmas pictures. Helpful Hint: Upload pics throughout the year so it's not a daunting task at the end of the year!

    5) When I FINALLY get my emergency fund built up, I want to send all my physical pictures to one of those places that will scan them for me. I'm especially eager to get the early-20th Century stuff done so I can share it with my entire family.

  27. Before the days of iPhone, but still in the digital era, I had everything scanned and sorted into separate folders by date, topic, etc. Now, the best I'm ever able to do is go through and delete bad photos that got lumped in with the general photo dump into my folder called "To Be Sorted". I do actually think about this quite often, wondering if there is some person or company out there that would organize everything for me. My biggest issue in terms of organizing is that I can't just save images as they are. If something is going to be saved and organized, it first must be edited to produce the best image (I use Photo Filtre). This is, of course way more time consuming than simply sorting. Yet another one of those projects that I obsess about not getting done when that same obsessive nature is the reason it's not done.

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