Organizing a Lifetime of Photos

Ed Lee
Apr 30, 2015

Recently, a review called The Best Way to Organize a Lifetime of Photos
appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The author, Geoffrey Fowler, compared five offerings: Apple Photos, Shoebox, Lyve, Mylio, and Adobe Lightroom. In the article, he gives his impressions of each service and their pluses and minuses. Ultimately, the author decides that Lightroom is best for him.

Beyond the review, I found the comments at the end of the article particularly interesting. Reading through them reveals that people are quite divided in their approaches to organization and preservation. Many are wedded to the process that they currently use and will not be easily swayed to try something new. This inertia will be a challenge for those developing new organization and preservation solutions.

Family Photo from 1940

After reading the article and all the comments, I thought more about the question, “What is the best way to organize a lifetime of photos?” It reminded me of a similar question that used to be asked a lot, “What is the best camera?” The popular answer was, “The best camera is the one that you have with you.” Similarly, for photo organization, “The best organization tool or services is the one that is turned on and used on an everyday basis.” 

Unfortunately, many people are still doing nothing. In InfoTrends’ 2015 U.S. Digital Camera End-user Survey, 50% of people who were storing photos were either not organizing their photo collection or did not know how it was being done. This is a recipe for future disaster. It is encouraging to see the industry and the media focusing on this problem, which has been growing since the dawn of digital photography.

Current organization solutions include photos stored on computers, smartphones, and tablets, but overlook cameras. 14% of digital camera owners use removable memory cards as long-term photo storage. Today’s solutions do not catalog those photos, which means they could be forgotten or lost.

The dream of smart cameras, powered by a mobile operating system, is fading, as it appears that consumers are not flocking to the concept. Our survey shows that consumers are, on average, neither interested or uninterested in smart cameras, and only 15% of respondents were very interested. Having an OS such as Android running on a digital camera may be one too many smart devices for consumers to deal with, especially if the camera is not their everyday camera of choice. Maybe the solution is to allow mobile apps to query cameras to discover what images reside on the memory card, download them, and then organize them on the mobile device. In this case, the digital camera is only a capture device and images are transient and meant to be moved off the camera to somewhere safe for future access.

InfoTrends Opinion

There may be a “best” solution for organizing photos one day, but there will not likely be a single best way to archive and preserve digital photos. InfoTrends has said repeatedly that storing photos in only one place is a bad practice. If the device fails, and it will eventually, or the online service goes out of business, then consumers who put all their eggs into one basket will lose everything. Using multiple redundant services and devices is the best solution. Three would be the minimum; four would be even better. Combinations could include the device (PC, phone, camera, tablet), local storage (DVD, external hard disk, memory cards), remote physical storage (same as local storage but located in another place), a cloud service (iCloud, Dropbox, Flickr), and hard copy (prints, photo books, albums). Regardless of which combination of solutions consumers choose, many people still have to take that first step, which is admitting that they have a problem.

Addendum (5/4/15): The Huffington Post published a article, Maybe The Best Place To Store Your Favorite Photos Is On Old-Fashioned Paper, that makes a good case for printing your photos still.

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