Family life

What to do with all those kid pictures and videos on your smartphone

Are you storing hundreds of memories on your device without a plan to back them up? Try one of these painless ways to finally fix that.

What to do with all those kid pictures and videos on your smartphone

Photo: iStockphoto

When Blair looked down at her crushed phone, she wasn't thinking about the money. The loss she felt was far more devastating. Snapshots from the first six months of her daughter's life whizzed through her mind.

Her husband had dropped the phone in a parking lot, and before they realized it, a car ran it over. The photos were unrecoverable. Blair still had the dozens of photos she'd posted to Facebook, but hundreds of others were gone forever, including all the shots from the hospital. “I can’t remember what she looked like when she was first born,” says Blair, a mom in Newmarket, Ont.

Parents are taking more photos and videos of their children than ever before. Compared to the generation before them, children growing up today will have a much more vivid sense of who they were, where they lived, the goofy things they did for attention, and just how much they were doted on.

But with the incredible potential of digital photo and video, there’s the incredible risk of erasure. Many of us are storing hundreds, even thousands, of memories on our phones or laptops, without giving a second thought to what happens if our devices go kaput. The reassuring news is that ensuring all those one-second clicks last for decades is actually pretty simple, but it does take conscious effort. Here are some ideas to consider.

Have your photos sent automatically to the cloud Many parents are exclusively taking photos on their smartphones. So what happens when a phone is thrown in a toilet by a two-year-old? To avoid losing all your photos, set up your phone so it automatically backs up your photos to a cloud (which is basically a data centre full of servers that is connected to the internet). If you go to your phone’s photo settings, you should be able to toggle on an automatic cloud back-up service. You can also download a photo-backing up app, like Google Photos or Prime Photos from Amazon.

Find a cloud storage option that works for you While automatic cloud back-ups are great for smartphone photos, you’ll also want to back up any photos and videos you take with a standalone digital camera. Cloud storage is great for this too.

There are a host of free and purchasable options, which offer different amounts of storage at varying prices. Depending on the size of your photos, and how many videos you take, a free cloud storage option like Google Photos may suffice.

You may also already be paying for a subscription that includes cloud storage. If you pay for Office 365 Personal, you get 1TB of free cloud storage—ideal for high-quality photos and videos.


Another option is a cloud service that routinely and automatically backs up everything on your laptop, including your photos, without you having to do anything. For example, Backblaze, at $5 a month, is one recommended by techies for its affordability and security features.

Whatever cloud storage you use, be sure to read the terms and conditions. If your account is inactive for a period of time—usually a pretty long period of time—free services may delete your photos. And for the paid services, if you stop paying for your subscription, you could lose your photos. If you decide to stop your Prime subscription, for example, you’ll have 180 days to download photos before they’re deleted.

Consider investing in a hard drive With all the free and cheap cloud storage options available, local storage—otherwise known as hard-drive storage—is becoming "a bit antiquated," says says JJ Thompson, an Ontario-based commercial photographer and father of three. But many people still feel more comfortable storing pictures on a hard drive.

For Liz Beddall, a wedding photographer in Toronto, “there is something very satisfying about having my photo files all cornered away inside an organized little box.” And it’s a tangible thing to pass on to your children. “You can think of it as a photo album of the future,” says Beddall.

Like other electronics, however, hard drives can fail and files on hard drives can get corrupted over time, especially if a hard drive is rarely powered up. The good news is you can get extremely rugged drives these days, including ones that are fire and water resistant. When choosing a hard drive, consider opting for a solid state version. They’re much more expensive, but because they don’t have moving parts, they aren’t likely to get damaged from being dropped, and the risk of data corruption is much lower.


Use more than one option While there are lots of great options for backing up photos, nothing is flawless, says Thompson. So to be extra safe, you probably shouldn't rely on just one back up option—whether that’s two cloud storage options, cloud storage and a hard drive, or two hard drives (some people store a second hard drive in a separate location, like a bank safe). It’s also a good idea to share cloud storage albums with others. Google Photos ‘partner’ settings makes this really easy.

But don’t think Facebook or Instagram counts as a second back-up—the photos are compressed, which means they’re low-quality and they won’t print well.

Let loved ones know your storage methods and passwords Nobody wants to think about it, but it’s something every parent should consider. What happens if you aren’t around to pass on all those digital photos and videos? Data experts now recommend that people add a memorandum to their wills with instructions about what to do with their data, and photos are certainly no exception. You’ll want to appoint someone to take charge of your kids’ digital photos and videos, include passwords, and note the time frame in which photos must be downloaded before an account expires.

The precautions you take now to preserve photos and videos will pay dividends over and over again in the years to come—not just for your children, but for you too. With any luck, you’ll one day view the memories from these years on some floating hologram screen, surrounded by the giggles of your children and grandchildren.

This article was originally published on May 24, 2019

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