10,000 photos and counting: how to use online photo storage to manage your camera roll

January 8, 2021

By Kirsten Queen

How many photos do you have on your mobile device?
At first glance, this writer had just shy of 10,000...

If you’re like me, you probably have photos of friends, family, pets, funny moments, places you’ve traveled to, a handful of selfies, and random screenshots you aren’t sure what to do with. With photo sharing apps like Instagram and Facebook dominating the social media space, it’s no wonder we all have so many photos. Maybe you’ve even run out of space and can’t take photos on your device anymore.

For many of us, our mobile devices are the only place we store our photos, which puts them at risk if your phone breaks or gets stolen. One accidental deletion can mean the loss of cherished memories forever. So, how can we better manage our digital photos and keep them organized? Join me as I whittle down the 9,972 photos and 261 videos on my mobile phone and learn how to better manage their storage in just three simple steps. 

Step 1: Decide what to save

At first glance, your camera roll might be overwhelming, especially if you have years and years’ worth of photos. However, most mobile operating systems come with a built-in photo app that has filtering tools to help you weed through your photos. These apps often use facial recognition and geotagging to organize your photos according to place, person, or activity. They also have keyword-searchable archives, which can make it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. And many organize by year, month, or even day.

As I looked at organizing my photos, there were a few categories on my iPhone I found particularly helpful to go through:

  • Screenshots: I had 1,528 on my phone.  The Photos app got even more granular, breaking down my screenshots into other categories, like art and travel, location, or by month. From there, I could immediately delete screenshots I no longer needed. After I went through my screenshots, I was able to reduce my photo number by 1,265.
  • Dining/Food: How many photos of meals and drinks do you have on your phone? These pictures don’t hold many memories or inspire me. By the time I went through those, I had cut 147 photos.
  • Selfies: I’m not going to tell you how many selfies I had on my phone, but there were plenty to delete. Save only your favorites and delete the rest — especially the blurry ones! 

You may want to break up this task into chunks of time because you can easily spend hours going through old photos. Each session, you can aim to get through a designated year or month of photos, or approach it by location, or just set a timer and see how many you can go through. Eventually, you’ll have cut down your camera roll to just the photos you love. 

Step 2: Back them up

Now that you’ve selected your favorite photos, it’s time to back up them up. There are two options for storage: physical and cloud-based.

A hard drive is a portable tool that can store up to 5 terabytes (TB) of data, or about 250,000 photos. With a hard drive, you can access your files even without the internet, unlike a cloud-based solution. You also own your data and can keep it secure. Finally, a physical drive can be more cost-effective than cloud-based storage, as you’ll only pay for the storage one time compared to a monthly or yearly subscription to a cloud-based system.

With cloud-based storage, your files will be stored on an online photo storage site and you can access them from your smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet whenever you want. Often, any changes you make to your photos will sync across the cloud, so you’ll always have the most up-to-date version of your files. You can also delete the original photos from your phone after you’ve uploaded them, helping you clean up the digital clutter on your device.  

Unlike physical storage, using online storage means your photos can’t be compromised by faulty software or physical damage. Plus, many cloud-based tools also allow you to collaborate and build photo albums with your friends and family, allowing you to see beyond just the photos you have and to seamlessly share large photo files.

Depending on the amount of cloud storage you need, you may need to pay for storage. Those monthly costs can add up, and if you no longer want to pay for it, you will need to export all your photos and/or videos to a new location.   

To get started with your back-up process, get a picture of how much storage the photos on your phone are currently taking up. According to my iPhone, after I went through my purging and organizing process, my photos were taking up 29.99 gigabytes (GB) of storage on my phone. Understanding how much data you use will be essential as you decide which physical or cloud-based service is best for you. Depending on your needs, you may choose to store back-ups of your photos in both a physical and cloud-based storage to ensure you always have access to them.

In this blog, I’ll explore some of the best cloud- based storage for photos you can choose from. If you’re interested in physical storage, check out Digital Camera World’s guide to hard drives

Shutterfly

If you like turning photos into gifts, Shutterfly’s unlimited cloud photo storage might be a good option for you. The service does not store videos or other files, but it does offer free storage for all of your photos and allows you to tag and organize them. Shutterfly automatically uploads and syncs your photos from any device and stores them at full resolution, so you can download them or turn them into giftable keepsakes at any moment.

Amazon Photos

If you’re a Prime member, Amazon Photos might be a great option for you. Currently, they offer unlimited free photo storage with a Prime membership, as well as 5GB of storage for videos. They also allow you to invite up to five family members to share the unlimited photo storage. With a Prime membership, you can sort through your photos with image recognition for automatic organization. For those who aren’t Prime members, you can still store up to 5GB of photos and videos for free.

For either option, Amazon offers uploading, editing, downloading, and photo sharing to all customers. They also offer a shop to print out your photos for display. As a note, Amazon photos is only for personal (non-commercial) use. If you need more storage, they also offer options to buy more. 

Google Photos

In the past, Google Photos was a great choice for backing up your photos and videos, offering unlimited free storage. However, there are currently 4 trillion photos stored in Google Photos, and the company has recently announced a change to their storage policy. Google will no longer offer unlimited free storage, and any photos uploaded after June 1, 2021 will count towards the free 15 GB of combined file storage for emails, attachments, and documents that comes with every Google account.

Before that date, any photos uploaded will continue to be stored for free. If you already have many photos archived on your computer, you could consider backing up those files to Google Photos before the cutoff date. After June 1, 2021, you can continue to use Google Photos and expand the amount of storage you can use by paying a monthly subscription. Increased storage starts at 100GB.

Plus, Google Photos offers a print store, allowing you to create photo books or prints that you can share with friends and family. 

Box

A free, personal account on Box offers up to 10 GB of storage for your files. There is a 250 MG limit per file, which may prevent some videos from uploading. But like other tools, it offers access to your files across multiple devices and allows you to share large files securely. By downloading the Box app, you can upload your photos from your device to store in the cloud. For more storage, you can upgrade to the Personal Pro plan for up to 100 GB.  

Microsoft OneDrive

Windows OneDrive is a little unique compared to Google Photos, allowing you to store photos, videos, and other files and to find everything in one place. Using a catchall drive like this requires an extra focus on organization, so be sure to create albums.  You may even want to name photos so you can find them more easily. OneDrive also automatically creates tags for photos so you can search by keyword.

Like iCloud, OneDrive offers 5 GB of storage for free, and allows you to access photos and files across multiple devices. For more storage, you will need to upgrade your account, starting at 100 GB.

iCloud Photos

The iCloud Photos tool syncs with the Photos app on your iPhone or other Apple device to automatically store your favorite memories. The process is automatic, syncing whenever your fully-charged device is connected to WiFi, so you don’t ever have to worry about remembering to back up your photos. Any editing or changes you make on one device will sync across iCloud Photo library, so you have consistent files.

Creating an iCloud account automatically grants you 5 GB of storage, or about 2,500 photos. Once that storage is filled, you will need to upgrade your account to pay for more, starting at 50 GB.  

Step 3: Organize

Though your phone or cloud-based service may automatically organize your photos into categories and albums, you may want to take it a step further. Now that you’ve gone through all of your photos, you probably have a good idea of what you have. Now it’s time to build out albums so you can find your memories when you want to see them.

Organizing your photos into albums allows you to actually enjoy them and put them on display on a smart TV, digital photo frame, or on other smart home devices, like a refrigerator! It also makes it easy to find memories or categories of photos.

For example, on my phone, I created albums for Memes, Screenshots, and Books. Now it’s easier for me to find what I’m looking for when I need to send a funny meme as a response to my brother, if I want to reference something I saw online for work, or so I can remember the titles of things I want to read the next time I go to the library.

Going forward, schedule a weekly or monthly reminder to cull your camera roll and delete or organize any photos you took over the last week. This will keep your photos manageable in the long run and keep you from maxing out your cloud storage.

Final words

While a lengthy process, going through and organizing my photos turned out to be a fun exercise. I was able to explore some of the photos I had forgotten that I had, and I was able to weed down the pictures on my phone by almost a third – down to 6,078 photos and 107 videos. Now my photos are much more manageable, and I still have all my important memories (backed up and synced to the cloud, so I will always have them when I need them).

Do you have any tips for organizing photos? Share them with us @CenturyLink on social media. 


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