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The Three Big Mistakes You're Making With Your Photos

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

Our photos are so commonplace that most of us rarely give them a second thought. We scroll through them, we like them, we comment on them. We have photos from the mundane to the milestone.

On my computer, I have 104,845 photos and 855 videos. On my phone, I have 2,129 photos and 191 videos. For a long time, I was making the same three mistakes that I'm going to describe in this post. In some respects, I still fall short.

Your photos are important. If your home was flooding or was on fire, wouldn't the first physical possession you grab be those important photos? When you think of what you'll pass down to your kids, aren't photos one of those things?

Here are three big mistakes you need to stop making with your photos today.

1. You're not backing up your photos correctly

If you're like me, then the majority of your photos are digital. They're on your phone and on your computer. But what happens when your computer crashes? Or what happens when your phone falls out of your pocket into a puddle or the pool?

You should be following the 3-2-1 backup strategy. This isn't an original idea from me; it's an industry standard. The 3-2-1 backup strategy means you need:

3 copies of your digital photos

2 of which are physical copies

1 of which is off-site

What does that mean? If your photos are on your computer's hard drive, then you need an additional external hard drive that serves as a replica of the original. In addition to that, you need an off-site cloud service that protects a third copy of your photos.

Apple's Time Machine function is a great way to create a second physical automatically. That's what I use. I have a 2TB external hard drive that houses my main computer's Time Machine backup. (I also use a 4TB external hard drive to store all of my photo files for my business.)

For my cloud-based backup, I use three different methods. First, I use a company called Backblaze to continuously scan my computer for new files. Backblaze automatically creates a cloud-based copy based on the criteria I set. What's great is that Backblaze also makes copies of the external hard drive I use to store all of the photo files for my photography business.

(Backblaze has a post about the 3-2-1 strategy. And no, I don't have any kind of sponsorship with Backblaze. Their service is just really great.)

Second, I use a feature on my iPhone to not only save space but to ensure that those photos and videos are backed up to a cloud service. In Settings, I click "Photos" and check "Optimize iPhone Storage." My phone will automatically upload the full-resolution, original photo to the Apple iCloud service and save a preview version on the actual phone.

If I lose or damage my phone, then all I need to do is go to, log in with my Apple ID, and then I can view or download all of the photos and videos I've created with my phone.

As a double-backup, I also turn on the "Upload to My Photo Stream" feature. My photos will then be uploaded to any other shared devices that are connected to My Photo Stream. That means I can open Photos on my home computer and see anything I've created on my phone.

Third, I use the Shared Albums feature of Photos to create month-by-month albums of the photos I create and edit from my DSLR. I share these albums with my wife, and the albums are also accessible on my phone. Now any device I've shared those albums with can view and download original files.

In the end, depending on the source of the photo and the device it was created on, there might be two or three cloud-based backup copies of a particular photo.

If you're looking for a little more help when it comes to digital photo storage, check out this New York Times article.

I would also suggest heading to this link from Software How to learn about more digital backup solutions.

Speaking of photo storage...

2. You're not storing your photos correctly

I'm talking about your actual paper prints and albums. Stop for a minute and think about your wedding album. Think about the photos of your kids as newborns. Picture those albums your parents gave to you that have the photos of you as a kid and them as kids. Where are those photos?

Is your wedding album in your attic or garage? Drastic changes in temperature will ruin that album.

Are you prints stored in plastic bins? If water or mold seeps through the lid, then there's no way for it to get out. There aren't any holes in the bottom of a plastic storage bin.

Are your album and prints in boxes on the floor in a basement? If your home floods, water will ruin those photos and albums first.

Our heirloom photos and albums are too important to not protect properly. Thanks in part to a great article in The New York Times, here are three steps you can take right now to protect your important photos:

1. Store your photos in a temperature-controlled room, like your living room or bedroom.

2. Store your photos in acid-free archival boxes, which are usually made of sturdy cardboard.

3. Store your photos on a shelf away from possible water and toddlers.

Your important photographs and albums deserve to be protected. Here's the New York Times article with more advice on how to protect your important photos and heirlooms.

What about the frames on your walls? When you put prints into frames, don't use tape! Any adhesive will eventually ruin your photos. Instead, use photo corners or archival strips. I've lately been using archival strips. They're easy-to-use, they're a little more forgiving than the photo corners, and they're what professionals use.

Speaking of professionals...

3. You're hiring the wrong kind of photographer

Raise your hand if you've hired a photographer who advertised with something like this:

"Just announced: my Fall Family Fun Mini Sessions are around the corner! For $125 you get 20 minutes, 15 digitals, and print release. There are only 10 spots, and they'll go fast! Last year's minis sold out in two days. Sign up today so you don't miss your chance to join these adorable mini sessions!"

Did you raise your hand? I did. I've hired that photographer. We all have. A session for that price in that amount of time with that many photos is a steal. But in the end, it's wrong for you and your photos.

So if you raised your hand like me, here's what probably happened next. You got your 15 digitals, you shared them on Facebook, you got a flurry of likes and comments, and you enjoyed a momentary social media high.

Maybe you also used the photos on your holiday cards--but think about it: aren't holiday cards really just the paper version of social media? Aren't we doing basically the same thing: showing how great our family is, hoping to get a few texts about our cute holiday cards, and moving on.

What are we left to do with all of our digital photo files? Are we going to hand over a hard drive to our kids when they're in their 30's or 40's and say, "Here's your childhood!" Are we going to give our kids our passwords to Facebook and say, "You'll find your baby pictures if you scroll back to 2013. Just don't scroll back to 2002. That's me in college, and no one needs to see that again."

If your photographer is only giving you digital files, then your photographer is making you do the most important work of all: creating family heirlooms to enjoy today and pass on tomorrow.

I'll admit this, though: for a while, I was that photographer. I only gave digitals. I figured that it's what everybody wanted. That was until I heard family after family say, "You know, Aaron, this is our third session with you, and we haven't even printed the photos from the first one."

That's when I knew that families didn't want only digitals. That's when I knew I needed to be a great photographer, not just a good one. That's when I turned my business into what it is today.

When you've paid good money for a photographer, you should get more than just a social media surge and the worry about what to do next. You should get more than just someone who knows how to click a shutter and edit a photo. When you've paid good money for a photographer, you shouldn't get someone who leaves you with a job.

Your next photographer should be one who finishes the job.

Your next photographer should be an expert who can show you why printing at a professional lab is better than printing with Snapfish or Shutterfly. Your next photographer should explain to you why your black-and-white portraits would look amazing on Fuji Deep Matte paper. Your next photographer should teach you why metal prints look great in a modern, minimalist room and why Lustre Standout prints with a white edge will look great in your kids' light and airy bedroom. When you realize that your photographer created too many great photos to hang on the wall, your next photographer should have a companion album designed and ready to be printed.

Don't continue to make this last mistake. Think about your next photographer.

Your next photographer should be an investment in your family's history. Your next photographer should be an expert guide who helps you create heirlooms to present today and pass on tomorrow.

To put things simply, your next photographer should be me.

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