A Digital Life: How my hard drive became the new shoebox for my photos

When my husband and I were looking for a wedding photographer, one of our main priorities was finding somebody who would turn over all the digital rights to our photos to us. We were also adamant that we didn’t want to shell out for a professionally made wedding album, which can cost thousands of dollars. Why bother, I thought, when I can do it online myself?

About two years later, guess who has 800 digital wedding photos and no album? In fact, I haven’t gotten a single photo printed. They exist only in digital format, along with all of the pictures from our honeymoon, and the Europe trip we took last year, and our recent vacation, and you get the idea. The internet makes it so easy to take, edit and organize photos — so why am I worried that mine will never see the light of day?

Is this really better than a shoebox?

I come from a long line of scrapbookers. My grandma and my dad have both chronicled our family’s history in albums for decades; when I go to my parents’ house, one of my favorite things to do is look at the dozens of albums my dad has made, starting from the day I was born. His scrapbooking tools used to be rubber cement and an X Acto knife; now he’s migrated, apparently seamlessly, to the world of online scrapbooking, where he makes and prints the books on Shutterfly. I have the scrapbooking gene, but it seems to be dormant.
Part of my problem is that I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of digital photos I have, and the task of getting them together seems so big that I always put it off for another day. Another challenge is that I have a lot of photos in a lot of different places. Most of the pictures that I take nowadays are on my phone, but the pictures from our wedding are on a thumb drive that the photographer gave us — but I lost it, so thank goodness I’d uploaded the pictures to a laptop, except it’s my old laptop that I no longer use. I took a lot of digital pictures in college, but I’m not quite sure where they are now. I think I backed them up to DVDs. Too bad my MacBook Air doesn’t have a DVD drive.
Mozy Home
So a large part of the battle, clearly, is simply getting all of my digital photos into one place. Then I have to back them up, and I need the same backup system for all of them; clearly, DVDs are no longer going to cut it. I finally subscribed to a cloud-based backup system this year (Mozy, but there are lots of others — you’ll have to hope that whichever one you choose doesn’t go out of business). Once the photos are backed up, I’ll need to upload them to whichever photo-book-making service I finally decide to use, and then I actually have to make the book. You can see why the old shoebox-based storage system almost starts to look attractive.
It’s worth noting that similar problems pop up for all kinds of digital content, not just photos. It’s so easy to amass digital stuff, but it’s hard to organize it or know what to do with it. (In a future column, I hope to explore this further.)

Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good

My desire to have a perfect, all-encompassing solution for my photos is probably tripping me up. So I’m trying to work with what I have, quickly. I’m not a professional photographer, and organizing photos simply hasn’t been a top priority for me. I assume that other consumers are in my shoes, because a variety of sites are trying to address the problem.
Some startups, for example, aim to solve the ephemerality of camera phone pictures. Companies like Printstagram and Origrami will print your Instagram photos; all you have to do is connect your Instagram account. Mosaic lets you create a photo book directly from your iOS device. And most photo project sites now let you link your Facebook (s FB) account so you can print those pictures, too.
Mosaic photo book app
Photo project sites also clearly recognize the inertia that can overcome a person with thousands of digital photos on her hands. Shutterfly, for instance, offers “Simple Path” photo books that automatically arrange photos chronologically into a book, and iPhoto lets you “autoflow” your pictures right into a book. I haven’t taken advantage of these features yet — I keep thinking I want to arrange my pictures myself –but they’d clearly be my fastest route to having a completed book on my coffee table.
So check back with me in six months. I may finally have a stack of photo books for you to look at, and then we’ll be faced with a different age-old problem: How can you politely get out of looking at somebody else’s vacation photos?
To read previous Digital Life columns, click here.
Photo illustrating this post courtesy of Shutterstock / LiliGraphie