Don’t let a disaster make your digital photos go down in the lake

I recently read this story on the news about a man who was ice fishing and disaster struck when accidentally dropped his phone into the hole he had drilled and the phone went down 27 feet to the bottom of the lake. On this phone he had a memory card that contained all of his digital photos from the past few years.

while small in size, memory cards can store thousands of your precious photos

No Backups in Sight

No one wants to lose their phone at the bottom of the lake. With proper backups, the worst part of this story should be the cost of replacing the phone. But that’s not the case here. He did not have a backup of the photos and there were some very precious ones on the memory card. The only way he was going to be able to retrieve these photos was to get the phone off the bottom of the lake, and then pray that the memory card was not damaged.

A Remarkable Rescue

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. Through sheer determination and luck, the phone was retrieved from the bottom of the lake. When he properly dried off the memory card, all of the photos were able to be retrieved. While this story has a happy ending, it doesn’t usually happen this way. In many cases, the phone is not able to be retrieved from deep water or the memory card is damaged. We can’t always prevent destruction and damage to our devices but we can change the data recovery outcome

Preventing mobile device data loss

The obvious answer to preventing losing your pictures from your phone is backup. But how? Let’s look at a few ways that this unfortunate disaster could have been made less stressful.

The article doesn’t name exactly which phone but given the fact that the photos were on a memory card means it was likely an Android model as iPhones do not have the ability to have external memory cards.

Backup to a computer

With nearly any type of mobile phone, if you plug it into your computer, you can copy photos from either the internal memory or a memory card to your computer. From either a Mac or Windows the phone will appear as a folder where you can easily drag the photos to a folder on your computer.

plug your phone into your computer and back it up

There are programs available for free such as FreeFileSync that allow you to sync up photos from one folder to another or even from a device to your computer.

Cloud based backup

Using a service such as Google Photos or Microsoft OneDrive, you can back up your photos directly to a cloud service from your phone. The advantage to this option is that your photos will be backed up soon after they are taken. Most services will run by default when you are a WiFi network but can be set to back up over regular cellular service. If you choose to back up over cellular, make sure your data plan can handle this.

The best solution is to do more than one, so make sure you back up to your computer and use a cloud based backup. Accidents will happen so don’t make it more of a disaster with some preventative maintenance. No one wants to replace an expensive phone, but those memories stored on your phone are priceless.

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Google Photos, great in the cloud, not so good from your computer

I recently read an article about Google Photos in the New York Times. There are numerous places online to store your photos and while I had tested out Google Photos a few years ago, I hadn’t continued to use it as an every day photo system. In this article, the author talked about the advancement of artificial intelligence and how accurately it was able to determine pictures of the same person. One of the main problems we face with taking so many digital pictures is that we can’t find them and end up not looking at them. Google has been working to solve this problem and their solution is to have you upload all your pictures and let Google figure out what is related, be it people, places or things.

This got me thinking about how I could use Google Photos along with the method I already use for storing and organizing my photos. I still prefer to have my master copy of photos and videos on my computer, stored by year, month and events. It’s backed up in numerous places, including offsite. What if I could have the best of both my system and Google? It was worth a try.

Syncing up to Google

I already have a Gmail account and I have uploaded numerous photos over the years, but more as standalone albums to share with people online.The first decision to make when putting your photos and videos in Google is cost. You can let Google compress your videos and photos and then there is unlimited storage, but if you keep them at their original size then you’ll have to buy space at whatever the current rates are.

I looked up the compressed rates and they’re pretty reasonable – 16 megapixel for photos and 1080p for videos. If you use this as secondary storage, then it’s not an issue, and for most cases, these are good enough quality unless you are doing professional photo or videos work.

Setting up the sync

First, before doing anything I made sure that my master copy of photos was backed up. I have a regular process where the external hard drive of my photos is backed up to network hard drives in my house. Once this was done, I continued.

I installed Backup and Sync from Google. It walks you through the steps for installation including deciding what you want to sync and what not to sync.

A few items to note in the screenshot above:

  • I clicked on Choose Folder and picked my external drive where I keep photos. That is the box that is checked on the list of folders
  • I chose the High quality, free unlimited storage option
  • I set it to don’t remove items, so that it would upload only and not affect files on my computer

I then started watching as photos and videos started getting uploaded.

Note that you can click on the Google Sync icon in the taskbar, shown above with a red circle.

Something isn’t right

As I watched the screen scroll with photos and videos being uploaded, I occasionally saw the word ‘deleted’ or ‘failed’. After awhile, it stopped and couldn’t sync a whole bunch of files. I knew it couldn’t be close to done as I have over 50,000 photos and videos! I use a program called FreeFileSync┬áto back up my photos and videos to another hard drive so I used it in reverse to show me what files were on the backed up hard drive and not on my primary one. It showed about 60 pictures that somehow got deleted. That concerns me as I specifically chose the option to NOT delete files. I was able to put everything back because of the backup.

I am still experimenting with the software but at this time I cannot recommend Google Backup and Sync for anyone to use with their main copy of photos and videos. If you want to get your photos and videos into Google Photos, I would suggest something along the following lines:

  • Copy all of your photos to a temporary location
  • Install Google Backup and Sync
  • Point Google Backup and Sync to the temporary location
  • In future, install the app for your phone and let it sync from the phone directly

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