Storing solutions for digital photos

The issue of what to do with the ballooning number of digital photos in their collection has become very real for many people.
The issue of what to do with the ballooning number of digital photos in their collection has become very real for many people. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

There are many storage options, but you need to keep an eye on them to make sure things are not out of date

NEW YORK • In 2005, Yahoo, which already had a photo site called Yahoo! Photos, acquired Flickr, a popular photo portal.

In 2007, it said it would discontinue its own photo service and that users should move their photos to Flickr.

In 2013, Flickr users were told they would have a terabyte of space - for most folk, an unlimited amount - to store images for free.

By then, digital cameras were common and smartphones had gone mainstream. People were taking more photos, but it was not clear where they were meant to end up.

Last year, Flickr was sold to SmugMug, a smaller rival. The news came with a new storage limit: 1,000 photos. Users could begin paying or take the rest elsewhere.

And it is now 2019. Do you know where your photos are? Most people do not, at least not exactly or in terms that they fully understand.

The issue of what to do with ballooning digital photo collections is perhaps the great unsolved tech support question of the last 30 years.

"The thing I've come across with my clients is not necessarily 'How do I store them?', but 'How do I move them to the newest application?'" said Kaitlyn Ackron, a 17-year-old student who provides tech support for seniors through an organisation called Teeniors.

They worry about accidentally deleting photos from their phones, she added. They are alarmed when they cannot see old images on a new computer.

New and subtler forms of online storage, working in the backgrounds of smartphones, cause particular anxiety. "The storage is not on their phone, but out there on this supposed cloud," said Mr Yannick Hutchinson, 23, a student who also works with Teeniors.

"They're like, 'Well, where is it?'"

Now, with services such as iCloud, the tech industry is promising people all the space they need. This time, however, it has barely felt the need to hard-sell.

But in a world where images are increasingly created on smartphones, the question of where all this media will go in the future has been shoved aside.

If you use an iPhone, every picture can be uploaded to Apple's servers, until you run out of free space, at which point you will need to start deleting things or rent some more space from Apple.

Google promises unlimited free "storage".

Apple proactively processes a phone's images into categories: around dates or places; of particular people, whom it identifies automatically with facial recognition.

Google is more assertive. From your raw imagery, it will automatically edit together a sequence of your child's development.

It will do the same for your dog, whose face it can also recognise.

The prospect of removing your photos and videos from a service such as Google Photo, which provides not just space but also the only interface through which your personal imagery makes any sense, is worse than daunting.

Ackron's advice for seniors remains practical.

"You always need to keep an eye on where you're storing your photos, to make sure things aren't going out of date," she tells them, describing the process as "tedious" but necessary.

"Technology isn't slowing down."

They have advice for her too.

"Clients talk about how they kept scrapbooks and photo boxes and photo albums, and about how physically holding the pictures themselves is a different experience."

Now, she said, she prints some favourites of her own.

Beneath the roar of digital acceleration, there is still some shuffling of paper.

An analysis last year by f/22 Consulting, a photo industry firm, noted that a printing business in turmoil has managed to siphon growth from America's bulging camera rolls.

Traditional prints are growing again.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2019, with the headline 'Storing solutions for digital photos'. Print Edition | Subscribe