Back up your photos — before it's too late

Our phones, tablets, and computers aren't just how we talk, text, and type anymore. They shoot, edit, and store all the photos and videos that mean the most to us. All the selfies and pets and children and trips and discoveries and adventures and meals and moments that matter to us most are created and kept on the digital devices we use every day.

And losing them can be catastrophic. Not just, "oh, I lost that document I was working on and have tor redo it" catastrophic, but "oh god, oh no, I lost the photos of our wedding, of when we got the puppy, of the birth of our child, of the last time we ever saw the grandparents..." catastrophic.

I've had those kinds of calls from desperate family and friends before. I've answered questions about that very problem here on the internet and on radio and TV. It keeps coming up again and again because people, no matter how well-intentioned, simply forget to back up their photos. And then comes the fire. Or flood. Or robbery. Or failed hard drive. Or it doesn't even matter what happened. It just matters that the photos are gone and with them a very large part of the memories that make us who we are.

So, this year, when you're visiting family and friends and they inevitably show you all the photos that matter most to them since last you were together, take the opportunity to ask them how they back up those photos. And if the answer isn't good or at all, givem them a gift that doesn't just last a lifetime but preserves a lifetime — give them the gift of saving their photos and videos.

Setting up sync

The first and easier way to make sure all of your or anyone else's photos and videos are backed up, safely and securely, is to turn on sync. With Apple, you can use iCloud Photo Library. With Google, you can use Google Photos. Depending on your needs and circumstances, you may have to pay for extra storage, especially with iCloud Photo Library which only includes 5GB for free (Google offers unlimited free storage for up to 16mp photos and 1080p video), but sync is so simple and powerful it really is a must-have at this point.

If you have an iPhone, iCloud Photo Library is built in. You just have to turn it on. You can also download Google Photos from the App Store. If you have a Samsung Galaxy, Pixel, or other Android Phone, you have several alternatives but Google Photos is the best of the bunch.

Adding local backups

Sync and online storage are great but power and ISPs go out, services get shut down, and — who knows? — maybe one day that zombie apocalypse will really happen. (Not really.)

Whether you simply don't trust big companies with your private and personal photos and videos, or you want the added comfort of knowing you have a copy of every single bit of your media where you can get your hands on it, local backups are there for you.

For iCloud Photo Library, you'll first need to make sure you have a copy of every photo and video downloaded to at least one of your Macs.

Then, if you want to be doubly locally safe, you can back up that Mac and your Photo Library will be backed up along with it.

Doubling up on the cloud

Local backups are also great, but fires, floods, theft, and defects or errors on the drive mean you really want to keep copies of your most important photos and videos not just off-site but online.

Maybe iCloud Photo Library or something like Google Photos are enough for you. If not, you can also use other cloud-based repositories, many of which have automatic photo upload features you can turn on. That includes services like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and more.

If you've already set up local downloads on your Mac, you can also back up your Mac online, including your synced and stored photo library.

Backing up IRL

If you or a friend or family member have loads of old photos — real, honest-to-Kodac-or-Fuji paper photos — that you want to make digital and backup, you can do that too. Just be aware that it'll take time and/or money.

You'll first need to make digital copies. If it's just a few photos, they're in good condition, and you don't need them to be perfect, you can take pictures of the photos with your phone. Make sure you have great lighting and you're shooting straight, but with a few crops and color corrections, you can go from paper to bits in a few taps flat.

For larger projects, you'll need a scanner or a service that'll speed up and simplify the process for you. Just make sure you sort through all the photos first to remove duplicates, bad shots, and photos you don't really need to have converted first.

Any photo backup questions?

Backing up your or someone else's photos and videos can take time. It can cost some money. But how much time or money would you or anyone else spend to recover lost photos of your wedding, your pets, your children, your once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world, or the memories of loved ones now past away?

I've seen tragedy strike. I've seen real desperation and tears. I've felt them myself. "Anything" is the answer many of us would give, even when they're lost beyond anything time or money can bring back.

Don't take the risk. This holiday season, set up a photo backup plan for you and everyone you love. That way, the memories you make this year and every year will truly be with you forever.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.