What to do about the thousands of photos you have

Angelin Yeoh

THE STAR – Like any youngster who has grown up with social media, 18-year-old student Emily Sophie Zahari could easily spend an entire day taking photos.

She captures anything that catches her eye, from food to people, ending up with over 80 photos in just a day.

“I like to document my day and upload some of the pictures as Instagram stories to share with friends,” she said.

As her phone only has 64GB of storage, she had to resort to using a public Cloud storage service which now holds over 6,000 of her photos.

However, the service she uses – Google Photos – just announced it will be terminating its free unlimited storage for “high quality” images on June 1 next year.

Though users will be allowed to retain images uploaded before the deadline at no extra cost, photos uploaded thereafter will count against the 15GB space it offers for free, which is also used to store files such as documents and spreadsheets.

The search giant is not the first to retract such an offer.

Back in 2015, Microsoft announced that the unlimited storage for Office 365 Home, Personal and University subscribers will be reduced to 1TB.

The company also cut its free OneDrive storage from 15GB to 5GB for users, current and new.

In 2017, Amazon ended its unlimited Cloud storage plan which cost USD11.99 per year for photos or USD59.99 for everything.

Instead users were asked to pay USD11.99 per year for 100GB or USD59.99 for 1TB.

It gave users 180 days to reduce their content size to fit their new plan or 5GB if they chose not to subscribe before it began deleting their files starting with the most recent upload.

In 2018, photo and video sharing site Flickr announced it will no longer offer 1TB of storage to free users, limiting them to just 1,000 photos.

Those who did not want to upgrade to a paid tier were given about four months to save their images, after which the excess files were automatically expunged.

Google Photo users like Emily Sophie will have to find other storage options or consider paying for additional space. Google, for instance, charges MYR8.49 a month for 100GB.

She has been utilising the service for two years and said the announcement was a bummer.

“I am quite sad about it actually because it means I need to start re-evaluating how I take my photos,” she said.

“I feel I should have seen this coming because the idea of ‘free unlimited storage’ seemed too good to be true. I guess there was a catch after all.”

Many users have taken to social media to vent, with one labelling Google’s move as “bait and switch”.

As users have spent years curating a digital album on the platform, many felt Google left them with no choice but to pay to continue using its service.

Google Photos director David Lieb tweeted that the service, which was introduced in 2015, has one billion users, hosted four trillion files, and 28 billion photos and videos are being uploaded every week.

He claimed the company had wrestled with the decision for a long time before making the announcement to which one disgruntled user responded, “Keep wrestling”.

THE CASE FOR CLOUD

Why do some users pay for extra space? Property agent and home baker Eric Wong, 30, accumulated 12,000 photos and 700 videos since 2016. When his phone ran out of space, he started subscribing to a Cloud service, paying about MYR12 a month for 200GB.

“I take a lot of photos and videos for work purposes. And there are personal photos that I cannot delete because they remind me of good times,” he said.

Wong said he likes the convenience and peace of mind that the service offers. “I can access the photos any time from a mobile app and if I lose my phone or it becomes faulty, at least I know that my personal files are safe on the Cloud.”

Tanith Nadia Rahim, 31, who runs a social media marketing firm is also paying for a Cloud storage service but makes the effort to transfer some to a physical storage when she starts running out of online space.

“It is filled with pictures and videos that I take for my clients. Once every six months, I try to declutter and back up some files to a hard disk to make room in my Cloud storage,” she shared.

Professional photographer and videographer Michael Linde, 30, does not deny that Cloud storage is more convenient but felt users will forever be bound to the platform provider’s terms of service. There is no guarantee the price will remain the same after a few years, he said.

Also, inactive Google Photos accounts that have not been accessed for two years will be automatically deleted, according to the company.

QUALITY CHECK

Users who do not want to pay for a Cloud service will have to rethink how they shoot their photos. Linde said smartphone cameras today have improved so much that they allow users to take DSLR-like quality photos.

“Users want to get the most out of their camera so they tend to shoot in high quality and if they are taking hundreds of photos a day, they are going to run out of space on their phone,” he said.

He advised users to first consider the reason for snapping the photo. “If you want to take images that you plan to sell or monetise, then it makes sense to shoot in higher resolution so you can preserve details.”

For example, a JPEG photo shot with a 48-megapixel camera can be up to 13MB in size while photos taken with a 12-megapixel camera range from 5MB to 6MB.

If the photos are going to be sent via WhatsApp or uploaded to a social media service then they don’t have to be large, said Linde, as most platforms compress the files to make them smaller which degrades the quality.

Social media networks compress images to help ease loading times and messaging services do it to deliver images faster.

As a general rule, when sending a photo to another person, the file size should not be larger than 1MB, as this will use up more mobile data and space, he added.

Tanith echoed the same thought, saying that most users tend to shoot photos in higher quality when it is not necessary to do so.

“If you are constantly running out of space, it’s time to check your camera settings and figure out what is eating up your storage,” she said.

“Consider adjusting image quality and file format, or turning off features you do not need.”

She cited the iPhone as an example, which comes with Live Photos, a feature that lets the user record 1.5 seconds before and after taking a photo.

The iPhone 6S, the first to get the feature, uses 3MB to 4MB per image and with Live Photo the size shoots up to 12MB, according to a CNET report.

“This feature lets you shoot multiple photos with one click and takes up more space than necessary. I suggest turning it off,” she added.

Users should also learn to manage their storage better by taking the time to declutter.

For instance, some Android phones have a feature that detects duplicate photos and videos, and recommends rarely used apps for deletion.

If yours does not have it then check out third-party apps like Remo.

WhatsApp, one of the culprits clogging up phones, as it automatically downloads media files, introduced a Manage Storage feature that makes it much easier to delete files.

Found under Settings, it allows users to highlight files by size (larger than 5MB) or those that have been forwarded many times.

GET PHYSICAL

Freelance photographer Adly Aizad, 32, said he has nearly 30,000 images on his phone, about a year’s worth of photos.

After a shoot, Adly would transfer the images from the DSLR camera to his phone so he can share them with his clients.

“It is easier if my clients can see the photos and provide feedback on the spot,” he shared.

Adly also transfers the photos he does not need from his phone to an external drive.

As he mostly shoots in RAW format, the file sizes are very large, he said, adding that he would often go for 1TB drives and now owns six of them.

“Having to transfer the images manually may sound tedious but at least you do not have to keep paying a monthly fee,” he said.

Linde also said transferring files from one device to another may sound like a lot of work for most users and some may be afraid that the drives will become faulty over time and lose their data.

“However, in my 10 years of experience of storing my photos on drives, I’ve never experienced any technical difficulties like files becoming corrupted,” he said.

“I think it is because I spend more to get drives that are shock-resistant and more durable.”

Adly, on the other hand, tries not to take his drives out of the house unless absolutely necessary so they are never in any danger of damage.

However, all drives have a finite lifespan, which is why some use RAID, which stands for redundant array of independent disks to protect their data, but more on this later.

To make it easier to look for the photo later, Linde organises his images according to year, month, picture format and device used (DSLR, drone or action camera).

“It may sound painful at first to organise images but it gets easier once you find a management system that works for you,” he said.

BEST OF BOTH

Alternatively, users could consider dabbling in both worlds – public Cloud that’s free and their own private Cloud by investing in a Network Attached Storage (NAS).

This device, as the name suggests, is able to connect to a network and functions as your private Cloud that allows files to be accessed wirelessly while at home and away.

The more advanced (and pricier) models allow users to add more hard drives over time, and configure the way the files will be stored on the drives.

A user with multiple drives can set up a RAID configuration to mirror the content of one hard drive to another in real-time. If one hard drive fails, the images and data will still be safe in the other drive.

A NAS also allows users to set up other configurations for speedier access.

As for Emily Sophie who is used to snapping photos to her heart’s content, she is considering being more mindful about the amount of photos she takes. “Instead of 80 photos, maybe I will stop at 50 and be more diligent in deleting unnecessary images,” she said.

Still, she cannot bear the thought of not having enough space for her photos.

“It can get frustrating when you are out with friends or family and cannot take more photos because you are running out of space,” she said, explaining that the images are important for her to look back as fond memories.