As a global community, the number of photos we are taking is increasing at astonishing rate in recent years. Yet most of us aren’t taking care to ensure we don’t lose photos — or that our visual memories are safely preserved so they can be shared with future generations. 

Today’s cell phone shutterbug is caught in a cycle. We take a bunch of photos of a meaningful or photogenic moment or occasion. We select our favorite image (or maybe three of them) to share with friends, or on social media. Then, it’s on to the next photo op. 

“Digital photos are essentially free so people have become ‘lazy’ photographers,” said Ed Lee, director and founder of Rise Above Research. “We’ve always been obsessed with taking the perfect photo. But when people shot film there were only 24 exposures, so they carefully planned and set up photos. Now, it’s just too easy to take scores of photos and hope that one of them turns out to look good.

Kids playing outdoors on a water slide
Photo by Ashwin Rao

Protection is the first step to not to losing photos 

Many casual photographers don’t understand what truly constitutes a safe backup and storage system. Protecting our photos is usually an afterthought, sometimes until it’s too late. 

We now have myriad ways to protect and store our memories, beyond putting our prints in physical photo albums. Still, the odds of losing digital photos remain high.

7 common ways people lose photos:

1. Loss or theft of your phone

Losing your phone is the most common way to lose photos. Though cloud services are popular, they’re not foolproof. It’s common to forget to backup or to run out of space on your phone. In the latter case, Google Photos or Apple Photos will stop backing up your photos, unless you’re paying a subscription for extra cloud storage. This makes it possible to lose cherished photos with the loss of your device. 

Robbery certainly happens but phones are most likely to simply be misplaced. In fact, over 64% of phones are lost due to misplacement according to the 2020 Mobile Theft and Loss Report. Other reasons include home invasion and robbery (18%), pickpocket incidents (9%), and business or car break-ins (9%). 

The stress of losing your phone is real. Do yourself a favor and set up a solid backup and storage system sooner rather than later to avoid also losing your visual memories. 

Mobile phone being dropped from a long distance

2. Accidental deleting or replacing of files

A slip of a finger or wrong tap could mean a photo has slid into the “recently deleted” folder or the “trash.” If you don’t catch the mistake quickly, the error could prove costly.

For example, when you delete photos or videos in Apple Photos, they go to the “recently deleted” folder for 30 days, then are permanently deleted. And if you’re using iCloud Photo and delete photos or videos from one device, those files will also be deleted on your other devices.

It’s also fairly easy to accidentally replace an existing photo with a different one. You may not realize the mistake if the file name is the same, or if you’re moving photos around in big batches. In that case, there’s nowhere to find the original version of that photo. It’s simply gone.

3. Loss of a hard drive, USB, memory card, or DVD/CD

Losing a portable storage device is common. After all, they’re small and frequently moved around. While physical photo albums live on a shelf in your family home, flash drives and portable hard drives are increasingly tinier, lighter, and more travel-friendly. They can end up getting lost on airplanes, in hotel rooms, or during moves. 

Memory cards in your digital cameras are another risk point, Lee noted. “You can take a lot of photos, then swap out the memory card,” Lee said. “If you put it aside, it’s easily lost since it’s a very small object.”

Memory cards and an external hard drive sitting on a chair

4. Natural disasters

Natural disasters like a flood, mudslide, hurricane, or fire could cost you all of your photos and storage devices in an instant. You’re probably paying for home insurance. What about photo preservation?

Every time you switch to a new laptop or computer or even just update your device, there’s an inherent risk of losing data. You’ll usually get a friendly reminder to back up your files before an update installation, resetting of hardware, or wiping of data. But there’s always a chance of technical or human error, especially if steps are skipped.

The safest backup system includes automatic synching and redundancy, meaning that you’ve stored your original files in more than one `vault,’ as we call them at Mylio.

5. Computer hard disk crash

Thankfully, this one is fairly rare. But technology can fail, and your computer or even your phone can simply stop working. Any photos that haven’t been backed up may be unrecoverable. 

“Everything that was on that computer or phone is now inaccessible … unless you’ve been using a cloud backup,” Lee said. “But if your cloud storage is full, you might not have all the photos that were on the device.”

6. Leaving a social network like Facebook

New social media platforms arise and you may want to switch. Or maybe you’re just ready to break up with Facebook or Instagram. Anytime you close a social media account, there’s a risk that you will leave behind a photo or photo album.

“People tend to forget that they have all these photos they were hoping to keep for the future on Facebook,” Lee said. “Unless you remember your login info or recover your account down the road, the photos that were only posted there are likely to be lost.”

Young girl hugging a puppy
Photo by Ashwin Rao

7. Technology advancements

This reason is not obvious. After all, we depend on technology to ensure our stored data is protected. But history tells a cautionary tale. 

Are you old enough to remember floppy disks? They’re laughable now, but since “floppies” we’ve had CDs, DVDs, and USB memory sticks. Gradually, data storage formats fade as more advanced options emerge.

For example, CDs came out in the ‘80s. By the mid-2010s, most new laptops no longer featured CD drives. The newer Apple laptop models don’t even have USB drives, as the company moves completely to UBC. 

This trend will only continue. So it’s worth paying attention. Then protecting your photos by transferring them to newer, more lasting formats and platforms. You don’t want to risk not being able to access them one day.

And … the surprising way to “lose” a photo: Forgetting where it’s saved

A particularly aggravating way of “losing” a photo is simply forgetting where you saved it. You might as well not have taken the photo in the first place if you can’t find it. 

“Even if you do vaguely remember that it’s on one of your computer’s hard drives, if you’ve got thousands of photos that you haven’t organized or renamed in a way that’s recognizable, you’re never going to find it,” Lee said.

Couple holding young child in life vest on a boat
Photo by Ashwin Rao

How to reduce the risk you could lose your photos

The cost of digital data storage keeps decreasing. For instance, this Seagate One Touch 5TB ($119) is speedy (and can store roughly 1 million photos) per Tech Advisor. That’s cheap compared to the stress of losing a valued picture. Likewise, the pain of losing visual memories is likely worse than that of paying a monthly or yearly subscription fee.

“Everyone has taken photos that capture life’s happy moments,” Lee said. “Reliving these memories can bring smiles to peoples’ faces and help them get through trying times. These moments should be preserved for future generations.”

Data security experts recommend you follow the 3-2-1 Rule. Have at least three copies of your data, store copies on at least two devices, and keep at least one backup copy off-site — perhaps an external drive at your office or a cloud service.

In addition, Lee recommends that printed copies be part of your photo storage mix. In the case of a digital failure, printed photos will endure. 

Mylio is a solid foundation to prevent losing your photos

Here’s where Mylio comes in to keep your digital assets safe. Mylio is an application that makes it simple to organize, manage, and store your photos, videos, and documents privately on your own devices. 

With your entire library backed up and automatically synched on multiple devices — computer, phone, external drive, and perhaps a cloud service — you can have peace of mind that your lifetime of memories are safe. 

Download Mylio to never have to worry about losing a photo.

Smiling man in front of birthday cake with candles lit
Photo by Ashwin Rao