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Cool Tools:Thumb Drives for Photo Backup

thumb drives for photo backup

Thumb drives for photo backup are the rage. Are they worth the hype?

Have you noticed lately how many new photo thumb drives, like Photo Stick, are being advertised? And the second question is – are they worth it? Maybe!  Transparency here – I do not own one. I use hard drives, software to prevent duplicates, and an organization program (Photoshop Elements). But, if I were just starting out – you bet I’d give one of them a try. Especially if I am not techy.

If you are wondering what I am talking about when I say thumb drive photo backup …  There are new USB devices on the market designed specifically to simplify photo backup. These plug and play devices are pretty cool! They “see” all photos on your drives, will quickly download them to the USB stick, and it will identify and prevent duplicates, which is a headache if you try to do it any other way. They vary in size from small to fairly large. 

As with anything new, there are positives and negatives. For the thumb drive, the biggest negative is that they are small and easily misplaced – sort of like a small SD card. 

The biggest positive is that they are great for non-techy people. Very easy to use and scour all locations to make sure all photos are captured.

Quick Story

Let me tell you a story about losing a small photo storage device – an SD card. I know someone who went on an awesome once in a lifetime vacation and used her phone with an SD card to store all of her photos. When she got home, she popped out the SD card — never to be seen again! It’s so small that it’s hard to tell what happened to it, but the point is, it was lost before they got to back them up. Sad story that maybe could have been averted.

Well, anyway… I’m going to give you  links to a number of photo backup USB devices and if it is on Amazon, you will get that link because it will tell you about the product, but more importantly, you can see reviews and ratings from other users. BEWARE – Verified Purchasers are your best option of getting accurate and honest reviews.

We ARE NOT affiliate marketers and do not benefit from purchases you might make. We just wanted you to know about this Cool Tool!

A Few Links to Check Out

Jeff’s Tech Advice 

This is a great photo backup gadget review! To be fully transparent, this is an advertising platform, but there are reviews of  4 gadgets. The devices were scored on specific criteria:

  • Ease of Use for Beginner
  • Storage Size Options
  • Price
  • Perceived Hardware Quality
  • Instruction and Support

This is worth a look, especially if you are new at photo backup,want a simple solution, and don’t have hours of research time.

Photo Management on the Cheap

budget friendly photo management options

Do you want to get a quick handle on your photos and not break the bank?  Then please read on!  

In this post, we discuss how to manage your photos on the cheap. We discuss the three main areas you need to think about for your photo management — Protect, Organize, and Share.  We also cover these areas in greater detail in separate posts, but this is a great place to start. 

collection vault


Let’s assume that you’ve got tons of photos taken on your phone (cellphone). If so, you are one of billions of people who do — and most have no other camera.  These can be pretty precious images and you don’t want to lose them!  

But what if you lose your phone? Or you drop it and drive over it? Photos gone!  Well, maybe not.  Your iPhone or Android phone is probably sending all of your photos and videos to “the cloud” which is just a nice name for a computer located remotely and managed by your cell provider. When you have this security, the photos are kept safe and sound – no matter what happens.

The cloud should be safe and still be there tomorrow, but if you want to feel just a bit safer, periodically COPY your photos from your phone to a computer (hard drive) or to an external USB hard drive.  This is what we call your Collection Vault. The external drive will set you back a few bucks, but it’s a great way to keep your photos in one place.  And it is very portable.

RECOMMENDATION: Combination of cloud storage AND external USB hard drive (about $40-$60)

When you copy photos and videos from your phone to another device (like your computer), the next time you do it, you run the risk of getting duplicate copies.  Normally your copy method will warn of this but what if you’ve re-organized or moved stuff around in the copy destination? 

The simplest way to avoid getting duplicates is to just delete the originals from your phone as soon as you’ve copied them.  We do this but only after we’re sure we have copies in TWO places — either on a second external drive or full-resolution cloud copies.

Another way to prevent duplicates is by using software that synchronizes files between your phone and the copy destination. We use Free File Sync which is a great program.  It is also the best way to keep a second backup synchronized with your primary backup. 

device inventory


How easy is it for you to find the one photo you want to show to your friend?  Not so easy, most will say!  Enter the world of photo organization.  For this, we need a tool (app or program) to help us out. We tried the “folder method” – established naming conventions of folders and subfolders that hold your photos. That took way too much time to maintain and we still spent time searching — and you can only give so much meaning to a folder name.  And don’t even think about renaming individual photo or video files!  That will drive you crazy!  To fix this problem, a method called ‘tagging’ can be used to give single photos multiple search terms.  

Both Apple and Android phones come with apps that will group photos by person (facial recognition), location (geolocation), or date. This helps you find photos, but if you want to get more specific, like finding wedding events, you will want to use organizer software that will work with photos that are stored on your computer or external drive.  We use Adobe Photoshop Elements but at around $99 MSRP it’s not budget friendly. 

RECOMMENDATION: A good on-the-cheap (free) option is Adobe Bridge.

Adobe Bridge is an organizer that is easy to use and It has excellent tutorials. Adobe Bridge indexes all of the photos and videos that reside in your collection vault. If you need to learn more about the vault, take a look at our post that explains it. If you occasionally move photos/videos around into other folders, your organizer program should be able to recognize the this and keep things, well… organized! 

One downside of Adobe Bridge — no facial recognition.  But you can make name tags and apply them. 


A few words about photo editing while on the ‘Organize’ topic…

Both Mac and Windows computers come with built-in Photos apps.  With them you can do basic photo editing like red eye removal, cropping, and color/lighting adjustments. To go beyond the basics, there are lots of free apps like Pixlr or GIMP, and paid apps like Adobe Photoshop. 

See our post on photo editing for more details. 

Note: When editing any photo be sure you know if it is changing the original photo or working with a copy (which is what you probably want).  Look in the program settings for this! 

cloud storage


This sounds touchy-feely, doesn’t it? Well, it is meant to be! Our life stories are meant to be shared with those we love and preserved for future generations. There are so many ways to do this – social media, videos, emails, gifts. The list is endless. 

But, for the purpose of this post, we will give you some easy ways to share your images quickly through social media and photo sharing sites. 

After you have optimized your images, you are ready to share them. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know how to share in Facebook and Instagram, so we will make an assumption and move on to some that might be new for you.

Here are some popular photo sharing websites with FREE entry points – there are many more.  Sharing with others is pretty easy with these services unless noted in the descriptions below. 

  • Google Photos
  • Amazon Photos
  • Apple iCloud Photos
  • Dropbox 
  • YouTube 
  • Flickr

Google Photos is amazing in that you get FREE unlimited storage for photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p.  Larger files count against the free capacity of 15 GB (which also includes your emails and files on Google Drive) and the next step up in storage is 100 GB for $19.99/yr which can include members of your family. For Android users, the app is built-in. It is also available as an app for Windows users and for Apple users on iPhone and iPad.  Google accounts are free. 

Amazon Photos is also “cross-platform”, meaning it is available to users of Apple, Android, and Windows devices. Free account users get 5 GB of storage for photos and videos.  Amazon Prime members get unlimited photo storage and 5 GB of video and file storage.  The next step up is 100 GB for $19.99/yr. 

Apple iCloud Photos is great for iPhone users. The free version gives you 5 GB of storage and starts at $12/yr for 50 GB. It’s not so great for sharing photos with Android or Windows users who will need to use a web browser to view shared photos.  There is no app for Android. 

Dropbox is cross-platform and you get 2 GB of free file storage which includes photos and videos. BUT the next step up in storage space jumps to 2 TB (terabytes) for $9.99/mo. 

YouTube cannot be ignored on any lists like this!  It may be the BEST way for sharing videos that you create from a photo collection.   Your videos can be public or private (shared only with people you’ve chosen). And it certainly is cross-platform. 

Flickr is cross-platform.  The free version limits you to 1000 photos (seems like a joke).  Then it jumps to $60/yr for “unlimited” photos and videos.  Reviews of this service are pretty mixed and your files are public unless you go in and restrict them.  Flickr is owned by SmugMug. 


OK, hopefully we’ve outlined how you can have all the tools you will need to do basic photo management without going broke. After you are comfortable with these tools, you may want to consider more advanced ways to edit and share your photos. 

Just think how great you will feel when you can find a certain photo in less then 5 minutes!

How good will you feel when you know your photos are safe and secure and will NEVER be lost?

Just think about all the cool things you can now do with your photos!

How to Avoid Destroying Your Photos with Editing

destroy photos with editing

How many mistakes were made in the edit of this picture? Can you spot them?

I’m a hobby photographer – well, mostly just a picture taker who likes to capture special moments in my life. Like everyone one else, I have a cell phone and I know how to use it . . .  the camera, that is. As a result, like everyone else, I take a lot of pictures that sometimes aren’t very good. And, sometimes I try to fix it (like the photo above) and really mess it up. This image is WAY over-edited. I figured if a little sharp is good, a lot of sharp is better! NOT!!!  So, let me share a few tips with you about editing. 

But, I have a safety net – THE PHOTO EDITOR!

Photo editing puts the power of perfection in the hands of all photographers and especially us hobby picture takers. I can crop, change the lighting, remove the ugly and demonic-looking red-eyes, and even whiten teeth! I can make a cloudy day look sunny and a sunny day look cloudy and  make muddy water a Caribbean blue.

BUT,  how much editing is too much? When do we lose our “story” in pursuit of perfection?  How do we know we have gone too far?

In this post, we talk about 5 common editing mistakes and how to avoid them. We also provide you with a comparison of our favorite FREE options for photo editing.

Destructive vs. Non-destructive Editing

A common mistake seen with new editors is not knowing and understanding the difference between destructive and non-destructive editing. Why is this important? If you have destructive editing and you edit the original and save it, the image is permanently changed and the original is lost forever.

Destructive editing is the term used to describe edits that actually make permanent pixel changes to the image. As a result, you lose the original image (it is destroyed). This may be alright is some cases, but for the most part you will want to keep the original. This is the most common form of editing (used in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and GIMP).

Non-destructive editing, as you can figure out, is when the editing process doesn’t change the pixels within a photo. The software package creates a new text file for the edited photo and links it to the original file. When done, you export the edited image and now you will have two copies. Non-destructive editing is used in Adobe Lightroom.

Solution: Assume that your editing tool is destructive and save a copy of the original. Edit the copy. When your photo is edited to your liking, you can rename the file and delete the original, if you want. I usually keep it.

1. General Over-Editing

The saying less is more is very applicable when it comes to photo editing. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Have you ever seen a woman who has so much make-up on she doesn’t look real – or good, for that matter? Too many edits will result in a similar situation that looks neither real nor good. If the editing is the first thing people see when they look at your photo, then you’ve probably overdone it. You can enhance the photo, but remember to keep the essence of what you are trying to say.

Having said that, now I will say that you can be  ‘artistic’ and pull out the stops and have loads of fun with effects, but know that it will not be the same image or story.

Solution: Always edit on a copy and keep the original.

Over edited
Over-edited by a long shot. Sharpened, light adjustment and color and brightness adjustment.. Also cropped with the subjects moved to the middle. Not good!

2. Too Much Sharpening

Sometimes you will have a great shot but it isn’t in focus – in fact, most images can benefit from a little sharpening. To improve the image, you can use a sharpening tool to make the image appear more crisp.

Warning: Whereas the degree of sharpening applied to an image is often a matter of personal choice, over-sharpening an image can create a halo effect around the edges which you don’t want.

over sharpened
Over Sharpened - notice the white areas

3.Color Correction, Touchups, and Balance

Color correction is one of those edits that separate pros and amateurs. Remember that photos are telling your stories, so leave the colors as realistic as possible. Am I saying don’t enhance colors? No, but be cautious with color adjustments such as saturation. Stay true to the story you are telling.

Color balance is the adjustment of intensities of the colors. The goal is to edit so that the colors are more accurate. Although when we talk about color balance, we think of the primary colors, right? But, there are also adjustments for gray, neutral and white balance.

The key to contrast is knowing when enough is enough and there is little wiggle room in achieving perfect contrast.  Too much contrast is a frequent problem for newbies. A key to achieving good contrast is knowing the light sources. For example, if the sun is shining on the scene, less contrast is needed.

Let’s talk about “selective coloring.” You have seen photos that are monochromatic except for one pop of color. For everday photos, it is a really nice touch for artistic purposes. I know that some say that selective coloring is not popular anymore – but it is really your preference. I usually like how it looks – especially for framed print.

One last color adjustment we need to talk about – those on the face — primarily eyes and face. Remember – the goal is to keep the colors true. And, bright, blinding white teeth are really overdoing it! You can adjust the color of teeth but keep it real. The other risk area is eyes. I have seen eyes that were given extra shine (reflection) or are a vivid blue or green. Scary. However, make sure you correct the red-eye  effect, which occurs when the camera reflexes off the retina. 

Original Photo
photo too much face touchup
Serious and Poorly Done Facial Touch Up
Realistic Touch Up

Yes, I know it is tempting to erase years from your age and make the photos look amazing – but it doesn’t really tell the story, does it? I naturally have very blue eyes, but they aren’t a vivid blue (I wish). And I have well-earned wrinkles – which I can erase, but that’s not being true. The third photo has a few touch ups but keeps the essence. For example, a few wrinkles around my mouth are smoothed, but not totally faded and I brightened the teeth. 

4. Chop and Crop

Cropping is simply the action to remove the outside edges of a photo and is a great tool when used effectively. Good cropping draws the eye to the most important element in the image. A good crop can make or break your photo. But, chop and crop carefully.

      Cropping Tips

  1. Don’t crop out parts (elements) of the picture that actually help tell your story.


  2. Conversely, do crop out elements that add busyness or no value to the photo. Consider offsetting the main element of the photo (unless a portrait). Familiarize yourself with the Rule of Thirds for photos.

    The rule of thirds simply states that if you take a blank screen (think viewfinder on phone) and divide it into 3×3 sections (9 total), the resulting grid provides a guideline that helps you choose where to place your primary elements. The concept works with cropping AND framing the photos you take.

  3. Cropping faces will look better if you do not crop so the face fills the screen to avoid a cramped look (and an obvious crop).


    But, what if you really want an impact like just eyes, etc – then do it. You can crop for a dramatic, artistic impact. 

  4. Body shots – try to not cut off limbs in a strange way. It just looks weird. Also – try not to cut part of the head off. Does that mean you can’t crop a subject’s body? No. Just make sure it looks intentional and not accidental.


  5. Make sure you keep the original in case you crop poorly – or, you may someday want the whole original image.


  6. If you don’t know about The Rule of Thirds, take a look at this post. It will help with cropping.
B-V Minn
Original Photo Showing the Beautiful Waterfall

The cropped photo is a nice picture; however, with the beautiful waterfall in the background, it is easy to see whey we were smiling so brightly.  The full photo shows the whole story.

5. Converting to Black and White

We’ve all seen stunning images in black and white – think Ansel Adams. 

In general, there are a couple of  considerations when you are determining whether or not an image is a candidate for conversion to black and white.

  1. What do you want to accomplish with the image? How will it be used?
  2. Next, consider the value range in the photo meaning look at the lights and darks.  Photos with broad ranges (values) will be the best if converted. One way you can judge value is to stand back and look at the image through squinted eyes. When you do this, you are looking for shapes and borders. If it looks fuzzy and you can’t see the lights and darks clearly, the photo may not be a great candidate.

Speaking of black and white – have you seen this technique? I love it.  The majority of the photo is B&W or grayscale, but you choose a pop of color to leave visible. This is called Selective Color.

In this photo, the building was a pretty pink, but the brightness of the building overshadowed the beauty of the hanging flowers on the balconies along the Grand Canal in Venice.  

Here is the story I wanted to tell – I was in Venice on the Grand Canal (I left a little of the water);  the buildings were fantastic (I included this stunning building with the beautifully shaped windows), but the flowers hanging from balconies along the canal were breathtaking. (I used a color box technique to show the flowers).

This looks hard, but it is quite easy to do with free editing tools such as LunaPic using the color box option.   


Editing and playing around with photos can be great fun! You can totally exercise your creativity. 

Here are a couple of parting thoughts:

Know your photo editing program forwards and backwards. Taking time to learn now will save you headaches later.

Only do edits to copies of the original. That way, if you totally mess up and can’t undo it, you have the original to fall back on. I always use “save as” for my edited photos and name E_Name so that I know it has been edited. 

Have fun, but remember to tell the story. Most of our stories are wonderful just the way they happened!

 CONFESSION TIME: I love to play with phone apps that take off about 30 years and 30 pounds! Oh, the good old days!

The Rule of Thirds (photography)

The Rule of Thirds in Photography

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds is a photo composition technique used to make images more engaging and attractive. When shooting a picture with your camera or smartphone, it is a good concept to keep in mind. If you take a course in photography, it will be one of the first things you will learn.

The concept is pretty simple. Perhaps thinking of what NOT to do will drive home the point. Simply, do NOT put the subject of the photo in the very center of the frame! Think of the image frame as broken into a 3 x 3 grid of boxes. You want to place the subject of the photo ON one or two of these lines. That’s it in a nutshell.

Note that the four places where the lines intersect are the “most interesting” spots for your subject.

Here are some examples…

The horizon is in the lower third — a good rule of thumb for landscape shots.

Or put the horizon in the upper third. We are offset to the left…

Tower on left vertical, center of buildings on lower horizontal line…

No need to be exact — just close enough.

3×3 Overlay on Your Camera

Some cameras and smartphones have a setting that can overlay the grid on your ‘viewfinder’ to make it even easier to set up the shot. My Samsung Galaxy S7 (okay, it’s a bit long in the tooth) has an option, called ‘Grid Lines’ …

Here’s how it looks when taking a picture (the lines don’t appear in the actual photo). Hard to see here but look closely…


Breaking the Rules

Actually think of this “rule” as a guide. There are times to break the rule! Traditional portrait shots (people) are one example. But for casual picture taking, you’ll probably be happier with the rule of thirds.

Photo Editing

If you have some photos that are centered you can always do some cropping and get the desired effect. In fact, that’s exactly what I did in the examples on this page. I plead guilty!!

— Vince D.