back up photos because of fire danger

Take a look at this photo and you’ll see why I am such a stickler for doing backups of our photos. You are looking at a forest fire – and no, we weren’t in it, but fire has hit pretty close to home a time or two! With a forest fire, there is no warning and you have minutes to get out.

Hundreds of catastrophic events occur each year such as forest fires, house fires, floods, tornadoes, etc.  These events wreak havoc with “things” we wrap our memories around.

When I wrote this post originally, we lived in the Colorado foothills at an altitude of 9000 ft above sea level. Now we live on the Atlantic side of Florida — with hurricane risk.  Whether it is hurricane or fire, risk is part of life.  And with proper preparation, the heartache of losing photos can be avoided.

In Colorado, every summer we would go through a period of time where the fire danger is extreme. We have to plan as if our house will burn to the ground and we lose everything. When we moved to the mountains, we knew the risk and decided we could live with it.  We lived in fear the first few years worrying about everything. But then something changed. 

We accepted the fact that we couldn’t protect EVERYTHING we loved, and decided our photos were the most precious of all because they can’t be replaced and they represent our memories.

Do you know, I have the only existing photo of my great-great grandmother who walked in the Trail of Tears? It is scanned and turned into a digital image, of course. Pretty cool, huh?  If I lose that photo, I’ve lost family history for generations to come. 

Knowing we have this risk, we have put plans in place to secure our photos. We have tubs of printed photos and thousands of digital images. We are in the process of scanning the printed photos, but until they get digitized, we shuttle them to a safer place during high fire season. UPDATE: The scanning is complete – nearly 8,000 photos scanned, backed up, and done!!!


Now, are there any Downton Abbey fans out there???  Mr. Carson says (S4, E4)…

"The business of life is the acquisition of memories."

I agree with that, but may I take the liberty of adding to it?  The Make Photo Memories version… 

The business of life is the acquisition and the preservation of memories so that generations after us can know the life stories that came before.

Backups the Homeland Security Way

There is only one way to make sure your precious photos are safe from harm, and that is to back them up regularly. We often put it off citing that we don’t have time, but the reality is, if they are important enough to you, you will find the time! For the purpose of this post, we are only referring to digital photos and videos (“media”). Scanning (digitizing) print photos is a whole other story.

There are three things we often hear when we talk about backing up photos:

1. I don’t worry because I use the cloud storage provided by Google or Apple. 

2. I load all my photos to Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, etc. 

3. I have absolutely no idea how to back up my photos and I’m not very techie. Do I really need to?

Can you relate to any of these statements?  If so, keep reading….

Before we start addressing the three reasons, I have a confession to make.

I work with photos all the time and I have screwed up, deleted files, had a quick panic attack, and had to rely on my backup to bail me out! It happens to the best of us — ONCE (and sometimes more). Then we learn and vow that it will never happen again. 

1. I don’t worry because I use cloud storage provided by Google or Apple.

Truth is – that is a great start because those services have their own backup process and as long as they stay in business and you keep the account, you not only have storage, but you also have an offsite copy of your photos.  HOWEVER, having only one backup of those files is not good enough to consider it a reliable backup solution. We will get to the suggested solution a little later. 

Now, there are a few things to consider. In order for these to work, you must set your device to allow synchronization. Google, and perhaps Apple, give you the option to only synch when you are on WiFi which saves your data plan.  You can make the changes in your settings.

Your synch should be set to the fullest resolution allowed. Google will compress images over 16 megapixels; however, unless you want to make poster size prints, you should be OK. No compression worries with Apple.

What I have found is that these services mirror your phone but they are not especially easy to search. Google provides a set of auto tags, which I have found to often be inaccurate.  I have heard similar complaints about Apple.

If you delete synced photos from the Google Photos app, it will be deleted from everywhere – your device, the Google Photos app, the Google Photos website, and your file manager app. This will happen even if your Backup & Sync feature is on and whether you’re using an Android or iPhone.  There is a way to remove them from your phone and keep them in the cloud, but YOU MUST KNOW HOW YOUR PROGRAM WORKS!  Apple  works very much the same way. 

Although we like Google Photos as an offsite backup, we don’t rely on it as our sole backup. We use an external hard drive because we find it easier to access and retrieve.

Google Photos — works with Android phones or tablets and iPhones or iPads to upload photos and videos to Google cloud servers.


  • Reliable cloud storage as long as you have a Google account.
  • 15 GB Free storage (above and beyond what is considered “unlimited”).
  • Unlimited storage for photos up to 16 megapixels in size and videos up to 1080p resolution. 
  • Option to upload only when on a WiFi connection.
  • Has some limited photo editing features. 
  • Also works on a PC or Mac — or even an iPhone.


  • Full-resolution photo/video storage (above values under ‘Pros’) counts against plan storage limit (above 15 GB is not free).
  • The 15 GB free space also includes your Gmail and Google Drive files.
  • Google has pulled the plug on some of their photo apps in the past (like Picasa). 

Apple iCloud Photos — works with iPhone, iPad, Mac and other devices to upload photos and videos to the Apple cloud servers.


  • Reliable cloud storage as long as you have your Apple account.
  • 5 GB Free storage.
  • Has some limited photo editing features. 
  • Also works on a Mac or PC.


  • 5 GB vs 15 GB for Google (free storage).  It goes fast!
  • The free space also includes your email, messages, and documents.
  • No app for Android devices (but Android has an app for iCloud photos).

Both Apple and Google highly recommend that you make your own backup and not rely solely on them for photo backup. 


2. I load all my photos to Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, etc. 

Online photo storage through a site such as Facebook or Flickr is an alternative if you are limited on funds. or feel technologically challenged. But, you have to know and understand the pros and cons of these sites.

Also, just like Apple and Google, they advise you to create your own backup of photos and not rely solely on their services.

Now, there are many, many services such as these and they are generally easy to use and allow easy sharing. Below is a small comparison chart of three well known sites. 

Caution: Some (most) are photo sharing sites and you are responsible for making your collection private. In addition, using a site like this means you are relying on some else to provide the platform and are therefore subject to any changes in the terms of service they desire. 

Over the years there have been many “posts” saying that if you post photos to Facebook, they own the image. Let’s get real clear about that –no, they do not own your images. Copyright protection applies to your images. However, there are unscrupulous people who will lift the images of others and pass it off as their own. You may be subjected to this violation on any site that shares photos.

photo online servers

3. I have absolutely no idea how to back up my photos and I’m not very techie. Do I really need to?

OK, we have addressed the first two common reasons we hear, and although the cloud storage is great, in all cases they advise you to make your own backup copy. 

The first two options give a false sense of security. So, YES, you need to do your own backup. And we believe Homeland Security provides the single BEST backup plan.

3-2-1 back up best practice

Homeland Security 3-2-1 Back Up Plan

So, how might this look for you if you do the bare minimum?

3-2-1 for you

A Few Quick Hits You can Implement Immediately!

  1. If you are not using the auto backup provided by your phone provider, do so now.  If you have Android or Pixel (or even Apple) you can use Google Photos. Apple, of course has their own backup called iCloud Photos. Either one is good, but you have to set up your phone to auto synch. We strongly encourage you to do so.  WARNING: Know your program. If you remove a photo from your phone, does it remove it from the Cloud?

    What if you don’t have those options? Then look into Amazon Photos – especially if you are a Prime member because it is free.  Even if you aren’t a prime member, extra storage cost is pretty low. There are many other photo storage solutions available, but most of them have a monthly fee.

  2. If you want to leave your photos on your phone, then copy them from your phone to another source – perhaps a desktop or laptop computer. Make sure you do not move them (drag and drop) from your phone to the device. Keeping this synchronized requires discipline and reminders because it is a manual process.

  3. If you want an additional measure of safety, also copy your photos onto an external hard drive or flash drive. A quick search on Amazon will show you that there are devices for every budget. I would suggest you purchase the largest capacity you can afford.

If you’re still not comfortable and want to know more, check out our $7 comprehensive eBook.  The first backup is the most crucial, but you will feel the relief as soon as you get it done. Your worries are gone!

The eBook will tell you everything you need to know plus provide cheat sheets and other hints and helps. We give you the information you need to make informed decisions. We also tell you exactly how we do our own photo backup. The eBook also gives you access to a comparison chart of storage device options and cloud services so you can make the best choices for your time and budget.



“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good!”   ~Gretchen Rubin

Click below to get the Backup eBook. Only $7 !

A Beginner's Guide: Back Up Photos Like a PRO!

Understanding File Size and Storage
Best Practice
Step by Step Plan (complete with cheat sheets)
How to Maintain your Backup Strategy
Inside Look at Our Personal Backup Process
Budget Friendly Options
Wrap Up

Comparison Chart of the Most Prominent Cloud Providers
Back Up Device Comparison Chart
Free File Synchronization Software (Link Provided)
Tips peppered throughout the book