Picture overload makes me want to declare 'photo bankruptcy'

Unable to keep up with all the pictures he takes, Danny Sullivan wonders if it's time to give up trying to organize them all. Or can cloud-based services help?

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan is a journalist who has covered the search and internet marketing space for over 15 years. He's founding editor of Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, and writes a personal blog called Daggle (and maintains his disclosures page there).
Danny Sullivan
4 min read
Not quite the photo "shoebox" I have in mind, but it might be someday. Google

Flying back from a trip to the U.K. this week, I took advantage of the flight time to spend about six hours organizing my last year's worth of photos. I still have plenty left to do. But I don't want to. I want to give up. I'm drowning in pictures, and it's just getting worse. Would the answer be to declare "photo bankruptcy" and stop worrying about my photos being organized?

The growing temptation of Google+
I'm tempted, sorely tempted, to do this, with "photo bankruptcy" being something similar to the "e-mail bankruptcy" trend started a few years ago -- where you throw up your hands and start over.

For me, giving up would mean just trusting in a cloud-based service to keep it all organized. Google+, more than anything else, is making it possible for me to seriously consider this. I've used Google+ Auto Backup since it launched back in June 2011. I love how it ensures that my pictures are backed up, in case my phone breaks, or I accidentally delete something, or I just don't get around to pulling them off my phone the old-fashioned way.

Auto Backup has gotten even better with the addition, in May, of Auto Awesome, which automatically enhances the image quality of some of my pictures, as well as making panoramic shots, animated GIFs, and more.

But that's also part of the problem I'm struggling with. I can't even keep up with the photos I shoot myself. Now I have Google making even more photos for me, and photos I don't have on any of my local computers. What if Google itself loses some of these images? OK, that's unlikely. But I do like to have my photos completely in my control, not solely dependent on a cloud provider.

Another issue with Auto Backup is that there's no particular organization for all those photos. Go into the Photos area, and it's one endless stream of all your pictures. Want to get to a particular date? Scroll and scroll. Need a photo shot on a particular camera or phone? You can't locate them that way -- a real pain point for me at the moment, when I just need pictures from my Nexus 4 that died.

You can organize photos into albums, something I'm planning to do even more of in the future. But will my album groupings be available if I ever leave Google+? It doesn't appear so. Nor is it easy to select multiple photos to add to an album from the Photos area, where your Auto Backup and Auto Awesome images are both available.

Don't get me wrong. I love so much of what Google already offers. The Highlights feature is designed to help you easily spot the images you want, and other improvements keep rolling out. One that launched this week is the ability to have photos you stored on Google Drive show up within your Google+ photos.

Organize for me, and be future proof!
Maybe, just maybe, the Google+ photo setup will evolve into what I wrote about in May: a better shoebox to organize all the photos we have. I want one place where all my pictures are kept secure and organized. And I want the photos to be easily viewable on a variety of devices, whenever I want to see them. And if I want to tag the shots, adjust dates, geolocate them, and so on, I want to be sure all those photos will retain that information if I move elsewhere.

Maybe Google+ will grow into that shoebox. Of course, there are things that make me nervous. I love the idea of using facial recognition to tag people, but I don't like that Google+ wants that to be linked to a Google+ account for the person, especially when it happens for my kids. In fact, the whole photo system being part of Google's social network leaves me a little nervous. Sure, photos are by default private. But it seems too easy that they could get inadvertently shared.

Can Apple, Picturelife, or Everpix help?
That leads me to Apple. iCloud's backup of Camera Roll is nice, especially when I finally realized the "1,000 photo limit" is per day, not total. But it's only for iOS devices, unlike Google+, which can handle iOS and Android. Still, at least I feel my iCloud photos aren't going to accidentally get made public if some engineer, or myself, ticks the wrong box. There seems to be so much potential for Apple to do more here by using iPhoto as a front-end for organization or by making it a more robust Web-based service. Will the company do so?

I still keep meaning to go back to Picturelife and Everpix to explore those services more, as they seem so promising. I will, I will! But then there are even more issues. When I shoot five pictures in a row to tweet something about an old "Star Trek" TV show I'm watching, do I really want those "disposable" images going into my photo collection? Or when I have a ton of screenshots I make for work purposes, do I want those mixing in with my family photos? Is there an easy solution to managing this?

I'm not ready to declare photo bankruptcy yet. But I do feel I need to change my habits. In a cloud-based world, my attempts to still put photos into individual file directories may be future proof in one regard, but they may also be preventing me from tapping into the future that's already unfolding.

I'll be sharing more in the coming months about my journey to embrace the cloud. I'm hoping the services out there do deliver. More than anything, I hope to shift from feeling like I'm always "behind" on updating my pictures to spending more time actually enjoying them.