Screen shot of camera roll on smart phone

How To Free Up Space on Your Phone

We’ve all been there. That moment of sheer panic when we realize we are witnessing something spectacular: the first step of a child, that perfect sunset, or the off chance meeting of a celebrity and NO! Our smart phone is full. No more storage left. No more images can be taken. We desperately try to delete an image or two to make space but how do we choose?

Our smart phones can be our life lines to everything: they are calendars, contacts, game centres, music hubs, social media connections, cameras, oh, and phones. As a result they hold a lot of information that can suck back all that precious storage you paid for when you bought the thing. To avoid the desperation described above, we need to keep our smartphones lean and mean with regular maintenance and cleaning house.

There are some basic steps for freeing up space on your phone:

Delete any downloaded music

I like to have a copy of my favourite playlists on my phone so I am not always using data to listen to music. However, tastes change and maybe there are lists you don’t listen to any more.

Get rid of all those apps you don't use or haven't used in months

The data stored with a lot of apps can take up a lot of storage. Be merciless. You probably only use about 10-20 apps on a daily basis anyway. On the iPhone there is an option to see how your storage is being used (Settings/General/Storage). You can offload apps – this keeps the app but deletes the data associated with the app, or you can just delete the app.

Clear out the Recently Deleted Album

Just because you have deleted a photo doesn’t make it go away. Apple, for example, gives you a 30-day grace to change your mind and stores the image in the Deleted Photos Album. If you need to free up space you have to go into the Album, select all the images and hit delete again.

Speaking of deleted photos, in this post, I talk about how necessary it is to regularly and ruthlessly edit your photos. This is the first step to good photo management and to avoiding the panic and frustration mentioned above. It is so easy now to take thousands of pictures but mixed in with the gems are some really lousy shots just cluttering up your phone. You need to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Whenever you are waiting in line, on the bus, or ignoring that annoying person who won’t stop talking, stop dredging through Facebook or Instagram and start deleting. To stay on top of all the images you take, you need to get rid of those useless extra images that you took by mistake in Burst mode, the video you shot when you meant to take a still, the out of focus shots, and the unflattering images where someone is talking, eating or stuck in that horrible half blink.

By getting rid of the images we don’t need we free up space for better images down the road. But another good practice of photo management is to make sure your images are being backed up to the Cloud through either Google Photos, iCloud or other providers.

These wonderful services can be set up to back up your images any time you are on wifi, without you having to think or worry about it. The fees for this vary with Google,  Apple and Amazon so you need to find the best option for you and your family. The fees change regularly but you can get an overview from this document to get a breakdown of what each provider offers.

If you do delete an image off one device, say your phone, it won’t delete it off the cloud so if you are getting rid of those bad images you will have to do it in both places. That’s why it’s a great practice to delete them off your phone BEFORE you back up to the cloud.

Final Step to Free Up Space

Both Google Photos and iCloud allow you to reduce the amount of space your images take up on your phone.

In Google Photos, it’s a setting called simply “Free Up Space” (In the app, click on the icon in upper right).

On an iPhone, Google will actually delete images in your Photos folder that are older than 30 days off your phone. The images remain in your Google Photos account and you can see them through the Google Photos app on your phone when you are online. The images themselves are moved to the Recently Deleted album in the Photos app. The images will stay in that folder for 30 days unless you delete them right away. If you really need to free up space immediately, you have to go into the Albums section and scroll down to the Recently Deleted album. Select all the images and delete them permanently off your phone. Of course, you wouldn’t want to do this until you are certain you have backed up all your photos to the cloud successfully.

With Apple Photos or iCloud Photos, there is an Optimize Storage setting (Settings / scroll down to Photos app) that converts images older than 30 days to a lower resolution format on your phone, reducing the amount of space they take up. This can help temporarily, but if you really have limited storage, you are going to run out of space again pretty soon. Make sure your images are backed up to icloud and delete them permanently off you phone.

So before things get scary, follow the Photo Management Best Practices
  1. Ruthlessly edit your images on a daily basis
  2. Back up to the cloud – whatever service suits your style and budget
  3. Back up your images to your computer or external hard drive. (Always good to have another backup option.)
  4. Select Free up space or Optimize Storage
  5. Delete any images you have saved to other places off your phone.

Yes, photo management takes time and thought. It all comes down to what you want to do with your images. If preserving memories is important to you, then you need to take steps to make sure your images are in a safe place. Carve off a little bit of time each week, put on a pot of coffee, cue up your favourite tunes and take care of your images

Sky and Clouds

How Safe is the Cloud?

Recently, when I have encouraged my friends to back up their smart phone images to the cloud I have met resistance. They are suspicious of this “cloud” thing. They don’t think their images will be secure. This resistance to the cloud could be the result of two things. News coverage of celebrities having their accounts hacked and a lack of understanding of what the cloud is and how it works.

First let’s address this ridiculous word “cloud”.  A friend recently admitted that she couldn’t wrap her mind around this esoteric concept of her images floating around in space. The word doesn’t sell the concept very well. Even the origins of the use of the word are a bit vague. Essentially, the use of the word is the result of computer technicians trying to visually express what the “internet” would look like.

It has been used as a symbol in the Information Technology industry since the 60s but it didn’t really cloud computing illustrationgain mainstream use until the late 90s with the advent of Salesforce and Amazon Web Services.(1)

So the “cloud” means the internet. But where are your images actually stored?

Simply put, when you save your images to the cloud, you use the internet to upload your images to a large room full of computers or servers. Those servers could be located near your home or anywhere a cloud services company such as Google, Amazon, or Apple has server farms or buildings on your continent. These servers hold thousands of terabytes of data from many companies and individuals around the world. They have incredibly sophisticated encryption and back up systems. They are many times more secure than your computer at home. Meaning, having your images stored on an offsite server would mean they would be very secure.

But what if those servers get hacked?

The famous story from 2014 where Apple was “hacked” and Jennifer Lawrence’s personal images were splashed around social media is still prominent in people’s minds. But the industry is addressing this issue.

Apple has stated that they were not hacked but that the accounts were accessed through a process called phishing whereby people are tricked into giving up their passwords via an email scam. In other words, a lack of understanding by the user is what allowed their security to be breached. Which brings us to the essential point.

Nothing in this world is 100% secure. You could save all your photos on your computer hard drive. But your computer could get a virus or have a hard drive failure, or your house could be broken into and your computer stolen. You could save your images to an external hard drive as well. If you keep that hard drive in your house it too could be subject to the same hazards – theft, fire, flooding. You could keep a second hard drive in a bank vault. A good idea but still, that bank is subject to the same risks as your house. Bottom line is there are risks to every place you physically store your precious items.

So when it comes to protecting your images, the cloud is just one of a few solutions. As they say, best not to store all your apples in one basket. We go into this in more detail in this article.

As for the cloud and anything else on the internet, the user must take some responsibility for the security of their data. Understanding the protocols of the cloud services company you use is essential. Yes, once your data is uploaded it is encrypted. But every company uses different standards for how that data is then stored and who has access to it. And simply put, what is free has the least security protocols.

Google and Apple both allow you to personalize your security settings. Amazon Web Services probably has the most customizable services but they will cost a bit more. Most importantly, almost every service now has two-factor authentication and I strongly urge you to set this up on your online accounts like Apple and Google. Two-factor authentication means you sign in with a strong password (not your birthday or your dog’s name) and then you enter a time sensitive number that is sent to your cell phone. It sounds a bit cumbersome but it guarantees that if someone steals your password, they still can’t access your account. And don’t trust any “official looking” emails asking for your passwords!

Insurance companies exist because of fear; fear of the worst case scenario. The question comes down to, how important are your photos to you? When given evacuation notices, one of the things people grab first are their photos. Everything can be replaced except memories.

I’m a photographer. My work is in my photos. But so is my life. I would hate to lose my images. So, I back up my smart phone and camera to my computer. I then make a duplicate of those images to a separate hard drive. That hard drive is held off site. Finally, I save my images to the cloud. It may seem excessive to some but it is peace of mind to me.

Your choice of provider depends on whether you want to view and share your images or just store them off-site. I created this document, Photo Sharing Overview where you can compare their services. 

Further Reading

iCloud Security

Google Drive Security

Still life of digital cameras

How to Choose Your Photo Management Provider

One of the essential steps in the process of protecting your photos is to make sure you are saving a back up of your images to the cloud or off site storage. But choosing the right photo management provider can be challenging. Here are a few tips to get you started.

The advance of smartphone cameras has allowed all of us to take as many pictures as we like virtually for free. But at some point, your phone will run out of space and the time will come to move the images into some form of backup system.

A lot of the confusion about putting images in the cloud is around the difference between a sharing platform and a backup storage platform. Facebook is a sharing platform and should never be used as a backup of your photos. Same goes for Flickr. Google, Apple and Amazon and storage platforms that also allow you to share.

People have probably told you to save your images to some form of storage platform. But as smartphone technology continues to develop and the providers continue to change their offerings, it’s hard to keep up. Our kids laugh at our ignorance but the reality is we just don’t have the time to stay on top of who’s providing the best backup services. There are jobs to do, mortgages to pay, lives to live. 

Your choice of provider really comes down to the type of smartphone you and your family members use, how many and how big your files are, and finally, your budget.

Type of Phone

As we all know, the world of digital photography has totally exploded in the past 15 years. My first digital camera was 3MP. When Apple introduced a smartphone in 2007 it was 2MP. The latest iphone has 12MP and three lenses. Huawei’s smartphone camera can shoot 40MP. The technology keeps getting smaller, more refined and more powerful.

Even with all the advances, one thing has remained the same. Are a you a Mac or a PC? It’s not that Macs and PCs don’t like each other, it’s just that in the world of bites and bytes, like prefers to talk like to like. So, if everyone in your family prefers the iPhone and they have iPads and Macbooks, it can be easier to stick with the Apple platform and use Apple Photos as your provider. The same goes for Pixel smartphones and Google. This is not a hard and fast rule, just something to keep in mind.

Number of and Size of Your Images

Understanding your storage needs can get a little confusing. Most people simply shoot images and a little video with their smartphones. Others like to ramp up their video production and create high resolution movies. Some providers put limitations on video size and image type so knowing what you and your family like to shoot is important.

When it comes to knowing the size of your files, there are two numbers to keep in mind. The resolution of your images and the size of your images. Your smartphone camera resolution is defined in MegaPixels. That is how many millions of pixels there are in one image and the amount is determined by multiplying the number of horizontal and vertical pixels.

My iphone shoots 12MP. The image size is 4032×3024 pixels.  Which means each image has 12,192,768 pixels. We then say that the image (divided by 1 million or a mega) would be a 12.1 MP image.

However, that is not the file size of the image only it’s resolution. The resolution of an image is its quality, the more pixels in an image the smoother the lines, the better the colour and depth. But the higher the resolution of an image, the larger the image will be.

The size of an image is defined in MegaBytes or MB or (10,000 Bytes).

Basically, to create a colour digital image, the sensor uses 3 colours per pixel. Each colour is defined as a byte.

So to determine the size of our image we need to multiple 12,192,768 by 3 which would be 36,578,304 bytes.

But that is too big to really talk about so we divide it by approximately 1000 (1024) to turn it into kilobytes (1000 bytes) and then divide again by approximately 1000 (1024) to get MegaBytes.

We then end up with a 34 MegaByte or 34MB uncompressed image.

But smartphones almost always shoot in a JPEG format which is compressed to save on space. So in actual fact the images on my 12MP phone average 3-5MB in size.

In terms of online storage space, Apple offers the first 5GB or GigaBytes (1000 MegaBytes) for free. So you would have to store up to 1000 images to reach that total.

Google offers the first 15GB  (15,000 MegaBytes) for free. That would be up to 3000 images for free.

But as I said, most people shoot images and video so the number and size of your videos will affect how much storage space you will need.

The size of video depends on resolution and how long the video is. Most providers will limit free storage to video that is shot at 1080p but many smartphones can now shoot at the much higher resolution of 4K. Google will compress your video to fit their requirements which could really affect your project.

In addition, all the providers allow you to back up more than just your images. Documents, music, and email can be included in the backup process and will add to your total count for storage. You can choose what you want to back up in the settings but it’s a good idea to back up all the files that are important to you. If you wanted to save money, you could just save your other files with a different provider or to a personal hard drive.

Apple Photos

If you are a Mac user then you will most likely prefer to use Apple Photos because it syncs so well across all the Mac devices, iPhone, iPad, MacBook etc. But what else is good about Apple Photos.

  • First 5GB free
  • Auto upload with wifi from your phone or iPad. Synced with your computer when signed into iCloud
  • Store images in the cloud and keep a smaller version on your phone to free up space
  • If all members of your family have iPhones you can create a family plan for about $4 a month/200GB
  • Share private photo albums with friends and family who have an apple id
  • Can create albums to organize your images and view them on both your phone and computer
  • Edits to images are synced across devices
  • Can view images on your devices through airplay and Apple TV
  • Apple One account allows you to upload photos, documents and more
  • Third Party printing options available through iCloud on your computer
  • Fees

How To Set It Up

Go to Settings on the Phone / Click on ID at the top / Click on iCloud / Turn it on and customize

Google Photos

Google Photos is a natural choice if you use an android device but it also works quite well with any device.

What has separated Google from the rest in the past was the free unlimited storage of your images. For the trigger happy photographer it was the best deal, so long as you only shot jpegs (what all smartphone cameras shoot) and were willing to keep the image size constrained to their specifications (less than 16MP – what most smartphone cameras shoot).

However, all of that will change as of June 2021 when they will no longer offer free unlimited storage. There rates will most likely be similar if not lower than Apple but it is something to keep in mind. Pixel 1-5 phone owners are exempt from this change.

  • First 15GB free
  • Need a Google account to upload images (free, comes with Gmail address if you have one)
  • Upload images easily through an app on your phone and wifi.
  • Available for PC and Mac users
  • Free up space on your phone by deleting images out of the proprietary photos app but you can always view them through the Google Photos app and wifi
  • Can upload images from your computer too through HTTPs://photos.google.com
  • You can share albums with anyone by sending out a link but that link is not necessarily private
  • Organize your images on the phone or computer with albums
  • Excellent face recognition, pretty good object recognition to help with organizing
  • No real printing options from the software
  • Google One is the family option – one payment for multiple accounts. Plans start at around $2 for 100GB. Any type of file, including gmail accounts, documents can be uploaded but all count toward your quota.
  • Fees

How To Set It Up

  • Download the Google Photos App
  • Sign in with Google account.
  • App has to be open on your phone for automatic backups to the cloud

Amazon Prime Photos

We’ve included Amazon in this list because if you are an Amazon Prime member you get free unlimited photo storage and 5GB for other types of document storage. However, unlike Apple and Google photos, the sharing options are limited.

An Amazon Prime membership is around $79 CDN a year but you get the movie and music streaming services and deals on shipping from Amazon.ca as well.

  • Best for people already paying for Prime and have family members who need to back up images too. Also best for just cloud storage not actual viewing, sorting, or editing
  • Back up on phone is automatic with Amazon Photos app. On the computer you have to use the Amazon Drive desktop app but you can set it up to auto backup at certain times.
  • Available for both PC and Mac users
  • Organize photos by date or album
  • Share files only through social media
  • Files are private unless you share a link to them
  • Viewing and organizing images once they are uploaded is awkward
  • Printing is available through Amazon Prints but only in the US
  • Fees
  • More Info

In Conclusion

Once you decide on the best photo management provider for your needs, the set up is pretty straight forward. However, if you do hit some bumps along the road, feel free to contact me for advice. The first consultation is always free.

Happy Backing Up!

Graphic showing how to back up images