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The One Place to NEVER Store Your Digital Photos

It’s very alluring.

What may seem like a convenient and free solution for storing unlimited numbers of your photos will in reality turn out to be a big hot mess and a significant source of stress.

Pleasenever, ever rely on a photo printing company to store or back up your photo library. You know the one, with the distinctive orange packaging that promises “free, unlimited secure photo storage”, where they’ll never delete your photos. That old adage about something sounding too good to be true is right yet again – here’s why.

Shutterfly is usually the first company that comes to mind for printing photo products, including everything from the traditional photo books, calendars, and cards, to the more unique products like custom photo socks. Yes, I have purchased from them in the past and still do for some items, including labels and calendars. (Not their photo books.) This is not a post to bash their company or any similar service, but you need to understand what happens to your photos when you upload them to their site. It is a very clever marketing tactic – you are far more likely to order from them if your photos are conveniently already in their system!

1. Your metadata is stripped.

What’s that? Metadata is all the identifying information in your photo – the date and time stamp, camera info, file name, and sometimes GPS or location data, to name a few. When you upload your photos to Shutterfly (also true for Facebook, Instagram, and many other sites), all this information is removed from your photo – at least it is when you retrieve it. Yes, you’re still able to sort by some dates within their system, but it does not stay with the photos. Why does this matter? See number 3.

2. It is an absolute nightmare to retrieve your photos.

The whole point of a backup system is to not only ensure that your photos are saved and secure, but also accessible and retrievable when you need them – all of them. It’s not a huge hassle to download one or two images, but it’s a very different story if you want to extract your entire photo collection. 

According to their website, “You can download photos one at a time or in batches of 500.” The default is high resolution, but full resolution (still without metadata) requires a separate request and is just complicated. These batches will be sent to your email as separate zip folders, then you’ll need to extract the individual files. Repeat, repeat, repeat…get the picture?

3. The result of numbers 1 and 2 is that your original photo files are gone, at least from this source. (Yes, the photos will “look” the same, but organizing them will be very difficult.)

You will never be able to restore your original images with all their important identifying information, BUT hopefully you have your photos saved in another location.


There are partial solutions, but their main cost is time.

So what can you do??

1. Prepare yourself that there is no quick solution. Accepting that can significantly impact your stress and frustration levels when you know it will take time.

2. Schedule a Digital Consult. Having some experienced and knowledgeable assistance, even for just one hour, can give you answers and direction. We can screenshare during the call to maximize our communication so we both have a clear understanding of your individual project needs.

3. Metadata can be edited on photos, so knowing the dates – even just year/month – can be extremely helpful. And good news! The program to use for this is completely free. Adobe Bridge allows you to read and edit all metadata. It does have a bit of a learning curve, but that can be addressed during a Digital Consult.

4. If Shutterfly is the only location of some photos and you need to download them, these are the instructions they provide. You can also schedule a Digital Consult or a Photo Organizing session for me to assist you with the process. It will take time and many zip files, but it can be done.


Is there a good photo storage alternative?

Yes! My number one recommendation is Amazon Photos, which is free for Prime members and includes unlimited, full-resolution photo storage. 5GB of video storage is included or you can upgrade to 100GB for about $20 / year, which is the most affordable storage option out there.

You can get my free Get-Started Guide to Amazon Photos when you subscribe to my (monthly-ish) email newsletter.

Digital photo storage options will always cost you something - time, money, or your personal information. Make sure you understand your options and the cost.

Amazon Photos Get-Started Guide

More questions? I offer one-on-one coaching when you book a Digital Consult! We can even screen share so I can better assist you with your specific needs and I promise no question is dumb!

I’d love to help you organize your photos and design a backup system that will work for you. Get started on Operation Photo Files today.

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Hi, I'm Lisa

Photos have always brought me joy and are one of my favorite mediums for storytelling. But let’s be honest, the sheer volume of digital photos we all have can be overwhelming. It’s my goal through Scissortail Digital to help you enjoy, use, and organize your photos so you can go from jumbled to joyful!

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