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Friday, June 21, 2024

How to Leave Your Photos to Someone When You Die

Leaving your family photos to your children, grandchildren, and extended clan used to be easy—you went and died, and they would find the albums gathering dust in your attic or tucked away in a drawer. Sure, there were a lot of terrible holiday snapshots to sort through, but there were always some treasured photos to be kept in a wallet, framed beside a bed, or pinned to a dart board.

Now though, things are trickier. Most people’s photos are kept on their smartphones, locked away behind passwords and encryption. (There are typically also tens of thousands of them.) If in two years you were to find your departed mother’s smartphone in a drawer, what are the odds you’d remember her iCloud password?

Things aren’t a lot better with photos on social media. Services like Facebook and Instagram compress the hell out of your high-quality uploads. They appear fine on a screen, but print them out to keep on your desk and they look a mess. It’s kind of ridiculous that your smartphone captures significantly higher-quality images than a point-and-shoot from the ’80s, but if you try to print a photo you shared to Instagram, you’d be better off with a daguerreotype. (Also, there’s no guarantee Facebook will be a going concern in 20 years’ time. RIP MySpace. RIP Bebo.)

So, if you want to make sure your children can have their childhood photos after you pass, it’s something you need to think about now.

The Cop Out: Leave Your Entire Digital Life Behind

Enough people have been locked out of a dead parents’ device that Apple and Google have now made it possible for you to grant posthumous access.

Apple calls the program Digital Legacy. Your selected Legacy Contacts can present the access key you give them along with your death certificate to gain access to any data you have stored on iCloud.

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Google takes a slightly less morbid approach. You can configure Inactive Account Manager so that if you ever don’t log in for three, six, 12, or 18 months, your chosen contacts will be emailed with a link to download all your data.

These solutions, though, seem a little blunt. I certainly don’t want to give any hypothetical future children unfettered access to my Camera Roll. Without getting too graphic, let’s just say Elon Musk couldn’t bequeath enough cash to cover the therapy bills.

Sort Them First

Now, the hard part. If you want to leave your kids all the family photos without the screenshots, memes, blurry food photos, and questionable nudes, you are going to need to sort them yourself.

There are a few options here:

Go through all the photos on your smartphone and add the best ones to an album. You can use apps like Gemini Photos or Slidebox to make the process a bit faster, but it’s still going to take a lot of time.Come up with a list of events, memories, and trips you’d like to leave photos of, and deliberately go through your photos to find images of them. This will probably take less time but will require more effort. Plus, you can use Apple Photos’ and Google Photos’ machine-learning-driven search tools to help.Get better at adding photos you love to your favorites when you shoot them.

No matter what age you are, this process isn’t going to get any easier the longer you leave it. How many photos have you taken in your first smartphone decade? Now, imagine having to go through 30 years’ worth on your deathbed.

Seriously, if you’ve got a young child now and want to leave them their baby photos, start an album today and add your favorites to it. Plus, it will make backing them up easier.

Store Everything Physically

Digital data lasts a surprisingly short amount of time. A hard drive might last three years, an SSD perhaps five years, and an SD Card or USB drive a few more—though none of these are guaranteed. Web services are, if anything, less reliable. They might not lose your data to bit rot, but you can’t count on the companies sticking around.

That’s not to say don’t keep the photos on your hard drive or stored in Google Photos, but if you want your grandkids to be able to access them, you will need to do better.

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The safest way to store digital data is with physical media. M-Discs are archival optical discs with the data physically engraved on them. Supposedly they’ll last for 1,000 years, though I haven’t been able to check that yet. The best thing is they are readable with regular optical drives. Sure, in 2070 your great-grandkids might need to use a specialized service, but CDs, DVDs, and archival storage discs are so popular that the technology is likely to last in some form or other.

In practical terms, a set of five 100-GB M-Discs (each one able to hold  about 20,000 photos) will set you back less than $70. A Blu-ray burner capable of writing to them costs less than $100. So, for less than $200 you can leave four fully redundant copies of all your photos. That’s a lot less than paying for Dropbox indefinitely.

Also, I’d say go retro here and print out your photo albums. You’ll pay less than 20 cents each for 4 x 6 prints, so for $50 to $60 you can give your family the pleasure of searching through a dusty basement to find a few treasured photos. Stash one of your M-Discs with them and you have the best of both worlds.

Share the Photos When You’re Alive

As much as we’ve been focusing on the practicalities of leaving photos that can last the long haul, there is another way to do things. Once you’ve gone through all your old photos, share them with your family right now.

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Both Apple and Google make it really easy to set up shared albums with your friends and family. Start one now, add all your newly sorted photos, and then keep adding photos to it over the next few decades. Why wait until you die?

Apple and Google are just the services that can do it right now. That could change, so at some point you (or your heirs) might need to move everything to another service. But practical problems like this are a lot easier to deal with when you’re no longer the sole caretaker of family memories. Plus, all the photos are backed up to a few different devices.

Just be careful not to add any nudes.


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