Summary: The following is the approach my family has taken to photo and video storage for our missionary in 2022. I’m not saying this is the best approach, there are clearly many ways to do the management of these digital image and video files, and ours is just one approach. If you have other suggestions for how you have handled photo file storage for yourself or your missionary, please leave a comment below.
When I served my mission, in Argentina from 1995 to 1997, missionaries had film cameras, which came with a lot of time and cost constraints that missionaries today do not face. I was not a frequent picture taker, and after two years of missionary service, I only had a couple hundred photographs. Contrast that to missionaries today, most of whom are equipped with a smartphone, and they will often take a couple hundred pictures in a week. It is a wonderful blessing to be able to capture so many photos and videos from your mission, but it also comes with challenges when it comes to figuring out how to manage the storage of those megabytes, and gigabytes, and potentially terabytes of digital data files.
The Problem: Missionary Google Accounts Run Out of Space Quickly
When you become a full-time missionary, the Church will create an “@misssionary.org” email address and associated Google Account for you. This Missionary Google Account (MGA) provides email, contacts, calendars, photo storage, and other services to missionaries and comes with 30GB of storage space. That storage space is used primarily for photo and video storage, but email messages (both sent and received) take up that storage space as well. I suppose, in theory, if a missionary is very judicious about the pictures and videos he or she takes, that 30GB could last for the entire 18 or 24 months of a mission. But for our daughter, the space was pretty much used up within about four months.
Unlike regular Google Accounts, MGAs do not allow you to purchase more storage space. So we had to think up a plan and think it up quick if we wanted to preserve our daughter’s photos and videos and make room for the next 14 months worth of files. The following is what we came up with. It is by no means the only solution and maybe it isn’t even the best solution, but it works so we thought we would share it. The solution is illustrated in the image graphic above, and it goes something like the following.
Also remember that, even if you don’t run into space constraints during your mission, the digital files associated with your MGA will be deleted at the conclusion of your mission, so you need a plan to save the files from your mission. Within a few weeks or months after a missionary has completed their mission (not sure the exact time frame), the Church will deactivate their Missionary Google Account and the photos, videos, emails, and any other data associated with the account will be lost forever. Please make your backup copies quickly upon completing your mission so you don’t lose precious files and memories.
Automatically Share and Save All Photos and Videos in a Backup Google Account with Partner Sharing
Google Photos has a feature that we recommend using called Partner Sharing. You can only Partner Share with one other G Account and what is does is give the partners a view into each others photos and videos. But it also has a feature called “auto saving” which will automatically save your partner’s photos and videos in your account so that you will still have the files, even if your partner deletes them. So what we did was have our daughter’s MGA do Partner Sharing with her personal Google Account. In the personal G Account, we bought plenty of extra storage, so now once the photos and videos are uploaded from our missionary’s phone to the Google cloud, they are automatically saved in her personal G Account. The pictures and videos can then be deleted from the missionary’s phone and MGA but they are preserved in the personal G Account, having been copied and saved there. For more information, here’s a link to the Google Photos Help article on setting up partner sharing.
There is a drawback to this process outlined above, and that is that every picture that is synced with the Google cloud, even the ones the missionary doesn’t want to keep, like blurry pics or pics only needed temporarily, are backed up and copied over to the personal account. That means that the missionary, once they get home, will have a lot of work to do to go through and delete unnecessary or unwanted photos and videos. I think that’s a small price to pay in order to have the automated backup, but you should be aware of that downside.
One other optional thing that my wife does which you may want to consider is to check your missionary’s personal Google Account photos from time to time, looking for favorite photos, and then downloading them or copying them. To do this, the missionary has to share their personal Google Account password with the parents so they can login and download, organize, and/or share photos, videos, and albums. This is a manual and more time consuming approach, but it works.
Email Considerations for Saving Storage Space
As I mentioned above, both photos and videos in Google Photos as well as emails, both sent and received, go against the 30GB of space allotted to MGAs. Therefore, if your missionary is running short on space, you may be able to free up several gigabytes of space by encouraging them to delete old or unwanted emails. Be especially aware of image and video attachments to emails which can get quite large sometimes. One thing my wife does to save space is when she sends emails to our missionary daughter, instead of attaching pictures and videos to the email, she provides a link to a Google Photo album. This allows our daughter to see the pictures without the files being attached to the email and using up the storage space.
When Taking Photos and Video, Please Remember to Follow the Missionary Standards
This seems like a good time to also remind missionaries to follow the mission guidelines when taking pictures and videos. The Missionary Rules state: “Photos can help you share your mission experience with people at home and can be meaningful reminders of your mission. When taking photos or recording videos, be careful not to embarrass anyone, including other missionaries and people who struggle with economic, social, or physical challenges. Some people may not want you or others to see, share, or be reminded of what is shown in a photo. Ask permission before taking and sharing photos or videos. In some missions, you may not be allowed to publicly share photos of anyone you are teaching because of local privacy laws. Taking certain photos may be offensive or illegal in some cultures and places.”
As a general guideline, do not take photos of the objects, places, or people listed below:
- Certain government and military buildings.
- Security areas at airports, passport checks, border crossings, consulates, and embassies.
- Law enforcement or military personnel.
- People, buildings, or activities of other faiths.
- Culturally sensitive subjects, including people in traditional dress.
- People struggling with poverty, sickness, or disabilities.