Recently, I added a to-do for myself to figure out a better way to organize my photos. It’s going to be a bitch of a task, I’ve got tens of thousands of them spanning over the last decade or so. For the most part, I’ve got everything grouped into folders by event or something else like person or subject for more open-ended collections of photos that don’t really belong to a specific event. So for at least 90% of my photo collection, I can work by folder and not individual files.
But this still presents a big problem for me, one that is probably somewhat unique because of the way I have my computers set up at home. I have a file server where I store everything, but I want to access the photos from at least three different computers (my MacBook Pro which is my main machine, my Linux/Windows dual-boot desktop, and my Windows 7 netbook). I also have photos that come in from my point-and-shoot, my iPhone, my fiancée’s iPhone, my fiancée’s point-and-shoot, and my dSLR (I save RAW files and JPEGs of the processed photos). That’s a lot of devices to deal with and since I’m just a hobbyist when it comes to photography, everything is personal, I don’t feel the need or want to separate anything. I want everything to fall under the same organization.
My current workflow has been to import photos from my dSLR using Lightroom (recently, I’ve been converting the RAWs straight to DNG and will eventually convert all my existing RAWs as well). These photos go in a sub-folder called “Raw” under a folder for the event or subject. Once I do all my processing, I export JPEGs into the event folder. Photos from our point-and-shoots and iPhones just get dumped straight to the event folder. From here, I tag faces and add captions to the JPEGs in Picasa and then post select photos to Facebook or a blog of some sort. I’ve found that Picasa’s face-tagging feature is pretty great. It does a great job of detecting faces and guessing which ones belong to the same person. The user interface for it is a little clunky, but it gets the job done. It’s incredibly convenient to be able to just select a person and pull up all the pictures with them in it…or even better, all the pictures with that person and myself.
That’s been kind of it, really. It’s not terrible, but it’s a pain and it kind of ties me to one machine. I end up having to do all my Picasa related stuff on my MacBook since the face tags aren’t stored in the files, they’re stored in a local Picasa database and a separate file in the folder containing the photos. At least with Lightroom, all my edits can be stored in the DNG (or XMP file for RAWs) so they can easily be accessed from any other machine or application that supports it.
This whole process is very clunky and relies a lot on data that is stored on only one machine and is proprietary to a certain piece of software (Picasa). I can’t do anything at all with the face tags in any other application and if I even want to be able to use them in Picasa on another computer, it’s a big pain in the ass. I honestly love the feature set of Picasa, but I’d really like to ditch it altogether. It’s very slow and laggy and has a lot of odd quirks that have gotten to be too annoying to put up with. It’s great for free software, but I’m ready to move on.
The other frustration is that none of this data is tied to the original files–there is no way that I will let Picasa touch my DNG/RAW files–so if I decide to export from the original again (either because I reprocessed it or want to export as a smaller file or different file type), the face data doesn’t make it over to the new file. Essentially, the issue is that for photos from my DSLR, Picasa only gets to touch the end result, not the source. Photos from anywhere else aren’t as much of a problem because the JPEGs are the only versions, but I would like to be able to store as much data with the most original version of the file as possible.
So back to the whole wanting to reorganize my photo collection thing, I really want to clean everything up and get a good system going, I just don’t know how to do it. This is something that I’d probably continue to put off if not for realizing last night that I made a couple horrible assumptions a few months ago that are going to cause me to have to reprocess almost every shot I’ve taken with my DSLR. I totally assumed that when I imported my RAWs into Lightroom, it would automatically set the white balance to whatever setting was on the camera when it applied the presets. I mean, it has this data and there’s no reason not to default it to that. At any rate, it didn’t do this and I didn’t notice at all that it wasn’t set. You might wonder why I didn’t notice this immediately by looking at the pictures. Well, I just assumed that I wasn’t taking good pictures or using the lighting very well since I’m a complete newbie. So since I didn’t know or think to look to see if my white balance was set correctly, I adjusted as much as I could with the other settings. After I realized this last night, I went through a handful of pictures and set the correct white balance and they immediately looked better, but I had to kind of revert back to the original and remove any other changes I made first and then go from there.
That’s entirely my fault for being a complete idiot and not noticing that as well has just assuming that I was sucking. Not all of my photos need to be reprocessed, it’s mostly just the indoor ones, I think. But it’s still a lot. I’d really like to take care of this soon though and re-export them so I can put the whole thing behind me and not have to worry about it later on when I want to grab one of these pictures. Since I figure there are about 4,500 photos that I’ll have to sort through during this process, I might as well just reorganize my whole collection at the same time and improve my workflow. I’ll have to re-export my JPEGs anyway. Luckily, I think that Picasa stores the face tags based on the file name so as long as I export with the same name, Picasa shouldn’t even know the difference. I guess this is one plus to the fact that Picasa doesn’t store this in the file. And since Picasa also writes these tags to a text file in the folder where the pictures are, I should be able to move the whole folder around and then have Picasa re-read the tags based on that file. I’ll probably have to rebuild its database entirely though. But after all of this, I’m still stuck with the face tags being tied to the JPEGs and Picasa.
I’m thinking that the best solution will be the say screw the face tags and screw Picasa. I’d do everything in Lightroom and just add names as keywords to the metadata on the original files, along with keywords for the event/location/subject/whatever. Then just preserve this when I export to JPEG. That should at least provide keywords that will be visible in any photo application and on any computer. I think. I won’t have face tags per se, but I really don’t care much if there are names attached to the specific faces in the photo as long as there are names attached to the photo itself. I know who the people in my pictures are, I just need to be able to search easily. And as far as exporting to Picasaweb or Facebook, I’ve seen plugins for Lightroom to handle this so I could pretty safely rely on that as well.
Since this method would be storing everything with the original file (stored on my server), it will also allow me to make changes and edits to any photo from my netbook, MacBook, or desktop without worry. If I’m away for a few days and dump my photos to my netbook and process them, I can just drop the folder onto my server when I get home and then add it to my Lightroom library on my MacBook. Nice and easy.
Though after that, I’m still left figuring out a folder hierarchy for where the photos are actually stored. What I have now isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. There’s organization and I know where everything is, but it could be better. I know a lot of photographers store based mostly on date (e.g. /YYYY/MM/YYYYMMDD-filename), but since I also like to keep those open-ended collections based solely on a subject (like my cat) that don’t need to be stored by date, I have no idea what would be the best way to do this. I’d also like a clean way to deal with the fact that I’ll have multiple versions of the same photo (original, exported JPEG, differently processed versions, etc) that I would like to be tied to the same tags/keywords/etc. without looking like duplicates. I like to keep JPEGs of everything because it’s much more convenient for when I have to grab a quick photo for something. I guess I could just have a personal policy of only having the originals imported and visible to Lightroom, but then I’d probably want to dump all photos from all sources into the “raw” folder and then export everything, even photos that were originally JPEGS as well, into the main event folder when I’m done my post-processing. Maybe not a bad solution.
But anyway, I’m really curious as to whether or not other photo happy people have any of these same issues and what solutions they’ve come up with. Or even separate from these issues, how do other people effectively manage a huge collection of photos. If you’ve got anything, let me know!