Ok, it’s time that I did something about the electronic equivalent of a few hundred shoe boxes full of photographs. There are over 35,000 files in my photography folder, organized only by one or two word folder names.
I purchased my first digital camera during my freshman year of college (2001), an HP Photosmart C200. By today’s standards, it was worse than a cell phone camera, but at the time it seemed like a great improvement from paying for film, development, and prints. One glorious megapixel, flash, and a CompactFlash card that held a whopping 20 or so photos. In retrospect, it was an advantage of sorts to have a limited amount of storage space, it forced me to only take pictures that were worth keeping. My current 16GB SD card (an unthinkable size back in 2001) effectively allows me to take as many (often useless) photos as I desire.
Over the years, I upgraded to several other point-and-shoot cameras from Sony, Samsung, and Canon. (I’ll post a list of the cameras that I’ve owned along with some sample pictures at some point). Each camera gave much better resolution, at the expense of more and larger files. I recently purchased my first SLR (a Canon EOS Rebel T1i), which supports RAW shooting (along with JPEG), meaning I’ll have even more to deal with.
So how do I plan to organize all of this? I’ve recently started using Adobe’s Lightroom program. I tried an early beta of this a few years ago and wasn’t impressed, but the current version(2.3) is a lot better. Here’s my plan of attack:
- Back up the whole folder. (already done)
- Go through each subfolder and get rid of anything that doesn’t belong. (I’ve accumulated various photos from other people that have made their way into my folders, I’ll move those elsewhere, my aim is to have my Photography folder only contain pictures that I’ve taken or been involved with). This should eliminate a few thousand of the files.
- Import the whole folder into a new Lightroom catalog. This will be my temporary working catalog.
- Use the metadata sorter to arrange photos by year. Identify any photos with incorrect or missing metadata and either repair or remove the metadata.
- Create a new folder structure organized by year. For each group of photos, create a sub-folder with a descriptive name.
- Move the photos to the new folder and remove them from the temporary Lightroom catalog.
- Add the moved photos to a new, permanent Lightroom catalog. Add tags/captions as appropriate. (It’s unlikely that I’m going to actually tag all of my old photos, but I can do some global operations to organize things a little better)
- After moving all of the photos to new folders, create category-based shortcuts to allow easier navigation. (The actual folders will be by year and name, I can then make a “Vacations” folder with shortcuts to each of my vacations in the various annual folders)
Using Lightroom will significantly cut the amount of time I need to spend organizing photos that I take in the future, as well. My current workflow consists of copying the files, geotagging when possible (using GeoSetter – my obsessive geotagging of photos deserves its own post, to be written later) and then manually uploading them to my Flickr account. I then use Flickr’s tools to caption and tag the photos, and then use a discontinued program called NitroDesk Media Edition (no longer available) to transfer the tagged photos to my other photo hosting accounts (usually Smugmug since their galleries look much better than Flickr’s, and occasionally Facebook). This workflow is far from ideal, since I’m relying on Flickr for a lot of the metadata. Using Lightroom instead will allow me to easily geotag, caption, tag, and upload all from one place (plus allowing me to work with RAW files and do image enhancement). Thanks goes to Jeffrey Friedl for his excellent Lightroom plugins which save a ton of time (exporting to multiple photo sites with a few clicks, and letting me geotag directly in Lightroom).
I’m expecting this to take a few weeks (months?) to complete, a little bit at a time. On the plus side, I’m sure I’ll rediscover a bunch of old pictures that I’ve forgotten about. I’ll post any interesting ones that I come across.