Monday, January 18, 2021

Managing photos

Like many people, I have many photos which I wish to keep and have access to on my computer and other devices. This is a short account of my approach to this complex area.

I have been interested in still photography since I was a teenager. I bought a Leica 1 camera then, and I have had a camera with me ever since. I moved to a digital camera as soon these became available for consumers. I have upgraded  at intervals.

I became interested in videography in 1995, upgrading at intervals. I now use professional video editing software (EDIUS) to edit then make DVDs and Blu-ray discs from the clips I take. I plan a separate Blog about this.Here, I focus on digital still photos.

My photos came from the following sources:

    Analogue photos held in photo albums
    Analogue 35 mm slides
    Loose analogue photographs
    Digital photos taken with my digital camera
    Digital photos taken with my smart phone
    Digital photos from WhatsApp postings
    Digital photo sent me in emails and by other means

 I have used computers since 1986 and digital photos since 1988. There were many issues I had to consider then: how to choose and use a digital format and databases that were easily accessible to me and that others might have access to. I wanted to have them in a form which could be easily viewed and shared, with the location and date taken as part of each record. I also wanted to name people shown in the photos and provide, in captions, some information about each picture, including events and activities when they were taken.

Digitizing analogue photos was a major decision. It took me a very long time to do this using a semiprofessional scanner both for the black-and-white and colour prints and many 35 mm colour slides. 

Storing the digital images on a computer. From the start, I decided to store each photo in a directory named with the day on which it was taken. These directories are held in directories by month and above that by year and by decade. Because the storage initially built within a Microsoft website on my computer, and because I kept the structure even after I no longer used a web for my new photos, it kept its original structure. In this web, I also kept a variety of other graphics in their own directory structure.
The main reason why these decisions were made was because I wanted the structure to be expandable and easily maintained.
Digitized older analogue photos were added to the directory structure according to the best guess I could make of the date on which they were taken.

For example, current photos are in the directory structure:


Deciding a digital storage format. I chose the JPG file structure for each photo. Nearly all my photos are JPGs. My views on storing all the photos have changed as software evolved. Initially, I set up an HTML web-based digital photo archive (as shown in the directory structure above). I learnt to write in HTML and used commercial software to edit digital photos, where they would be improved. The 'internal' web has not publicly posted. I added photos and edited the 'internal web' for several years but stopped doing this when Adobe introduced Elements. I added all the photos to this database and I still use it as the only database for photos, running in my computer.  I now have over 60,000 photos in over 4,000 folders, using 150 GB of storage.

Storing photos in the cloud. I knew that cloud storage was 'the way forward' and I used online commercial sites to keep copies of my photos. Unfortunately, many of the initial resources to do this closed down. These photos were unceremoniously deleted from the cloud. It showed the value of keeping a master database under my control and home and I still do this.

Google Photos appeared to be the best option for me after the older cloud storage resources closed or became difficult to use. I have bought 200 GB space to contain all my photos and other graphic files, but not videos, DVDs and Blu-ray videos, which are only stored locally. 

Location data. Some modern digital cameras and most smart phones can provide GPS coordinates for each photo. Software will take GPS coordinates from a smart phone and add it automatically to photos taken with some digital cameras that do not have GPS sensors. However, I have found that smartphone GPS data are not very accurate and they are sometimes grossly inaccurate.
For this reason, I now take an accurate GPS device, a multi-band Garmin GPSMAP 66sr, with my digital camera. This provides GPX files which I can use to provide accurate GPS coordinates for each photo. I use RoboGEO to do this. This approach adds an extra layer of complexity and time to transferring photos to my computer and hence to Google photos, but I try to do it each time I bring my camera with its photos and the GPS device back to the computer.

Adding captions to photos. This is a manual process helped by facial recognition which is now available in both Elements and in Google photos. It does require careful checking and updating to make facial recognition accurate.

Synchronizing photos on my computer in Elements and at Google Photos. This again is a manual process, involving uploading and downloading and transferring captions by cut and paste.

Sharing photos with family members and other people. I use Google Photos to do this and it works well. I do not include photos in emails or send them to recipients. Recipients are sent a link and they can look at them online. Not uploading photos to each email recipients was important when upload speeds were slow.

Deleting photos. I make a point of deleting photos that are duplicates or unsatisfactory but I do not classify photographs or assess their relative importance. I store them all.

Backing up photos. I ensure that all new files added to my computer are backed up at least once a day to four separate hard drives, used in turn, on my computer, and to a local NAS. My main system drive is cloned to a backup drive and stored elsewhere, once a month.

Conclusions. Everyone who takes photos has had to assess how to deal with the many photos we are now taking. I suspect that some are swamped, some simply delete them and others let them accumulate on SD cards. If they are to be of any use to others, clearly a procedure, such as I have followed, will be necessary.

I hope that in future, photography will become less technical and easier, with automatic transfers of photos to an owner's computer and to cloud resources. On day, photos will analyze the content of photos so that components, in addition to people, are defined and stored with each photo. When plants and wild animals are photographed, they might automatically become part of global resources that monitor them. I do this manually using iSpot, but again, it is another  technical step that takes time and skill.

I should be interested to learn how other people handle this changing and complex area of the modern digital world we live in. It is not a trivial task!

We are only at the beginning of processes to record and share digital graphical representation of the world around us for personal use and to contribute to wider resources.

Written on Monday 18/01/2010 in Heol Senni