managing photos and videos

This holiday, I finally spent time digging into how I manage photos and videos. With 2 young kids and some remote family and friends, this requires a good bit of thinking and planning. I know I’m not the only one, so I figured documenting where I landed might be useful to others.

I started with Dave Liggat’s Robust Photo Workflow, and found much of it resonates with my needs. Here’s where I landed:

  1. I take photos with a DSLR and two phones. My wife takes photos with her phone. We both take videos with our phones. We use Dropbox/Carousel auto-upload, which works just fine on both iOS and Android. For the DSLR, I manually load photos over USB.
  2. All photos and videos are now available on my desktop Mac (via USB or Dropbox). When I’m ready to review/edit photos, I drag and drop the batch into an all-photos/ directory I keep within my Dropbox.
  3. Hazel automatically categorizes photos and videos into subdirectories of the form 2015/01/. It’s really kind of awesome.
  4. all-photos and all-videos are thus simple date-classified folders of all of my photos and videos. They’re backed up locally using Time Machine. They’re backed up to the network using Dropbox. I can imagine eventually snapshotting this to Amazon S3/Glacier, but right now that doesn’t feel too urgent.
  5. I use Lightroom5 as an editor only, so if I blow away my Lightroom proprietary catalog info, it’s not that big a deal. To do this, I tell Lightroom to look at photos in all-photos without moving/copying them. After I’ve added a bunch of photos to the all-photos directory by drag-and-drop, I tell Lightroom to synchronize its catalog with the source folder, which takes a few seconds and gives me a screen with my latest imported photos and videos. I can then edit photos, reject them if they’re bad, and write back JPG/XMP data to each photo’s originating directory using Lightroom export. Dropbox backs those up automatically. To remove bad photos (blurry, etc.), I flag them as “rejected” in Lightroom using the X key, and when I’m done I command-delete, which gives me the option of removing the files from disk, too. I do this only for clear rejects, and it makes my mild OCD happy since I know I am not keeping totally useless files around, and the overhead of deleting photos is low. I could also delete photos easily using the Dropbox UI, which is pretty good, and then re-synchronize in Lightroom.
  6. I can then use Carousel (or Dropbox) on any mobile device to browse through all of my photos. It’s surprisingly good at dealing with large photo libraries (I have 20K) and large photos (I have a bunch of 13MP photos). As in, really, really good, even on a puny phone. Better than anything else I’ve seen.
  7. I’ve been using Flickr for years for private photo sharing, and Lightroom is really good at exporting to Flickr. That said, at this point I’m thinking of moving to Dropbox/Carousel based sharing. I can easily bundle photos & videos into albums on Dropbox, whereas videos are still limited on Flickr. Carousel conversations around a few photos are great with family. The only bummer is that Carousel and Dropbox have some mutually exclusive features: albums on Dropbox, conversations on Carousel. I suspect Dropbox will fix that in the next year.
  8. What I’d love to see:
    • unified photo features in Dropbox and Carousel
    • export Dropbox albums as directories of symlinks in my Dropbox folder, and export Carousel conversations in some other file-based way, too.
    • Lightroom export compatibility with Dropbox/Carousel albums.

I’m super happy with this new process: one funnel, easy, low overhead, and a very solid long-term photo storage solution. I’m only relying on RAW/JPG files and directories of said files to be readable for the long term, and that seems pretty safe. Lightroom is awesome, but I could replace it with a different tool if I needed to.

One more thing: if you’re going to use Dropbox to store all of your photos, make sure you pick a strong password and set up 2-factor authentication.