Photo Management

July 7, 2009

Last year, I bought a ReadyNAS NV+ with 1.5 TB of storage to help manage our growing media collection.  But I quickly realized that more storage was only half of the solution.  The data is only a useful as it is accessible.  I needed a tool to manage our 50,000+ photo collection.

iPhoto worked (sort of) for a time, but even after we tried to split out our collections into yearly libraries using the iPhoto Library Manager, we would still have numerous problems, including:

  • disappearing photos
  • inefficient thumbnail storage
  • slow thumbnailing and importing
  • export mechanisms that left something to be desired (meaning Elly was still using Flickr Uploadr, even after iPhoto had Flickr integration)

So this past weekend, I decided to see what could be done.

First Things First: Organize

The biggest problem I had with iPhoto was that it hid all of your photos in a Mac OS X “package.”  The next biggest problem I had was that it would organize photos within that package by camera rolls (older versions) or by individual days.  So if you ever wanted to just see where your photos were on disk, you had to “Show Package Contents” and then browse to a specific day or camera roll.  This is madness!

It is easily solvable madness, thankfully.  This weekend, I wrote a simple ruby script which organizes photos by year and month (no days, intentionally).

This ruby script takes two directories:

  • a “to_organize_dir”
  • an “organized_dir”

It recursively descends into to_organize_dir, looking at EXIF data and moving any photo with a timestamp to the appropriate sub-directory under organized_dir.

This is the before/after shot:

Photo Management

In retrospect, I see that my strategy has two core concepts:

  • Keep the photos where I can see them.
  • Keep them organized by date taken.

This is what made sense 50 years ago when people stored pictures in photo albums organized by year, and it still makes sense today, even in the digital realm.

If you want to try the ruby script, you can download it here.

For the Ladies: User Interface

My wife is not a huge fan of browsing pictures in finder, which I understand.  She wanted a tool that would let her identify folders that she could send to Flickr Uploadr, but which didn’t require her to interact with actual folders and files.  Ideally, this tool would allow her to touch up photos before uploading as well.

In my search for this sort of application, I was open to any media manager that I saw recommended on a blog or support forum.  Among others, I tried:

I installed each of these, and ran them on a test set of our 50,000 photos.  I wanted to verify that there was no funny business with moving/copying photos, and that they were quick enough when viewing photos from a network-attached drive.

The $200 Microsoft Expression was great, but it stored its media database on my NAS instead of locally!  This completely defeats the purpose of a local thumbnail cache.  This may be configurable, but since Picasa worked correctly out of the box, I couldn’t justify spending the time to figure out how to configure Expression’s database location.

Shoebox seemed like it was going to be great, but since we had no use for categorizing our photos, it didn’t offer us much more than Finder.

Bridge was slow in indexing the photos and I killed it halfway through.

Picasa, was fast, easy to install, and didn’t do anything weird to my organized photos.  It maintained a thumbnail cache locally, and was able to listen for changes when new files were added to my NAS drive.  In addition, it has a “Send to Flickr Uploadr” extension which we got working pretty easily.  Did I mention that it is free?

Happily Ever After

To make this strategy work long term, I have come up with a few simple guidelines which Elly has agreed to follow:

  • Import photos from the flash card using the photo_organizer.rb script.  This keeps the photos organized by Year/Month.
  • Don’t use the “Import” function in Picasa.  Instead, use the “Add Folder/File” function to make it aware of additional photos.

That’s basically it.  Any photos we care about are now organized by date on a RAID array accessbile from any computer in our house.

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