I want to organize our digital photos once and for all
August 9, 2014 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Our family photos are a mess. We have 4ish years of mostly unedited, unsorted photos in iPhoto. I'd like to get a handle on what's there, sort and/or edit, possibly print some books (our son was born in 2011) and create a system that helps us avoid this disaster going forward. More details inside.

Thanks for getting this far. Some other, possibly relevant facts: We take most of our photos via cell phone (one iPhone, one Android). We're terrible about backing everything up. Friends and family often share photos with us via Dropbox or SmugMug, which we'd like to incorporate into our collection.

Here are two specific questions:

What's the best way for us to use iPhoto? As editing, storage, both? Is there something else that would work better, particularly for our phones (ie backup to the cloud)? And if we want to make either prints or books eventually?

What's the first step to getting out of this hole? Has anyone used a photo organizing service or a TaskRabbit? At this point I am not averse to throwing money at the problem, with reason.

And any other advice is so incredibly welcome. Thanks in advance.
posted by janet lynn to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Your phones should be able to back up your photos automatically. An iphone would do it to icloud and the android would do it to google+. If you install google+ on your iphone you may be able to back up to google+ as well. Flickr will also automatically back up all your photos if you do not want to be wedded too closely to either apple or google. If you are taking photos with cell phones then you don't need to worry about raw files so something like Flickr should suit you just fine. Flickr gives 1TB of storage which is practically unlimited if you are not dealing with raw files.

I don't have a mac so I use Lightroom for my photo management. When it imports photos it does two things:
1) it copies them into new folders organized by the date the photo was taken
2) it enters the photo details into its database.
By copying to standard folders I can easily find them without using lightroom and can quickly copy them, move them to other folders or view them. This is handy if we want to print photos because we can just make a folder on our desktop and then copy what we want to print to that folder. The database lets you search the photos by things such as the device used to take the photo. Also, any editing you do is kept track of in the database. From Lightroom you can also do things like export photos to Flickr. Lightroom will also detect duplicates and skip over importing them so if files are duplicated in multiple folders it will get rid of this duplication.

What I have done recently is put the root folder that Lightroom copies the photos to inside my Google Drive folder. This way they get synced automatically to my Drive account. You could do something similar for Dropbox or some other service if that is more your thing.

You haven't mentioned backing up which I hope means you have that already sorted but if not, make sure to have a couple of backups of your photos. I like using portable hard drives for this because they are fairly cheap and easy to store offsite. If your computer equipment gets stolen or there is a fire, you don't want to lose all your photos as well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:40 AM on August 9, 2014

I'm in a similar kind of hole, but in your situation my first step would be to make at least one backup of as much of it as you can. Buy an external hard drive, plug it in, and copy everything over (I would use the file system for this - just copy whole folders - rather than iPhoto, but others may have different ideas), not worrying about labeling or sorting or duplication. Then store that external hard drive somewhere else - your parents' house, your office, something. This is a step you could take this weekend, it will be an immediate improvement over the existing situation, and it won't take a lot of organization or thinking.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:03 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I found an app on my phone that uploads the camera roll to Dropbox whenever it is in wifi range. What I have been doing it going in periodically and moving them into folders by month. While I am in there, I also pick a few good shots from each 'month' folder and copy them into an Album folder where I number them as they come in. At the end of the year, I plan to upload the Album folder to one of those photo book sites and press print. I am hoping that having them all in numbered order will make that fast and easy, but I have not tried it yet as this will be my first album...
posted by JoannaC at 2:45 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been organizing & backing up my family's digital photos for years. I can't answer the iPhoto question, but I'll quickly try to describe my method, in case it's helpful.

I only use folders, no photo applications. Each folder is named something like "2014-08" - one for each month. They only contain JPEGs. (I segregate movies into a different folder structure.) My thinking is, it's likely that folders and JPEGs will still be readable by way-in-the-future computers, whereas I don't count on there still being Picasa, iPhoto, Flickr, etc.

My home laptop is where I mix/integrate all photos from my camera and phone, from my wife's iPhone, etc. I do this every few months. I just look at the dates of the photos and select and drag them into the corresponding folders. Ideally, this is also when I flip (rotate) the sideways pictures and delete the bad ones. (I use Windows' built-in photo viewer for this, which works well.) But often I just copy the photos and put off the flipping for another day.

I have an external hard drive that I keep at my office, and every 3 or 5 months, I bring it home and copy the latest months' worth of folders onto it.

As you can see, I do this stuff very intermittently, and it can get confusing as to which folders I've completed and which are still in progress, etc.. The one thing I've done to stay organized, which I recommend, is to start a Google Document (or something equivalent) where you write down where you left off, each time you have spent some time organizing. For me, it may be months since I last worked on the photos, and I always go to the Google Doc first, to read my notes about which folders I've processed, what's on my backup hard drive at work, etc. You do not want to rely on your memory for this kind of stuff!

Your photo organizing project will be an ongoing part of your life, so may as well get some kind of simple system in place and keep on top of it.

Good luck!
posted by see_change at 6:02 AM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Flickr will also automatically back up all your photos if you do not want to be wedded too closely to either apple or google.

I have an iPhone and Flickr does not do this automatically for me. I have open the app for the backup to start.
posted by soelo at 8:38 AM on August 11, 2014

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