How do I get my photos under control?
August 12, 2018 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I have 33,000 photos on my laptop. That is too many photos. I need to go through and delete vast amounts of them. Any suggestions about how to do it?

I'm the person who takes photos at all our family things, my Girl Scout things, my kids' things. And I take a lot, and then am bad about going through and deleting the twenty bad photos so the one good photo is left.

I have a MacBook and am using Photos. I tried OmniSweeper but it still felt like a firehose of photos. I don't want to use anything automatic, because I don't want prized photos to get deleted along with all the crap ones.

I'm wondering about a system for doing it. How do I break this overwhelming job into manageable chunks?
posted by The corpse in the library to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Star ratings. Photos doesn’t have them built-in, but you can fake it with custom keywords; instructions here. Just scroll through them and go with your first instinct on rating; don’t overthink it. Use keyboard shortcuts. That way you can blast through rating a lot of photos in short amounts of time. Then you can delete everything e.g. 2 stars and below, keeping only the better images. Also, make a keyword for “rejected” and assign that to anything out of focus, where the flash didn’t go off, where someone’s eyes are closed or they’re making a weird face, etc. Then just delete all of those outright.

(Sorting and culling is something that professional photographers have to do a lot of. I’m married to one, and star ratings is how he does it.)
posted by snowmentality at 12:04 PM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Excellent advice. I'll only add that there are applications out there that can detect duplicate photos even if the dimensions differ, etc. You may want to find one for the Mac and use it as well.
posted by WCityMike at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2018

I use external hard drives, and periodically back up all the new pictures to them. If I didn't delete a photo when I reviewed on upload to the computer, I don't usually delete it later. Only the most recent year's pictures live on my computer. All the rest are on the external drives, sorted by month and date. So far, a 500GB drive is plenty big enough, but storage costs continue to drop, so I can see buying a pair of 1 TB drives.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:29 PM on August 12, 2018

Any suggestions on a specific Mac app that does what WCityMike describes?
posted by Triumphant Muzak at 12:36 PM on August 12, 2018

A 1TB drive - cost from about $50 these days - has sufficient capacity to store about 100,000 10Mb pictures - over 3 times the number sitting on your laptop. If you were to spend just 5 seconds thinking about each of those photos and deciding what to do with them - then it would take you 45 hours - or one working week to complete the pruning. So the argument about freeing up storage space by your work does not really hold water - just buy a larger HD and copy everything onto it.

- Going through your photos to highlight just the fabulous ones that you might want to print out and frame - on the other hand - is a more rapid job - because you only need to scan through for pictures you remember and for ones that look promising when viewed as a thumbnail. That is how I would consider spending my time in your position.
posted by rongorongo at 1:00 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I believe I may have used this one when I had a Mac.
posted by WCityMike at 1:00 PM on August 12, 2018

Culling photos is a mental game. You have to be emotionally ready to let go of photos forever, and sometimes that's hard to do! My experience is with wildlife photography on safaris in East Africa. "What if this blurry photo of (barely recognizable leopard ears sticking out of the bushes is the only proof/reminder I'll ever have of seeing a leopard in the wild?"

Here are some mental tricks that helped me.
  1. If you took 20 photos of the same thing, and can't decide which is the best, I usually keep the last one. My philosophy being, if I wasn't satisfied with that last photo, I probably would have kept taking more!
  2. If you are sharing this album with family & friends on social media, a well-curated (small) album of highlights will get a lot more likes than a massive, 200-photo album of every single thing you did on your vacation. I mean, making my family click through 200 photos sounds like a mean thing to do!
  3. How does the photo make you feel? If the answer is nothing then I'd say delete it. But if it stirs emotion then it's a keeper. Maybe you're proud of your kid getting their diploma at a graduation ceremony, or you're sad seeing photos of relatives who have passed away, or cracking up because your granny's false teeth flew out of her mouth while blowing out birthday candles.
  4. Who is your audience? If it's a Girl Scout troupe activity then maybe you have a rule of one good photo per member, so they are all represented and all parents get to see their kid. Everything else is fair game to delete. We did this to cull our wedding photos and it was so easy, took less than an hour! And the best thing is no guilt.
  5. Speaking of rules, you can make up so many rules! One photo per kid, only the top 3 action photos for a sports match, one photo per family unit in a reunion, one photo per dance at a recital, etc.
  6. Your memory of the event is just as good as (or better than) a bad photo. I've deleted all photos of the breaching humpback whale we saw in Alaska because they were all crap. We have no proof. But it still happened and we still tell that story and people still gasp when they hear it.

posted by tinydancer at 1:18 PM on August 12, 2018 [9 favorites]

I used FSLint on Linux (Mac analogs: duff, fdupes) to take care of straight-up duplicates. You'd probably want to run something like that first before you start trying to cull modified/resized versions, which is going to involve more work for the computer and takes longer per image.
posted by rhizome at 1:33 PM on August 12, 2018

When I culled my photos I spread it out over a couple of months so it didn't seem so overwhelming. IIRC, I think I did 1 year per week and I had about 10 years worth, so it took close to 3 months. Mine were at least organized into folders by year and event, so it wasn't that bad. I could open up Little League - 2006, see 120 pictures, and quickly delete 110 of them because how many photos of my kid standing in the infield do I really need?
posted by COD at 1:55 PM on August 12, 2018

Hold down the CNTRL key and select all the ones you want to save. Move to another folder. Delete the rest. Do this in batches of two hundred photos or so. Rather than be picky, save everything you are remotely interested in, and then do another pass after some times passes, and then another. It still takes time, but this is how I do it.

With batches of photos of the same subject, I find that 9 times out of 10 the first or last photo is the best.
posted by xammerboy at 4:16 PM on August 12, 2018

Be careful if using a program that searches the entire drive for duplicates.

Both the Photos and Mail apps save images (and other attachments, for Mail) within their own storage space, which is a database that saves the files in a hierarchy of folders that should not be changed by mucking about with them directly, otherwise the database for those apps gets out of sync with what’s actually stored.

For example, it would be fine to detect that an image you have stored in a folder outside of Photos is a duplicate of one within a subfolder of the Photos Library, but in that case if you want to delete the copy stored/managed by Photos it would be best to then find and delete it from within the app.
posted by D.C. at 4:53 PM on August 12, 2018

I have a rule: I don't delete any photos. I have 850gb of photos in a 2tb external drive, and backed up in another external drive with all my other stuff. No big deal, storage is cheap, they are indexed by date and keywords for retrieval.

If you want to create one or more albums with selected photos, fine, do that but I would not delete the ones that don't make the cut.

For the future, use a star rating with keywords for the new photos and you will be well placed to retrieve photos with minimal difficulty, or cull if that is your preference.
posted by GeeEmm at 5:17 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I do this looking at one month at a time with a bunch of smart folders.

Created a smart folder, say for every photo from 1 June 2016 - 30 June 2016. Look at all those photos and favourite the ones you like best.

Duplicate that smart folder, add the criteria that the photo IS a favourite. Now you can see the ones you think are best. If there are still too many, un-fav them then and there.

Duplicate that smart folder one more time and add criteria that the photos ARE NOT favourites. Once you've reviewed that you can choose to export them or delete or whatever.

As you move through the months you can make a smart folder that just shows the favourites from whatever year. It helps chip away at it.
posted by slightlybewildered at 5:25 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Use a mouse. Compared with the track pad it will make this much easier. If you don't have a mouse you can use, I think it would even be worth getting one.
posted by dbx at 7:28 PM on August 12, 2018

As others have alluded to, while there might be certain apps to find duplicates, in terms of separating the wheat from the chaff, you're going to have to sift through them all by yourself.

tiny dancer has got some suggestions. Mine are:

-Be absolutely ruthless with any picture that's technically flawed. Blurred, out of focus, accidental shots get deleted right away.

-I think finding the best pictures and marking them (with Apple Photos, there are no star rankings, but you can favorite photos) is a higher priority than deleting bad or mediocre pics. If I want to show someone some recent pics from vacation, it's so much better to go to your Favorites folder and show them the best ones instead of swiping through dozens of mediocre pictures in your main photo roll. As others have said, storage is cheap. Nowadays, deleting bad photos is more about making it easier to find the good photos than saving disk space per se.

-One of the advantages of using favorites and other metadata like facial recognition and location is that you can create smart albums really fast. Want to see all the good pics of your two kids together, just create a smart album with (favorited + Kid1 + Kid2). Or create a smart album of all the best pics taken at grandma's house.

-Let's say you've got a string of selfies that were like 20 exposures fired off right in a row and you've already found the best one and marked it as a favorite. What to do with the other 19? You could delete them. I also found when I uploaded my entire library to Google Photos that it was able to generate an animated gif with those 20 pics, which is sort of cute.

-I've got a much higher bar for pics that don't include friends or family. So you took a pic of a tree at the local park. Who cares? Delete it unless it has so much artistic value that it would get a whole bunch of likes on Flickr or Instagram. But random pics of your kids? Keep them. Except for when they get your phone and take 146 selfies of their left eye and the ceiling. You can delete those.
posted by alidarbac at 11:02 PM on August 12, 2018

"A 1TB drive - cost from about $50 these days - has sufficient capacity to store about 100,000 10Mb pictures - over 3 times the number sitting on your laptop. If you were to spend just 5 seconds thinking about each of those photos and deciding what to do with them - then it would take you 45 hours - or one working week to complete the pruning. So the argument about freeing up storage space by your work does not really hold water - just buy a larger HD and copy everything onto it."

Agreed. BUT, make sure that one hard drive is not your only copy of those pictures. It *will* die eventually. (Ditto for the drive in your laptop.)

One scheme that might work (pretty close to what I do): buy the $50 hard drive, copy everything to it, put it away somehow. (Ideally, give it to friends or family who lives somewhere else so you're covered in case of something like a fire.)

Buy a second drive and copy everything to that too. But keep it around and copy new photos to it once a week.

After a year, retire the second drive, buy a third one, copy everything to the third one, put the second one away someplace safe, and use the third one for your regular backups.

Repeat annually.

That way at most one week's worth of photos is at risk from a single drive failure. You have at least two copies of everything else.
posted by bfields at 9:22 AM on August 13, 2018

The Three-Phase-Method in '1 Hour 1000 Pics' broke my emotional resistance to deleting photos. At its essence, picking keepers is easier than deciding which ones to delete.

The workflow is Lightroom. The philosophy is universal. The ebook is free.
posted by Homer42 at 7:54 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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