By some standards, my 10,000+ digital photo collection is either very large or trivial. I suspect that professional photographers probably have hundreds of thousands of photos. Many of those will have different post-processing.
Organizing, backing up and archiving digital photos and images doesn’t have to be complicated to do well.
As you take the photos, place them into your organization. If you delay more than a week after returning from that once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Africa, then you probably will never perform any useful organization. Below are 8 steps to help you organize your photos efficiently.
Step 1: Pull the photos to a central storage location, perhaps a file server in your home. This can be a temporary place. We’ll get into folder structures later.
Step 2: Quickly go through all the photos and delete the bad photos. Those that are fuzzy or have poor composition or you just don’t like. The more you delete here, the better.
Step 3: Rename the photos using some file name system that you can stick with. The camera created filename is probably worthless and doesn’t convey any useful information. However, I do like the filename to support listing the order that photos for an event were taken. I also like to label any people that are in the photos in to the filename. While I’m here, I’ll add any EXIF metadata to photos that I won’t mind being released publicly. That means GPS coordinates for non-local photos. To me, non-local is more than 50 miles from my home. I like to place as much metadata into the EXIF fields as possible.
Step 4: Convert photos to a non-proprietary format using the highest quality that you can stand. My cheap camera creates only JPG files, so I’m already fairly portable. You may want to change this step with step 3 if EXIF metadata doesn’t get converted with the proprietary-to-non-proprietary conversion. Basically, I never delete the source file after I’ve decided to keep a photo. That source is used to build different sized images, including thumbnails, but having the metadata progress to the different sized files is a feature that I like.
Step 5: Perform any post-processing like red-eye cleanup or color correction or other effects. You are still working in temporary directories.
Step 6: Build a directory structure that helps to organize your entire photo collection. I like
You would probably use a different name for the files, but even a few with identical subjects would be unique by the sequence numbering.
This hierarchy will limit the number of files and subdirectories to manageable numbers. There are 12 months in a year, so at most, there will be only 12 subfolders under a year. For me, there was no need to have the day of the month as a directory. I simply do not take that many photos unless I’m on vacation. When that happens, the day-of-the-month becomes part of the location directory name.
Step 7: Move the image files into the directory structure based on the event/location.
Step 8: Move the directory structure into your photo archive where ever that is.
These days doing data backups should be second nature. However you do it, the key things to good backups are:
Automatic means just that. Backups need to happen regardless of you manually doing something. You are protecting your data from human, software and hardware failures. With good backups, a human, software or hardware error doesn’t completely wipe out your data.
Local means that the first backup is easy and fast to restore. It can be in the same machine or in another machine on the network. The key thing is for the local backup to be to different media that is maintained. The easiest way is to connect a second drive or a NAS device to your PC or network for backup purposes.
Remote means that houses catch fire and tornadoes hit buildings, so you want precious once-in-a-lifetime memories to be stored remotely. This can be handled by manual methods like connecting a USB disk drive monthly and copying all your backup data to it, then taking that drive to work, relatives’ home or your lawyer (incriminating photos). If a storage device leaves your home then it should be encrypted, period.
If you have lots of image files, you may outgrow what can be stored on a disk drive. If that is the case, you’ll probably look to optical media like DVD or Blu-Ray discs. Optical media is notorious for short lifespans that are measured in 3-7 years. Over time, optical media looses bits of data, so to combat that bit-rot, parity files need to be created. I use 10% par2 files for my optical backups. This means that if up to 10% of the bits cannot be read, that the parity files will reconstruct the original file(s) without losing any data. I’ve had some DVDs from ten years ago begin failing and I was happy to have parity files to help the recovery process. Read more about recovery .
Here’s a shell script to create parity files. For photo data, using a smaller block size makes sense.
for filename in “$@”; do
#Create a 10% recovery data with blocksize of 40KB
nice par2 create -s40960 -r10 “$filename”
Media Migration will be necessary every 5-10 years to be certain you can still access the images on whatever system(s) you have all those years later. This is critical for optical media which will fail, but even disk drive connections change over the years and you may not have a way to connect a 10 yr old HDD to your current system. Hard disk drive connections have changed over the years from RLL, MFM, IDE, and now to SATA.
Data migration of media has been happening since computers existed. This is nothing new. In the mid-1990s the place where I worked migrated from 1/4" to DAT tape drives. These days, I suspect many companies are migrating to LTO-5 tapes from earlier generations. For a home user, tape is probably too much hassle.
- Take lots of photos
- Organize them
- Back them up
- If you outgrow normal disk-based backups, optical media backups with parity are suggested
- Be prepared to migrate your data to newer storage every 5-10 years
Did I miss anything important? Use the comments.
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