Managing my exponentially growing photo library

One of the not too fun aspects of photography is managing all your photographs — even though digital is probably easier than film. But like many people, I shoot more with digital and organizing and backing up rapidly growing libraries of digital media is a chore. I use Apple’s Aperture 3 program to both manage my library and do about 95% of my edits, which helps tremendously. Having good software is key but equally important is having a good workflow.

This weekend is the start of some much-needed library cleanup. I’ve added a 3 Terabyte drive to the system and now have some breathing room to restructure my one massive library. Right now, I have about 40,000 photos in my 600GB Aperture Library. I’ve decided to break the library up into multiple sections to make it easier to manage and not have all my eggs in one library. I believe I have a good photo backup strategy, but this weekend exercise is more about library management. Actually, I also have 2 interim libraries from Japan and my recent East Coast trip that I have yet to add into the main library. These interim libraries by themselves contain about 10,000 photos and take up 220GB.

I first considered splitting my library by category or topic but decided to use time instead. I figured breaking up the library by year or groups of years was more straight forward. In order to do this, I first needed to figure out how many photos I took and when. Back in 2002, I moved to digital and used iPhoto to manage my photographs. In the middle of 2006, I moved from iPhoto to Aperture. This is how my photos broke down.

2002 – 2006 iPhoto Library 17,000 photos
2006 – 2010

Aperture Library 19,000 photos

Aperture Library 12,000 photos

Aperture Library 19,000 photos

You can tell that the number of photos I take is increasing exponentially. It’s worse than it looks space wise since the earlier photographs were taken in JPEG with lower megapixel cameras. Of course, over the years, I have upgraded to higher resolution cameras and when I switched from JPEG to RAW, my library really started to explode.

Most of the photos in my iPhoto Library were taken with a 2.1MP Canon point and shoot in JPEG. The 17,000 photos only uses 60GB. Over the years, I’ve moved from 2MP to 5MP to 8MP to 12MP to 16MP and to 18MP. My Canon 7D is still my highest resolution camera at 18MP. My recent Olympus gear has reduced the resolution somewhat to a more manageable 12MP and 16MP. Luckily I don’t have a 36MP Nikon D800. Yikes!

I’ve decided to split the library into those 4 groups. I suspect that I will need to create a new library every year. The photos from 2011 and 2012 can be edited down somewhat and I will do that once I break up the library. But I’ve already thrown away a lot of the non-keepers. I’ve lost track of total frames shot between all my cameras but I’m guessing it is upwards of 150,000, so I’ve already tossed at least 55% of the frames that I’ve shot. We’ll see how 2013 shapes up. I suspect it might be less than 2012 but that would be reversing a multi-year trend.

9 thoughts on “Managing my exponentially growing photo library

  1. I just bought a 3 TB drive. I haven’t taken it out of the box yet. I hate backing up. It makes watching paint dry seem exciting. I don’t have as many photos as you do, mainly because I lost all my photos from before 2003 to “I Love You” and a lot more after that to a failed hard drive. I back up between my two computers as an interim protection, but I need to do a full backup. It’s been too long … and I’m procrastinating. You have reminded me I need to stop putting it off and just do it before another catastrophe makes me regret waiting.

    I’m filing primarily by date — first by year, but also by season, location and/or type of event (vacations, holidays, special events, autumn, snow, friends, dog, more dogs, even more dogs), but lately, I’ve been defaulting to creative categories like Snow-011213 or Autumn2012/Uxbridge101012/Rt98 … and I can’t find anything. But at least it’s there somewhere. It’s not lost. It’s just not found.

    1. I can’t claim to be great about all backups except for my photographs. They are my most important digital possessions. Another downside of digital is I think most people don’t have adequate photo backups. It is so important because hard drive do crash.

  2. Tough job, I know. I am just finishing the final editing out for 2012. You have to be ruthless with yourself. I know some people who are not.

    And yeah I know one guy who ran out and bought the D800 because his friend got one. Rude awakening when he found out his storage was crap and that his computer can barely edit one of the files. Yikes is right!

  3. Reblogged this on Serendipity and commented:
    Managing the photo libraries is a major problem for every photorapher. This is essentially the same solution I use, but it isn’t the only solution, just the one the most appeals to me.

  4. I’ve been shooting digitally for a bit over 6 years. I got heavily into photography in 1970 so I’ve faced the storage issue a big portion of my life. About 4 years ago I went to online storage completely, using SmugMug professional services. I soot in RAW format with high resolution cameras such as my Nikon D800 with a 36.3 Mpixel sensor. Each photo can run 50 meg easily. With SmugMug there is no limit to the number of files stored and a 50 Meg limit on the file size. This database is backed up by them in three separate locations for security reasons.

    I find the cost of personal hard drived not only expensive but insecure as a burglar or natural disaster would destroy my files. For me, online storage is cheaper, faster & much more secure. – Bob

    1. Thanks for your visit and comment Bob. SmugMug is great. I use them for my main site to host all my blog photographs. I also use CrashPlan for an additional level of backup. I still like to have a local copy but a pure Cloud only based solution is interesting. It is probably the future.

      1. Time is money. After I process a RAW file I save it as a 20″x30″ jpg on Smugmug, more than big enough to print to any size. I don’t need to spend more time physically backing up multiple copies of the same files. The $59-60 it cost me is so much cheaper than hard drives & time.

  5. So far, cloud-only based solutions are incomplete, at best. Most of them cannot keep up with my shooting, much less make traction on the 4-5TB of pics already taken. For a few single shots, I can use dropbox and that works pretty well, but I will run out of room there soon.

    I just keep on buying more and more hard drives… eve 3tb seems to be so small.

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