A while ago when I got my camera (well, the “real” camera) and the first week of euphoria and countless of useless pictures passed, I realized that I need some sort of archiving mechanism. So I did some research and after much reading I arrived at the solution that I used ever since. It’s a combination of what I read on various sites and blogs (unfortunately I don’t have their addresses any more) and some of my own ideas.
I usually work either on my computer at home or on my laptop when I am away. I could either keep the images on the laptop/desktop and sync them when I am at home or just work on a portable hard drive. The portable disk made more sense so I got myself a 320GB Seagate FreeAgent Go USB drive, storage is quite cheap these days:
The drive is nice, physically small, fast and big enough for what I need. I just connect it to whatever computer I happen to be using, the desktop at home or the laptop while I am on the go.
To manage the photo collection I use Adobe Lightroom, which is in my opinion the best tool for the job. Lightroom organizes photos in “catalogs” and I personally have 4 of them:
- Incubator: this is where I import the pictures from the camera. Once the pictures are imported, I go through them and delete the trash right away. Then, the most important step, I edit the pictures’ Metadata which is made very easy by Lightroom. On import I already insert common copyright info (my name, website, etc) but now I also update the image location, the city and country. Based on this info and the image timestamp, Adobe makes managing very large collections quite easy.
After I do that, I work on the images and I edit them in Lightroom as needed (brightness, contrast, exposure, noise reduction, sharpening, color correction, etc). Depending on what I want to do, I might send them to an external editor for further processing: Photomatix for HDR or maybe Adobe Photoshop for more complex editing. Only after the processing is done I decide what to do with the image. I use 2 color labels for that:
- Green: images which I consider to be “keepers”, this is where I choose the pictures I might publish on Deviantart or other similar websites.
- Blue: personal images. They are things like portraits, family pictures, and so on.
- Selected: This is where the images labeled as “Green” go.
- Personals: This is where the images labeled as “Blue” go.
- All Raw: This is where I copy every image from the Incubator catalog. It includes images of both blue and green labels as well as the raw images. This is a sort of backup catalog and I don’t usually look here often unless I need the raw version of a image to recreate something. This is also the biggest catalog since it contains all the pictures I made so far.
Each catalog has its own folder on the USB drive and images are organized based on the date: Year – Month – Day. That is done automatically by Lightroom when the images are imported from the camera. The powerful filtering makes it quite easy to sort through thousand of image:
I almost always shoot in RAW and not in JPEG. Yes, the resulting image can be up to 20MB, much bigger than a JPEG and you need to spend some time to post process it in Lightroom but you are much more flexible and the end result is far superior. I only export JPEG copies of the images I want to upload on the web. So far I don’t have problems with the space, the biggest catalogs are the AllRaw and Selected, with 42GB and 17GB.
Once the images in the Incubator are copied to the other 3 catalogs and I make sure they are correctly imported there, I empty the Incubator. This whole process works ok for me. The portable hard drive makes it easy to switch between laptop and desktop, where I have the same tools installed.
Of course, backup is important too. The catalogs themselves (which are actually the Lightroom databases) are backed up on my home NAS server, as well as the physical images. I may switch soon to backup to the cloud backup everything on the Jungledisk account. The whole portable drive is fully encrypted with Truecrypt so even if I somehow loose it, nobody can really rummage through my personal collection.
That’s about it. I don’t know if this is the best solution and I am sure it does not work for everybody or it might be overkill for some but it suits my purposes ;-)