Freelance consultant for digital heritage

Photo workflows, online backup, metadata and memories

Over the last few years the way I take and manage photos has changed. I used to take photos on a compact digital camera, and every time I came back from an event or holiday I would transfer them to iPhoto on my Mac. Those photos I liked best I would upload to my Flickr account. It was pretty simple.

Now, things are more complex. I have a digital SLR which I use to shoot in RAW, and an iPhone. I have a MacBook Pro and an iMac. Many of the photos I take on my iPhone are uploaded to services such as Instagram automatically. Auto upload is enabled on the iOS Google+ app. My photos are becoming fragmented, and I’m not sharing as many photos as I used to. Lightroom is on my MacBook and iPhoto is on my iMac.

Because the RAW photos must be developed (I use Lightroom) I upload less frequently. When I do edit in Lightroom, the photos tend to stay as RAW. It takes ages to export, and I always like to think that I’ll keep the RAW images in case I want to redevelop them at a later stage (I’ve encountered heavily edited JPEGs in the past I wish I hadn’t been so heavy with).

So I have RAW photos on my MacBook Pro. A neglected iPhoto library lives on my iMac. I experimented with Picasa 3.9 to extract myself from iPhoto because the metadata isn’t stored in the EXIF or IPTC headers of JPEGs by using an export routine.

My photos are everywhere, and I’ve let things get into a mess.

I have had a look at online photo backup services such as Snapjoy and Everpix, both of whom state that you can have all of your photos all in one place by aggregating from other sources (Instagram, etc). This they do, but you can’t add any extra metadata – titles, descriptions and tags. These humble fields represent memories and context. What is a photo if you can’t add notes to it? I’m lucky enough to have some family photos from the 19th century, and some of them have been written on the reverse in pencil. I know who is in many of them, where they were taken.

I have had a look at OpenPhoto, so that I could create my own personal version of Flickr. Tricky to set up, it too doesn’t store any metadata in the images themselves. Also, some folk suggest that it’s not a system for tens of thousands of photos (I have 25K+).

If I use an online system for organising and sharing my photos, I would like to be able move them to another system, user-added metadata intact. All my titles, descriptions, tags, and location data. Permanently. That metadata represents my memories. It’s the writing on the back of a photo.

What I keep coming back to is Flickr. Good old Flickr. I compare all photo sharing sites back to it, and none of them live up to it in terms of functionality and community. What I really need to do is get some auto uploading software that intelligently updates my iOS camera roll to Flickr, with privacy set to ‘private’. Periodically, on whichever computer I choose, I could use Flickr’s excellent ‘Organizr’ tool to put photos into Sets and Collections. There are tools which will download your photo stream and embed metadata into the images themselves. There must be a setup where I can use Flickr as the hub for everything? Could it work? This I intend to try out. 2013 will be a return to Flickr for me.

So, how will it work?

I have discovered an iOS app called CameraSync which can synchronise my camera roll to Flickr (as well as S3, FTP, Dropbox, etc). This can be configured to run automatically when I get home and the app recognises the SSID of my WiFi router. Or I can override it and upload via 3G (upload speeds on the 3 network here in this part of the UK can be 1.6Mb/s which is pretty decent).

Using the Flickr tool from Lightroom, I will upload all developed images into sets.

I have discovered SocialFolders, a service and client which downloads content from social media sites onto a local drive. It’s a kind of distributed Dropbox, if you like. They will also upload – folders become sets on Flickr. Thus I can keep a local copy of all my photos as JPEGs and should anything happen to Flickr, I still have my photos.

What the SocialFolders client does not yet do is embed metadata, but I am in discussions with Philippe Honigman who runs the service. He says that this feature may come in 2013. If this does happen, it’s a huge deal for photographers who take their metadata seriously. We own our photos, and we also own our metadata.

Let’s see if this works.