A few days back now a reader asked a question that I get surprisingly often: how do you store and manage all of your photos? I have been constrained to 256GB SSDs since 2010, so I know how to manage GBs of photos, without having to keep them on my hard drive.
I figured it was about time to share how I do all this — since it seems to be a question that many are interested it. The answer is actually pretty simple, here’s how:
- Get a big ass, fast as you can, external HD.
- Choose the photo management app of your choice.
- Archive the photos onto that external by moving the library folder (or the equivalent for that app) to the drive.
- Create a new library named after the current year.
- Every year move that library to the external drive and create a new library.
I have been doing this for a while now, well before the HD constraint, as a way to keep library sizes down and thus the app running smoother.
So why by year? Two reasons: one to make the app run faster when you load the library (especially if the library needs to update because of a change in the app) and secondly to make it easier to find that image when you need to. I don’t bother sorting out old years, instead I just massed moved it all to one file (for me I started in 2007).
So why bother with this, well I shoot in RAW wherever I can, here’s the break down of the library sizes that I have:
- pre-2007 through 2007: 55.23GB
- 2008: 41.65GB
- 2009: 21.26 (no clue why the dip).
- 2010: 40.56GB
- 2011: 177.9GB
- So far for 2012: 30GB
That’s why I can’t keep these on one computer, and those are only the library sizes of my Aperture library, most of 2012 has been shot in Lightroom.
As I mentioned in a earlier post, I am now using a Thunderbolt HDD for this storage and it is fantastically fast.
A Word About Photo Apps
As you can see I used Aperture exclusively for a while, but I am only now still using it because it is retina ready, while Lightroom is not. I actually prefer Lightroom to Aperture for the better noise control alone.
However Aperture does make it very easy to store photos this way. Lightroom makes it easy to export out a folder of images to another drive and still be able to view them in the current library — when that drive is attached. Of course this can lead to a lot of images in Lightroom, but both Aperture and Lightroom have advantages.
All this to say: it doesn’t matter what program you use, just figure out a reasonable way to off load the data in an easy to find manner. I prefer Lightroom because of the noise control and better image adjustments, but I prefer the layout and workflow of Aperture much more. It’s a mixed bag.
For Photo Heavy Years
I can assure you that I did not keep that entire 175GB library on my laptop at once. For times when the library starts to get bloated part way through the year, I will off load projects/folders inside the library to an archive library. Thus allowing me to keep most of this year’s library on my machine, while keeping storage requirements down.
This is a pain in the ass to manage at year end, so I usually just keep two libraries for that year in the archive — which always comes back to bite me when I am looking for an image later. I don’t recommend this kind of laziness.
My obligatory note: external HDDs fail and fail often. Make several redundant copies of your data.
My workflow is very simple and fairly common for this task. The main objectives are:
- Get the GBs off my SSD.
- Make recalling a photo as simple as knowing the year it was taken.
With camera file sizes growing, this is likely to become an issue for more and more people — even if all you use is iPhoto.