Digital Nesting

Digital Nesting


Yesterday I wanted to give Heather the ultimate Mother’s Day: unlimited napping potential and uninterrupted solitude. This might seem a little strange, but given the state of things with the nesting and the impending baby as well as the fact that we spend our days working together, I can’t think of a better thing to give Heather. Except breakfast at her favorite diner. I hope that place never closes, because we survived on it in Leta’s early months and because it has three foods Leta will eat on the menu.

Leta and I spent the morning on computers. Leta is getting bored with the simpler Flash games and is requiring a narrative, a problem to solve and more hand-eye involvement. I found a couple of super girlie places online and Leta did well. While she was entrenched in her games, I started to fix metadata in old photos.

I started shooting RAW in the last part of 2006 using the Camera RAW plug-in and then moving to Lightroom. Both the Camera RAW plug-in for Photosohp and Lightroom will embed the tonal work, cropping, and other metadata that was added while working on the photo in its RAW state. The problem is that when I moved the files to the Drobo, we lost those changes. So I’ve been manually re-synchronizing the hundreds of folders of tens of thousands of images we’ve shot in RAW since 2006 and making sure that the collection has the correct metadata.

In doing so, I’ve been seeing a lot of really great memories and learning alot about how to manage a large library of photos. I have changed computers a couple of times since 2006 and that complicates things a bit. I also used to do a lot of my photo work on Heather’s desktop as well, further complicating the digital workflow. I thought I’d share a simple list that relates a little bit to this post where I talked about how to handle folders and files.

  1. Store your central catalog(s) and images you’ll import into it on a super-reliable external storage unit that is automatically backed up every day. I’ve chosen Drobos for this task. Doing this insures that when I upgrade or move computers, teh library is always intact and does not require a certain computer to open files. If my computer dies, the library lives on. As a side note: store installer files of your apps on this drive as well for a quick and convenient way to be up and running should an emergency strike.
  2. Since our library is so large (100,000 plus photos), I’ve split up the catalogs by year, importing each month/year folder with its corresponding folders of each shoot. Every year, I’ll start a new catalog that is stored on the exteral storage unit. Lightroom lets you do this fairly easily. The thinking here is that having the catalog spread out means faster navigating and preview rendering. As well as a concrete way to sort files and find files. Scenario: “I think I took that photo in February of 2007, but it might have been March. Or maybe late January?” With each month as a folder in the catalog, I can quickly select months and scan through thumbnails. There are ways in Lightroom to do this, but this method is quicker for me.
  3. If you do external editing (Photoshop or other), save that image as a separate file in the same folder as the source, so that if you ever need to move a folder, any further edits you have made are not lost. As a result of not doing this, I’m having to spend a great deal of time across a number of catalogs to find images that I edited two and three years ago to make sure I have the source file. Note: this goes for any tweaking inside your RAW editor. Save/Export the XML sidecar files to the same directory as the source image. This will save you hours and hours of time in the future. I’ve had to find old catalogs, open them, re-render thumbnails (in order to see those images with obvious and not-so-obvious edits) and save out metadata in order to move the metadata files to the correct folder on the Drobo.
  4. Back up everything every day. EVERY DAY. Use Apple’s Time Machine or SuperDuper! to clone your drive. I’m about to buy another Drobo for this purpose. I’ll automatically run that backup at 1 or 2 in the morning using SuperDuper!. I prefer it to Time Machine for these kinds of backups. Time Machine is great for a casual user, but I want bulletproof. I never ever ever want to lose a photo. Ever. Ever Ever Ever.
  5. Use built-in rating/ranking and color coding to organize the definite keepers for quick sorting and searching. Develop a system and stick to it. I have a minimum of 3 stars assigned to a photo that I post and once I have posted it, I color label it green. I’ve been doing that since 2006. The problem is that I didn’t always save those edits out to a separate file (see 3, above). I’ll probably start rejecting files as well as a way to simplify the library.

I believe that this digital nesting instinct is my response to the final weeks of prep for the baby. I want to be able to add the tons of photos we will take of her without having to think about each and every set. Just shoot them and add them in. Once a system is in place, it makes working so much easier.

Heather’s system is simpler and likely better. She does a folder for each shoot and dates each folder. She just uses Camera Raw and Photoshop. Camera Raw on her machine is set to spit out a sidecar file (same name as the original file but with an .xml extension) that holds all of her changes to the RAW file. She does not save the layered work file (yet) in the same directory as the source, but I’m working with her about that. However, her discipline in working like this means that the only concern as a librarian I have is that I got all the photo folders and is the metadata current for all the images.

Lightroom has a quick way to look at a folder of images and grab the metadata from external files if there are any. It has become my best friend these past few days. Right click on a folder in Lightroom and choose “Synchronize Folder…”

Anybody have any other tips for dealing with large photo libraries? Please share!