Photo Chaos – Taming the Beast

As a long time photography hobbyist, I am in an unenviable position. My collection of images is, how should I put this, a chaotic mess.

If I was a professional, I would have long ago adopted a workflow, with a definite process for handling images, sorting, grading, and culling that would have some consistency across the decades. Alas, I am a duffer, and just keep adding without any rhyme or reason for processing. Hence my current hand wringing.

Sure, for big vacations, I do some “workflow-like” things, but in general I import, fix blemishes, and occasionally process in Photoshop to share.

I wrote about my trials and tribulations here highlighting how the Apple iPhoto app at first was great, but became overwhelmed, and then my attempts to improve beyond that.

Of course, at that time I was considering/playing with Adobe’s Lightroom. Alas, as a hobbyist without a workflow discipline, I was flailing. Sure, it had great tools, and capabilities, but like with Aperture, I was barely using the capabilities. It felt “heavy”.

I have come to the realization that I am not a ‘Pro’ and I am not ever going to be as disciplined as a pro. I need to find a solution that works for my situation.

Thus I fell back into the Apple Photos paradigm. Here I am a year later, and in misery. As I have used Photos, while they got rid of the concept of “Photostream” they replaced it with this undergirding of “Moments” that you have captured. Thus when I exported my pictures of the last year to break free of this jail, I had about 300 folders of “moments”. Some tagged by date, some by GPS location (from my iPhone).

Now it is time for a clean break. Fortunately, I have discovered a pretty simple, “lite” tool, and even better, it is bundled with Photoshop (and free as in beer) tool called Adobe Bridge.

Instead of being a database driven tool, like Lightroom, it really is a browser and tool to categorize your images (and other files too besides images). It can import, it can bulk rename, it can alter IPTC tags, and the meta-data associated with your files. It handles RAW files, and can even do some “developing” when importing.

It works on the file structure in your computer or storage device, and it is pretty snappy to boot.

A shout out to my longtime friend Inge Fernau who recommended it. I had seen it, and ignored it, jumping straight to the heavier solutions (Lightroom, Aperture), or using the bundled solution (iPhoto, Photos).

My current state is that I have all my images in a directory structure, mirrored on a couple of HD’s (for backup), and am cleaning up a lot of cruft. Alas, iPhoto/Aperture/Photos have some hinky ways of managing albums that change and lead to a large number of duplicate image files.

I will keep Photos, primarily since I take a lot of pictures with my iPhone (the best camera is the one you have with you, and I always have my iPhone). But I will clear out the old images and reduce the amount of storage in the iCloud, probably falling back to the free tier – Yay, one less paid cloud storage service!

(Image at the top РMont Blanc from the Telepheriqu̩ in Chamonix Рa three shot panorama, stitched in Photostitcher, and processed with Topaz Labs B&W Effects filter)

Apple Photos – it sucks big tool

Like many Apple users, when I bought a digital camera in 2003, I naturally gravitated to using the bundled iPhoto. It worked well, and my original camera, a Canon Sureshot 2.1 megapixel camera, integrated with it well. We took a couple of international vacations, and iPhoto was a useful tool for managing the photos.

Of course, I upgraded from that original digital camera to a DSLR, and started shooting in RAW format. iPhoto worked well until 2008 or so, but at about 40,000 images it really started to collapse under the weight of managing the photos.

At that time, I bought a copy of Apple’s professional photo organization tool, Aperture. In its second version, it was quite good. It picked up the old iPhoto libraries and albums, it worked well. Its organization capabilities were vastly superior, and it worked well for me. Additionally, it had some great tool for minor processing of the images, fixing blemishes (i.e. sensor dirt on my EOS-20D), and filters/adjustments. Not quite Photoshop, but for a duffer like me, it was very useful.

Fast forward to 2012, and the beginning of merging with the iPhone/iOS world. The version 3 upgrade brought this thing called the Photostream. Captured by your iPhone, it created an “album” of your off the cuff photos. It was good in concept, but in practice it really sucked. Suddenly my library was cluttered with all these “Photostream 201x October (or whatever month)”. The first few months, it was OK, but 3 years later, I can assure you it sucks to have these small automatically created albums. I can’t find shit, nothing is organized, and in general it is a disaster.

In 2014, Apple announced that Aperture was going the way of the Dodo, and never will be improved, or even updated for new OS versions. Boo. I took that as a trigger to look for a replacement, focusing on Adobe Lightroom.

Fast forward to today, and Apple has completely deprecated Aperture. You are forced to move to Photos, their new iCloud linked solution.

So, being the good Apple acolyte, I made the transition.

The good:

  • The photostream is dead. Thank fucking God, someone at Apple put a bullet in that feature.
  • All your photos are online, and sync’d with all your devices/computers. You have the option to have reduced resolution images on your devices, instead of 12megabyte RAW images. So I have my entire collection on my iPhone, and it doesn’t swamp my storage.
  • Editing the metadata is a bit streamlined. But the truth is, I am not ever going to go back and manage my 60K images one by one. Not gonna happen, regardless of how streamlined it is.

The Bad:

  • You pretty much need to buy additional iCloud storage. So now I have paid storage on Dropbox, Google Drive, and now iCloud. A wee bit of overkill.
  • It doesn’t do anything with all the fucking “Photostream” albums. That homeless abortion is still crawling up your leg. There is money to be made for some entrepreneur to create an app that will coalesce these albums, and allow you to deadhead through them, categorizing and sorting. So that people like me can stop obsessing about this cluster fuck.
  • It has these giant buckets called “iPhoto Events”. That is where it dumps all the iPhoto albums you defined. So you are constantly navigating among lame folders. Yes, I could re-arrange them, but I have hundreds. What a pain.
  • Much of the image modification/tweaking you could do under Aperture is gone. Simple controls, optimized for internet/social media sharing. Lame. Tres lame. I would even say completely, full retard.

Alas, my main photo organization tool will be Adobe Lightroom. It is just a better workflow. Fortunately, Adobe realizes that a lot of serious amateurs and pros who used Aperture will be switching, and have built into the latest version(s) of Lightroom the ability to go import all the Aperture libraries.

I can understand why Apple did this. The pro applications aren’t major drivers for them, and convergence between the iOS devices and the OS-X devices makes for a better experience.

Fortunately, we have some options.

The Day of Reckoning: Apple abandons Aperture

Not quite yet, but the winds are blowing that Apple will end support and sales of Aperture, their “pro” photo application. A recent story on Wired gives a brief outline. “Photos” will take the lead, and it will be all about getting all your images into iCloud, and managing them there.

I had smelled this stink coming for a while. The updates to Aperture have slowed down, and the last major one definitely turned into the wrong direction, more integration with iOS, and iCloud, your photostream, and all that. Sigh.

About 6 months ago, I started migrating to Adobe Lightroom. I looked at it way back when I moved from iPhoto to Aperture, and at that time it was almost 2x the cost, and it pretty much lacked capability.

But in version 5, Lightroom has become a lot better, and it comes free with my CC subscription to Photoshop. I have installed it on my Mac’s and on my work PC, and am getting the feel for using it. In many ways it is similar to Aperture in capability, but it also has some significant differences, particularly around storage and file handling. Where Aperture created large libraries and buried the images and version inside them, LR seems to use the native file system. A bit confusing, but in the long term it will be better I am sure.

I can understand Apple’s strategy shift, and their migration away from the pro applications that really brought the power to their system. The all unified, iOS/MacOS world is a good goal, but I will be taking a pass at the upcoming Photos application.