Thoughts on organizing a digital photograph collection

Posted on May 21, 2004

(I definitely must get me some (any!) sort of Wiki set-up for me, this doesn’t strictly belong in a weblog but on a Wiki page where I can expand on it.)

Be warned, these are just my unsorted and unstructured thoughts about this matter, so it’s long and it may not make perfect sense all the way…

What I’ve got covered

I’ve been thinking about a way to store my digital photographs. I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while now but each week that passes the problem gets worse and worse.

Right now I’ve got the part about the digital workflow covered (until I think of something better, that is, but for now it works), including storing the “digital negatives”, backing them up and creating the contact-sheets to find pictures at a later time.
The process is mostly finished in my head and it will be smoothed out as I go through it until it settles on something that I am absolutely conformable with and at that stage I’ll probably write it down and be happy with it.

Didn’t I take a picture of a nice boat, oh, 3 years ago?

What bothers me now is the “finding photographs latter” part.
The contact-sheets are a good idea for silver- (actually celluloid-) based photography, sure, but is it really adequate for digital photography?
I mean, the photos are all on a digital medium, shouldn’t it be easier and isn’t it more logical to use some digital tool to review and find them?

Apart from the quite extensive photograph collection I already have and the cost-issue that comes with printing contact-sheets for every “session” of photographs I make, is it really the best way to find the photographs in the future?

Of course I won’t even dream of cataloguing every single photograph and assign keywords to each and everyone of them –sure, that would be the ideal thing to do but I just know I’ll never have the time to do it, life’s just too short– so what other options are there?

The good-ol’ wish list

Well, I don’t have any answers, but I do have some ideas as to what I’d like to have and what I’ve already figured out about how to do some of it.

And it goes like this:

  • I have photographs in jpeg and raw format. Actually I might conceivably have photographs in other formats (tiff for scans from my celluloid photographs, for instance) but the point is that on the web (ah yes, I envision a web-based system) I guess I’ll want to have it all on a jpeg format;

  • Also, I know I won’t be using these pictures for any kind of fancy or high-resolution output, they will be used mostly for finding out a certain photograph (or group of photographs that match a certain criteria), browsing through the picture collection or viewing each one on the web (on some album-like site or maybe a photoblog), so I have decided that maintaining on-line versions of 1024x768 pixels (at most, maybe even smaller ones) is more than adequate;

  • The points above indicate that a conversion has to occur from the original photograph (hi-resolution jpeg, tiff, raw, whatever) into a lower-resolution jpeg. This is OK, because if I want to process a photograph latter on I have the original to work with;

  • I will want to use these pictures on a gallery or photoblog-like site and this implies that even smaller versions will have to exsit (thumbnail sized and medium sized ones). Should I store these on disk or should I create them on-the-fly? Disk, of course, but the storage issue may be a problem… Maybe create these scaled-down versions only for those pictures which will be used on the web? But the master catalogue must have all of them for me to find them so at least the thumbnail ones must be created for all of them. Oh boy…

  • Search, don’t catalogue. Meaning, I will have to have some (very easy to use) way of adding some properties to the photographs in order to find them later. I know I said I don’t think I’ll have the time or patience to assign keywords to every photograph, but something as simple as selecting 300 photographs from a trip and adding the keywords “tourism” and “Venice” to them is a lot of help! (No, I’ve never been to Venice, but I’ve been to Venice Beach if that counts…) :). The ideal interface to search for the photographs would then be a search by keyword as opposed to a search by “folder” or by “theme”. Search by time-frame is also a must, of course and even by some EXIF properties, but this is the easy part;

  • It must be extremely easy to add lots of photographs to the system and it would be even better if I could add the keywords to all of them at the same time that I import them. All other sizes required for the pictures should be created automatically at the same time.

Finding Nemo

Soooo… Now I just have to find such a system. I won’t even consider writing one until I absolutely run out of options in the open-source world and it will be a shock to me if I really have to do it. Altering something that already exists to suit my needs is quite acceptable, though. Won’t this be fun?

Actually I already have some candidates in mind, but I’ll have to investigate further to see which ones (if any) are the easiest to tweak to do what I want exactly how I want it.

I think I’ll start with photos, a great piece of software I already use by Alex King. I’ve stopped using it for a while now but it was already very good when I looked at it and there where a few more versions released in the meantime. Yes, I think I’ll start there.

But first all these ideas must settle a little more.
I think writing about it helps. Let’s see how it goes. :)