How I Organize My Photos

I have recently hit a 100GB size for my photos library on my 256GB MacBook Pro which pushed me to finally make the inevitable decision: move the photos to a secondary storage. I had purchased a 2TB Airport Time Capsule a while back - hence the inevitability. In this post, I’ll talk about storage in general as well as specifically about organizing a library of photos.

The number of photos I’ve been taking has actually decreased over the last year and a half, however I started shooting raw which takes ~5 times as much storage compared to a jpeg file depending on the quality of compression.

Photos over years

The general storage philosophy I follow (both on my phone and laptop) is to use the main storage as little as possible while moving less accessed content to secondary storage.

iPhone

I own an iPhone 7 Plus with smallest storage option (32GB). It’s more than enough if you are using a cloud service to back up your photos, videos and stream your music. I use Dropbox to automatically upload my photos. The Dropbox Plus service costs $100/year for 1TB of storage. I use about 10% of that and will not hit 1TB anytime soon. I delete photos in Camera Roll about once a month. There are only a couple of Spotify playlists I save as offline (10-20 songs) that I keep in case I’m running in an area where there is no good coverage. I use the 32GB on my iPhone as a cache for personal use.

Storage on my iPhone

MacBook

My MacBook is a late 2014 retina model, with 256GB SSD hard drive. After a couple of years of taking photos (and shooting raw more recently) - I quickly hit around 100GB size of photo library and decided it was time to find another way to organize things. The multiple Dropbox hack did not work that well. It ended up being not as seamless, had to manually connect to the Airport Time Capsule (not just when the computer started). Luckily, with 1Password’s new account syncing, there is no need for a second Dropbox account just for personal passwords. So far, the $3/month cost seems reasonable for the convenience, but I’ll re-evaluate in the future. My current setup is:

  • 1Password account and passwords sync’ed across devices
  • Single Dropbox account to sync my photo library (and other documents)

Dropbox

Dropbox allows you to use a network drive (see Data-3 in the screenshot below for the Airport Time Capsule) to sync all your files, so MacBook’s smaller hard drive doesn’t need to be used for data that’s not as frequently accessed.

Dropbox setup

Lightroom

Lightroom also allows the use of folders on a network drive to store and manipulate photos.

Add folder to Lightroom

Once a directory is added as a folder, it is possible to sync all child directories when data is imported and it just works as a local folder. I’ve set /Data/Pictures as my photo library root directory and import new photos under there. Lightroom handles organization exactly the same way as if it was a local folder.

Lightroom import to network drive

You can chose a folder under Dropbox for automatic syncing of all imported photos. I don’t do that because I don’t see a need to upload the raw files to Dropbox. I may change my mind in the future given I had an external hard drive crash in the past without a backup and I still have ample storage space on my Dropbox account but for now I don’t see the need.

Sharing photos

I enjoy using Lightroom web albums for the convenience but enough friends complain about not being able to download the original photos that I just use Dropbox now to share the photos I edited (or I just directly copy the jpg version on my 2nd SD card slot).

This process is again pretty seamless - I directly export the collection I just edited under a folder in Dropbox (Shared Photos/Collection Name) and share the link with friends. Dropbox client will automatically pick up the new photos and publish them to web.

When I’m not at home

Using a network drive for your photo library is great to make space on your primary hard drive. However when you don’t have access to the network drive the photos are on, it’s slightly inconvenient. I am ok not being able to have access to raw photos when I’m not at home.

Also, building smart previews for the imported photos make it ok to be able to work with the copies of imported photos (assuming your Lightroom catalog is on your primary hard drive). And again, in the future I can chose to sync all raw photos to sync in the future which would make it possible to access them from outside the house.

Summary

This is how I now organize and store my photo library. This works pretty well for my workflow for now, but I’m sure I’ll find better ways to organize my photos in the future.

If you have any comments, or suggestions, DM me on Twitter!