Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Photo Storage


Almost everyone of us must have gone fully digital with our photos and cameras. Film is so last century, literally. With digital, you can store so many more photos, and not worry about film negatives or prints getting spoilt with age. But the tremendous ease of taking digital photos has also sort of created a new storage problem. There’s too many of them, and it’s becoming a nightmare trying to keep them organised.

When my iPhoto library started to get unwieldy, I decided I should split them by year. This way, they wouldn’t grow too big, and presumably, iPhoto would run faster.

My 2008 iPhoto library weighed in at 2.9GB. In 2009, that almost doubled to 5.62GB. Then it was 13.33GB in 2010, and 22.83GB in 2011. The 2012 year-to-date library size current stands at 30.34GB, and I expect a few more GB to be added before 2012 ends. Remember, these are per-year libraries, the sizes are not cumulative. Total size from 2008 onward is over 75GB. (See updated stats below.)

The point isn’t so much about the sheer size. Although the size is also something of an issue, but with 2TB disks costing only about S$130, the problem isn’t really about storage costs. The more difficult problem is managing the photos, backing them up, being able to find them, etc.

My iPhoto libraries from 2008 will now has some 30000 photos. This still does not include photos received from others, photos taken at proper photo shoots by professional photographers, etc.

Those 75GB and 30K or so of photos are mostly taken with my various smartphones. Occasionally, there’ll be some events shot with proper cameras, although that would be point-and-shoots only, no DSLR-type cameras.

Now that I have a somewhat capable compact camera (at least more so than the typical point-and-shoot), I expect my photo collection to grow at double the current pace, or more.

How different this is from those days when we used film. With only at most 36 frames, or so, to a film cartridge then, we shot photos sparingly. These days, 36 shots would have easily gone by in 4 seconds or so in speed-priority continuous drive mode. We shoot more, than less, in the hope that we find a great shot among the many we’ve taken.

So that’s how we’re ending up with too many photos. At least I do. I’m not sure how best the organise them. Actually, it is easy to talk about organisation, but the real challenge is being able to find photos thereafter.

Big events are easy to categorise and to find later. Big events are things like holidays overseas, someone’s birthday celebration, etc. But how about the little things like, for example, that fabulous pizza you had somewhere that you don’t remember, on one of those nights which you also don’t remember?

It’s also easy to say to add keywords and other meta-data to your photos. But to do so consistently when you have too many photos can be a dread. Maybe the right tool might make things easier. Perhaps iPhoto isn’t the right tool to work with humongous collections of photos.

I’m also starting to want to do some photo adjustments. I’m frequently doing some minor changes to photos before I post them on this blog. Most of the time, my editing tool is… ahem… Preview. Yup, it’s usually just the tone, exposure, white-balance, and other colour controls that I adjust. Oh, occasionally to re-crop. Frequently to resize the image, but this happens so often that I’ve configured an automator action to perform the resize without requiring me to launch Preview.

On a few occasions, not often though, Photoshop gets called upon. I imagine I might want to do more adjustments if they could be easily available, without having to go to a full blown photo-editing app like Photoshop.

Yeah, maybe it is time to consider upgrading to Aperture or Lightroom. I’m trying out Aperture now. It shares iPhoto’s library, so going back and forth between iPhoto and Aperture is easy. No migration needed. Aperture has a nice backup feature built into it. It’s called Vault. It can also use multiple disks in its library, although I’m not sure I’d use that.

I’ll save the Aperture review for another day. That is, if I decide to go with Aperture.

Update (3 Jan 2013): Over the new year holidays, I’ve did some housekeeping. Here are the photo library sizes.

Year Size in GB
2012 36.82
2011 18.32
2010 16.22
2009 6.04
2008 5.12
2007 2.68
2006 2.52
2005 and earlier 5.54
Collection Total 93.26

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