Why My Photos Remain on My Hard Drive

by on Nov 4, 2017 Tags: workflow,photograpy

I like files. I like knowing where my “stuff” is, without depending upon additional software.

For as long as I remember I have kept my digital photos in a nicely-organized set of files and folders on my Mac. In recent years, these files have been managed using Lightroom but they are still just files on the filesystem. I know where they are, because I put them there. Lightroom’s library mimics the underlying files and folders. If something bad happens to Lightroom I know my photos will be fine.

My photo library

What about the adjustments and edits made to photos? Those are “non-destructive” so they don’t touch the original photo and are known only to the Lighroom library. This is important, and is why I export JPG copies of any photo labeled with one or more “star”.

I also caption all of my photos and rename the files using the photo’s date and caption. This way I (or my descendants) will have access to both the files and the “what and when” of them even if the IPTC or Exif metadata has been somehow lost.

I like this system. The files-in-folders approach, along with solid backups, has proven itself to be resilient and easy to understand and manage for my entire digital history. Lightroom has been nothing more than a layer over top of those files.

Recent Adobe announcements and the introduction of Lighroom CC have me reconsidering the process by which I manage my photos. I haven’t come to any real conclusion yet, so this is just me taking notes about the process.

The iPhone, cloud storage, and social media have thrown a wrench in the works. Shooting photos with an iPhone and having them, along with any edits, instantly available and easily sharable on all my devices is like magic. Perhaps a little too magic. I worry that this is another case of short-term convenience getting in the way of long-term value.

I know the photos in my Apple Photos library can be found in the “Photos Library.photoslibrary” package, but I didn’t put them there and I can’t organize them how I want them. That bothers me. Perhaps I should just get over it. Cloud management of digital photos is the future, right?

The new Lightroom CC feels like part of this future, but suffers from the same problem as Apple Photos. The only way to organize photos is virtually within Lightroom CC. I can create collections and albums and such, but they are virtual and not reflected in the filesystem. This makes me uncomfortable.

My current system is a cumbersome combination of managing files via Lightroom “Classic” and letting Apple Photos do its thing. I’m trying to find something better. Apple Photos is pretty good, and can now use external editors like the terrific Liminar. Lightroom CC is geared more toward “serious” photographers, and I prefer that to Apple’s simple have-fun-and-share approach. On the other hand, wedding myself to Lightroom’s cloud is both uncomfortable and expensive.

I’m not an artist or a pro. I’m just an avid photo enthusiast who likes to tinker. As such, something like Lightroom CC should fit the bill, but I don’t think I’m ready to give up control my precious files quite yet.

So after all this, what? For now I’ll stick with managing files in Lightroom Classic and exporting the keepers to Apple Photos until I get this sorted out. I hope to have a better answer soon.