Photo Management Without Lightroom

Adobe recently released the new Lightroom CC and threw my entire process so thoroughly into question that I’ve stopped using Lightroom to edit and manage my photos.

I’m not a fan of subscription models, but if the value is there then I’ll pay. Ten dollars a month for Lightroom and Photoshop is totally fair. That’s not what pushed me away from Lightroom. What pushed me away was Adobe’s inexorable march toward forcing me to keep my photos in their cloud service. I’m not interested in doing that.

Adobe has said that they will continue to update and support the original Lightroom Classic but I don’t think they called it “Classic” for nothing. I believe Classic is going to be killed once CC gains a reasonable amount of feature parity.

I don’t want my photos to live in anyone’s cloud service. I want to name, organize, and manage my photos as files in folders on my hard drive. I don’t want the software to do it. I’m old and a dutifully organized filesystem is a wonderful thing. Lightroom Classic did a decent job of letting me organize based on the filesystem, but Lightroom Classic feels like a dead end. Plus, the fewer subscriptions the better.

So, I’m now using a combination of Photo Mechanic and Capture One Pro.

I import, cull, keyword, caption, rename, and organize using Photo Mechanic. Then, I convert (if RAW), edit, and export finished JPEGs using Capture One.

Capture One is expensive but I’ve owned a license for years. Just upgraded to version 10 for $99. I bought a Photo Mechanic license several years ago and it’s still working just fine as-is. I’ve been using both of them on and off for a long time, so this isn’t all new to me.

I’m still tweaking, but right now it goes like this:

  1. Ingest from card, drive, or iPhone using Photo Mechanic
  2. Cull, label, keyword, caption, rename, and file in Photo Mechanic
  3. Open the keepers and process/edit them in Capture One
  4. Export finished JPEGs both back to the original folder and to Apple Photos using Capture One. This happens in one step using Process Recipes.
  5. Share and upload using Photo Mechanic

There’s nothing better or faster at ingesting and managing digital photos than Photo Mechanic, and Capture One is deep and capable and does the best job on Fuji RAW files. I’m using the best tools for the job, even if it’s a bit more hassle.

Best of all, I end up with my beloved folders and files for the originals and edits, and I also get the on-every-device benefit of Apple Photos for the keepers.

Why My Photos Remain on My Hard Drive

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.

Auto-keywording vs. Captioning Photos

The new version of Lightroom CC will automatically keyword photos so that I can search for things in them like “Car” or “Tree” or “Dog”. Apple Photos and Google Photos do something similar. Here’s how Adobe describes “Sensei”:

…the ability to search through all of your synced photos, leveraging the power of Adobe Sensei to automatically tag and keyword your images for you. Now you can find photos you’re looking for by searching for what is in the photos.

While this is useful, it’s not enough. My grandkids (or anyone else looking at my photos in 50 years) may want to know the rest of the story. They may say, “Yes, I can see that it’s a tree, but why did he take a photograph of it?” To answer those questions, the photos need captions/cutlines.

Photos taken with an iPhone will provide the basics of Where, When, and possibly even Who (via face recognition, but that isn’t useful outside of the photo library). What about the Why? That’s what needs to be recorded, and in my opinion is the most important part.

I keep saying: caption your photographs

Here’s another example I’ve used…

Photo

That was taken on the day my dad was baptized, making it more than just another photo of my dad as a child. The caption gives it meaning that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

You don’t have to caption every single image, but taking the time to add a little note to some of them will be time well spent.

Some text-based things today

A couple times a year I find myself in an all-text-for-all-things mood and today was one of those days. This is different from my similar put-everything-in-emacs mood, as it involves neither Emacs nor Org Mode.

So today I dusted off my configurations for the following:

  • Tmux - Used for keeping an eye on a bunch of terminal apps at once.
  • Taskwarrior - A favorite CLI-based task manager. Powerful yet simple.
  • WeeChat - I want to love IRC but I don’t use it much lately. Still, it’s fun to bring it back once in a while.
  • jrnl - Command line journaling. I used this for a while back in 2015 and thought it was time for another look.

And this one is new to me:

  • twtxt - A “Decentralised, minimalist microblogging service for hackers.” Seemed interesting to try.

The last time a text-based workflow took hold of me was back in 2015. The wheel turns ‘round.

Opening BBEdit's Scratchpad via Keyboard Maestro

I use BBEdit’s Scratchpad window all day. For some reason I’ve never thought about making it easier to get to the window. While perusing BBEdit’s Google Group, I spotted this message by Fletcher, in which he provides a simple AppleScript for doing just that.

1
2
3
4
5
tell application "BBEdit" 
        activate 
        open scratchpad document 
        set the index of the window of scratchpad document to 1 
end tell 

In his post, Fletcher uses an Automator Service but I prefer Keyboard Maestro. I created a simple trigger in Keyboard Maestro that looks like this:

Keyboard Maestro trigger

That’s better.

Using Hazel to Automatically Import Photos

Thomas Fitzgerald’s photo management workflow is reasonably similar to mine. I also process my photos using Lightroom and export them to Photos. I’ve been manually importing the exported Lightroom photos into Apple Photos and hadn’t spent the time to simplify that process. Thomas did it for me!

Thomas uses Hazel to watch his export folder and automatically import anything new into Photos. I’ve been using Hazel for years but did not know it could do that. The rules are simple and look like this:

Hazel

Since my exported photos are only temporary, I also have Hazel delete them when finished. Super handy.

Tried the Newton Mail client on macOS

In this interesting post about tools by Matt Birchler he wrote that “Newton is the best email app I have ever used.” Intrigued, I installed the 14-day trial.

Newton

After 20 minutes I realized Newton isn’t for me. I’m a multi-pane guy. I’ve used Mail.app or Mailmate, or Mutt or Emacs/Mu4e on my Mac for years. Newton behaves differently than all of those (by default). It shows a simple list of messages, and clicking a message opens the message rather than highlighting it and displaying its contents in a separate pane. I’m not sure I’d ever get used to that.

I like my messages displayed with the newest at the top. If I delete a message in the middle of the list, Newton highlights the older message below the deleted message. That’s not how I work. I’m usually working my way up the list, older to newer. Didn’t see a way to change that behavior.

Messages can be selected using Vim bindings, which is cool. I was able to move up and down the list using my keyboard and pressing “d” to delete the highlighted message. Great. However, I couldn’t archive messages messages that way by using the “e” key. For some reason, the Archive menu item was disabled when navigating using the keyboard.

Many of Newton’s coolest features don’t interest me. Snooze, Send Later, etc. would likely never be used, so paying $50/year for a subscription would probably not be worth it.

I barely use email on my iOS devices, so I didn’t try Newton there.

Newton is a nice-looking app with some interesting features, but I’ll be sticking with my boring old Mail.app for now.

Technology Fatigue

A few weeks ago I wrote that “Technology exhausts me.” I was exaggerating to make a point, but it’s still happening; and getting worse. I’m just not in the mood.

I’m not in the mood for any of my devices. I’m not in the mood for social media. I’m not in the mood for syncing, or two-factor authentication, or JavaScript frameworks, or WordPress issues, or Emacs hanging, or my Watch not seeing my phone, or firmware upgrades, or Alexa not turning on my lights, or any of dozens of other things I deal with daily.

I’m suffering from technology fatigue and I think I need a break from the things that cause it.

Alexa and Sonos

I have several Sonos speakers in my house. I also have several Amazon Echos. I’ve always wanted them to work together, and now they can.

I installed the latest Sonos and Alexa apps, let Alexa “discover” my Sonos devices, and now I can say, “Alexa, play Tom Petty in the living room” and that’s what she does. It’s been working great so far. The Sonos speakers are vastly superior to the little Echo speakers.

Apple still has a lot of catching up to do.

Hugo gets even faster

I slimmed down the templates and Hugo renders my site even faster:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
Built site for language en:
0 draft content
0 future content
0 expired content
2272 regular pages created
458 other pages created
2 non-page files copied
114 paginator pages created
216 tags created
8 categories created
total in 1290 ms

That’s down from around 2600ms

How did Amazon become my Smart Home hub before Apple?

How many years are we going to continue saying, “Well, Apple is going to do something amazing with Siri and Homekit any day now.” I’m not seeing any signs of that happening. An over-priced speaker with an under-powered voice assistant certainly isn’t what I’ve been dreaming of. I’ve tried. I have a Series 2 Apple Watch, an Apple TV, an iPhone, newer Macs, and a number of “smart” devices. I try, but Siri kind of sucks. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but she just doesn’t get me. A few years ago Amazon sort of quietly lobbed the Echo at us and I’ve used a phrase starting with “Alexa…” many times a day ever since. Alexa isn’t perfect, but my frustration with her never reaches the fever pitch that it does when arguing with Siri. With an original Echo and a couple of inexpensive Dots, Alexa is always within earshot. No battery and nothing has to be on my wrist or in my pocket. And she seems to always hear me when I talk to her.

I want Apple to provide me the perfect ecosystem of hardware and software that is needed for a smooth smart home experience. So far they have failed to produce or even hint at anything.

So, with the introduction of the Echo Plus with a built-in smart hub, I’m heading even further down the Amazon path. If I can set up new devices without adding more hubs or device-specific apps I’ll be happy. Of course I don’t know how well it’ll all work, but Amazon’s track record with these things is pretty good. Surprisingly good.

I don’t understand how Apple, having had all of the smart home ingredients available to them for so long, can seemingly be so far behind Amazon. But that’s where we are. This stuff feels like a “hobby” for Amazon too, but they’ve gotten it pretty close to just right. I’m tired of waiting for “any day now.”

Revised Mac Backup Strategy

Whenever a drive fails in one of my Macs, I usually re-install everything from scratch. This happened to me again recently when the internal drive on my iMac failed. It feels good to start with a clean slate and re-evaluate what I need (or don’t). I’m now finally back in action after a week of the usual set of “Oh yeah, I forgot I need to symlink that” and “How did I build this last time?”

Reinstalling and configuring apps is easy enough, but what about my stuff? Restoring files has gotten a lot easier over the years.

I keep nearly everything in either iCloud or Dropbox. The only things that have needed special care are my photos, GPG keys, and SSH keys.

I regularly back up my SSH and GPG keys to an encrypted thumb drive, so those are covered.

For my music I’m just relying on Apple Music. I still have boatloads of MP3s on an external drive but never need them. It’s either vinyl or streaming these days.

Photos are a whole other thing. I have decades of photos arranged carefully in dated folders and I like it that way. However, my newly-discovered love of using an iPad convinced me it was time to go all-in with Apple Photos and iCloud storage. I’ve imported all of my photos into Apple Photos and am letting iCloud handle things from there. It’s weird, and I’m never comfortable when I can’t right-click something and see a “Reveal in Finder” option, but the benefits are compelling. As a hedge, I plan to export copies of photos each month to my usual YYYY/MM-Month/image-name.jpg structure, just in case.

So here’s how my backups are managed currently.

  • Most of my “stuff” is synced using Dropbox and iCloud.
  • The iMac’s internal drive is backed up to a Time Machine drive for quick retrieval of recent files.
  • The iMac’s internal drive is also cloned nightly to a bootable backup using Chronosync on another drive.
  • All media (Photo backups, Videos, Audio, etc.) is on it’s own external drive, and that drive is mirrored nightly to a second external drive using Chronosync.
  • My photo library is managed with Apple Photos via iCloud (and are also backed up by Time Machine).
  • Both the internal drive and the Media drive are backed up offsite to Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage using Arq.
  • I still bring a full clone of everything on an external drive and bring it offsite once a year.

Am I missing anything?

JavaScript Baby Steps

I haven’t written JavaScript in years, and I wasn’t very good at it then. So, I’m taking some baby steps in that direction, via Learn You The Node.js.

Learn You Node

Surprise! The iPad is a Content Creation Device

A few quick thoughts on using the iPad in anger this week.

Contrary to everything I’ve ever believed, I’m starting to think of the iPad as a content creation device. I look at the screen and see Affinity Photo and Ulysses and Procreate and Linea and it makes me want to pick one and just make something. I would not have believed it had I not dove in and given it a fair shot.

I’ve been using the iPad exclusively while at home for more than a week and I have been continually surprised by how much I enjoy it. I’ve been emailing, managing projects, editing photos, drawing, tweeting, and generally carrying on like it’s actually normal doing stuff on an iPad other than reading social media sites and playing games. Who knew?

Once my iMac is fixed I plan to go all-in with Photos and I’ll be benching Lightroom/Photoshop for the time being. That’s crazy talk, but I’m finding it pretty great just snapping and editing and having everything update everywhere with zero effort on my part. Affinity Photo is more than I’ll ever need for editing photos. Sharing is a zero-friction thing.

I’ve been doodling with the Pencil using Linea and that’s been a lot of fun. I love paper and “art supplies” but I’m not serious about art so who cares how I make it?

I’ve been writing blog posts (like this one), project notes and documentation, journal entries, and everything else using Ulysses and it’s still great. Everything syncs flawlessly and quickly to every device. I can easily export to whatever format is required. There’s something to be said about using the same editor, everywhere, which is something I’ve never done.

I know, much of this is obvious to many of you, but it’s been a revelation to me. I’m having so much fun living (part-time, for now) on the iPad I can’t stand it. Life’s weird.

Why Did Blot Have to Be So Good?

My blog is a bunch of Markdown files in folders. I like it that way. I have thousands of posts going back to 2000, all rendered quickly and nicely with Hugo and served securely with Netlify.

Then along comes Blot and messes things up for me. Blot is great because it easily creates a blog out of a folder full of Markdown files. Even better, it does it via Dropbox so there are no build/commit/push/deploy steps. Just create a file and save it to a local Dropbox folder and poof! I’ve got a blog.

It’s so easy to publish using Blot on an iPad that I’ve been using it to post at baty.blog and it’s pretty great.

But, now I have yet another blog. I don’t want another blog. I’m also not ready to go all-in on a service that I don’t know I can trust, long-term. It’s a paid service, which boosts my confidence, but paid services fail all the time. It looks like I could self-host the app and keep going, but I’d like to avoid having to learn to do that. I’d just like static HTML files up on a server, please.

On the other hand, the Blot files are still just Markdown files and I could easily convert them for use with Hugo if it came to that.

I have a couple of options. First, make blogging with Hugo on the iPad so easy that I’m never tempted to just fire off a post quickly with Blot. Second, let baty.net sit and continue blogging with Blot and hope for the best.

There’s actually a third option, and that is to use both Hugo and Blot and keep both blogs. That’s my current head-in-the-sand option and I hope I don’t end up there. I’m typing this in Blink Shell using Vim on a remote server and it works pretty well, but there’s a lot of setup and “stuff” involved and sometimes I just want to type and click “publish”. Working on it.

Static Blogging from the iPad

baty.net is currently a static site, built using Hugo and served by Netlify. In order to publish, I have to create a text (markdown) file in a certain folder, with a bit of specific YAML front matter. Then, I have to commit the changes and push to its Gitlab repo. Netlify takes it from there.

Since the entire site also lives in Dropbox, creating the file is pretty simple on the iPad. It’s the commit/push part that’s a little trickier.

Using Blink Shell, I can shell into one of my servers and create and edit files using Vim, which I love. Once complete, I just commit and push right from the terminal session and Boom!, published.

To make that last part easier I have a make file that looks like this…

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
PUBLIC_DIR=public/
SERVER_HOST=do.baty.net
SERVER_DIR=./apps/batydotnet/public/
TARGET=netlify

build:
		hugo

server:
		hugo server

deploy:  commit push
		@echo "\033[0;32mDeploying updates to $(TARGET)...\033[0m"
ifeq "$(TARGET)" "netlify"
# Tell Netlify we're coming
	curl -X POST -d '{}' https://api.netlify.com/build_hooks/[SNIP]
	@echo "You're all set, just hang tight"
else
	rsync -v -rz -e "ssh -l serverpilot" --checksum --delete --no-perms $(PUBLIC_DIR) $(SERVER_HOST):$(SERVER_DIR)
endif

commit:
		git add -A
		git commit -m "Build site `date`"

push:
		git push origin master

clean:
		rm -rf $(PUBLIC_DIR)

.FORCE:

I don’t get a handy preview in the browser via hugo server this way, but it’s not bad.

Echo Hide

I’ve had a new Echo Show since the day it was released. I wish I could trade it in for an Echo Hide.

This, believe it or not, is how I use my Echo Show in the kitchen.

img

Every time I walk into the kitchen the device lights up with a screen full of wonders such as “World Class Restaurant Servers Moldy Apples” or “It’s National Hot Dog Day!” or some other annoying buzzfeed-ian nonsense. It’s awful. Then at the bottom of the screen it’ll add a little note like, “Try, ‘Alexa, tell me about hot dog day.‘” I’m never doing that, but I can’t ignore it either.

To be honest, I mostly bought the Show for setting cooking timers. I loved setting timers on my original Echo and thought it would be great if I could see them all at the same time. Except I can’t. Sure, I can say, “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes” and then say, “Alexa, set a timer for 8 minutes.” She’ll do what I ask, but if I want to /see/ the timers I have to say, “Alexa, show me my timers,” which she’ll do, but only for a few seconds before going back to showing me another stupid headline like “Sia to release christmas album!” Who?

I like Alexa better when I can’t see her.

UPDATE, 10 minutes later: Sure enough it is possible to turn off much of the nonsense. That’s a little better.

Posting to Hugo from Org Mode using ox-hugo

ox-hugo is an Org exporter backend that exports Org to Hugo-compatible Markdown (Blackfriday). That also includes the generation of front matter (in TOML or YAML format) required for Hugo posts.

What that means is that I can have an org file and each headline will become a hugo-compatible markdown file with all the appropriate front matter? Awesome!

I’ll have to think about whether to use it regularly for baty.net since it adds a level of abstraction between the original “master” post in Org Mode and the final Markdown post used to render the site. Basically, I need to “render” each post twice. I’ll try it with a few posts to see how it feels. (You’re soaking in it!)

My New iPod Nano

I’d been using an old click-wheel iPod for listening to music in the car. It’s nice having music ready to go without futzing with hooking up my iPhone and cables every time I get in the car. Unfortunately, it stopped working a few months ago.

When I heard Apple was discontinuing the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle, I hustled to Best Buy and bought a brand new Nano before they were gone.

iPod Nano

I like being able to get in the car and just push the play button to continue listening to an audio book. Having to take out my phone, connect cables, find and launch an app, select something to listen to, and hit “play” adds just enough friction so that I often don’t bother listening to anything.

Having to sync everything using iTunes on my Mac adds a bit of friction, but it’s the good kind. It’s the kind that forces me to consider what I’d like to listen to until next time. That’s fine with me. Audio books take forever to listen to, so it doesn’t come up often.

iPod Nano

It also works great while walking. The Nano is tiny and it’s nice not having my phone with me. The downside is that it doesn’t work with the Airpods, so I have to use chorded headphones like some sort of Neanderthal. On the other hand, there’s no need to worry about charging the plain old EarPods.

It’s a nice setup.