It used to be we'd store our photographs in albums or frames, even shoeboxes, to keep our image collections on display or out of the way. Now most of us are working with digital images, and though they don't take up space in our homes, they do take up a lot of space on our devices. How do we manage all these files? Do we keep everything or only the images we love? What's the best way to review and import all these images from our cameras?
These days, it's more important than ever to develop a process for managing your photos and keep an uncluttered collection of all your digital images:
Pick the right software to import, review, and edit your collections
There are a number of options available to manage your images. Of course you could always just plug in your camera and drag and drop the files from your flash storage, but this doesn't always give you the best overview of your images, or a method for sorting your images for archiving.
If you have a Mac you're probably familiar with iPhoto, which will generally pop up when you plug in a USB card reader, your phone, or your camera. With a fairly basic set of features, iPhoto will do a fine job of importing your photos in folders according to date.
If you're looking to manage photos with a finer degree of granular control, Adobe Lightroom is the way to go. Comparatively affordable (when compared to the pairing of Photoshop and Adobe Bridge), Lightroom offers plenty of features for the beginner and seasoned pro alike. Whenever I plug in my camera, I open Lightroom and let it handle the import, which will sort my image sets according to date. I like to import my images directly to an external hard drive to keep my memory limited Macbook Air lean and clean.
Lightroom is great since it offers integrated image file management with previews, and fairly robust editing and developing functions for tweaking and beautifying your images. Since not every image you take is a work of art, try adding flags to the images you think are best, or that you've developed. Once you've edited a subset of your images, you can reduce your collection down to the flagged images (with filters) and export those to a separate folder for easy access of the best images from each set.
Lightroom is of course not the only way to go; Aperture for Mac also offers a great collection management and editing workflow, and pros will likely still swear by the pairing of Adobe Bridge and Photoshop. Additionally, some online alternatives are starting to offer these more robust tools a run for their money.
Store and/or display them online
Once you have your photos sorted, and you've picked out some of the best, consider uploading the edits (or even the entire set) as high resolution images to the cloud.
Flickr still offers a fantastic community of photographers who have uploaded their images in high res. Though perhaps not the most intuitive or attractive solution for uploading your pictures, the inclusion of features for setting copyright or creative commons licensing for your photos is fairly useful. Say you're a hobbyist nature photographer; consider uploading your photos with a Creative Commons license, which lets others use your images in their own projects. You get the enjoyment of contributing to a vibrant community of photographers willing to share their work, while enjoying the benefit of an online archive to display your photos (not to mention the possibility you might discover a new species).
Picasa also has some compelling features for storing and managing your images online. With some basic editing tools, integration with your Google account, and the ability to privately share image sets with other Picasa or Gmail and Google+ users, Picasa is a fairly usable tool for archiving and sharing your image sets. Picasa also recently added a native client for Mac, which lets you manage and upload your online collection more easily.
If you're willing to spend a bit of money, SmugMug offers a fairly robust offering for pros, including apps for Android, iPhone, and iPad and unlimited storage of high resolution images. Photobucket also offers unlimited uploads (with a monthly limit), and a paid tier without advertisements.
Users of Android who consider their phone's camera their primary shooter might consider checking out Dropbox and its new photo sync feature. Check out your settings in your Dropbox app to activate the feature, which will automatically upload images taken with your phone to a folder in your Dropbox. A great way to back up the pictures you take with your phone, you can set it to only upload images over wifi to ensure you're not wasting data. I like to let this feature sync my images taken with my phone for managing or editing later with my Macbook and Adobe Lightroom. This feature lets me delete the copies of my image stored on my phone so I never have to worry about filling my phone's memory with the hundreds of photos I take every month.
Of course, no article about online photo management is complete without mentioning Instagram. Little known fact; Instagram stores unfiltered copies of the photos you take on your devices. While storing the filtered versions online, most of us wouldn't notice these unedited photos taking up valuable space on our phones. If you're happy just using Instagram to store your collection, periodically delete these high res doubles.
Keep an external archive
As laptops like the Macbook Air offer smaller but faster internal flash storage, keeping an external hard drive for storing archives of your files is a definite necessity. Make a habit of letting photo management apps like Lightroom store your entire collection on a portable external hard drive instead of just importing your images to the "pictures" folder on your Mac. Photos are generally the kind of files we create, upload, and then don't really review. Keep your photos archived away, and never worry about running out of precious memory, while still maintaining those precious memories.
Import, Review, Edit, Sort, Archive
In the old days of film, negatives, and prints, photographers were forced to manage their photos, what they used to call processing and developing. Now we can take thousands of photos without batting an eye. The trick to enjoying the benefits of digital photography is getting into the habit of "processing" the images you take. Even if you're just shooting with your iPhone, you still need to consider that these images will inevitably fill up all that extra space on your phone or hard drive. Learn to process your photos by sorting them, storing them, or uploading them for display and archiving, and keep a well managed collection of photos you can enjoy for years to come.
(Image: Sean Rioux)