Photography and my struggle for digital minimalism
Something I’ve struggled with for a long time is finding a photo storage, backup, editing, and sharing workflow that I truly feel happy with. I take a LOT of photos and videos (iPhone, Fujifilm and Ricoh cameras, and 35mm film) so keeping them all organized and properly backed up is a challenge.
I want my photo organization to be simple, cohesive, and inexpensive. Something that motivates me to take and share more photos.
There are many solutions and they each have their benefits and drawbacks… I’m not against paying for a solution but just throwing money at a tool doesn’t mean that you’ll get the best result, or so I’ve learned.
You also need to use your tools properly:
- cull your duds
- choose a logical folder / album naming scheme
- edit your photos so they look good
- make sure they’re easily accessible and synced to all your devices
- back them up so if something happens you can restore them
As of today, I’m paying for many different cloud storage services… Google Drive / Photos, Apple iCloud Photos, Adobe Lightroom Cloud, Flickr, Backblaze backup, and finally Backblaze B3 & Amazon Glacier.
How did I end up paying for all these tools? Do I really need all of them or can I eliminate a couple and simplify my life / save some cash?
Just so I can get it straight in my head, my photo storage history looks something like this:
I first started off using Google Photos/Picasa back in 2012, the year I also got my first DSLR. I uploaded everything to Google Photos. I purchased Google Drive space to store these photos.
Since Google Photos was cloud-first and had no real desktop client, I never bothered storing any additional backup copies of my photos elsewhere. I remember playing around with a pirated copy of Lightroom but never really committed to using it nor did I shoot any RAW photos.
I would do janky edits of my JPGs in Google Photos, and I wasn’t really taking my photography that seriously at this point so Google Photos was a pretty great solution since everything I shot was all in one place, and the shared album features were easy to use.
After a number of years of this system - shooting tons of photos and just uploading everything directly to Google Photos, one day in fall 2019 I came back from a trip to asia with thousands of photos… I had taken SO many photos, and while I was really happy with many of them, I felt so completely overwhelmed and I didn’t know how to approach organizing them.
The interface in Google didn’t lend itself well to culling, rating or organizing through that quantity of photos.
I fully gave into procrastination and didn’t do ANYTHING with the pictures for months and months. They were uploaded to Google Photos, but I just couldn’t bring myself to delete anything and find the pictures I liked - I just felt stuck.
Around that time I tried out Lightroom Cloud for a bit, and saved my RAW files from the 2019 trip to their cloud storage… but I ultimately ended up cancelling the subscription and stopped using it.
Apple Photos (iCloud)
In 2020 after the pandemic hit, I decided to hit the brakes and sell a number of lenses and cameras I had accumlated, and I tried to reset my approach to photography. That fall I decided to upgrade my X100F to the X100V (and sold off a lot of gear to simplify my setup, keeping my X100V as my only digital camera).
I also switched from Android to iOS so I started using Apple Photos as my main photo library because it was so integrated on the iPhone, and I greatly preferred using the Apple Photos native client for my Mac than the slow Google Photos web app.
I would keep using Google Photos just as a secondary backup (using the automatic backup feature in the Google Photos app on my phone). However, I never did a full “migration” of photos over from Google Photos - I basically just started fresh on Apple and kept my old Google Photos as an archive (I thought I would over time manually go through and save my absolute favourite photos from Google to Apple, so Apple would be a collection of just really good shots).
I experimented a lot with the built-in “Film Simulation” options on my X100V using presets from the website Fuji X Weekly. I shot mostly JPG and specifically decided against saving or editing RAWs, because I was trying to keep things simple. I learned a lot during this time I think and my photo skills got a lot better. However my organization was still a mess.
I also signed up for Flickr Pro in 2020, and started posting some photos there. I really enjoyed following other photographers, and found that the community there was much more “photography-focused” than what Instagram had become. However, for better or worse, Instagram is still the platform everyone uses, so I’ve been using both platforms.
Lightroom Cloud (Take 2)
By spring 2021 I felt it was time to give Lightroom Cloud another try because I wanted the flexibility to edit my photos AFTER shooting, and I wanted better organizational tools. I was surprised to find that when I signed up, the RAW photos from 2019 that I had uploaded when I previously tried were all still there! They hadn’t deleted them, even though I wasn’t paying.
Lightroom Cloud has some decent benefits:
- RAW photo “backup”, sync, and editing tool all-in-one
- Can view, import photos and edit them on any device (phone, tablet or laptop) since all of them sync to the cloud
- Photo edit history (revert to previous versions)
- Ability to directly share albums of photos after editing using a single click (no need to export or upload to any other tool)
So I have been using Lightroom Cloud ever since, and I ended up developing a pretty decent organizational system there for my albums. I create folders per year, and inside each year, I have my albums named as “YY-MM-DD Event Name”. That naming system seems to have worked best for me so far.
Rethinking my solution
Recently I surpassed the 1 TB package limit on Adobe Cloud. As of today 1.1 TB of RAW photos are in my Adobe Lightroom cloud, which means I have to pay for 3TB of storage, and it’s quite (VERY) expensive. Since 2021 I’ve been paying $29.37 CAD (after tax) a month for my 1 TB Lightroom plan. After upgrading to 3TB, the cost has risen to $44.06 CAD (after tax) a month.
That’s $528.72 a year just to store and edit my photos!
I also recently realized that Lightroom doesn’t process my Fujifilm X100V photos very well. In 2021 I compared the results and I basically decided to ignore the difference since I liked the Lightroom workflow so much. But I recently compared a JPG from my camera with the Lightroom-processed image and found that the camera’s output was way cleaner, especially in low-light. Lightroom’s JPG was full of noise.
So, I rediscovered a tool called Fujifilm X RAW Studio. It’s a free tool that allows you to edit your Fujifilm’s raw files and process them using your camera’s processor (you need to plug your camera into your computer to use it) and then export JPGs that have the exact same look as if you took them in-body.
So I think I’m going to rethink my digital photography. I’ve got a couple very basic film recipes that I use as “custom profiles” on my X100V, so the only edits I really need to do to my photos are very basic exposure adjustments, usually!
So here’s my plan
I’ve decided to cancel my Adobe Lightroom subscription and save $528.72 a year! I’m going to buy a portable external hard drive using the money I’ve saved, and download a copy of all my RAW files from Lightroom for safe keeping. I’ll back them up to the cloud using Backblaze.
And I’m going to go buy an SD card adapter for my iPhone so I can directly import JPGs into my phone on-the-go. Because that’s ultimately where I want my photos anyways (to share easily with others on messaging apps, instagram, etc)!
The wifi apps for my Fujifilm and Ricoh are super slow, so using an SD adapter is the fastest way I can see to offload images directly to my phone.
This way I can keep my raw files in case I ever want them in the future (and have a cloud backup), but I can lean into the JPG-first workflow that I think I should have been using this whole time.
What are your thoughts? Am I crazy or does this sound like a good plan?
How do you organize your photos?
I’d love to hear what works for you :)