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It’s 2019 and still the wild west for organizing digital photos

Omar L. Gallaga
ogallaga@statesman.com
How do you save your selfies? The solution might not be as easy as you'd hope. [File photo]

I have a video file that sits on the desktop screen of my trusty MacBook Pro. In it, it’s 2012 and my two daughters are playing in the backyard. There are two tiny plastic chairs in the grass and the girls are, at first, squealing and wrestling over the chairs, one red, one yellow.

Then Lilly, who is 4 1/2 in the video, decides to go get her bucket and chalk. She turns to go, and Carolina, just 2 years old, sneaks into her sister’s red chair.

“Heeeeyyyy!” Lilly yells when she turns around. Carolina obediently gets up, moves to the yellow chair, falls right over and then goes back to the red chair as soon as Lilly is distracted again. Before Carolina can even sit down, Lilly sees her and cries, “Heeeyyyy!” again. Carolina retreats to the yellow chair. Then, giggly because now it’s a game, slides back to the red.

It goes on like that three or four more times until Carolina decides to just carry the chair around with her attached to her butt and avoid all the running around. She’s really clever like that.

The video makes me laugh every time I watch, and sometimes I tear up a little, too. They’re so tiny, in their bright pink clothes, and their voices are so much higher pitched than now. The sisterly dynamic has not changed much over the years.

At a minute and four seconds, it’s one of the most precious pieces of data I own. That’s one of the reasons I moved it to the desktop, where I could always easily find it. But until I stumbled across it a year or two ago while looking for something else, it was just another file in a big, messy folder of other files with names like "DSC3453.MOV."

Most of my family photos are like that, just random file names in a big folder labeled “Documents” or part of the gigantic pileup of Camera Roll pictures and videos on my iPhone.

For my first couple of years as a parent, as we accumulated tons of birth, infant and toddler photos of the girls, I made it a point to create folders on the computer and have a backup of everything. I was also uploading everything to Dropbox and Flickr as an online backup. I still have a bunch of those folders on multiple hard drives with names such as “Lilly and Carolina Dec. 2012” or “Carolina Ultrasound.”

That stopped around 2012, when our smartphones began to replace the Nikon SLR and Canon video camera for most of the photos and videos we were taking. It began to be too much of a hassle to import stuff all the time and organize things and deal with Apple’s awkward shift from iPhoto and Aperture to its truly awful Photos Mac software.

For a while, I considered taking all the photos and videos and importing them to Adobe’s Lightroom. But that seemed like an even bigger mountain to climb. Our photo and video collection grew, full of birthday pictures and Easter egg hunts and summer vacation videos. It scattered across phones, iPads, point-and-shoot cameras the girls use and places including Facebook and Instagram.

And now? I just don’t know. I’m a tech writer who has no idea how to tackle this digital-era dilemma. I know the consequences of not organizing my photos: We won’t ever go back and look at them. We will likely lose a lot of them if a phone or camera goes missing and hasn’t had its photos and videos backed up.

But the motivation to keep it all in one place, or at least easily searchable, has escaped me.

I know others have dealt with this issue, and they typically fall into one of four camps:

The organizers: These are the people who carried on where I left off. They transfer photos over from camera cards and phones all the time, importing them into reliable catalog software such as Lightroom. They tag photo imports with keywords, dates and names to make them easy to find later. They make backups to a cloud service and an external hard drive. I don’t know where they find the time.

The onliners: These are the photo shooters who place their faith in the cloud. They set their phones or tablets to transfer every shot to a service such as Google Photos or iCloud as soon as they take it. They post great shots to Instagram or dig back into their deep archive of pics for Throwback Thursdays.

The deleters: Only the best photos make the cut for these people. They get rid of duplicate or imperfect photos, they don’t get particularly stressed out if their entire photo library disappears or they lose a not-backed-up phone. Such is the tenuous nature of life and the transitory state of capturing it digitally. These people really scare me.

The analogers: My mom falls into this camp, the people who are really good about actually printing their best digital photos and using them for photo albums, picture frames, Christmas ornaments, fridge magnets, you name it. The biggest problem I have with this is that computer printers are mostly terrible. I’ve only owned one photo printer my entire life that actually worked most of the time. Photo kiosks at drug stores seem like a better bet for getting quality prints consistently.

I would like to promise that in 2019 I’ll join one of these groups and figure out how to approach these digital memories. But if I’m being honest, I’ll probably just keep accumulating these memories for some future imagined date and go back to that hilarious chair video whenever I want to a dose of sweet, perfect nostalgia.