Photographers: Apple’s iOS 10’s announcement means it’s time to get your photos organized.

If you’re a photographer with a “big” camera and an iOS user, iOS 10 gives us an exciting peak into Apple’s plans for managing photographs. Prepping your photos right now is going to pay dividends.

The Issue

Photo management is not something that most people get excited about, and I can understand why — it’s tedious, it’s complicated, and there are several options how to organize, backup, categorize, etc. Most of us use our phones to capture all sorts of memories and many of us also use professional or semi-professional cameras (like DSLRs or MILCs) to capture moments with children, family, for artistic pursuits, for work, or for fun.

This tends to section our photos into two different camps:

  • Photos shot on our phones
  • Photos shot on our big cameras.

The majority of what I’m hoping to do here is to lay out a path towards a more fully integrated way of combining photos shot on big cameras with those shot on our phones. We will often capture images with both our phones and big cameras, but it can feel like ‘never the twain shall meet.’

Why now?

Earlier this week Apple announced at WWDC 2016 their plans for what iOS 10 and how it will effect Photos in particular. The two areas that I am going to focus on organizing for is what Apple is calling “Intelligent Search” and “Places Album.” Going forward, these are going to be the way that Apple wants you to explore your photography. This makes metadata like keywords, titles, descriptions, etc. important as well as GPS location metadata, which will be required to place images on a map.

A Solution for iOS/OS X/Lightroom users

Preamble

I’m going to outline a process that has worked very well for me, and I hope will resonate with you. A couple of points I’d like to add upfront: I am all in on iOS and OS X (soon to be macOS). It would take absolute incompetence by Apple for many years for me to switch away from their products. This is why Google Photos is absent from this solution because I don’t really live in the Google apps ecosystem. I am in awe of what Google has been able to do with Google Photos and I’m excited to see that they pushed Apple to update the Photos app with some of the integrated searching and organizational tools.

I am a Lightroom user because I think that it has the best combination of RAW processing and organization tools. It is far from a perfect tool, but I think it’s the best one out there for me as of right now.

First Steps: Inside of Lightroom

I organize my Lightroom catalogs into Collections by year. This gives me a broad overview of my photos and makes it easy to find a collection of photos maybe a from a trip in 2013 or a kids shoot in 2009. I’m a big fan of this, I think that it helps provide a much needed top-level categorization.

Inside of those annual Collections, I have a few other folders that are pretty consistent from year to year. The ones that work best for me are Events, Portraits, Places, and Work. I use Events quite a bit, because I am the person who tends to document major and minor events in the lives of my friend group and family. I organize the Events into Collections in reverse chronological order like this: YYYY.MM.DD — Title of the Event.

This is a really important step I’m hoping for folks to grab on to. I find organizing in this way to be so helpful and so soothing because I can quickly go back through time to find and remember events that I’ve photographed.

What happens in the Collection?

A very quick overview on how I manage images inside of Lightroom:

  1. Import images
  2. Place images into a collection inside of a year/sub-category collection (with YYYY.MM.DD — Title of the Event)
  3. Cull and pick images (using Picks, Stars, colors, etc.)
  4. Edit photos (often the longest part)
  5. Add metadata to photos (The part most likely to be skipped!)
  6. Export and deliver or post images
  7. Review and delete unpicked images (usually days or weeks after images have been delivered or posted)

In my experience with most of my professional/semi-professional/serious photographer friends, #5 is the part that gets ignored. And I totally get it. We’re busy folks. Adding keywords, titles, descriptions, GPS, Copyrights, etc. are probably the last thing that you want to do in any given moment. I am BEGGING YOU to do it though. I add it to my to do list on any given set of photos that I need to get out the door.

“Add Metadata” is now something I always add to photo projects.

If you made me rank what is most important to add to photos I would rank them like this:

  1. GPS
  2. Copyrights
  3. Titles/Descriptions
  4. Keywords

Why this order? GPS is #1 for me because (almost) all of the photos taken with your iPhone will have GPS so they will show up on Apple’s new “Places Album” in all of their glory. If your big camera photos don’t have GPS, it’ll be another way that they are sectioned off from your iPhone photos. I think that adding GPS to photos is going to be such a big deal going forward. Again, I am BEGGING YOU to do it. I’m really interested in the ways that coming generations will consume the information of the past like photos. What if my grandkids recreate the same honeymoon trip that my wife and I took? What if generation after generation come back to shoot the same photo over and over in the same location, year after year? If this becomes the norm, finding locations of beautiful photos and researching how and where to photograph them will be transformed forever. I think there are so many creative things that people are going to be able to do with this tiny piece of information. All of the remaining metadata is great to have, but I’m most passionate about adding GPS. Big beautiful maps with photos pinned all around them get me excited.

While I think that adding Keywords is great, the new deep learning that Apple is going to do on our photos will (hopefully) be a replacement for this type of metadata. If they can implement it as well as Google Photos has, then it will be an incredible tool for searching all sorts of things like forests, hugs, sunsets, animals, people by face/name, etc. — all without you needing to add that information.

The Big Steps

So, to review, what I’m asking you to do is to create a series of annual collections that are populated with selected photos that are filled with all sorts of relevant metadata living inside of Lightroom. Got it!?

Once you’ve got that done (I’m assuming this probably took you many hours/weeks/months to complete), let’s get those photos inside of Apple Photos, living next to the photos shot on your iPhone.

This step will require that you have enough iCloud Drive space to upload your photos, however big that will be. I export JPEGs from Lightroom and treat them as the canonical, final version of the file. My RAW files remain inside of Lightroom and are backed up constantly.

What comes next for me is to export out the photos from each collection into a file and folder named the same way in Lightroom: “YYYY.MM.DD — Title of the Event.” Having them formatted like this is really great because it helps keeping them in reverse chronological order.

What do I get for doing all of this?

Apple’s vision for our photo libraries is for them to be managed and consumed on our mobile devices. All of the processing of face detection, Intelligent Search, and creating it’s new Moments feature is going to be done in a way where you are going to want to have the photos from your big cameras mixed with your mobile photos. No more segmentation of our photos. They get to live in one place.

Canon photos (not the camera manufacturer #wink)

For all of this work you will get a canonical place to view your photos in a very beautiful way. Apple Photos and the Photos App are a great tool for categorizing and managing your images, and soon it will be even better with the additions of Intelligent Search, Places Albums, and Moments.

Cloud backup

You’ll have a reliable cloud backup of all of your images. Your photos will be safe against a hard drive crash or a stolen computer. The basics of backing up require an offsite backup and this works well for that purpose.

Sharing, Screen savers, Lots of Devices

My favorite parts of having my photos inside of Apple Photos are quick access to viewing them on the Apple TV and the ability to set them up as a screensaver. This sounds like a small thing, but I absolutely love it. Being able to relive the memories that I’ve shot is very meaningful to me. Why else would we be capturing these photos if not to enjoy them?! Sharing images with Apple Photos is blunt right now, but gets the job done. You can easily create a stream of images for friends or family.

Memories, Memories, Memories

It’s really all about remembering and cherishing these photos. We live in a world where the overwhelming majority of photos are digital. Billions and billions are captured each day. Putting the time into organizing them will pay dividends. These are your memories. Preserve them for a very long time.

I’m hoping to be a very old man someday with a very full photo app. I hope this will inspire you to put in the work that’s necessary, because I think you will thank yourself years down the road if you do. Grace and peace to everyone who reads this.

Happy shooting.