The name "Elias" in all capital letters with a stylized "A".

Handling a life of photos

by Elias Hernandis • Published June 23, 2015 • Tagged formats, backups, photos

Photos are more and more popular these days. The drop of camera prices together with the improving quality of cameras on smartphones have made photography widely accessible to the general public. Moreover, with photography courses and other resources within hand's reach through the internet, taking better photos is a matter of wanting. However, these photos take up space, which is not that abundant on today's netbooks and phones.


I recently read this great article about how a professional photographer handles his gigabytes of photos properly. However, I still prefer my approach, as I don't need the original full resolution versions.

Today I will try to explain how I store all the photos I take in a way that looks sustainable and practical to me. I try to save as much space as possible without compromising quality and at the same time I try not to spend a lot of time organizing photos so that I do something else.

Importing photos from a camera

I used to wait for iPhoto to wake up and connect my camera which now is mostly my iPhone. But flicking through forgotten OSX applications I found Image Capture. I had only used it once to scan some documents but it can also handle almost any camera. I now connect my iPhone and select the photos I want to import and save them to a folder. That's it. No app to manage them. I tried Photos for OSX but if you've read other posts here you already know how concerned I am about formats that are not universal. Folders are easy, work on every system and do not take tons of space as an iPhoto library takes.

I keep things simple with one folder for event, e.g. italy-14 or christmas-12. I don't bother renaming all the photos inside the folder – they are already related and you can find one pretty easily.

Saving some space

Now its the hardest time: I go over all my photos again and delete anything not perfectly focused or anything duplicated. I am pretty aggressive and normally trash about half of the photos I took if I didn't do any cleaning on the iPhone. Of course you can keep them all but I try to think if all of them will be valuable in ten years time.

Also, I do compression. I compress JPEGs to about 80%. I have tunned this for a while and I do the following:

  1. Use JPEGoptim to handle the job, it is very thorough and can be heavily customized. I installed it with Homebrew by typing brew install jpegoptim onto a terminal.
  2. You can tell jpegoptim how much to compress your images with the -m option which takes a percentage as an argument.
  3. I tell jpegoptim not to remove any tags from the file explicitly with --strip-none. Although stripping attributes is not default behaviour it's better to be cautious. Also, you can preserve the original file timestamps and permissions with -p and -P respectively.
  4. Also, you can tell jpegoptim not to replace the original file with a compressed one if the space saved is below a threshold. To specify that threshold as a percentage use -T<percentage>.

All together I run this command jpegoptim -m80 -T40 --strip-none -p -t *.JPG. With the -t option you'll get some stats at the end of the execution. With these settings I normally get about 55% compression on the photos I take with my iPhone and a little more on those I take with a Cannon 1100D.


With this I find I can take all the photos from the last year with my even on my iPhone but things start to get pretty wild when you get photos from friends or when you do this a lot of years in a row. For long term storage I use an external hard drive and Flickr. I would rely only on Flickr if it wasn't for the videos that I can't store.

The Flickr Uploadr app will take care of uploading anything you put into a folder avoiding duplicates and putting together albums matching the folder structure on your computer. Also, it won't delete anything from Flickr nor from your computer. Truly a non-destructive sync.

Three silhouettes standing on a balcony looking at the sunset in Cuenca, Spain.