Having spent hours among my digital archives for the past two weeks, I’ve come to the realization that I have no proper catalog system to speak of.
On my server, I have folders organized by year, and the contents of those folders are roughly dependent on whatever ordering system I inherited from iPhoto, Aperture, or Lightroom. The organizing principle was whatever the application decided it would be. Thus, some years have neat subfolders organized by month, from 1-12. Others (from later iterations of iPhoto) are arranged in numbered sequential folders beginning with the word Roll; inside some of those years there are other folders of special events, like Ireland or Birth.
Cataloging them all with iPhoto or Aperture is useless, especially as Aperture has been put out to pasture and iPhoto is long dead. When I realized none of these apps were a long-term solution (careful testing revealed these applications got dog slow when cataloging anything over a year’s worth of photos), I backed up the files in the Originals folder Apple hid within the data package. I knew I would lose any metadata I may have carefully added (GPS data, captions, names, face-recognition information) unless I wanted to keep the XMP sidecar files with them, which I ditched.
My current solution is about as old-school as it gets: I’m making contact sheets. Photoshop has an action built in that batch processes folders of photos and lays them out in a user-configurable grid; another custom action I wrote saves them out in sequence. Anything over about 1000 photos (50 pages) brings my machine to a crawl, as Photoshop fills the hard disk for scratch space, so I’ve got to subdivide each year and work on it in chunks. So far I’ve got the first decade of the 2000’s done (2004 has an inexplicable gap, so I have to dig through my DVD’s to find those) and I’m working on 2011. Because I shoot in RAW format, the graph of the size of these folders looks like a hockey stick, so the going is going to get much slower as I get further into this decade.
The resulting JPGs are then combined inside Acrobat to generate a multi-page PDF. They are big files: 2009 is 990MB in size. But at least I don’t need a program with a limited lifespan to quickly page through my photos, and that catalog is quickly and easily copied from the server to my backup drive.