Freeing images: From the DAM to the Cloud

My photographic workflows have long been split between serious and casual. Really a split between my camera workflow and my iPhone workflow. I’m discovering that the key to bringing them together is using Apple’s native Photos app as a unified image database.

Once images are in the Photos database they are available everywhere and backed up not only on Apple’s servers, but also downloaded to my desktop Mac which backs them up to a local hard drive plus a cloud repository. A few years ago, these services were unreliable, but now we rely on them to store the photographs that document our lives taken with our phones and shared via social media.

It’s time we merge the images taken by our cameras with our phone photography in the cloud.

I’m sure that event photographers and other specialized users will still want to use a workflow that centers on files and folders or storage in a DAM, a digital asset management system like Lightroom or Capture One. But the “Photostream” of life is now best captured in the cloud. Just as we no longer store and file CDs or even digital files, there’s not much reason to store and file images. At work, documents are not only all electronic, but they are centrally filed in the cloud. We can pull down music, books, documents and now photographs from the cloud as needed. The current iPad Pro can ingest photos via USB-C as fast as my Mac Mini. And my iPad is almost always within reach, so as long as the card reader is available, my images can be quickly moved to the iPad and the cloud. The Nikon and Leica apps are fine for transferring an image or two, but probably not worth the time for bulk transfer.

What about organization? Keywording? Photo star ratings? The organization for photos is built around time, places, events and people via facial recognition. Algorithmic album creation has crept into our lives slowly, hardly noticed. Really the only options in Photos for organization are to create albums and favorite individual photographs. Soon Lightroom will similarly directly transfer images into an iPad and upload them to Adobe’s servers, bypassing the native Photos app. Lightroom currently lacks the interfaces to add photos within apps like WordPress since the expectation is that photos are all in Apple’s Photos database. So until this changes, Photos works best as the default primary photo database in the cloud.

Images out of most cameras lack the geolocation that phone images have by default. Oddly, camera manufacturers have been slow to add GPS to their cameras for geotagging. It’s important since Photos depends on geolocation for organizing photos for presentation. The iPhone camera always geotags its photos, providing automatic travel photo organization. The travel photos that I have added from my cameras to the Photos database show up as part of the trips since the Photos app uses their proximity to geotagged iPhone photos to properly locate in space as well as time. Geotagging my Nikon Z7 and Leica images (M10, Q2 and film) is a subject worthy of separate discussion, but certainly possible with varying degrees of accuracy with different levels of effort required.

In the end, I’m working toward freeing my images from their imprisonment on the Mac’s folders and get them up into the cloud for casual use. It’s a big step away from the workflows that came from the film era, as big a step as we’ve had from paper files to cloud document filing and from physical recording media to streaming music services.

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