Find Where Your Pictures are Stored – Windows and MacOS

I recently helped a friend set up backups on his computer. He uses a Mac and subscribes to iCloud. The level of subscription includes a few hundred GB of storage that more than enough covers his important documents and photos. I ensured that everything is stored in iCloud folders and we confirmed that all the files are showing up on a second Mac and also on his iPad. He also subscribes to another online backup service. As I frequently talk about, it’s important to have multiple types of backup so that you are protected in case something happens to one or more of the backup copies. It was no problem to point to the iCloud files on the computer to ensure that the backup service backed them up. The problem I had was finding the pictures that are managed by the Apple Photo Library.

The benefits of photo management software

Apple Photos Library on MacOS is a great way to view and manage your photos. You can view them by date or put them into albums. There’s also integrated tools for doing minor photo editing. Another alternative is to keep the photos in a regular folder structure similar to what I have written about before. My example is from Windows but this can also be done on MacOS. The problem arises when you go to back up these photos that are managed by Apple Photos Library.

Just exactly where are those photo located?

I had a look at my friend’s computer to see where the photos are located in Apple Photos Library. The backup software that he uses, Zoolz, works by either setting it up to backup all photos, documents or specific files types or to browse for specific folders. I was able to browse to his iCloud document folders but could not find the Photo Library. Then I did a bit of digging around through the folder structure. I opened Finder and went to his home directory. I browsed through the folders and then I saw Photos Library

here is where the Photos Library shows up in the MacOS file system

Double clicking on Photos Library just opens up the Photos Library program. By pressing CTRL and click, that opens the menu option where you can select Show Package Contents

This took me to the actual files and folders, looking quite similar to the system that I use for managing photos and videos.

Now I could copy or view any photo in the folder structure. But here is the big question. How can I access these photo folders from other software like Zoolz backup? I did some research and it looks like that since these are folders completely managed by Photos Library, your only option is to let iCloud back them up. For me, this goes against my practice of keeping multiple copies of important files such as photos and videos. Am I missing something? I there some other way to access these files, even from a back up only option? I understand that nothing except Photos Library should be able to change these folders.

If this is truly the case, then I cannot recommend using Apple Photos Library to anyone who is serious about effectively protecting their photos and videos. If you put these files in their own folder structure that you manage then you have control. In future, I will look at other options for managing photos and videos that does not involve Apple Photos Library. Or maybe there’s a way to sync files from Photos Library to another location. Do you have any suggestions for managing photos and videos on MacOS? If so, let me know in the comments.

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My Method for Naming and Tagging Photos and Videos

I have previously written about my method for organizing digital photos and videos. Within the many folders are thousands of files, most of which have been manually renamed. This naming and tagging of photos is a process that I started when my son was born in 2002 and has continued ever since.

Each file is individually named to tell either who is in the photo or briefly where or what the photos is about

How to label photos and videos

After I have taken pictures at an event or at the end of a month, I copy all of the photos and videos from my phone or camera to a folder on my computer, let’s call it “incoming photos and videos”. From this folder, I then copy groups of photos and videos to folders based on the date and event. For example, in the view above, there are numerous events in June 2004 that are each in individual folders.

Within each folder, I then rename each file. I use a thumbnail preview in Windows Explorer or I use another program for managing photos. For years I used Google’s Picasa, which has now been discontinued. Even though Google no longer supports it, I often still use it for my viewing and renaming process.

A similar view from above but with Google’s Picasa software

Picasa, or most other photo management programs allows you to view a folder of pictures and easily make changes such as adjust brightness or rename. In Picasa, I can make the thumbnail views larger or smaller as needed.

Another convenient feature of Picasa is that I can filter what pictures I want to see. For example, I take a lot of photos with an iPhone. These photos and videos are always named in the form of IMG_. By typing “IMG_” into the search bar, I can see all the photos and videos that I have not yet renamed. Other cameras have their own naming format so this is a way to find non-renamed files.

By searching for a specific set of characters, you can find files not yet renamed

For years I have gone about the process of renaming files. Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated when there is a group of 20 people. For these photos I usually simplify the name to something like “group at lunch”. The numerous photos of about 1 to 5 people are very easy to handle, just name the file with their names.

The Power and Benefits of Renaming Photos

Earlier I showed how I could narrow down photos that haven’t been renamed by searching for them in Picasa. I could do the same in Windows Explorer or in any photo management software. The real power is in finding what I have renamed. A few examples.

For my kids’ birthdays, I often make my own birthday cards. I can search across years of photos to find old pictures of them. I can search for pictures of the kids with specific people. Of course, if you have several people with the same name, you will have to go through a bunch of pictures to find the right one but even this can be handled by naming the files with first and last names. The main benefit of this system is that it’s independent of any computer or software. I can start this process on a Mac and then move all my files to Windows. In 10 years I can move these photos to some new computer and it should be able to handle the thousands of folders and files.

What about just using the cloud?

Yes, I can put all the above mentioned photos into Google Photos and let it sort it out for me. Google will let me view photos in chronological order and put together albums. It’s even gotten smart enough to detect who people are and once I tag them it will find them in future photos. Isn’t that more efficient than my system?

Yes, it is more efficient on the surface but what happens if Google goes away in 20 years or starts charging huge amounts for the service? I can get all my photos and videos out of Google but in what format? I’ll have just a massive folder, or maybe set of folders with files. I don’t think that in 20 years I’ll want to start labelling 100,000 photos and videos!

To me, the eventual solution may not yet exist. I would like to see the best of both. A program that runs on my computer and lets me manage my photos in simple folders and files. Add into this a plug-in to something like Google that analyzes photos and automatically renames them based on who is in them or some other criteria. That would make the process more efficient and have long lasting value as there still would not be a tie in to proprietary software.

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Will my grandchildren be able to look at my photos?

This week I was over at my cousin’s house and we were talking about old family photos. He had a stack of photos and pulled out this great shot of his grandfather, my great-uncle from when he graduated from university in the 1940s.

Nathan Fox 1940s
Nathan Fox, early 1940s

My cousin knew that the picture was somewhere in this pile and he was able to find it easily. It got me thinking about how this exercise in viewing a 75 year old picture might be in 75 years from now. At that time, it will be more a question of “where are digital photos stored on my computer?”

At the time of this writing, in 2018 there are very few printed pictures. That’s not to say that no pictures are printed. My wife enjoys making photo books from various family events and these are great to look at. All of the pictures are stored in my computer too.

I imagine that in 75 years from now, someone will want to look at an old picture but first have to figure out where it is. Is it on their phone or computer? Is it stored in the cloud? Today many photos are stored in the popular JPEG format. This common picture format can be viewed on almost all devices and has been around for a long time. One of the main downsides is that it uses a form of compression such that if you make changes, the quality of the picture will degrade. There are other formats that do not degrade but the files are larger and in some cases are not as popular or prevalent on all devices. The real question is this – how can I guarantee that my photos will be viewable in the future?

Let’s say that you have 20,000 photos stored over the past 20 years. That means you may have 20,000 JPEG images that potentially may be unusable if future computers cannot read them. The best solution that I have at this time is to be aware of what formats are popular today. Let’s say that it looks like JPEG will become used less and less – similar to VHS tapes and audio cassettes. This gives you time to convert your photos to other formats. I know of several free programs that can mass convert photos from one format to another. The same can be said for videos and other digital files. As long as you are vigilant in keeping up with what currently the standard then you will be prepared for the future. It’s also not a bad idea to get to know people who can help advise you about this too!

If all goes well, and you follow my advice about keeping your photos and videos stored by date and even labeling the files, then in many years from now when your grandchildren want to find a special photo of you, they can easily look through whatever digital / cloud system they have and will have the same good feeling you do now when you run your hands across an old photograph.

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Review: Apple iCloud Photo Library

On a recent vacation to visit family in Montreal, I decided to turn on Apple iCloud Photo Library so I could give it a proper test. With my system for storing photos, I wasn’t so sure that iCloud Photo Library was for me but I get asked about systems like it all the time so I decided a test was in order. Let’s take a step back. When iPhones first came out, all photos and videos were stored on the phone. When you wanted to do something with them off the phone, you plugged your iPhone into a computer and transferred the photos. As we move to a more phone-centric world and always connected, having the ability to automatically have pictures stored in the cloud is an option. With iCloud Photo Library, as you take pictures and videos, they are uploaded to your personal Apple iCloud online space. You can decide whether or not to do this through cellular or only on WiFi. Let’s walk through how this is set up and some important settings.

Enabling iCloud Photo Library

First, when I mention iPhone here, it also applies to iPads. If you have a cellular enabled iPad, then all the cellular considerations apply to. For WiFi only iPads, it’s only going to upload when it has a WiFi connection. On your phone, go to Settings-> Photos and tap on iCloud Photo Library. If you expect to take many photos and don’t want to have to manage space, choose Optimize iPhone Storage. This will reduce the size of photos on the phone but the full sizes remain online. enable iCloud Photo Library That’s all there is to enable iCloud Photo Library. Now when you take photos and videos, they will get uploaded to your iCloud account. If you have several Apple devices, you’ll be able to view and even share these photos and videos from anywhere. And even from any web browser you can log in to icloud.com to see and manage your pictures from there. As time goes on, you’ll have all your photos easily available. So in summary, these are the pros for enabling iCloud Photo library:
  • backs up automatically to the cloud
  • becomes available on all devices including any web browser
  • easy to share pictures with others

The Other Side of iCloud Photo Library

When the great features of systems like iCloud Photo Library are talked about, it’s always about the convenience and protection of your photos and videos. The questions I always ask about any system that stores my precious memories include:
  • How easy is it to get my photos and videos out in the future in case I want to change to a different cloud provider?
  • What happens if they go out of business?
  • What happens if the system is hacked and I lose everything?
  • If they do stick around, how can I ensure that I can give these photos and videos one day?
So let’s look at the “cons” to iCloud Photo Library. First, if you use Microsoft Windows, like I do, then it’s not as tightly integrated with your computer as it would be with a Mac (more on that analysis when I get my hands on a Mac)

Hard to sync photos between iCloud and your computer

It’s not easy to sync up pictures to a computer if you use “my” method of storing photos. You can install iCloud for Windows which gives you some tools for synchronizing things like web browser bookmarks, email with Outlook and photos. As you can see here, you can both upload and download photos from your computer. In this case, I have 80 photos and 13 videos from 2018 that I can download to my computer. There’s no way to say only download photos that I’ve added since last time or a specific range.

It would be very easy with this download method to lose track of what is in folders on your computer vs what is in iCloud. If you keep your photos in organized folders by year, month and event, a much better choice is something like Dropbox or OneDrive.

Managing photos in iCloud web site

If you log into icloud.com, you can browse through all your photos. There is no easy way to delete multiple photos – no ctrl-click, to select multiple, all you can do is select a “memory” which is photos on a certain date or album. Otherwise it’s one by one.

Long term existence of the service

At the time of writing this, 2018, Apple is in excellent financial shape and show no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. Having your photos in iCloud Photo Library works great as long as Apple keeps the service going, but what happens if in 20 years Apple discontinues the service or makes such a drastic change that you don’t want to keep using it? If you care about the long term ability to keep these photos, then suddenly having to move all of them can be very difficult. If you create “albums” or any other proprietary structures in iCloud Photo Library, all you’ll likely get in a download is every single photo.

Summary and Recommendation

As I have said before, never rely on only one service. Because of the way that Apple traps you into their ecosystem without the ability to sync to other services, I am unable to recommend iCloud Photo Library for anyone who is relying on it as their sole source to store their photos and videos. In future posts, I will talk about how to effectively use different methods to both have access now to your photos and videos and protect them for long term. Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

My Method for Organizing Digital Photos and Videos

As you keep filling up your phone with pictures and videos and then occasionally copy them to your computer, you must be thinking, I must organize my pictures. This method is also very effective for backup purposes as it leads to an easier way of getting all pictures and videos backed up. More about that in a future post.

Folders on My Hard Drive

My main computer is a laptop with a relatively small hard drive. There isn’t enough room to store all of my pictures and videos going back many years. I purchased an external hard drive, similar to this one. Within the hard drive, I set up a folder structure:

You’re probably wondering how I have folders going back to the 1920s – there were surely no digital cameras then! I use these folders not only to store pictures taken now but also scanned pictures. This simple year method allows me to keep all pictures, regardless of where they originated.

Within each year folder, there are subfolders for each month. For example, in 2017 the structure is as follows:

Then, within every month, there is a series of folders and pictures. If there is a specific event, such as a birthday party or and outing where I took a lot of pictures, I would create a folder there. If I have just a couple of pictures that were taken while out, they are put in the folder for the month. This short amount of time spent figuring out how to organize your pictures is well worth it in the long term when you want to find them!

For example, this is the folder for July 2005. There were several event where I took pictures such as a wedding, or in the cases of folders labelled like ‘weekend 15-17, it’s pictures from that weekend. The remaining pictures are others that were taken that month that didn’t warrant specific categorization.

You will also notice that the pictures are named a certain way. The method I generally use is to name the file based on who is in the picture and/or where they are. Also, when I say picture, a short video taken with my phone would also be included in the same folder where pictures are stored.

Scanned Photos

As for scanned photos, the storage method is identical. If I have a collection of pictures from August of 1962, I will scan them and create the appropriate folder structure. In some cases where I don’t know the exact year, I have created folders such as ‘1960s’ and then keep the pictures there.

Other Categories of Photos

If you look at my year photo structure from earlier, there are 2 additional folders listed:

  • Family pictures
  • scan

In any way of storing pictures and videos, there are always exceptions. In my case, as part of my genealogy research, I also have collections of old photos that I don’t want to store in the year/month/event method. For these, I keep the ‘Family Pictures’ folder where I can store pictures based on other categories.

The ‘scan’ folder is where I keep scanned photos that haven’t yet been categorized and placed in folders.

As you develop your own storage system, you will find a system that works for you. The key recommendation is to keep all photos in a common folder structure as it makes backup and copying much easier.

Next time we will talk about making backup copies of your pictures and videos.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail