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When Pictures are worth a thousand Hours : sorting and arranging challenge

  • Images
  • 8 min read
You may have heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words. But what happens when you realize that: -You have thousands of pictures to sort and arrange. -Worse, the pictures collected over the years, taken with different devices, and stored across multiple drives. -Finally, they exist in different formats. The result: You end up spending nearly 1,000 hours sorting them. I literally went down that path recently.

Click below for the audio version of this post

At the beginning of 2022, I decided to get my digital life more organized. Images, videos and other media files were a first step. When I began organizing the photos that had collected over years, I went down a rabbit hole without realizing what I was getting into. While I did not take *actually* spend those thousand hours, it nearly feels like that- given the frustration, fatigue and failures. But in the end, some sense of order has been restored.

Good old analog world

In the good old days, one had to purchase a camera, buy batteries, film, lenses, and flash. One had to lug around this paraphernalia and wait till all the 24 (or 36 or 48) pictures in the film roll were consumed. Then, take the roll of film to the nearest store that would print them for you. The end result was that the number of photographs in a typical household were few. Less than one hundred in most cases, maybe thousand odd in the homes of the enthusiasts.
The first camera I purchased from my own income was a Canon Sureshot Owl Camera, which I still own!
I later had a Canon Elura Camcorder, and a few other digital cameras, mostly Olympus or Canon make (again). Many of them came with Compact Flash Storage.
Canon Sureshot Owl Camera. Blog of Amar Vyas

Canon Sureshot Owl Camera.

Digital clutter: Pictures and videos collected over the years

The digital era brought convenience and features, but it the convenience comes at a cost. Clicking a picture is as convenient as twiddling your thumb. But the real cost (in terms of time, effort and of course energy) is felt when one tries to organize all these digital memories that you have accumulated over the years. I experienced this in recent days.

Losing data and creating a monster

> I did not really create a monster, a mini- beast maybe.Around 2017 I ended up losing quite a bit of backup media- data from past years which included videos, images, and the likes. This happened as a result of a disk failure. Fortunately, I had back ups on online drive and most of the lost data could be retrieved. Unfortunately, the online backup drive was rather cumbersome to use, and I had merely stored the files in folders titled
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Images
  • Docs
and so on. These folder had sub-folders, one for all data upto 2015, followed by a separate folder for each subsequent year. I also replicated this data across different locations. So all those videos also the pictures taken from the different digital camera and phones that we owned, over the years, went into that backup online drive. In 2017, after the disk failure, all of the physical photographs were scanned. I also looked around the internet for my other pictures, and exported all the data and so also from facebook and Google Drive. names for videos were missing The mistake I made back then, and something that carried through till practically the end of 2021, was I did not tag those images are catalogued them. In other words, I did not name them or tag them by location, event etc. This bad habit only built up over the years. Over time, artwork and media images created for gaathastory and my blogs also got added to the mix. When we changed phones, and moved to iPhones, the images and videos got transferred to new devices. But with iPhone came new complexity : new image formats.

Image and Video Formats- the problem of plenty

In the early days of digital images, life was simpler. There were three or four primary formats :– bmp (for really, really early days) – jpg or jpeg – tiff later, the png format became popular. By 2020, the following formats had also become common: – `HEIC` or `HEIF` (particularly for iOS users) – `WebP` for WebsitesIf we disregard the formats such as `svg` and `ai` files used for artwork, and the lesser used `jpeg-xr` and `avif`, we still have to deal with a lot of format. I have also excluded some of the `raw` format images that I had clicked while learning the ropes of photography.Video was not too far behind, with `3gp` video (android), `mp4`, `mpeg`, `wm` (windows) file types.The end result: storing, sorting and cataloging the nearly 200,000 media files became a disaster of mini-epic proportions.
Collection of SVG images- svg images are not a part of my sorted pictures collection.

svg images used for icons and artwork were not sorted in this round.

Back to Optimizing and sorting the Pictures and Videos.

The end result of the poor habit of storing files and replicating them recklessly, added with the complexity of multiple formats, created a disaster or sorts. Imagine a scenario, where over thousands of image and video files are scattered across 100 plus folders (and countless subfolders). They exist in multiple formats.
There are duplicates, triplicates of some pictures and videos, the total count coming up to over 200,000 files occupying over 450 gigabytes of space.
The names of the files are auto generated in many cases, so the names look like
names for videos were missing How can one really tell what the image is about by reading this name? Using an artificial intelligence backed image sorting tool is one way to bring a structure. The other is brute force visual method. I was not going to use the latter. Not in 2022. But I still had to bring all the images together, sort them by year (or location) and convert all images to three primary formats- `jpg`, `png` and `webp`. I set the following logic:

The `WebP` images and `png` images would be used primarily for websites or social media. The `jpg`- for personal images and scans or other critical data.

consolidating videos shot over the years

Numbers galore

When I began this humongous task, I had over 200,000 images and videos that took up more than 450 Gigabytes of space. Turns out a LOT of them were duplicates, triplicates and beyond. After sorting, converting them into standard formats, I finally got the hang of the situation. The process took over 100 hours and nearly a month. I will leave you with a couple of screenshots to show where things stand today. This is *after* consolidating the files, but *before* sorting and naming them, both for video and images.Below are the numbers for those interested: -67,000 images -2,500 videosTotal space now: 106 gigabytes. This is after converting the heavier files into more optimized format.

Not all was doom and gloom

Transferring some of the pictures to my new iPhone resulted in some pleasant surprises like the below video. Note: if the below video does not play, CLICK HERE to view it directly.

Way Forward

So far, so good. However,there is no way to practically sort and tag the 70,000 media files. Instead, below are the obvious, logical steps I need to take in order to avoid a similar disaster in the future: 1. Run a visual scan on those 70,000 odd images and videos that I sorted, and copy the most important ones (family, events, etc..). Archive the rest and forget about them. 2. Name these selected files ASAP. Either event, location, person or some meta data that will help in search and retrieval. 3. In the future, keep the number of new images and videos to a minimum. Delete the duplicates, extras, and get over the “I will keep it, just in case…” habit. Quality over quantity! 4. Change settings in phones so that new images will be in `jpg` format only for now.
Organizing digital life is not an easy task.
About this post: The theme of my blog for Fridays is called ‘Foto Fridays’, and this post is written as a part of my #bloggingchallenge for the month of February 2022. You can read my other posts about Image optimization hereWord count: 1200 words. Time taken for writing, editing, publishing and images: 1.5 hours with multiple interruptions.
This post was updated on 2022-02-28