How to best index or catalog over 30,000 photos?

Started Mar 18, 2012 | Discussions thread
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nycfonephreak
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How to best index or catalog over 30,000 photos?
Mar 18, 2012

I apologize in advance for this very long post - but I figure I need to fully describe how I'm currently storing/searching for photos in order to get suggestions for more efficient way...

I was originally going to post here asking for help figuring out how to use Lightroom 4 to catalog my photos without altering my existing filing hierarchy. However, after searching and looking at other threads (especially this one: http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1006&message=40804409 ) I'm thinking LR4 may be overkill. I am already set in how I PP photos with CS5 and ACR + some 3rd party filters. I don't think I want to learn a whole new way to PP just to get my photos cataloged.

What I really need is a way to find my photos more efficiently - maybe some catalog/indexing software that will work even with external drives that are not always connected to my computer. By cataloging/indexing, I mean a way to see a preview of the image and to have keywords, that I can search for, stored in the database (not necessarily embedded in the exif data - in fact, I'd rather the the indexing software not touch the original files, if possible)

Here's how I store photos now -

Photos taken prior to 2004 - all JPG only - are stored on an external USB drive, currently not connected to my computer. These date back to mid-90s and are mostly lo-res. I would want to be able to catalog these, too. Ideally, the catalog database would live on the drive along with the photos. I would connect the drive and open the catalog for that drive and search for what I'm looking for.

Photos taken from 2004 thru today (30,000+ JPGs only) are on an external drive connected to my computer. Anything I add to or change on this drive gets backed up daily to an online backup service.

For each new camera, I created a new folder on this drive. Within that camera's folder, I create as many folders as I need, each folder being a different neighborhood in NYC or someplace I've traveled to. So, for example, to find a photo taken in the City Hall area, I would need to go into each camera's folder, using Windows Explorer, and look for a CityHall folder and then look at the thumbnails in that folder - and repeat for each camera until I find the photo I want. This can take an hour or two. Of course, if I remember when it was taken and which camera I used, I can cut this time significantly. But most of the time I don't remember when and which camera.

I mentioned that this drive has only JPG photos on it - that's because because of two reasons. First, I'm using Windows Explorer to copy the photos from my memory card to a "pending sort" folder on my desktop at the end of each day. From there, as I have the time, I use Windows Explorer to move the photos onto the external drive and into the appropriate location folder for the camera. Windows Explorer does not display thumbnails of raw files - so, I'm limited to using JPGs to make these moves. BTW, I don't delete any photos from my memory card until after they are copied onto the external drive and backed up online. The 2nd reason is backup limits. Because raw file are so large, I made the decision in the past to shoot everyday shots as JPG only and only use raw only for "special" shots. That's changed, now - starting with my T3i I shoot everything in raw + JPG. But, I have a limited online backup quota so I limit this drive to JPGs.

Raw files are handled differently. The raw files are stored on a separate external drive, again in a separate folder for each camera but not organized in any other way (so no sub-folders for location or subject - just one lump of raw files for each camera). I have an identical drive that I back up this drive to periodically. That drive is stored nearby, but not in my apartment.

I am, BTW, considering opening a SmugVault (or whatever SmugMug calls their Amazon S3 storage service) and storing my raw files there (or my raw backup). I am also considering utilizing my existing Smugmug Pro account's unlimited JPG storage to store all of my JPG there - and get rid of the online backup service that I'm currently using. Right now, I'm totally under-utilizing my smugmug account.

When I search for a photo that I need to find, I use the method described above using Windows Explorer to find the JPG. When I get that file name, I'll search the raw drive to see if there's a corresponding raw file to use - otherwise, I just use the jpg.

I'm open to changing how I store / organize things going forward. But I need to find a solution for finding my existing files, without reorganizing my current file hierarchy. I know that LR4 will allow me to ADD my existing files to a catalog without moving them around. But, like I said at the beginning of this post, changing the way I process photos (i.e. learning a whole new interface) just to get them organized, seems like overkill. FWIW, I already own LR3 (but never learned to use it) so upgrading to LR4 would not be a financial burden.

If LR4 can handle the cataloging, would I be able to use it just to find photos, and then open them from LR4 into CS5 or would I need to manually open them in CS5 after I find the file name, location, etc. on the drive? Can I have multiple catalogs in LR4 - have a catalog on each drive that I would open when I mount the drive?

Is there any good standalone cataloging software that I should be looking at? Or, would these not be any better than using LR4 just to catalog?

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