Loves life / Hates onions

Data Management - Acknowledging a problem and making solutions

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

I created this blog to accompany a podcast episode that I was on with my friend Tyler Stalman. We talk about a number of things including some of what I've written below. The podcast episode and this blog should go well together. 

Please feel free to message either myself or Tyler with some positive thoughts. 


Data management

Data management as a concept has mostly eluded me as a professional photographer/creative / Human. This used to mean mainly professionals, but more and more its beginning to mean everyone. Below are a few of the best insights on data management as well as Lightroom related things I've learned from the last year. My hope is that I inspire even one single person to take a bold leap into a more organized future. 



When I first started this process, my data was a mess. So much so that it was seriously stressing me out and making me subconsciously more and more afraid to create anything new. 

I had build up a collection of hard drives. They were varying capacities. Mostly just what I could afford at the time. (500gb, 1TB and 2TB drives). I was regularly buying more and more hard drives, just to house the data I was making per job or opportunity that came across my plate. I know a lot of creative people and trust me, this is a common practice. 

My first major 'responsible' data management effort (in 2012) was buying backups for all my existing hard drives. This would ensure that all original data at least had a single backup. The perfect plan!

Perfect plan my ass. (This inherently doubled my digital hoarding problem without me realizing it. Now, I didn't only have a massive amount of stuff I didn't need to keep, I had at least two of everything)

At that point, it was so hard for me to see the next step. 

A major problem I had was that I couldn't visualize my data as a whole. Not just in chunks on separate hard drives, but as a life of creating content of all sorts. A continuum. The data that I had, on every hard drive that I owned, spanned from 2003 to 2018. 15 years of shooting, travelling, learning, creating... hoarding.

It was time to get to work and move everything into one place so I could start to make sense of it. 

A rough breakdown of my steps.  

1. Consolidate all the data, onto high capacity hard drives. (My overall goal was to get everything I had to fit on a 5 TB drive instead of 8 TB. I did this to challenge myself to let go of as much as possible instead of just perpetuate the problem.

Obviously, this would ultimate require a LOT of deleting.

I copied all 500gb drives, 1TB drives, 2TB drives onto fresh large drives using Finder. While opening hard drives, seeing what was on them and copying, I would take that time to make obvious deletions of things I just knew I didn't want anymore. Some entire folders didn't take long to decide that they are going in the trash.

This allowed me to not always have a full 1TB of data to copy even if I was copying a 1TB drive. I would sometimes delete up to 500gb of a drive in this step alone. 

Note : Although this was only step one, this took a while. I recommend slowing down and do it with as much intention as possible. 


2. Once every drive was copied and major obvious things were deleted, I had a 5TB drive that had a random mess of folders that looked exactly like every single hard drive but now all in one place.

I needed to format each individual small capacity drive, but that meant I had to ensure this new 5TB drive was backed up even though I knew I was going to start changing, organizing and deleting from it immediately. 

This isn't everything, its just a simple look at the biggest challenge I had. Several small drives, consolidated onto on large one. And then backing it up so I could get started on the real task at hand. Organizing everything.

This isn't everything, its just a simple look at the biggest challenge I had. Several small drives, consolidated onto on large one. And then backing it up so I could get started on the real task at hand. Organizing everything.

3. Most of my hard drives had photos on them that were already in my main Lightroom catalog but they were separated by hard drive. So once they drives were copied over to the new higher capacity drive, I relinked the hard drives in Lightroom to their new location on the MAIN drive. This really cleaned up my Lightroom catalog and made it so all of the content could be organized as long as this one main drive was connected to my computer. A HUGE leap forward. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 10.45.40 AM.png



1 - Jan

2 - Feb

3 - Etc


1 - Jan

2 - Feb

3 - Etc


1 - Jan

2 - Feb

3 - Etc









4. Once I had the majority of my content in Lightroom, it was time to start sorting it into its new hierarchy. I chose a chronological approach, then separated into only a few main subfolders per year, and then a month subfolder system inside of each main subfolder.

As of right now, creating all of these new folders in Lightroom is not very easy. I grunted through the Lightroom way for only a few days before realizing there was a much better way. 














5. Create your wanted hierarchy on your main hard drive in FINDER. Design all of the folders and subfolders in exactly the way you want. The only catch is that you NEED at least one photo in the lowest level subfolder for it to actually be imported to Lightroom.

Copy and pasting folders as you please. Just make sure that your main folder containing the hierarchy is inside of a folder that you have already in Lightroom.

Once you've done this. Go back into Lightroom, choose the folder that has your hierarchy in it. Right click the folder and choose synchronize. Once you're new designed folder structure is in Lightroom, you can start reorganizing what goes where. 

Create in Finder - not lightroom.gif
Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 11.00.29 AM.png







6. Start sorting your photos via Metadata. Using the metadata to do this sorting is one of the major reasons to do all of your organizing in Lightroom. I used the metadata to sort by year/month and separate all iPhone photos into their own folder. How you sort will ultimately be up to you.











7. The solution to hoarding. Get rid of more - Keep less

I found out that I had trained my brain to subconsciously keep more than I was deleting. Thinking that I needed ALL photos that were 'good'. Or that 500 photos from a camping trip was totally fine to keep... forever. This was not a good way of thinking. 

I was used to importing my photos into Lightroom, getting ready to make my picks, editing and deliver. I'd start by seeing 500 or 1000 or 2000 photos or whatever, and then go into my standard flagging for picks and rejects process.

I'd start by full screening the first photo in the lot, and pressing P for the best shots and X for the rejects. And hopefully having the patience to go through ALL of the photos I had taken. (I regularly DID NOT have that patience)

I would give up on the goal of going through ALL of the photos and start scanning the grid of photos for the obvious best, making picks that way, colour correct them and send them off to where ever they were going. 

This was a disaster of a process, that left TONS of photos from getting deleted. And honestly, lots of good photos from even getting looked at. Do this for a decade and you will pile up a lot of stuff. 

I ended up making a much better process. It assumes EVERYTHING is going to get deleted unless I choose it to stay. This is how I turn a huge amount of photos into a manageable amount. 

  • Start by looking at the grid of photos all together
  • Shift click to select all photos that are alike in a sequence, (I usually try to select no more than 10 - 20 while doing this)
  • Press X to reject them all, then N to see them all large and compared to each other.
  • Pick individual photos to keep instead of which ones to delete.
  • This assumes more will be deleted than kept

This paradigm shift was a absolute game changer for me. Subconsciously I was telling myself that I was going to keep more than I was going to get rid of. When you are shooting as much as most people do, that’s just not a good sustainable attitude. It flat out doesn’t scale.



8.  I made a few backups throughout the process. It was the only way I really felt comfortable being ruthless with my deleting. I knew I had to delete so much, but just wanted to give myself a buffer just in case I had made the wrong decision somewhere along the way. 

I ultimately deleted these 'process backups', and then did one final backup of the MAIN drive when it was in a much more organized state.


Export  (1 of 1).jpg



9. IMPORTANT - Break this process down into chunks. After having a few Saturday's of nothing but copying hard drives I set a goal of 30 minutes a day. Looking through a lifetime of photos and deleting this much stuff should not be rushed. And can take over your life. People over estimate what they can do in a day and under estimate what they can do in a year.

It's ok for this process to take a while. 


I started with roughly 289,000 photos

I'm now down to roughly 70,000 photos 


I tell myself I'll be 'done' someday, but we all know this is a lifestyle change. It's gonna go forever (cue sandlot gif)




Note: One of the best surprise things about doing a complete organization of the old photos that you want to keep is that you have a chance to update all old photos to current LR colour science. Not a lot of people love the thought of re-editing or colour correcting old photos, but I know that if I'm keeping photos to look at or have for a later time, I want them to be as good as they can be. Simply applying a favourite current LR preset will update the colour profile of old photos to the best possible digital colour science thats available. I found this amazing to see how much of my 'style' of the past was due to the crappy digital interpretation of my RAW photos that the old LR colour science had done. 

Notes to myself while doing this process over 7 months

- Sometimes things work out not 'because of your effort/habits' but in spite of them. Change this. 

- A lot of this comes down to habits. Small bad habits are like cheap beer. Sure cheap beer is cheap at the time but you pay for it later. Somehow. 

- Digital hoarding is not smart. It's just like a lot of other lazy habits, you're constantly saying “Fuck you future self. YOU deal with this”

Additional Lightroom stuffs



Like anyone who uses Lightroom, I use the 'Sync develop settings' option constantly. When I want to use it, I click the photo that I want to copy the settings from, then click the photo I'd like to copy those sets to - then move my mouse alllllllll the way down to the bottom right corner of the LR interface and click that big ol' button.

But like anything that you do constantly, shouldn't we always be asking "is there a slightly easier or faster way to do this"? Why did I wait so long to learn the shortcut for syncing the develop settings, I will never know. 

  • Sync develop settings from photo (CMD + SHIFT + S)

One of Lightroom's best unknown features. Lets say you've just imported your photos and haven't done any adjustments to them. You were set to manual, snapped one photo with the right exposure, but had to quickly stop down your shutter speed for to sharpen up the motion. You will have the exact same photo but using slightly different manual settings? Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to just take the overall exposure from 'correctly exposed' image and paste it to the others? 

  • Match overall exposure (CMD + OPTION + SHIFT + M)


LR mobile

Mobile photography is as much of a challenge to keep in order as anything. Like most people, I was treating my iPhone like it was a hard drive for storage, not like a memory card. 

  • Stop shooting in iOS camera app and grading in VSCO. This creates two photos and then creates an entirely different issue of storing photos in the VSCO app.
  • Replace iPhone camera app with Lightroom mobile. Delete VSCO app. Slow down and shoot more intentionally. 
  • All manual control.
  • Doesn't take advantage of IOS 'portrait mode' (Use Focos for any photo requiring feau DOF)
  • Shoot raw (DNG)
  • Use preset adjustments while shooting. I find this more inspiring.
  • Has all LR desktop editing features. Edits on smartphone will sync to LR desktop and visa versa.
  • Sync to LR desktop via creative cloud. Immediately manage photos shot on your phone instead of leaving them on your phone and letting them build up. 
  • Don't treat my phone like a hard drive.
  • Treat it like a memory card. 

One last thing - 

Taking on the challenge of seeing the 'whole' of my data was one of the hardest personal/professional / therapeutic things I've done. It's very doable but I won't say it's easy.


I wish you good luck.

Patience and persistence.