Monday, May 25, 2015

Backing up Tags on Flickr

I started using Flickr in November of 2007 (although my collection of photos that were uploaded predates that).  I love Flickr and have used tagging extensively so that I can find my photos.  As a cloud service, Flickr hosts my photos, allows me to share them and enables albums, searching and more.  All of this comes at a very low yearly cost with no software to upgrade, patches to apply or something to re-install on my new computer.   I can do all of this on any device, phone, tablet, computer.  Flickr has recently pushed out a large upgrade of their service,  and they apply small improvements all the time.  Flickr is a perfect example of “software as a service”.  

Tagging photos is accomplished by applying keywords  made up by the user.  Users can add tags to each photo or to a batch of photos when they upload them, simplifying the process.  You can go back later and add additional tags in a variety of ways.  Flickr made it easy to upload and tag all of my images when I started and as I go along.  By using tags, I can find just about any photo I can think of in under a minute out of my current collection of 31,000+ photos.  For, example, doing a search of “flying  marilu  juan” will narrow my search down to two photos.  I can send a search to grandma (as a URL), creating a synthetic album, e.g. highlights from my son’s 2014 soccer season.

Tags are the value that I add, and Flickr enables value via their search interface.  After tagging 30+K of photos, I don’t want to lose that work as it’s quite an investment by me.  After almost 8 years of doing this, I’d hate to lose all of that value.  It’s bugged me for a long time, even though I didn’t think I had the software to take advantage of this in a way that is generic from a technology standpoint.  Now, if the tags were embedded into the photo and I could use local tools to take advantage of that, there it would be worth ensuring this data is backed up.  OK, I’m a freak about backup as you can tell by my previous post.  I’m not leaving Flickr but I still want all of this manual effort backed up just in case.  Even if I didn’t have the software, I could probably write some software to utilize it but it turns out that I don’t have to, I have Adobe Lightroom.

I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom for a long time but I’ve recently decided to use it more as part of my post-production workflow.  Up until this time, I’ve used Lightroom to help me sort out what I really want to post using a method of applying ratings to whittle down the selection and then push the photos to a directory where I run them through a manual Photoshop editing session or an automated set of steps for 100s of shots, like soccer game pics.  When I first tried Lightroom, I didn’t like the way they implemented some of their UI, mainly because I was use to Photoshop.  I’m getting use to it and am starting to realize what it can do to reduce my post production workload.  I’m trying to use it more.  Because it’s built with photographers in mind, it makes a lot of tasks that I do simple.

One of the things I noticed in Lightroom is... wait for it... keywording / tags.  Entering keywords for photos (you can do a bunch at a time) allows users to quickly search for photos.  It puts this “metadata into an area of the photo file that you can’t see (called the header).  I like this approach technically because it keeps the data with the asset in a standard way and it’s more likely that other programs can use that data.  As a bonus, it turns out that Flickr’s uploader page will see the tags that I put in the images making the final step of uploading them to Flickr simpler.  This means I can tag in Lightroom and skip that step when uploading to Flickr.

As I did some research on programs that would allow you to download all of your photos from Flickr, I found one that would not only pull them down, but embeds the tag in the images in a way that can be read by Lightroom (and hopefully other software).  The software is called Bulkr.  Once I download and paid the $30 for Bulkr Pro (which enabled the downloading of tags), I fired up the software, highlighted all of my albums, clicked the download button, told it where on my PC I wanted all of the photos,  and started the download.  I have a pretty big network pipe so it only took about 48 to 72 hours to download all of my images.  Bulkr created a directory with the same name as the album name within the target directory that I gave it.  Because I named the albums with the year first, they sort nicely in the directory.  To test that the tags were embedded, I pulled some of the files into Lightroom to see if the tags showed up... they did.  

Mission accomplished.  The photos will probably just sit within a directory on my file server for now since I don’t really need to import that data into Lightroom, and if this download is lost in a fire or redundant disk failure, I can always re-download the files from Flickr.  From this point on, I will be using Lightroom to tag files so the work will stay local, get backed up with the images, but also reside on Flickr, where I use them the most.

I’m really starting to understand Lightroom better and didn’t realize how powerful it’s gotten over the years, mainly because I didn’t take the time to look.  I’d write more about Lightroom but don’t take Lightroom advice from me, go to Laura Shoe’s BLOG, it rocks.  For example, I had some dust on the camera sensor and didn’t know it.  I fixed the important images from that shoot but it was a pain in the ass after a few.  There is a way to apply a fix like this to all the images.  Find out how to do that here.

-- Christian  Claborne

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