Samir Parikh / Blog

Originally published on 16 January 2020

One of my hobbies, which I don't get as much time now to indulge in, is photography. I started this hobby with a Pentax K-1000 film camera back in high school and used to develop my own film and print my own images. Because of the low volume of shooting I did and because of the physical nature of my negatives and prints, keeping things organized wasn't a big deal.

With the advent of digital cameras, though, things got a bit more complicated but were still manageable. My first real digital camera was a Nikon D50 which I would take with me on trips, parties or the occasional photo walk. I still tried to adhere to the discipline of shooting as if I was going through rolls of film by paying careful attention to my composition, metering and exposure. I never subscribed to the "spray and pray" technique of shooting so I was able to keep my volume of digital files to a manageable size. This allowed me to sort and organize my photos by having a directory for each year, with subfolders for each event, trip or occasion:

|   |---Disney World
|   |---Kate Birthday Party
    |---Boston Photo Walk
    |---Christine Baby Shower

Within each "event" folder, I'd also have two subdirectories: One for the raw captures, and another one for the finished images I'd export out to JPG. Using Llightroom as my editor made keeping track of these files and folders relatively easy.

When I got my first iPhone in 2009, however, my photo processing workflow changes in several major ways:

In the past, if I ever lost my Nikon, I'd lose at most a few hundred pictures from the last event or trip. If I were to lose my iPhone, I would lose close to 12,000 pictures! Because of these factors, backing up my pictures, arguably the most important of which I have been shooting on my iPhone, has become both more cumbersome and more critical than before.

There are several cloud- and app-based solutions to this problem such as paying for Apple's iCloud photo storage or using something like the Dropbox app to automatically backup your local iPhone photos. Because I am cheap, I only have access to the limited amount of storage they allot you via the free plans. I've also tried using Amazon's Photo app as well as Google's Photo app to automatically backup my pictures since we are already Amazon Prime members (who get free unlimited photo storage) and Google provides free unlimited photo storage. For some reason though, both of those apps would eventually choke when trying to backup large volumes of pictures and I began to trust them less and less as time went on.

Now to be clear, it's not as if I don't have any backups of my photos. I do take a full backup of my iPhone via iTunes about once a month. iCloud also keeps the last 1,000 photos on the Photoroll too. And I've got most of the images sitting in the Photos library on our iMac. It's just that I don't have a robust archive of all of the images I've taken over the past 10 years of iPhone ownership that I feel that I can realy rely on if I had to do a full on restore.

So this past weekend, I decided to connect my iPhone to our iMac and start downloading all 11,832 images and movies using Apple's Image Capture application. This is a standard application that comes on Mac OS that allows you file level access to all of your images and movies. Unlike Photos, which abstracts your images from your filesystem by storing everying in a library file, Image Capture allows you to import your photos and movies as individual files onto your system.

I started fresh by making a separate "iPhone Backup" folder under the main "Pictures" directory within which I created a subfolder for each year of iPhone pictures I wanted to back up:

|---iPhone Backup

I then began the laborious task of going into Image Capture and importing the photos and movies into each folder. Importing approximately 2,000 IMG and MOV files for each year can take around half an hour or more (I have late 2013 Core i7 iMac with 32 GB of RAM) so this is not a process that can be rushed. And occasionally, Image Capture will be unable to convert some movie files.

Once a given year's worth of photos and movies was downloaded, I began to back them up online. We already use Backblaze (referral link) to back up the iMac so over time, the imported photos and movies will be automatically backed up there. But having just one online backup isn't sufficient for something as critical as your photos and movies so I decided to take advantage of our SmugMug (referral link) account to also back up our files there. SmugMug not only allows you to back up full resolution files of your photos, but you can also back up your video files there as well. Using the SmugMug dashboard, I easily uploaded each year's iPhone backup directory from my iMac into a SmugMug Galleries sitting inside a Private Folder that can only be accessed by me. I don't want to publicly display all of my iPhone photos; I am just using SmugMug to contain a backup of all of my files.

The only issue I ran into when backing up my files to SmugMug is that SmugMug, like all other cloud services except iCloud, does not recognize the AAE files that were also imported from my iPhone using Image Capture. AAE files are the XML sidecar files that the Photos app creates anytime you edit a picture on your iPhone. These allow you to non-destructively edit your images in case you want to back out the changes later. I haven't found a good way to export photos with the changes baked in so for now, my backed up photos on SmugMug represent the photos "as shot". (I guess I could look into using the Photos app on the Mac to do this; that will have to be a topic for a future post.)

This approach of backing up my iPhone photos isn't automated which does't make it a great process to emulate but it's pretty straight forward, easy to execute, and doesn't have a lot of failure points (as long as I keep my SmugMug subscription up to date).

If you have a better approach or have experience using any of the SmugMug iOS or Mac apps I'd love to hear from you!