Three Kinds of Photos
April 15, 2013
In his youth, my father supported himself during high-school by taking wedding and events photographs. He kept doing this until the fall of communism, since it was one of the few ways he could bring some extra cash to our family(people weren’t allowed to open businesses or have second jobs). He had turned our closet-sized second bathroom into a photo studio, where he’d rush on Sunday afternoons to print photos of the local weddings, so that he could sell them at the wedding party in the evening. With a photograph in the family, all our anniversaries, picnics or holidays were heavily documented - as our overflowing family photo drawer is proof.
My Pictures folder is the equivalent of that family photo drawer: since I got my first digital camera, the number of photos in it has grown exponentially - tens at first, then hundreds and eventually thousands. Since my DSLR camera and iPhones, the folder size grew a lot as well. With over 19300 photos and an estimate of 55GB in photos, this situation had to be handled somehow.
One can group the reasons why people take and share photos in 3 major categories covering over 99% of the cases:
Short term Memories
Social gatherings, parties, get togethers, walks in the park, food plates at new restaurants or the occasional dish you’ve cooked. These photos are really fun to take and to look at in the day after; they are great for chatting with friends about (“man, that cocktail was really good - and did you see the look on that waiter?”). But you wouldn’t want them to hang on your wall, and after a month or more they stop meaning anything to you.
You don’t go on a holiday without your camera. You don’t throw your son a birthday without it. You wouldn’t dream of having your wedding without at least one photographer. These photos are the ones you come back to after a month, year or decade - in order to remember how you felt in the past, to refresh those memories and better connect with your old self.
These photos usually come in batches, many at once, depending on the events. I have almost 2000 photos from my wedding; over 1200 from the honeymoon; other thousands taken for each of my longer backpacking trips. I don’t look at them often, but when I do I like to browse across the bunch and stop on one or two. There’s no need for individual descriptions, titles or comments, and I usually know what they are and where they were taken. If I want to share them with others, I won’t do it completely and fully but, instead, will select a couple of relevant tens.
Photography as art
When you buy your first DSLR, or visit a gallery, or browse an illustrated magazine or simply start reading more about photography, you inevitably start dreaming of taking similar quality photos. And, if you work towards it, slowly you start to do it. You have to look for the opportunities, find the best composition, make sure the light is adequate and capture the right moment, but, in time, once every hundreds photos at first - more frequently afterwards - some of your photos get pretty good - and you’d like to show them for others to appreciate and comment, or print them and hang them out.
99% of my photos belong to the above 3 categories. Usually, they are intermixed: when during my holiday I take photos of my food, I’d like to share them with friends, and comment upon, but wouldn’t care to look at them again. In 20 years, I’ll want to check out the photos I took of myself and my wife smiling to the camera with a nice mountain in the background. But, again, that’s not what I’d like to print and hang on my wall; that will be the photo of a misty lake temple in the mountains of Bali, or of the crab fisherman in the sunset of the Pacific. Casual friends wouldn’t care much about these photos, just like my photography-interested ones wouldn’t care about the food pics.
To sum it all up: different pics, different purposes, different audiences.
I perceive Facebook and Instagram to be best suited for those short term memories pics. Easy comment system, easy to show your like, easier to ignore. Ideal for parties, and food pics, and maybe some candid shots. Not great for storing private memories or for deeper, more meaningful shots. Their issues regarding privacy and copyright are scary, but acceptable if you only chose to post meaningless food pics.
I have over 2000 of these photos stored on Flickr and, after renewing my Flickr Pro subscription, even considered uploading the rest of my 19000+ pics over there, for backup. With a bunch of pro-user features such as tags, grouping, descriptions, sets, collections, comments, sharing and even online photo editing, Flickr remains, 9 years since its inception, a very cool site. But it was obviously designed for the “photography as art” audience - those who want titles and descriptions and exif info about the pics, and like to comment and recommend photos and share them for the entire world to see. So, instead of uploading all my photo archive to Flickr, I started instead to delete all of them; and once I clear them up, I will start rebuilding that Flickr archive to only contain those pics I truly believe to be worth sharing with the world. I don’t have a 500px.com account, but if I hadn’t just purchased a new Flickr Pro subscription, I would have probably used them instead. They are the new Flickr, but focused on their core audience and not trying to be everything for everyone.
So what about my photo archive? Tens of thousands of memories that I should backup, group and archive?
I’ve discovered everpix.com - a great looking web app that convinced me to not only buy a $50 yearly subscription but, after a few days of uploading, to also put my entire photo collection in their hands. As a cloud photo drawer they are pretty close to my dream setup - they automatically grouped my photos by date of capture; they allow easy exploration of past moments and easy rediscovery of long-forgotten ones. Cool iOS apps for auto syncing(upload) and browsing from the iPhone and iPad; nice unobtrusive app for auto uploading from the Mac. Just start it and, a few days later, the entire photo collection is waiting for me in the cloud.
But there are also some big things missing - you can only select and share photos from the same moment. There is no way to select some photos from different moments, or to do anything as a batch. Because that’s what’s really missing - a way to temporarily or persistently group different photos together and do something with them - such as editing(the “only delete, hide or edit one photo at a time” part is really annoying) or sharing.
I paid for the service(since I really want them to succeed and survive and last forever), but I can’t help but wonder what wold happen if ever they got purchased by Google/Yahoo/Facebook, or went bankrupt and closed the service? Their lack of batch processing (as it is now, I can only re-download my pictures one by one - something I obviously won’t be able to do for 20k pics), together with the uncertainty of the future, is scary.
But maybe I’ll be lucky and they will listen and grow and improve - I really like their app and would love to keep my pics with them forever.