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(Google) Photo Organization Workflow - Revisited


Google Photos

Well, it finally happened: no more Picasa Web Albums! I’ve spent a few months trying to come up with a decent Google Photos workflow and Picasa alternative, and here’s what I’ve settled on (for now)…

In a nutshell . . .

My basic workflow remains similar to the process described in my previous post, with some notable changes now that Picasa Web Albums no longer exist.

Maintaining Online Albums Separately from my Local Album Folders

Since I'd really grown to love my one-folder-fits-all solution, it took a while for me to wrap my head around a different approach to photo management. Trying to view the situation through unbiased eyes, I realized that I can make a not-entirely-horrible workflow without Picasa that might even offer some advantages.

Once I’d come to the realization that my online albums were inherently different things from my local albums anyway, I gradually became more comfortable having two separate processes, one for public albums and one for my master collection of files. Creating a different workflow for public albums has actually improved my photo sharing experience, though at the expense of the warm fuzzy feeling of having one master file system of photos.

The Problem: online albums are no longer synched with offline photo collection via Picasa Desktop

While the Picasa Desktop application opens on my machine, and can still be used to view my folders of photos, this long-since unsupported application can no longer log into my Google account. Thus, no communicating with my albums online.

This has been the hardest change to deal with. Selective synchronization with one master offline collection truly was the basis of my photo system for over a decade. I’m not yet convinced that my new solution (still a work in progress) is anywhere near as elegant as what I had. There are some advantages to the new system, and as I come to appreciate them, I will probably tweak things to make better use of those features (instead of cry over the features I’m missing).

Previously, I maintained one master copy of my photos on my laptop. (This was of course backed up on an external hard drive, on our home NAS and in the cloud.) But, everything was a carbon copy of my laptop: photo edits, file and folder names, structure hierarchy. My online, shared, public photo albums were a subset of this structure. Not every photo in my collection ended up in public album because Picasa allowed me to selectively designate, from my existing file system, which folders (and which files within those folders) would be uploaded online and which wouldn’t. So while not every photo was online, the ones that were online were identical to the photos in my local storage: same filename, same edits, same album title.

I’ve had to abandon this system with respect to my online albums.

Yes, I can still create folders and subfolders in my file system. Yes, I can still batch rename photos within a folder based on date, time, context, sequence. Yes, my backups (actual backups on other devices and services) mirror what’s on my laptop. But, especially since most of these photos are taken with my phone, it has become annoying to use this file system as the basis for my online albums.

Photos on my phone can easily get to Google Photos (where my public, shared, online photo albums live). They can get to my laptop after going through both upload, then download via Dropbox. They can, less easily than getting there directly from the phone, get to Google Photos from my laptop after they’ve been organized and processed. But, if they do make their way back to Google Photos, they show up as a second, identical (except for the filename) photo. Not to mention that the Google Photos uploader for Mac OS is not without its issues. (I’ve had to uninstall and reinstall in order to kill a process, because there is no “cancel,” for example.)

And it’s slow. It’s slow uploading the photos. It’s just plain an inherently slow process overall, waiting for photos to appear from my phone via Dropbox (which, is not without ITS issues, either!), culling all but the keepers, batch renaming, agonizing with an inefficient uploader (actually, I now just upload through the website if I must)… and THEN, after all THAT, I need to create an entirely separate, public album with only the photos I actually want shared. Gone are the days of Picasa’s simple “star to include in your online album, otherwise this is just a local photo” feature!

I used to brag that I only needed one folder for each set of photos. Knowing which ones were visible online was easy (the photo was starred) and although the process had its quirks, changing a photo’s online status was (in theory) as simple as toggling the starred setting.

In addition to being easy to understand which photos existed where, the old system simply meant fewer albums. There wasn’t a “Trip to Stockholm” folder with all my Stockholm photos, then a “Trip to Stockholm” folder with photos I wanted to display. Nor was there a “Photos I took to remember which restaurants/cafes we liked in Stockholm” folder, nor a “Photos of our receipts from Stockholm for reconciling with the credit card” folder… there was one single Stockholm folder, and all photos whether public, private, boring-to-the-public, potentially-interesting-to-the-public-but-DEFINITELY-private etc., existed in this folder on my laptop.

Completely Rethinking My Online Albums

The good news is that I had previously discovered how to create my own gallery page of photo albums in Google Plus, since Google Photos still won’t give me one. This is a key part of my strategy and is essential for allowing people to find (and refind) your albums without needing to know each album’s specific link. It means that you can be regularly updating a public, or selectively-shared album which people can easily revisit to check for new photos. Now that people knew where to go for my photos, I could experiment with how I was going to put them up online. Some of my discoveries are listed below, all of which I’m pleased to say have led to me sharing the photos I do take more quickly, more easily and/or more effectively. (And, by sharing I mean simply getting out there for public viewing, separate from organizing.)

File Names:

I have always been insistent on having consistent, meaningful file names for my photos. This makes sense for a local photo collection, and I do still batch rename the files on my laptop based on date, time, context and sequence. However, this meant that an album was never really ready to publish until it was "done" - until all the photos had been collected (from both Joe's sources, and mine) and until file names for the whole set had been processed.

Now, I’ve realized that my online albums for public sharing don’t necessarily benefit from these descriptive file names … especially since I’ve discovered searching in Google Photos does NOT match on file names when you search?! (Um, that’s kind of been my whole point!) So if the file name doesn’t matter, then I can just upload willy-nilly (image of me flailing my arms about, recklessly) to a Google Photos album on a whim. Madness, I say!

Quick Edits:

Google Photos seems at the moment to retain Picasa's flexibility of editing a photo and choosing whether or not to save your edits as a copy (new photo) or simply overtop of the old one (with the ability to revert back to the original). Today, I used this option when I grabbed the photo at the top of this page to use in this post, but found there was way too much of the kitchen cluttering the background. I had uploaded the original photo to my "blog photos" album (both for ease of finding it, and for sharing reasons as I describe in [this post about obtaining a direct link to a Google Photos image for use on an html page](/posts/2016/02/19/direct-link-to-image-in-google-photos-for-html-image-tag)). While in this album, I selected this photo and chose to edit (crop) it a bit. After choosing "save a copy of this photo" to create a new image, I now had both images in my "blog images" album. I simply went back to the original photo and opted to "remove this photo from album" since it no longer needed to be in my album of images for this blog.

This is an easy way to adjust a photo that’s already been uploaded to a public album whenever I have the time or energy to improve it. It doesn’t have to stop me from getting the original organized in the right album immediately, knowing that I’ll remove it if I later decide to edit the photo. This works better for “sharing a moment” than waiting until I have the time to make my images perfect before adding them to an public album.


This was another painful change of mindset. In Picasa, photos could be "annotated" with a "caption" (different from a "comment," which was something *other* people wrote on your photo). I've had to abandon annotations/captions since Google Photos long stopped showing captions (except hidden behind a couple of clicks). Some of my photos aren't self-explanatory, since they mostly capture things we encounter while traveling. And, sometimes I would use series of photos to string out a long sentence or description so that the captions told a story in that particular sequence, but otherwise may have not directly related to the image itself.

In one way, breaking me of my photo-as-journal habit is a good thing. Previously, a caption would stay with a photo no matter in which context it was viewed. So, some of these annotations really made little sense if you didn’t see it in a particular sequence, within one particular album. (e.g. ”… and yet, again …") So, for using photos in multiple contexts, not having an annotation embedded into the file is, I must admit, better.

Also, many times I’d be hesitant to publish my albums until I’d had a chance to sit and annotate them all. Now realizing that people would have to work hard to find the captions anyway, there’s again less pressure on me to do more work before just getting the photo out there. Perhaps I’ll be motivated to look for a dedicated photo-journaling app at some point. But for now, I’m finding that I’m getting my photos up and out the door much more quickly, and family and friends have an easier time checking in on how things are going up to the moment in Sweden, for example, rather than waiting until I’m already in the next city to then publish hundreds of Sweden photos.

A New Workflow in the Works

In a later post, I’ll detail step-by-step my new system.

(It’s very closely modeled on the old one.)

Google Photos

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