Down the Rabbit Hole

As hard as it is for me to believe, I rarely ever used a camera before Reiko and I met. I had a digital camera as early as 2001, but the device was generally more frustration than it was worth. When "camera phones" started to become popular, I had a SonyEricsson T616 that took awful photos and was even worse at phone calls. The Motorola Razr that replaced it was superior on both fronts, but the 2.1MP photos were still fuzzy on a good day. It wasn't until I borrowed a friend's digital point-and-shoot1 for my first trip to Japan that I started to see digital photos as being viable. I soon picked up a Canon A540 point-and-shoot and started collecting images from that point on.

That was 13 years and 28,818 photos ago.

The family and I will be heading to Tokyo Disney for a couple of days next month and, as we're all looking forward to the event, Reiko asked to see the photos from the last time we went there in 2010. These were kept on the NAS, but were in directories and grouped in directories categorized by year and location. This system generally worked for me before the boy was born but, since then, the explosion in photo counts has shown just how poorly this system scales. So, as most of the photos we've taken in the last few years have been on our iDevices or imported into Photos to be shared with iDevice-carrying family members, I decided to begin pulling in the tens of thousands of older photos that we've collected over the years.

As one would expect, importing the photos is an incredibly simple process. I can still keep specific events grouped together in the form of an album — or a shared album — and drop uncategorized photos of the puppy and whatnot into the general library. Photos will read the metadata as best it can and organize things in terms of age just the way I expect to see it. There's just one little problem: there's no geo data on these imported photos. Until the iPhone 5 in 2012, none of my photos had geographic information on them. The trips to Nagasaki, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, Kamakura, Sasebo, and other places are labelled, but they don't appear in the Places view … which is mildly frustrating. I want them to appear there.

Which means I'm adding geographic data by hand to key photos or groups of photos. The exact location is imprecise, so photos that were taken at Osaka Aquarium will all show the same coordinates and the same goes for all the other locations. Unfortunately, this still requires me to find the latitude and longitude, enter it into groups of photos2. It's taken a couple of hours, but the main photo albums are done. But what about tags? How about descriptions? How about grouping new photos into collections with friends?

A lot of our software tools can help us with the mundane stuff. For those who insist on completeness, though, the rabbit hole goes very, very deep. At some point I'll need to cut my losses and be content with the metadata assigned for the first decade of photos, knowing that future photos will have far more information associated with them.


  1. An Olympus X200, according to the metadata.

  2. Fortunately this can be done by selecting multiple photos and then entering the location description. If I had to do this photo by photo ….