Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why is organizing photos a baffling ordeal?

If you know me, you know that I like to take photos. I have two cameras, one of which is compact enough to fit in my pocket so that I can capture rare or interesting things at the spot. I know that people often wonder "when can I get your pictures?". Organizing photos is a demanding task for me. It's not just a simple matter of transferring files from the memory card to the hard drive. There are many other little tasks, and I will explain why



JPEG files produced by digital cameras usually contain Exif metadata (data about data). What it records includes a number of things such as time, aperture, shutter speed, orientation, and other camera settings.


While taking photos with portrait orientation, Canon cameras still store the photo in landscape orientation, but flip the orientation information in Exif. As a result, not all software recognizes this method of orientation. Photoshop, ACDSee, Firefox, and IE don't recognize Exif orientation. So for maximum compatibility, I have to rotate these photos manually. There are many software that can do this. But most destroy or partially destroy the original Exif information. The only one that does not, at least for Canon-camera-captured photos, is Canon's own ZoomBrowser application.


As I said, Exif includes timestamp. The file system, NTFS in my case, also records timestamps. NTFS records the timestamps in UTC internally, and displays with user's time zone setting. When I change my system's time zone, the timestamps on my file system appear to shift as well. But this is not the case for the timestamps in Exif, as it is part of the file. I leverage this difference to indicate where the photo was taken, at least in what time zone. I make sure that the timestamp in Exif is the local time where the photo was taken, while the NTFS timestamp is in the time zone of my system. But wait, why am I telling you this? How does this impact my organizing photos? Rotating photos changes the NTFS timestamps. So I have to correct the NTFS timestamps after rotation using ACDSee.


Canon cameras capture videos in Motion JPEG, a compression scheme that doesn't really compress much. Therefore, videos must be recompressed. And my choice of codec is Xvid. Here are the steps that I must perform to convert MJPEG to Xvid.
  • Extract the audio (wav file) from the original video
  • Convert the wav file to mp3
  • Encode the video with Xvid as the video codec, and the mp3 as audio
  • Inspect the quality of the new video (watch two files side by side)
  • Validate that it is indeed encoded with Xvid and mp3
  • Restore the original time stamp
  • Delete the old copy and rename the new copy


There are thousands of websites that provide photo service. But I'm not satisfied with any of them. The problem? Size and scale. These websites usually shrink the image size. If the size can be preserved, then most likely they limit your upload capacity. If you know me, then you would know that size and completeness is a big deal to me. There are no free online solutions for 9GiB of 8600+ files. What better place is there than my own hard drive? So I used JAlbum to generate HTML and thumbnails, then I host them with Apache. This process is also time consuming (computer time). I'm looking for alternatives.

Text description

People often ask me why I don't add text to the photos. I could, even with the complex process described above. But it's not the action of adding text that takes most of the time. It's the time spent on deciding what to write. If I were to write anything at all, I must look up the right references, provide background stories, and most important of all, write them in both Chinese and English. I tried this with my trip to Paris and England. And it proved to be a time consuming task as well.

Since it is a complicated process, it is best for me to accumulate the photos for a while and do them in batch. I can achieve economies of scale by performing the same tasks repeatedly in a shorter amount of time.

1 comment:

unchikusai said...

this is a very involved explanation, but a good one. You explain in terms that everyone can understand. And yes, they are shenjian bao. And they were delicious. Next time I travel to Taipei, I'll take you up on that offer.