Recovering from Losing Your Digital Photographs

Chris W. (NDD #300) (73 Posts)

Since going to Walt Disney World and Disneyland at a young age, Chris has always enjoyed Disney music, TV shows, movies, and trips to Walt Disney World. But his appreciation of the overall Disney experience has greatly increased over the last few years. While waiting for the next chance to work on his Disney photography skills, Chris passes the time listening to Park/Resort audio, WDW podcasts, and checking out the work of other Disney photographers. To Chris, there are no bad Disney trip photographs or photographers. Non-Disney pursuits include spending time with his wife and children, watching and listening to baseball broadcasts, and cheering for the Chicago Cubs and LSU. Chris is a third generation professional engineer in Louisiana, working mainly on asbestos, lead, mold and demolition projects. Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisWhitePE and you can check out his Flickr photo stream: chris_white2323.


 

There’s nothing like a digitally induced case of writer’s block. My areas of particular interest and contribution here at The Disney Driven Life are photography and audio. I’m an engineer and inherently captivated by technology and gadgets, so that means digital photography and audio, not old school film and cassette tapes/vinyl (but there’s nothing wrong with old school!). When technology is working fine, great. But when there are big problems with data like digital photographs, I just can’t rest until I’ve solved the problem.

So instead of continuing on a series of topics about how I’m learning to take better photographs and how to edit them, I’ve written about how to avoid catastrophic data loss, or if it happens, how to recover. I have to jump in and say that I’m a Mac user, so I don’t mention Windows at all. I have an idea of some programs Windows users have for digital photography, but no direct hands on experience. But data loss and recovery can happen to any user on any platform, so I hope you keep reading, even if you’re not using a Mac.

If you read my last post, you know that I experienced a pretty scary occurrence – apparent loss of all of my digital photographs. I’m happy to report that with some luck, very little computer skill, and a backup, I’ve recovered my pictures after a very long download process. That’s the good news. There’s some not so good news though – most of my editing and organizational work is gone.

Instead of focusing on the how and why of what created my problem (I think it’s a combination of hardware/software issues). Not to go off on much of a tangent, but I use a 2012 model Apple MacBook Pro, the last 17″ model. Yep, the one with the well-documented video graphics problem. Looking back, there were times when graphics dependent programs didn’t run well, including iPhoto. Many times iPhoto would hang up or crash, so I think that led to eventual corruption of my iPhoto library. I also upgraded to Yosemite last fall, and I think that may have added to the demise of my iPhoto library because I think there were some operating system bugs with iPhoto. Again, just speculation. Whether or not I’m right doesn’t matter – I still ran into problems and had to fix it.

But I had a backup copy of my iPhoto library and separately, folders containing my photos. I started working on getting my data back, and then seeing how I could get back to where I was in early March, when I still had my iPhoto events, albums, and projects. I also devised a plan on how to avoid data loss, and how to recover more easily if I had any problems.

The first thing I tried is using iPhoto to open my restored iPhoto library file. Actually, iPhoto library files aren’t one single, huge file. The file contains many folders and files that contain iPhoto’s database and a bunch of other stuff that iPhoto uses to organize your events, albums, and projects. That’s great when everything is working well because that’s one “file” to backup and restore if you need to get something back. But if that file somehow gets corrupted, as mine did, you’re going to have some problems in recovery.

My iPhoto library file is huge – but when I opened it, only 6,000 or so photos showed up, and absolutely no organization. No albums, events, projects – none of that. So that did it – my pipe dream of restoring everything from a backup copy was over. Bummer, especially since I know all of my pictures are in that library file. I can’t bring myself to delete the file, but I also don’t see any way to recover much useful data from it, unless I suddenly become a computer forensics expert.

I started to feel sorry for myself, and for a while thought about writing a series of articles on anything but photography, like a retroactive look at the Bachelor/Bachelorette timeline, with commentary from Season 1 until now. But that would involve admitting that I’ve actually watched some of the shows, so that’s out for now. But I might….

So I made a recovery plan and got started.

engineers always have a plan
engineers always have a plan

My plan goes something like this:

Step 1: create an iPhoto library for each time period or year. As it turns out, I was able to recover from 2000 to around early 2012 in one iPhoto library. For 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, I’ve created separate iPhoto libraries. At first I was a bit intimidated to switch between libraries, but it’s actually pretty easy. Two benefits come to mind right away – 1) subdivided libraries leads to smaller file sizes, which leads to more responsive iPhoto operation, since it’s not trying to navigate through so much data, and 2) subdivided libraries lead to compartmentalization of your data, resulting in easier recovery if any problems come up.

iPhoto allows use of multiple libraries. switching is pretty easy.
iPhoto allows use of multiple libraries. switching is pretty easy.

All I had to do was go to my backup that was already organized by year and import the folders into whichever iPhoto library I wanted. Pretty easy. What’s kind of annoying is how a few photos from random years in the past end up in much later iPhoto libraries. So the 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 aren’t exactly chronological. This is pretty annoying for my personality type, but at this point I’d rather have all of my data, even if it is a bit disorganized.

iPhoto allows use of multiple libraries. switching is pretty easy.
iPhoto allows use of multiple libraries. switching is pretty easy.

Step 2: go through each iPhoto library and start over with organizing photos into events and albums. I have to admit that this one is hardest for me – I had my photos very organized, and now that’s gone, as are projects I’ve made over the years. There were only a few books that I ever made, but I spent a lot of time on those projects. This is still a work in progress, but I don’t think it’ll take much longer since I’m not going to try and recreate completed projects.

my real life Mater photos are there!
my real life Mater photos are there!

Step 3: go through each iPhoto library and find/delete duplicate photos. Somehow, there are two (and sometimes 3) copies of each photo after import. So I’ll have to go through and manually find duplicates, or use a product like Fat Cat Software’s iPhoto Library Manager. It’s a great product, and I bought it so I could work on organizing my libraries. You can merge different iPhoto libraries, so I could one day try to put all of my photos back into the same iPhoto library. I seriously doubt that’s going to happen (see Step 1 above). The program even searches for duplicates in and across iPhoto libraries and will ask you what you want to happen. Whatever you do, be careful if you tell it to copy, move, or delete photo files. The Law of Unintended Consequences may come into play.

iPhoto Library Manager browse feature
iPhoto Library Manager browse feature

Step 4: don’t look back (much). There’s an obvious “Let It Go” tie in here. I wish I’d never had this data problem, but I’m trying to look at this as an overall positive experience. I have my photos, and that’s no small thing. I’ll end up decluttering my digital photo life and wind up better organized, with more manageable data. And I’ll also end up with better backup copies of my files and the knowledge on recovery if I ever have to do this again. I’ll have to work harder to make my daughter’s 10 Year Book (a hard cover book of the greatest picture hits of her first 10 years) since I’ll have to work across multiple libraries instead of just one. But I’ll figure out a way to get it done.

I hope this helps you somehow, either by helping you avoid problems with data loss of any kind, but especially digital photos and videos. Or maybe you’ve had a similar situation and some of the steps I’ve taken may lead you try something different that works for you. Whatever the case, please share with us any tips you have for data management and recovery. I hope to have another “real” Disney photography article to you soon.

Chris W. (NDD #300)

Since going to Walt Disney World and Disneyland at a young age, Chris has always enjoyed Disney music, TV shows, movies, and trips to Walt Disney World. But his appreciation of the overall Disney experience has greatly increased over the last few years. While waiting for the next chance to work on his Disney photography skills, Chris passes the time listening to Park/Resort audio, WDW podcasts, and checking out the work of other Disney photographers. To Chris, there are no bad Disney trip photographs or photographers. Non-Disney pursuits include spending time with his wife and children, watching and listening to baseball broadcasts, and cheering for the Chicago Cubs and LSU. Chris is a third generation professional engineer in Louisiana, working mainly on asbestos, lead, mold and demolition projects. Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisWhitePE and you can check out his Flickr photo stream: chris_white2323.

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