Photography and Art

Monday, December 15, 2008

Virtual Housecleaning

I spent the week-end housecleaning. No, not the usual kind of housecleaning with dusters and mops, I mean the virtual kind. For over a year now, ever since I got a second computer and moved my older machine into my basement studio along with my printer, I've been meaning to get my networking act together. Believe it or not, despite my day job as a CTO, I've been running separate file systems on both computers, two Lightroom catalogs and using sneakernet (copying files onto a CF card and then taking them downstairs) to transport files between the computers. I like to edit on the faster machine in the family room where I can keep an eye on the TV and chat with the family and then do my printing downstairs. But, this practice played havoc with my filing system. I had no idea where the latest copy of each master file was because I often took what I thought was a finished image and then tweaked it after seeing printer proofs. I did try to network the two computers together using a wireless network, but the speed wasn't up to par and it wasn't practical to mount network drives and copy files that way.

So, this week-end, I bit the bullet and ran good old cat-5 cable from my upstairs computer to a switch in the basement and then from there on to my downstairs computer. Then, it was time to adopt a single Lightroom catalog to track all my files. Here's how I did that in case you are wondering about networking and Lightroom.

  • First, I made sure that there were no drive letters in common between the two computers (to ensure that Lightroom could see the same drive letter from each computer). I went into the Vista system administration part of control panel and re-labelled disks on my old computer.
  • Then, I mapped network drives between the two computers so that each computer can see the photo folders on the other. To do this, I had to a) right click on each of the main photo folders and share them, b) go into the security tab of each folder and make sure that the special user "everyone" could have full read/write access to them and finally, c) go into my firewall software on each machine to ensure that both computers were letting the other one through. Needless to say, I don't envy the non-technical person trying to sort this out.
  • To consolidate my Lightroom catalog, I decided to use the upstairs computer as the main one and then exported all the catalog elements from the studio computer and imported them into the upstairs catalog. I backed the catalog up at this point to make sure I had all these changes saved.
  • After reading lots of articles about networking Lightroom (Lightroom is built around a lightweight SQL database that doesn't support the locking operations that you need for multi-user operation and the programmers specifically put code into the product that stops you from using a catalog on a network drive), I decided not to try one of several work-arounds. Instead, I copied the catalog to a USB hard drive and will use that to store my main catalog. Typically, I'm either in photo editing mode (upstairs) or photo printing mode (downstairs studio), so it will be practical for me to unmount the USB drive from one computer and mount it on the other. That way, I'll be able to use the same catalog on both machines and any changes I make to tweak images for printing will be reflected in the master image in the catalog. As long as I take care to right click on the USB drive and choose the "safely remove" option before unplugging it, my Lightroom catalog should retain its integrity.
After consolidating my catalog, I had an hour or so to do a little data mining. As a follow-up to my last post on smart collections, here's the fun part of the project. Once your smart collections have been set up to capture tagged images, it is a blast to go over all your images to tag them with keywords. Through the magic of smart collections, as soon as you tag an image with a keyword, it shows up in the appropriate collection.

And there you have it, a week-end's spring cleaning for my computer network and I now have that nice feeling of having my shit together. My images are in one place and I can actually find stuff. Thanks to smart collections, my projects are all together and I can now do some portfolio printing without scrambling around looking for images.

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