Managing and Curating Large Personal Photo Collections on Mac/iOS

A recent post on here reminded me of something that has been bugging me for a while. I have somehow ended up with over 80,000 images in Apple Photos and I just don’t know where to start in order to curate this into a more meaningful collection.

Scared that I would lose collections of photos from old computers and cameras and phones, I at some point just dropped everything into Photos so that I knew for sure that they would be held locally and in the cloud. Now whilst the app is good at providing unprompted memories etc, I really don’t have any other organisational/tagging structure other than what is provided by the app, people, days, months, years, etc. Most phone phones will be geotagged, but most older or camera taken photos will not.

I even have another 18,000 photos that I lifted from my dad’s computers after he passed away last year and seeing these photos has really made me think hard about what I keep and what I don’t. For the most part, the majority of these photos are of no interest to me, many are taken by him of other people not known to me, and others are just not keepers. In fact, being perfectly honest there are probably much <500 photos that I will want to keep. Old photos he scanned in of family and some of himself.

So some initial questions/thoughts:

  1. I am thinking of keeping Apple Photos as an Inbox for my iPhone photos, and then ‘moving back to Lightroom’ a curated collection of photos that I want to keep. I would be interested to hear of any Lightroom workflows people may have to curate such a large amount of photos.

  2. I’m curious on peoples thoughts about the keeping of photos, especially those that are able to cull/curate and maintain a manageable amount. I’m guilty of taking ten photos for every one because of digital photography. In my youth I shot some black and white film and also transparency, and every shot taken was intentional as there was a cost to it.

  3. I must have thousands of ‘average lansdscape’ and ‘travel’ photos that would be of no interest to any of my family when I pass, the same as I have no interest in the many many photos my father took. Should I keep all these and just archive them (never to be seen again) or should I let go?

I hope this post could start some interesting discourse on the subject of taking and managing and curating personal digital photo collections.


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Interested in this topic as well. My method so far is that Apple Photos gets everything from iOS devices. Lightroom gets everything from digital cameras, stored on an external Samsung T5 that gets backed up.

Lightroom workflow: I have a main “originals” folder where I store everything that comes from non iOS devices. This is like keeping the negatives. Initially I was using a folder for each device (DSLR, drones, gopro, old point and shoots) and then dated folders within. When I work on something in Lightroom, and get done with it, I put it in a “finished” folder and just that goes into Apple Photos. As Lightroom itself and one’s skill with it improves, it can be worth going back to old photos and reprocessing them.

I think I should move to dated folders at the top level as the division by device obscures the time. Also I could then put in folders of photos from family members’ cameras in the correct year.

My issue is the iPhoto legacy. Many years ago iPhoto didn’t scale so people advised us to split up photo libraries. The only good way to do this is by year, but it’s easy to say that with hindsight (and also it’s not perfect due to lots of photos being taken at New Year events before and after the hour). I had my photos split up by type of event, which eventually led to duplicates and missing photos. I have 3 and 4 copies of some photos in my main library, and even de-duplicator software can’t help me choose the best. The metadata is different in detail, the file sizes can be different, and Apple has a cavalier disregard for filenames which to me should be sacrosanct. So there are duplicates with different filenames.

As to what you keep and what you don’t, I think as long as your collection is as well organized and tagged as it can be, your digital heirs will be able to quickly find what they value - it will be their call, and it may be something you can’t predict.

Best wishes.


I’d start with smart folders by device. Unless everyone had the same camera and phones that should give you a de facto organization by user.

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In my experience by device fails after a few years. When did I take that photo? Was it DSLR or GoPro? I plan to switch to by year.

Given the plan you outline to standardize on Lightroom I’d start by avoiding using Photos entirely for new iPhone and camera photos, and just import all new photos into Lightroom, where you can more quickly and easily cull, rate, tag and file images than in the Photos app. (and I’d strongly recommend ruthlessly culling imports, immediately, going forward.)

(The standard app pro photographers and photo agencies use for rating/culling is Photo Mechanic. A much cheaper useful app is FastRawViewer, and a free one for personal use is XNview. But Lightroom itself can cull images pretty quickly too.)

With the older images Photos remains a decent place to keep images until you have time to sit down and export them for import into Lightroom.

That’s up to you. If (and only if) the memory is important to you I’d find the best and most representative one or two and kill the rest. But if the images are generic and unmemorable they’re probably not worth keeping.

Keep the 500 (put in its own folder inside Lightroom), put the best or more intriguing or interesting or curious of the rest on Google Photos, and give private folder invites to family members and close friends of your father to view and download anything they like. (I’d so that with the 500 you like too, actually, in a best-of folder.) After a year’s time delete the images you aren’t interested in.

My parents several hundred rolls of negs and prints, decades old, belonging to their parent who passed away, mostly taken on vacation and featuring people no one here knows. I was once asked what to do with them and I said if you want to be a completist send them to a place like ScanCafe and they’ll digitize them for a few hundred $ and put them on CD-ROMs for you (whereupon you’ll feel better but never look at them again); otherwise, riffle through them, find whatever interests you and toss the rest. They ended up boxing the images and putting them in a closet, where undoubtedly I’ll be the one to put them in a dumpster when my own parents die.


When I was in college I used to take lots of random pictures (candids, pictures of funny things, at a party, the beer I was drinking, etc) and post them on Facebook. Once I posted them I just deleted the pictures because at the time I thought, “Why would I ever want to save the original quality version of this picture of a couple of my friends doing a toast?” And so the only pictures I ever kept were the “serious” pictures I took: landscapes, cityscapes, some portraits, etc.

That was about 8 years ago.

Last year, I requested all of my data from Facebook in order to get access to all of my pictures again. I dropped every single Facebook photo back into my photo library and painstakingly went through them again and decided once more if I wanted to keep the picture or if I was right to delete them the first time.

And long story short, if I could talk to Past-Me I would tell him to just keep all of the god damn pictures and to stop stressing and worrying about curating every single picture he takes because it’s just not worth the time and effort. I’d tell him that while the nice pictures he took of the river cutting through the ravine are nice to look at and maybe even frame worthy, that the pictures that are going to be actually meaningful are going to be those pictures he took of friends and having fun with friends, the ones that weren’t posed for, the ones with seemingly no reason for taking a picture of, but that in 10 years when he looked at them again those memories would instantly flood back and remind him of himself and how he’s grown. I’d also tell him to stop worrying about disk space because it’s going to be meaningless in a few years.

Nowadays, the only pictures I prune are the actual real duplicate photos: i.e., I pressed the shutter 3 times and there are 3 exact same pictures, as opposed to non-real duplicates where I maybe slightly framed the same subject a few different ways. This one goes back to storage space: it’s not going to matter. And, I assume in the future, there will be better apps/AI that can find the “best” aesthetically pleasing picture out of a dozen that look slightly different, so the time I spend today is just wasted.

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