Synology + Lightroom CC

A match made in heaven….

Photo by Martin Zangerl on Unsplash

Recently I began a new photo journey for my wife — see: https://allangraves.medium.com/birding-long-range-b5ed180b86c1

I settled on a camera setup — but now of course, I needed software to import, store, categorize, and backup our new hobby. For the record, my personal photos are backed up like this:

  • Synology — Moments App — automatically uploads my files to my Synology NAS. This lives in my house. No organization, pure backup.
  • Google Photos — Cloud storage, and primary Organization Tools. The AI is awesome, right till your kid starts tell The GOOG that your brother is your son and then it goes stupid.
  • Dropbox — all photos are uploaded to this dropbox cloud storage as well.

Until I had kids, I never realized just how important my memories were. I’d like to add an offsite Synology as well — so I have a double store of my memories.

You might be asking what a NAS is right now -it is a tool. A NAS is a network attached storage, and it is used to provide reliable storage for files. It usually contains some form of disk redundancy so that if a disk (or two or three) dies, you don’t lose anything.

For the record, I have the Synology 1019+, although it appears as if it has been replaced by the 1520+ https://www.synology.com/en-us/products/DS1520+.

This product, plus the drives, cost me $1500 or so — about the cost of a computer, and one I did not want to spend at first. Since that day though, it has provided peace of mind and kept my files safe in many ways.

This is important, because the Synology factors into today’s article — Why I chose Lightroom CC.

My requirements were pretty simple:

  1. Photo Organization — albums, folders
  2. Simple Photo Editing
  3. Storage of Raw Files — No Google JPG compression
  4. Optional — Edit anywhere, Cloud based

Since high quality cameras have the capability to take thousands of pictures an hour ( my wife came back from a recent birding day with 1000+ pictures), Photo Organization and Workflow is Paramount. There’s no way you want to spend days going through all of the photos. And with Kids, you might not be able to sit in front of a computer for hours, so you may need to edit, identify, and organize on your tablet or phone.

Her high level workflow looks like this:

  1. Go birding.
  2. Take thousands of photos.
  3. Come home exhausted.
  4. Plug camera in, import photos.
  5. Organize, identify, and edit, all while being a full time parent.

It’s just … exhausting.

The immediate issue was organization. Right now, she plugs her memory card into the Synology, and it imports her photos into Synology Moments, making an automatically available set of photos. I have an automatic USB Copy rule setup to do that if a particular SD card is plugged into the Synology. Photos are then available for storage, sharing, and viewing through mobile and web.

See? Easy:

Current Single Album Scrolling Hell, but easy Process

There are many problems with this, but it is easy. No album organization, but then again, other than sharing a photo or two, she didn’t really plan to save any, they were mostly for identification.

However, now that a new high-res camera is on the way… that all changed. Add in that she was investing work in these pictures to edit them, and losing them became more problematic. Then, of course, there was the issue of sharing and or printing them because she now could. Combine that with the ability to take thousands of photos with the speed of these cameras… and a whole new world opened up for her.

However, I want to keep that EASY button going.

The solution going forward would need to have 3 parts:

  1. Organization — the ability to quickly and easily organize photos, as well as ability to process thousands of photos without spending significant time.
  2. Backup — With the quality and time invested, there was no way that she wants to lose any of these photos. This is why my personal photos are backed up in 2 cloud locations and a local location.
  3. Editing — Any solution needs to have the ability to do basic editing and cleanup. My wife is not yet a Photoshop wizard, but she is decently technical and really artistic.

First, let’s talk about what a backup is. A backup is not the same as replication. Replication makes sure that your files are in 2 places at once. If you delete a file in the primary copy… it is gone in the second. That’s fine if you meant to do so… but not if you accidentally did so. You can’t recover it… it is gone.

A true backup allows you to recover files that you have accidentally deleted. It’s not simply a mirror of another source.

Replication is useful for its own purpose though:

  1. It protects against a primary source not being available anymore. So, if your primary source is the cloud, and the network is not available, you can still view your photos.
  2. It provides a local copy that might be faster to access. Your hard drive (and even a NAS) is faster than the cloud, unless you are doing something really wrong. Plus, you don’t incur internet bandwidth charges, which might be good if you are in a hotel or have a bandwidth cap.

The personal photo setup I have is a true backup — no files are deleted off the Synology if I delete it on my phone. That means I can recover a photo if I accidentally delete one.

My primary issue was organization though — so I started looking at it from this perspective. Lightroom is considered the gold standard here, but when I investigated, I found that it was $10\month for 1TB of storage.

For the record, that is 2x as expensive as Google Drive and Dropbox. Although it includes the Lightroom CC app— no Photoshop. $20/month for Photoshop (and other apps). $10\month for an additional 1TB of storage.

That’s not actually a bad deal — you’re essentially paying $0 for the storage, or $0 for Lightroom CC, no matter which way you look at it. (https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography/compare-plans.html)

At this point, my wife wouldn’t need Photoshop. Lightroom CC includes the Healing brush, which I’ll get into later. Lightroom CC also allows you to do most of your major functions — saturation, exposure correction, and other fairly advanced functions.

Lightroom Classic is still available — and there are a LOT of tutorials for it. You can sync to Lightroom CC if you want. It’s more complicated -the interface was cleaned up in Lightroom CC. But for my use case, I wasn’t sure that mattered — the organization was strong in Lightroom CC, and it had Adobe Sensei (an AI organization and search feature, similar to Google Photos).

Still, I balked at paying a subscription price. So… I looked at alternatives.

  1. Luminar — AI powered features, very basic organization, incredible AI filters for casual photographers, one time purchase, no mobile aps, requires additional computer investment to allow her to work not on my computer… can be used in conjunction with Lightroom Classic.
  2. Exposure X6 — Can be used with Dropbox, Good presets, Decent organization, desktop based.
  3. Capture One — huh. This has a monthly plan as well. Highly rated, but REALLY detailed — like Lightroom and Photoshop had a baby.

The list goes on, including free options — Darktable, Raw Therapee, but they all had one fatal flaw or another.

  • Were local only. (IE — required significant investment in another computer to even do basic organization.)
  • Had no organization capability — no smart folders, limited albums, etc.
  • Had a monthly fee
  • Were overly complex or not complex enough
  • Did not handle large libraries (10,000+ pictures, which when you can shoot 1000 shots a day, is not a lot)
  • Required a new computer for even basic organization.
  • Had a yearly fee if I intended to get new features every year by purchasing the software every year.
  • Had a fee, but did not include cloud storage.

Honestly, I’m not sure why I even started down this journey, but I think the idea of a monthly fee got to me.

Then I broke it down:

  • Lightroom CC handles my needs — it is simple, powerful, and does what my wife needs.
  • Lightroom CC comes with desktop and mobile apps. This allows her to organize from a non-desktop. I’ve even done basic editing from my phone, cropping and touching up photos.
  • Lightroom CC plan comes with Adobe Portfolio site to easily set up a photo sharing site — this could be a huge boon for my wife, who just wants to share photos and show off her work.
  • Lightroom CC comes with a newly redesigned desktop app that helps causal and professional photographers have a simple workflow. I don’t want to force my wife to wade through hundreds of tutorials to do basic editing — she could do it, but it’s not what she wants to do.
  • Lightroom CC can import photos from a mobile phone, from a camera hooked to a mobile phone, and from a desktop or camera hooked to a desktop.
  • Lightroom CC has great organization features, smart folders, AI search, and people categorization. All of these are necessary in today’s world of billions of photos.
  • Lightroom CC allows us to one click adjust a photo — “Auto” they call it. It’s pretty good if you’re in a hurry.
  • Lightroom CC has a monthly fee, but comes with storage, and constant new features.
  • Lightroom CC makes it easy to keep my originals and other photos safe and in my control.

The thing I didn’t like was the $10\month fee for 1TB of storage, and the additional $10/month per TB.

I looked around, and compared notes:

  • Google Drive was $5\TB
  • Dropbox was $5\TB… except that Dropbox didn’t allow you to add storage by the TB, capping out at 2–5 TB total, depending on your plan.
  • SmugMug was $7 a month for unlimited storage, but did not provide the apps or editing.

Other cloud providers might have been cheaper… but do you trust them?

With Adobe Cloud, I felt like I was getting a lot of bang for my monthly buck — AI features, Assisted Editing, Organization and Cloud Storage.

The only thing I didn’t like was having everything in the cloud.

I’m a computer engineer, and I really don’t like the cloud at all. It’s great when it works, but when it fails, you lose all access. For instance, if Adobe had a glitch, or they suddenly revoked my account, would I lose all access to my photos? Yes. Yes I would.

So I want a local copy of my Pictures. Or rather, my wife’s pictures, because I really don’t want to tell her that I couldn’t keep her information safe.

This is where the Synology comes in.

I created an SMB file share and mounted it on my personal computer. This took me about 5 clicks.

Then, in Lightroom Desktop, I set the following:

Point to Where your SMB share is mounted

This took Lightroom a while, but eventually, it had all the photos there.

Every time I add a new photo to Adobe Cloud, whether through the Mobile App, the Web, Or the Desktop, it is automatically added here.

This is not a backup. It is replication.

But — should something happen to Adobe — perhaps it is unavailable, or perhaps Adobe revokes my account, my photos are here.

This works for me because I rarely leave my house to present my photos.

If I did leave my house and present my photos at a place that had no internet, I would not be able to access them.

My photos are on a NAS, which requires my network to access.

It is also NOT a backup, as stated earlier.

If I wanted a true backup, I would do the following:

  1. Buy an external drive with enough storage for my photos.
  2. Set the local copy to be on this drive.
  3. Utilize the Synology Drive Client to back this drive up to the Synology. https://www.synology.com/en-global/knowledgebase/DSM/help/DSM/Tutorial/backup_from_computer@ps

This has 2 advantages:

  • Any time you have your external drive, you have your photos, with no network required.
  • You have a full backup on the Synology, with the ability to recover accidentally deleted files.

This has the downside that it requires possibly significant storage for your local copy, and will make your laptop harder to carry around.

I have tested the following cases, and they work:

  1. File Added to Lightroom CC from a different client while Lightroom Desktop is not running — it will be added to local storage the next time Lightroom Desktop is started.
  2. File Deleted from Lightroom CC while Lightroom Desktop is not running — it will be eventually deleted from local storage when you start up Lightroom Desktop again.

If the local storage is not available, Lightroom Desktop will display a message, and hold operations until your storage is available.

As a further option, Adobe Lightroom CC also offers the ability to coordinate with SmugMug. This is yet another cloud provider, and provides a second replication site — no versioning or deleted file retention. It would be a second copy of Adobe Cloud, should something go catastrophically wrong with Adobe, but would not version your photos, unlike the Synology. Again, this is the full RAW Original file, not a JPG backup.

I’m happy to say that with the power of Adobe Cloud, my wife can easily work from anywhere, while retaining a copy of her photos, and ensuring access to them. Lightroom CC has significantly sped up her workflow, and allowed her to process thousands of photos easily, no matter what her time and place.

This maintains the easy button she wants, so she is not bogged down in technical details.

Her workflow looks like this:

  1. Go birding.
  2. Take thousands of photos.
  3. Come home exhausted.
  4. Plug camera in, watch it import.
  5. Go to sleep.
  6. Over the next day or so, she uses her mobile \ tablet to get rid of any so obviously blurry photos that they are no good. Right now, that’s about 50–70%.
  7. She also tags any that are immediate keepers and warrant further post-processing. This is a one click operation using the “Pick” flag.
  8. And she stars any that are useful for identifying, but not for doing much else with, with 1 star. These can be identified later and removed from the library.
  9. This is all done while being a full-time parent with small children. Fun!

Adobe Lightroom CC Features:

  • Lessons from the community — you can easily learn more tips and tricks from the community. They are included in the plan, and look fantastic — with more added every month.
  • Ability to edit other people’s photos and learn — interactive editing, they call it, and it shows how other photographers got the photo they wanted, as well as allowing you to edit the photo and try your skills.
  • Adobe lessons — like community lessons, but even more polished.
  • Great Support — I had an issue, and I was actually able to engage development through the support forum at: https://feedback.photoshop.com/topics/lightroom-desktop-cloudbased/5f5f2093785c1f1e6cc40874 Within 2 days, I had engaged a representative, and actually had engineering engaged.
  • Great User Community — engaged and willing to help: https://community.adobe.com/t5/lightroom/bd-p/lightroom?page=1&sort=latest_replies&filter=all
  • Pricing — This was actually my major concern. But, for $10\month, I’m getting 1TB of storage, or enough for 55,555 Originals at about 18MB an original. (20MP Camera Olympus RAW format) Unlike some other cloud options, I can add additional storage easily, and there does not appear to be a maximum cap. I can add Photoshop and other apps in the future. And, I am getting a full Website host that easily integrates with my Photo software. All in all, not a bad deal for best in class applications and software.
  • Healing Brush — This is a cool feature I wanted to call out — essentially it’s an AI clone and feather brush. I was able to remove some branches I didn’t like in the hawk shot that I touched up below.
  • Shared Albums — something that doesn’t seem like much for a photo editing software, but it is quite nice to not have to go to another interface to share photos with other people. It’s very much like Google Photos — just go and give them a link and set view permissions.
  • AI Sensei — surfacing your best photos, as well as helping you search your photos.
  • Multi-computer — Run this software on multiple computers, web, and mobile devices.
  • https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop-lightroom.html
These branches, on the right side of the photo…. were removed by me
Honestly, it’s kind of magic!

Years of technology experience have given me a unique perspective on many things, including parenting, climate change, etc. Or maybe I’m just opinionated.

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