How I came along developing a photo database to simplify my life

It was in 1998, after the Nagano Olympics, when I first used a digial photo camera. Although I had shot most of the games on film (mostly slides), I had a hard disk full of files which I had a hard time sorting. As a computer scientist by training, I made plans to develop a web based photo database. In addition to archiving my digital photos, I wanted to learn more about the new technologies of HTML and CSS. At that time languages like php did not yet exist, so I started my undertaking in C. I miserably failed!

It is only ten years later, in 2009 that the undertaking of developing my own photo database re-emerged. Dissatisfied with existing, what we would call today cloud based software, I started developing concepts for a simple photo database. I based its design on two simple premises:

  1. The source data only comes from data stored in the IPTC fields associated with the photo. No data entry should be done in the database. In fact, the main goal of the database is to search and find photos based on their attributes.
  2. The user interface to the database is based on the concept of a lightbox, which represents sorted collections of photos – like in the old days.

Finding the right picture at the right moment! This is the core capability I wanted my web based photo database system, which I named HOLIDAY, to have.

A first prototype

Screen shot of the HOLIDAY V1.0 user interfaceHere you can see a screen short of an early version of HOLIDAY’s web based user interface. It closely mimics the layout of a traditional lightbox – those of you who worked sorting slides certainly do remember. Once I had started the development of the database, I continued adding features to make my workflow process more seamless, from selecting, editing, and captioning images, to distributing them via ftp to potential clients. But I did not stop there. I continued adding features for clients searching for specific images to functionalities to automate processes found in small to medium sized photo agencies. To ensure that what I developed was not only working, but also relevant I validated my ideas with other photographers, end-users, and one photo agency. Although far from perfect, the result of numerous hours of programming and debugging, was sound to me.

Modernizing the user experience

Happy with how HOLIDAY worked and having other ideas as well as being involved in other projects, the developed of the database software rested between 2011 and 2019. In 2019 I decided to implement a complete overhaul of the front-end of the database, taking into account recent technological advancements, like responsive layouts or the jQuery JavaScript library. To start I benchmarked the web databases used by major photo agencies in the market, notably how gettyimages implemented their user interface. The screen shot below shows how my HOLIDAY photo database user interface looks as of this writing. I also developed a plug-in interface that allows to connect the database to this WordPress-run web site. So all the photos in the albums you see on this site are sourced directly from the HOLIDAY.

Screen shot of the HOLIDAY V3.0 user interface