Blog Archive

When Lightroom and SmugMug Go Boom

For the most part, I meander through my day-to-day photographic workflow without many issues. For picture management and primary editing, I have come to rely on Adobe Lightroom as the standard bearer over all other options in the market. For more advanced edits, such as those I may apply to some of my fine art photographs, I'll employ more powerful tools like Adobe Photoshop (and for video, I rely on Adobe Premiere Pro), so, essentially, I've grown dependent on Adobe Creative Cloud (CC). Am I happy with Adobe CC? For the most part, yes. Like the majority of their customers, I wasn't thrilled when Adobe first announced the transition away from packaged software and toward the now-standard model of software-as-a-service (e.g., subscription licensing). Over the past few years, however, I think Adobe has done a good job proving value in the model by pushing updates frequently that bring new features to the tools we use. While would-be competitors to Adobe's ecosystem come and go, I've tried them all and none in my opinion compare to Adobe CC. So with Adobe, I stay.

Another platform that I've relied on for a long time is SmugMug which I use for hosting my photographs. SmugMug is an outstanding image hosting provider that has always been rock-solid in terms of reliability and customer service. How did I choose SmugMug over all the other photo hosting services? I chose SmugMug because a long time ago when Adobe Lightroom was in its infancy, Adobe packaged a built-in publishing tool for seamlessly exporting and synchronizing images to SmugMug. Organizing, tagging, and editing photos in Lightroom and then exporting them to SmugMug using the integrated plugin became the foundation of my personal digital workflow for photography. Into Lightroom, out to SmugMug. Simple.

But every now and again, something goes wrong.

Last night, for example, as I was preparing to publish a new gallery to SmugMug, I was greeted by an error indicating the SmugMug publish plugin within Adobe Lightroom could not create the gallery. Perplexed, I tried the usual things - hiccups like this happen from time to time - but none of the usual fixes worked. Now, from that point forward, In terms of details, I'm not entirely clear on the finer points of what happened because my memory is veiled by sheet of raging frustration... All I know is the connection between my Lightroom catalog and my SmugMug account was severed. Without warning, the nearly 10,000 photographs I have published on SmugMug were no longer "connected" to those in my local Lightroom catalog. Surely there's a quick fix? 

As luck may have it, there is, fortunately, a "Synchronize" option in the SmugMug plugin for Adobe Lightroom. The purpose of this feature is to essentially pair images that are posted online to those in the local Lightroom catalog. Great! Except for the instances when a conflict arises. What causes a conflict, you might ask? Well, to be fair, a lot of things can trigger a conflict and for good reason. Things like mismatched image resolutions between source and match; mismatched capture dates; and other discrepancies in metadata between the files. When a conflict arises, Lightroom will show you what information matches and what doesn't between the file it's looking to match and the file(s) it finds in the catalog. For each image where a conflict exists, key metadata is flagged using either a green check mark (match), a yellow check mark (almost matches) or a blank (no match). Pretty savvy. However, If there is a minor difference in data, such as between the filename of the image that's online at SmugMug and the image that matches, even if all other metadata match, a conflict arises. This is probably an intelligent safeguard, but what it means is that if you choose to rename your files upon export (I do) then... yeah. Many, many, many conflicts arise. In my case, nearly 10,000 conflicts.

Insert feature request, here: 

Dear Adobe and SmugMug,

I don't really care which one of you takes care of implementing the following request, but I hope that one of you will. When the Lightroom-SmugMug plugin resets, for whatever reason, and a user forces a synchronization of galleries and photos between their catalog and their SmugMug site, please provide a means for automating the conflict resolution. For example, when an image is matched but a single, yellow-flag conflict arises when at least 3 other metadata matches are confirmed, please... please, please, PLEASE allow the user to "automatically accept matches" in bulk. 

I have the utmost confidence in your matching algorithms. Why? Because after sitting at my computer and manually clicking "Accept" for Every... Single... Photograph... that triggered a conflict because of a mismatched filename, I can tell you that of about 10,000 photographs, less than 10 were actually improperly identified. That's 0.1% error.

Sincerely, a dedicated user who lost three hours of his life to this issue.

That last bit is not hyperbole. Almost my entire collection of published images on SmugMug had to be resolved because their filenames differed from those that were matched in my catalog. While I can envision scenarios where this kind of error-checking could help avoid a serious synchronization issue, enough other metadata is being matched (in my case) to justify an automatic pair. As it stand, however, one can only resolve conflicts in such a scenario one... at... a... time. 

How did I manage it? My solution involved only a partially successful hack. I realized in short order that if I held down the Return key, the conflict resolution and match dialogue would automatically advance by accepting the first proposed match candidate. So in a feeble attempt to get on with my life, I propped the edge of a hardcover book against the Return key of my keyboard and left the room. Proud of myself, I checked on it again 15 minutes later to find that Lightroom had crashed. I'm guessing some kind of buffer had become overrun. Through the rage, I had enough clarity to take a screenshot for posterity. Little did I know I would have many, many more opportunities to do so throughout the evening. In the end, I repeated this process for nearly three hours, periodically watching Lightroom crash; having to restart it; and then starting the sync process over again to incrementally move the process forward.

I should end this blog post by saying that Adobe CC and SmugMug have never let me down. Both products are excellent and I've always been impressed by their customer service and their ability to listen to their user base. I don't think anyone else in the market can match these two companies with their respective offerings. I also think this issue I had was a fairly uncommon one and probably pretty isolated to something wonky with my local system. With that being said, the fix wouldn't be hard to implement, and I know I'd sleep better knowing I'd never have to deal with it again should I end up in the same situation twice. So, Adobe, SmugMug... if you're listening: thanks in advance.