How I Shrunk My Life's Data from 500GB to 70GB

Over the years you have undoubtedly amassed a large collection of digital files. I certainly have. Photos, school papers, videos from vacations, movies and music, tax documents, personal projects, drawings, voice notes. All these files that just keep adding up. Especially as a photographer, I have hundreds of folders of photos. Over time, this data becomes unwieldy.

I spent a few weeks late last year collecting all of my life's data into one place. Ripping old data CDs, dumping random hard drives and memory cards together, and organizing everything into one cohesive folder structure. If you want a nice guide on that very topic, I have just the thing for you! In the end, I had 500 gigabytes of data to deal with. This may not sound too crazy since you can buy a 500GB hard drive for a pocket of change these days, but it was still bothering me. Since I'm using Google Drive for my backup and storage, this 500GB of data was taking up half of my $10/month terabyte of storage. At the rate I was going, I would top off this terabyte in a matter of years. Not ideal. Especially since the next size up is 10TB for $100/month. No thanks!

First Steps

Once you follow my guide to collect files into a solid folder structure (in the link above), you should have all your data in one place. It's a magical feeling, really; being able to access every single file you've ever created, view every photo you've ever taken. But now we need to take this data and reduce! So to get started, we need to figure out what kind of data we have, how big it is, and where it lives. This is where DaisyDisk comes into play! Windows users can check out Scanner, which accomplishes the same goal.

DaisyDisk shows exactly how much and where your files are.

As you can see, DaisyDisk makes an interactive layered pie chart that shows your folder structure based on the size of the contents. If you click any section, it zooms in, making that folder the center of the chart. Using this program, you should spend some time getting acquainted with your hard drive. Which folders are the most massive? Photos? Music? Video? Whatever it is, you can now quickly find out. On the outer ring of the pie chart, the grey blocks are the actual files. If you see a large grey block, it is your enemy.

At first, your chart might look very lopsided. Most of your data might be contained within just a few folders. Or maybe you haven't organized yet and have files scattered everywhere. I should note that I keep 'my data' in a different location that all of my programs and system files. The image above shows my Google Drive folder, which contains all my personal files. Because programs and games are so easy and quick to download now, there is little need to store those files long term.

Okay, good. Now we have a solid framework that we can keep coming back to to see how our progress is going. It would be smart to take a screenshot of your DaisyDisk scan before you start in order to compare as you go.

Delete!

The fastest way to clear up space is by deleting things! Not important things, of course, but files that no longer serve a purpose. I used to hold on to old program installation files like they were gold. Then I finally realised that the Adobe CS5 Master Collection would never serve a purpose to me ever again. DELETE! Other files that are easy to delete are source videos that were edited together into a video. If I shot 25 videos on a vacation to Portland and already edited them into a 3-minute video, do I really need to keep all 25 of those original videos? DELETE! It helps if you think about the files ten years from now. Will you actually come back and look through those 25 videos or will you just watch the edit? If you really think you'll watch them all, then keep them! Otherwise, get comfortable trading those videos in for more storage space.

This will be an ongoing process, but it's good to start here and get into the habit of deleting your clutter. And a nice thing about working off Google Drive is that it saves your deleted files in the Trash until you empty it. We all have accidentally deleted a file to immediately regret it.

Compressing Photos

Let's talk about photos first. Everyone has them. If you have a phone, you have a camera. If you have a camera, you have a backlog of photos. Any phone or camera built in the last five plus years is most likely capturing photos in the 3000 x 2000 pixel range. That's a lot of pixels. An HD tv has 1920 x 1080 pixels and your iPhone 6 captures photos at around 3200 x 2400. Do you really need to keep every snapshot at that resolution forever? I argue not. That's where PhotoBulk comes in!

PhotoBulk lets you quickly resize and compress thousands of photos with ease.

PhotoBulk lets you quickly resize and compress thousands of photos with ease.

With this program, you can drag in a folder full of photos, set your resolution and compression level, then hit Start and it will do the rest. It's pretty phenomenal to have that level of customizable power. You could drag your entire Photos folder in and it will save out the entire folder structure with all the images where they should be. It does not delete the original photos, though, so you do have to keep track.

To all the avid photographers out there, I know you want to keep as high of quality photos as long as possible. I feel your pain. At the very least, you should convert all your raw photos into jpgs. There's no reason to keep those raw files after you've done all the color correction and exporting. I have even started saving out my jpgs at 2,500px with about 80% quality. This takes a 30MB raw photo and shrinks it down to a 300KB jpg. That means 100 jpgs takes up the space of one raw file. It's so so efficient. And if 2,500 is too small for you, feel free to increase it to a more comfortable size.

If you're shooting for magazines or any kind of print however, you'll want to keep maximum quality, of course.

Compressing Video

In OSX Yosemite, you can simply right click video files and "Encode Selected Video Files." From there, you can choose some basic options and start encoding. If you have a bunch of Apple ProRes videos, you can chop them down to around 20% of their original size by saving them at 1080p video (which automatically uses H.264 as the compression codec). If you have a bunch of 1080p video from your smartphone, save them down to 720p since the quality isn't great to begin with. You won't miss the fidelity, I promise.

If you're not on a Mac, you can still download QuickTime 7, find a serial on YouTube, and compress your videos from there.

Keep Deleting and Organizing

For me, photos took 70% of the space and video took 20%, while the last 10% was full of documents, projects, and music (because Spotify still doesn't have The Beatles). If you use these techniques and programs, you should be able to compress your total gigabyte footprint by a factor of ten, making that terabyte of Google storage last longer and longer.