Using a Synology NAS Drive to provide a TNG Photo Gallery

Introduction

TNG is a fantastic genealogy program.  It wins awards for a reason. And it has some cool capabilities for displaying media related to people, families and events.  Sometimes though, users look for alternative ways of displaying photos. In my case I opted to use the photo library capabilities of my Synology NAS drive.

Often this is a financial consideration, because  some hosting companies charge according to space utilised.  In my case that was partly true, but the principal reason was that I already had my entire photo library stored on my Synology DiskStation, so placing duplicate copies onto my TNG installation did not make sense. 

In this article I’ll describe the process I use but first there’s some background stuff to consider, for those of you who are not yet a NAS owner and are wondering whether it is a route you want to go.

It’s only my true photos that get this treatment.  All other media types are stored in TNG.  (Media Type means the nature of the content, not the file format.  A jpg of a birth certificate is a birth certificate media type, even if jpg is a photo format.) I treat true photos this way because:

  1. These types of media do not exist already. 
  2. They are not photos.
  3. I have to source them.
  4. I need to trim them, resize and save them somewhere and it’s easy to do that last item on TNG one by one as I discover them.
  5. The thumbnails of miscellaneous documents make the person’s page more engaging, even if the thumb is illegible (see below.)
  6. Photos are a different paradigm.
    1. I am maintaining that library for other reasons.
    2. It already contains what I want
    3. It grows as I source new materials from relatives
    4. The family wants to access photos as a stand-alone entity, not as a function of a family history site
  7. There is, however, an exception to this rule.  I have a very large pedigree chart, created in another app, that is so big that the TNG viewer can’t display it legibly.  So I have placed it in Photo Station and created a link.

In principle though, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use a NAS drive to store all your media.  There’s no right or wrong answer to this, and the final decision might come down to what takes your fancy.

Before we delve into the details of how to use a NAS based photo library with TNG, let’s take a look at how it works in reality.  Here’s part of my father’s record:

One photo is stored in TNG so that it can appear as his profile picture,  The rest are on the NAS drive.   To see it for yourself, click here then click the Photo Gallery – Fred Barrett link in the TNG record.

If you liked the experience, read on!

This is another topic on which opinions vary.

Many documents come as PDFs.  I have seen sites where even photos are presented as PDFs.  I avoid PDF wherever  I can.  On my family history site I only have a few, and they are reserved for long multiple paged documents where there is no other solution. Short multi page PDF documents can be rendered as a single jpg – there are online tools to convert them.

Why use jpg?

  1. It produces a smaller file size (not always true if the content is plain text)
  2. It renders faster
  3. It can be rendered as a thumbnail, pdf cannot.

The main exception to my jpg rule is stories.  But even then, PDF is not usually the answer.  My TNG installation is integrated with WordPress, so I write stories as WordPress posts that can be indexed by search engines.  This has secured me a handful of really useful contacts from people researching their tree, who have been brought to my site by the articles appearing in search results.

TNG is a great family history program.  It excels at its core purpose and while its photo managing / rendering is good, it is not exceptional.  Synology Photo Station and the new Synology Moments are dedicated photo management / display apps that excel at that.  The next most popular home NAS after Synology is QNAP which has a photo app, also called Photo Station, which will probably do the job too.

TNG and Synology Photo Station / Moments make a more compelling solution than TNG on its own.

Point ...... and counter (or augmented)  point
With a NAS, you have total control over your content.  But  that means you have total responsibility for your content and making it accessible 24/7.  You need to think hard about data security e.g. backups (but then you think about that anyway, don't you?)
From inside your network, NAS storage is available at speeds far greater than your internet connectionExternal use depends on your line speed and you may need an unmetered, uncapped plan, depending on how much activity you expect.
Your library is available for other uses, outside of TNGBut if you don't have any other use for your library a NAS is not for you
Setting up a person's gallery in TNG is fire and forget.
Adding and deleting images from a person's Photo Gallery is as simple as adding or deleting the images from the NAS library.  You don't have to do a thing in TNG.
If your photo library is on your computer you have little choice but to duplicate content into TNG and go through the resize rigmaroleYou could leave your PC on 24/7 and allow it to act as a web server but that would tether your laptop to your home office and use a lot more energy than a NAS
Done right, data on a NAS is more secure than data on a PC.Done wrong it's no better either.  If you aren't prepared to do it right on a NAS, you're probably taking risks with your PC data too.  What happens if your PC hard drive fails?  Do you have a current backup?  Have you checked you can actually restore from it?
It's not necessarily a cheaper option than online storage but if you have a NAS for other reasons, it's effectively a free option.If you don't already have a NAS and aren't otherwise interested in getting one a NAS will be more expensive
No need to resize anything.  Even photos greater than 100 MB will render flawlessly and quickly via a dedicated and specialist NAS photo app and there are no image size obstacles to producing thumbnailsIn TNG you will have to resize images to meet its photo display limitations.  There are also limitations on how large an original can be when thumbnails are being created, which, if exceeded, will cause the generation to fail.
NAS Space is essentially unlimited.
The way images are presented on a NAS doesn't change unless YOU want it to.Cloud providers are always messing with the way they present images, and not always to the users' liking
NAS drives are so much more than just storage devices these days.  As well as my photo library, mine is my music library, my mail server, and runs Synology Office - an alternative to Google Docs so I am out of the clutches of the big corporations.  And that suits me.If you have no interest in any of that then a NAS may not be for you
Having invested in my Synology NAS, I want to eke every possible ounce of value out of itBut that's just me being me.  If that's you too, great.  If not then a NAS may not be for you.

Power Matters

The spec of the NAS you buy is governed by:

  • the number of images you have
  • the amount of manipulation you want to carry out on them. 
  • what other uses you have for the unit.

My library is a modest 110 GB but I am constantly adding to it and it has grown by 50% in two years.  I also make sure my images are comprehensively tagged, which means there’s a lot of reindexing / thumbnail regeneration.

Despite their slight price premium compared to other NAS drives, Synology DiskStations are the most popular home NAS devices largely because their user interface is more user friendly than most, and they have the largest range of software packages to augment the basic file services.  QNAP is the next most popular and they have their own Photo Station.  As long as your chosen NAS has a photo app it will probably do just fine and have an equivalent to the NAS functions described below but check before you buy. This guide is based on Synology because that’s what I use.

Originally I used a Synology DS216j but that proved to be underpowered for the task, taking 36 hours to reindex my entire library.  I now run a DS916+ which does the job in 36 minutes.  I can’t tell you what model will be best for your needs.  What I can tell you should be no surprise – you need to spend as much as your budget will allow because I can guarantee that while you may set out intending  to only use this for Photo Station, you will find yourself using it for other tasks and may regret going low.  Unlike PCs, there really is no such thing as an over-powered home NAS.

Size Matters

What size disks do you need?  How many?

The answer to the first question is, it depends; and to the second, anything but one.

Disk size depends on the size of your library and any other tasks you want to perform.  My library uses 110 GB and my music library about the same.  When I add up everything I currently do and allow for the apps that Synology needs to run, my disk utilization is just under 1TB.  Only you can know what you need, but disks are cheap these days so don’t buy low.  Whatever you decide, your system can grow as you need expand because NAS drives have some neat tricks that allow you to swap disks for larger ones without skipping a heartbeat.

Disk quantity must never be less than two.  You can buy single bay NAS drives, Synology sells them, but that’s putting all your eggs in one basket.  If the disk dies, so does the service that the NAS is providing.  All NAS drives will allow you install multiple drives in a setup that will  mirror data to both disks so that if one fails the other will carry on while you replace the failed one.  My current DiskStation has 4 disks configured in a way that would allow two discs to fail and the service to continue running.

Disk Type Matters

Because a NAS is always on, the hard disks are too and will therefore need to be up to the task.  Normal HDDs will work, but will not last.  You need to buy disks that are rated for NAS use.  They are more expensive but will last longer and come with extended warranties. You can mix and match drives from different manufacturers and it’s a good idea to do so (see next item.)

Source Matters

All HDDs expire at some time and even NAS rated disks are subject to manufacturing defects.  So it’s a good idea to either mix and match manufacturers or, if you prefer to stick with one manufacturer, buy from different resellers so that you don’t get disks from the same manufacturing batch.

Once you get your shiny new toy and have set it up (which I’m not going to cover here as the process is so simple) you need to make it internet accessible. It’s not difficult.

The first step is to give the NAS a unique URL. In Synology DSM there’s a setup screen that makes it easy for you to do, and Synology even provide their own range of addresses that you can use.  There’s a bunch of others you can use too, but I have no issue using a Synology service.  Your choice.

At (5) enter a name for your server.  Keep it simple and memorable – you will be typing this name a lot.  You will be told if the chosen name is already in use.  At (8) enter the public IP address that your ISP has currently assigned to your router.  You can find it by using this tool.

 After you press OK. the system will assign the name and test the connection.  After a little while 15 – 30 seconds, you should see a “Normal” Status:

The following descriptions are based on Synology’s products because that’s what I use. 

I shan’t describe how to install Photo Station – there’s plenty of material available on that topic if you need it.  Suffice to say that you need your photos to be in a public share called \photo.  Photo Station will index the files and create thumbnails for you.  It really is that easy.  So let’s talk about the issues you need to think about.

Tagging Images

To find images quickly you need to tag them.  To tag people, you have two choices.

1. Use the dedicated People category that Photo Station provides

Note:  Do NOT turn on Photo Station’s face recognition.  It is slow and unreliable.

To tag people using the People category you need to visit each photo in turn, drag a box round each person’s head and enter their name in the pop-up box.  Sounds easy right?  Wrong.  It takes forever, because you have to process each of the images separately – there’s no bulk tagging. with this option.

2. Use a General Tag (this is what I do.)

General tags can be applied to multiple images in one go, and there’s no need to draw boxes around faces.  Much faster.

How many photos do you want to display in TNG for a person?

OK so you have tagged your library to identify the people.  Next you need to decide how many photos you want to display for that person.  You may have just a few and want to display them all, in which case it’s job done. But if you have a lot, you may want to be selective about which ones you want to appear in the TNG Photo Gallery.  To do that, follow these steps:

In Photo Station select the following:

Scroll through the entries to find the person you want ….

… and click the image to display all the photos for that person.  Then select the ones you want to appear when the TNG Photo Gallery Link is clicked (1):

When your selection is done, right click any selected item (2) and choose the menu items shown at (3) and (4) above.

Name the Shared Album (1), make sure it’s shared with the public (2) and press OK (3). (We don’t need any of the other options on that dialog box, so I have cut them out.)

Right click the URL (1) and copy it to your clipboard (2)

That’s it, we’re done in Photo Station and we’re ready to create the Photo Gallery link in TNG.

A few things before we move on:

1. The Photo Station work falls into two main sections:

a) Tagging the photos with names. 

If you have a lot of photos this might take a while but it will have benefits outside TNG so don’t be put off by the effort required.

b) Creating the Smart Albums and getting the links, which is the quick bit.

2. If you don’t have huge numbers of images you could skip the naming exercise and just go through the library selecting the images of a person, then go directly to creating the Shared Album.  You can even do it in bite-size chunks – see next item.

3. Once a Shared Album has been created, adding more images to it is easy – see image – which is how you can chunk down the work.

4. Removing items from the shared album is just as easy.

5. The downside of this method is that if you have lots of names to handle, the Shared Albums panel will become very long:

6. If this troubles you, there is another methid:

The Smart Album (smart , not shared) album that is created will have a unique URL that you can obtain here:

If you’re happy with either of the Photo Station solutions, you can skip the “Moments” section and go straight to the section that describes how to put the link into TNG.

Moments Basics

Moments is Synology’s new photo app.  It’s UI is more modern and appealing than Photo Station’s and its settings are much simpler.  So far so good.

It addresses a different audience – while Photo Station has a public library and an option for users to have a personal, private Photo Station, Moments turns that on its head and provides a personal service by default.  In fact, it doesn’t have a central library capability.  It’s great for organising your smartphone pics but it’s not a serious photo library app.

But it does have that nicer looking UI so can we use it?  Well, yes, we can but we may need to use some tricks and accept some compromises.

It’s Personal

Moments is piggy-backed on to another new Synology package “Drive.”  Drive is Synology’s take on Google Drive / Microsoft One Drive.  You define a link between a user’s Drive folders on the NAS and local copies on your hard disc.  Changes made in either place are synced to the other.  Moments is a photo app that uses folders in the Drive area as a photo location.

Because a person’s drive folders are private by design, they are in accessible to anyone else unless a public share is created.  That’s not a major problem, but here’s the thing – if you delete the user’s account you delete the photo library.  You’d have to be nuts to delete a network share containing a library (and you have to enter a password to do it) but deleting a user account? Easy.

Create a Generic Account

The solution to that problem is to hive the library off to somewhere less risky by creating a generic user account that can host it.  Call it something like “Photo Library.”

Place Some Photos

Drive contains two main sections:

  • My Drive (personal)
  • Team Folders (public)

Moments images are stored under My Drive.  You can enable the \photos share as a Team Folder, but you can’t view its contents via Moments.  So you have a choice to make:

  1. Leave the images in \photos where Photo Station needs them to be, and forget Moments
  2. Move the library to the Moments folder in your generic user account that we just created, and forget Photo Station.
  3. Hybrid: Leave the images in \photos and copy the ones you want to share, to Moments.

Mostly, it comes down to whether you prefer the more engaging UI of Moments.  But there are some other issues too.

Dates – correct dates – and only correct dates

My images have been edited to include dates that reflect the era they were taken.  EXIF metadata field Date / Time Original contains, well, the Date / Time something was originated. 😛 

So it comes of a something of a surprise when Moments creates a timeline view that looks like this:

Those dates are when the images were scanned into the system. Using those dates as a sort parameter is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.  You can “correct” them but only one by one, but the correct date is already in the metadata. Hmm.

(Smart) Albums

As you can see, Moments has very similar options to Photo Station

People

Moments Face Recognition is superior to Photo Station’s and a lot faster.  Unfortunately it does falter sometimes and misidentify someone; and when it does, there’s no way to correct it. 

That said, and given that Moments People recognition is reasonably good, then using it as a way of selecting a group of images to add to an album is an option:

The problem with Albums is that you have to maintain them manually.  Because you are selecting images instead of tagging them, Moments has no way of adding new items to existing albums automatically.  If you’re happy with that limitation then Moments could work for you – as long as you don’t give a fig about the date problem. 🙄 

To get the share link that you need to put into TNG you have two options:

1. Select some images and share directly from there

(1) to (3) select the images.

(4) Click the Share Icon to open the share window,  You’ll notice at (5) that sharing is disabled by default, which is OK and it means that, unlike Photo Station, anonymous users can’t browse to other parts of your library.

Once share link is enabled, you can copy the link to your clipboard (6), decide whether you want to allow users to download the image (7), set it to public so that anonymous users can access the images (8) and then confirm it (9).

2. Select an album and share it:

Subjects

This is new and frankly, it shows.  The idea is brilliant – that the app analyses your library and groups images by the subjects it finds.  Let’s call it a work in progress.  Here’s an example of how inaccurate it is:

The closest I can get to “Waterfall” in that photo is a “cascade” of flowers.

Places

Were not really interested in those for TNG, and it’s just as well because the labelling is all over the place.

Tags

Photo Station’s General Tags are Moments’ Tags.  They use the same metadata fields and they work in the same way except in one crucial area.  Photo Station allows you to select multiple images and apply a new tag in one go.  Moments doesn’t – tags have to be applied an image at a time, which is a chore.

So, you can see why Moments is not very adept at managing large photo libraries.  If it works for you, fine.  I’ve decided to stick with Photo Station

All the preceding stuff was about getting that precious commodity – a share link you can put into TNG.  If what you just read was a little daunting just bear in mind that deciding between Photo Station and Moments halves the amount of reading material, and a lot of it was about setup.  Fire and forget.

There’s a little bit of setup to do in TNG too.

Where to put the Photo Gallery Links

Out of the box, TNG comes with a few standard collections – Photos, Documents, Headstones and a few others.  For me, this was insufficient and it led to Photos being crammed with content.  What constitutes a photo?  Anything with a .jpg file type? Well given that all my documents are stored in that format, everything was a photo, which couldn’t be right.  So I introduced a lot more collections:

The nett result was that Photos became dedicated to photos of people and, because most of those photos were on the NAS, there weren’t many of them in that folder. So I decided that Photo Gallery links would be stored in the Photos collection.  This also meant they would appear in the “Photos” section of the person’s record:

Creating a default icon

Given that we are storing a link to a gallery, I decided that TNG’s standard icon for Photos was inadequate because it implies a single image.

So I replaced it with the image stack icon shown above which I bought from an online icon service for about £2.  It came as a transparent PNG file with black as the image colour.  I recoloured it blue to match the site design.  If you decide to use a different icon from the TNG standard, it needs to be:

  • 50 x 50 px
  • png format
  • transparent background (to blend with the page background.)
  • placed in the folder ..\genealogy\img
  • be named photos_thumb.png (TIP: rename the existing file to photos_thumbOLD.png for backup)

Creating a Photo Gallery Entry for a Person

It’s easy.  If you use media on your site, you’ve done this hundreds of times.  You need to edit the person’s record and add a media item. There are just a few key differences:

(1) The Item needs to added to the photo collection (or whatever specific collection you have decided to use.)

(2) Check this box to indicate an external source is being used and paste the URL here (3)

(4) Leave the default as Specify Image (i.e. NOT Create from Original) but do not specify an image.  This will cause TNG to use the default icon we specified above.

(5) Provide a title – whatever rocks your boat.

Save the record.  That’s it.  Job done!

I hope you found this article useful.  If you have any questions, see any errors that need correcting, or have suggestions on how it cam be improved, please use the Contact option in the menu.  And feel free to leave comments below.

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