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What I want in photo management software - Phil's Rambling Rants
April 15th, 2008
10:04 pm

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What I want in photo management software
As I wrote a little about recently, I really need a better software solution for photo management.  I'm trying hard to untangle the things that would just be nice about the perfect system from the things I truly need so that I can keep up as I go forward, acknowledging the flaws in my own character.

What I truly need is something that I can dump several hundred photos from a day in the field, or several thousand when I come home from a trip (because even if I get a laptop I might not take it with me on every trip), taken on more than one camera, into a permanent repository.  This would include any necessary jiggering of the original image file names so that every image would have a unique file name (so I never have to wonder "which IMG_1234.jpg is this anyway"?) and some minimal arrangement into directories (all of the images from the same day, or possibly from each time-separated part of the day, should be in their own directory, but images should not be split into arbitrary groups of 100 the way the camera does).  It's important that I have at least minimal ability to find images by just browsing directories; I don't want to be locked into any specific software solution.  I'm fairly confident that my computer 20 years from now will be able to browse through directories, but not so confident that it will run today's management package.  I can't do anything about the fact that this initial dump will take some time, because memory cards aren't infinitely fast, and if I have multiple cards I presumably have to present them one at a time, but it must require no more mental effort on my part.  If I have to think about it, then I'll blow it off when I'm tired, and then I'll have two day's worth the next day, and it snowballs.

In general, the above dump process should not delete the files off the memory cards.  But I'd like to have a separate function for erasing cards which will verify that all of the pictures on that card are in fact in the database.

Then, as I find the time and energy to do so, the management software needs to easily allow me to add metainformation to individual pictures and to mark pictures as being part of a group.  An example will probably help here.  I'm walking through the woods and I see this cool flower and I take several shots of it.  Then this butterfly distracts me and I take a few shots of the butterfly.  Then I go back to the flower and take some more.  I'd like to easily mark all of the pictures of that flower, but not the intervening ones of the butterfly, as being one subject.  I want to be able to add notes about the subject (such as exactly where the flower is, or when I find out later what species it is), preferably to the group rather than each picture.  When I've identified multiple pictures of the same subject, I want an easy interface to flip through them at near full screen resolution, so that I can choose which shots are better.  And I want to encode that judgment so that when I come back and browse that day again, by default I only see the minority of pictures that I flagged as being the best (though the others are still there and I can easily drill down and see the whole set).

The next piece I need is to be able, as I'm browsing through a day's photos, to easily select a subset for one of a number of tasks:

  • copy to another directory, to be put onto media to dump to another person or to take to a cheap printing place

  • mass resize in preparation for uploading to a web site or copying to a display appliance

  • identify a group of photos that I'll work on cropping/adjusting one at a time in an editing program


When mass resizing, the resized images would get names obviously derived from the original file name that also indicated the size.  When presenting images for individual editing, it would give a default name, but would be prepared to deal with my actually adding a descriptive title.  As time goes on, there can be a whole family of image files derived from one original.  The software would keep track of this for me (even though some of the derived images would be in other directories).  It would help to limit having multiple (identical bits) copies of the same file in multiple places and/or have a cleanup function that would whack the extra copies.

Finally, I want to be able to apply global tags to images so that I can search by tag.  The tagging system should be able to understand when specific tags imply more general ones, so that if I tag a picture as Raja Baby I don't have to also tag it as a tiger in Mau's group, a tiger at EFRC, and a tiger.

Bleah. I forgot to mention that I am presently a Windows user, but I'd like to get over that, so if software for another OS would cover these bases better, or maybe even as well, I'd be interested. I am strongly considering buying new hardware with my tax refund and economic stimulus payment. I'm thinking that my current machine is getting a little old, and if I want another Windows box, I need to get it while I can still get XP, because I will not own Vista; on the other hand, I'll have enough money I think I could swing a Mac. And if I could cover my photo management needs with Linux, that would be sweet. But I need to write another post, another day, about buying a new computer.

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From:mihai_lado
Date:April 16th, 2008 04:33 am (UTC)
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There may be some software on the Mac. For free, there is iPhoto, which comes with OS X. My version of it is quite old, so I have asked Anders (who has a recent version) to look over your requirements and comment. I'm sure he would be glad to do a demo.

For $199, Apple sells a photo-management product for pros called Aperture. Look for some reviews of that.
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From:pir_anha
Date:April 16th, 2008 08:06 am (UTC)

Re: photo management software

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some of that stuff is very easy to find in just about every image management software, some i am not so sure about; i'll have to do a little research, especially among the free offerings. AFAIK there is no free program that can do all of what you want, but i shall look once again, it's been a while since i last did, and it's possible that a workflow solution with more than one program can be built -- though i am much more familiar with unix solutions than windows ones.

my own current favourite is adobe lightroom ($299 street price) which i have not yet bought, but will definitely buy because it is everything i need in one well-working package. i am using it on the mac, but it is also available for windows XP. it doesn't care where you keep your images, it can keep track of them there (that includes offline storage like CDs, and you can still work on managing images even when they're offline). it can also move them into directories of your own choosing. it doesn't delete anything if you don't want it to. it can batch rename to whatever you want. it can streamline both print and web publishing pipelines. you can create collections of images (frex only your very best tiger photos, no matter when you shot them and on which disk they reside). you can rank images, and colour-code them (depending on how you think about organization).

it handles edits to images non-destructively; you don't have to have N duplicates of the actual file, you can keep all your versions within lightroom while you're experimenting. it is amazingly intuitive and powerful for doing operations on images photographers do frequently (exposure adjustment, colour correction, contrast, noise reduction, sharpening, etc) -- i have photoshop, which is THE graphics powerhouse, and i actually prefer lightroom for my photos.

it allows you to crank out basic websites via a variety of templates in no time at all, and it even uploads them ready to view onto your web server, no need for a separate ftp program. i haven't checked out whether (and if, how easily) one can modify those templates or create one's own.

it can do hierarchical keywords exactly the way you want, and even better, it can import keyword lists (such as from controlled vocabulary projects, or from a text file -- i create my keyword lists in a spreadsheet and then export as tab-delimited text file). it auto-completes keywords while you're typing, and you can also assign them by dropping images on keywords, or by dropping keywords on images. or sets of images. you can also assign metadata and keywords already during import.

adobe has a 30-day free trial on their website: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/

i've used iphoto, and it's no comparison; don't bother. i haven't looked at aperture yet, but from reviews i expected to like lightroom better, so we'll see after i try aperture how i feel. adobe's new web service is ok for casual users, but as a semi-pro i wouldn't use it.
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From:starstraf
Date:April 16th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC)
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I use adobe photo elements (or some such name - on my home machine not the laptop) - it automatically loads into a sub folder of the date of down load and I can put a begining file name if I want "CU_TD_" for champaign urbana thanksgiving - then it loads them CU_TD_001 CU_TD_002 and such. It has tags - I have a bunch of tags set up - locations, people, events

IE your default user photo would probally be tagged
EFRC, Phil, Big Cat

It asks me if I want to clear off the camera / memory chip when it loads. I can do various sorts and such
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From:tigertoy
Date:April 16th, 2008 04:33 pm (UTC)
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I don't mean to be dismissive, but something that prompts me to enter a prefix for each batch of photos and then starts numbering it from 1 is exactly the opposite of what I want. I want a single sequence of numbers in the file names for every picture I've ever taken or ever will take, ideally with no gaps and the numbers reflecting the exact order the shots were taken in. I can't just use the file name that comes off the camera, because Canon cameras only put 4 digits in the file name, and I have way more than 10000 pictures already, so I have to rename files on import, but I never want to rename the files again, so I want a mechanism that gives me an always-unique and at least slightly useful name entirely automatically.
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From:starstraf
Date:April 17th, 2008 04:46 am (UTC)
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I misinterpreted what you were asking for - I though you wanted to be able to enter a prefix. You can also just let it use the default, but I don't know how it calculates that.
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