Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

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.
Tags: photography, tech
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