Use 1 of These 4 Photo Managers If You Care About Your Photo Collection

Best 4 Non-Destructive Photo Managers

It was seriously a life changing day when I discovered the magic of a “non-destructive” photo managing program.

Computer software makes it so easy to enhance our photos that you want to be able to feel free to experiment with your edits and not feel burdened with the job of maintaining your collection all by yourself. It should all be fun.

See, up until this point, if you wanted to do a simple edit to a photograph, it was up to you to manage all of the versions for each photo.

For example, if you wanted to change the brightness or crop one of your photographs, you had to take the photo into a photo editing program, do the changes, and then do a “Save As…” command from the “File” drop-down menu so that you could then create a whole new and separate version of the file.

And worse, you had to be extremely careful because if your forget to give the new version a unique filename, it would overwrite your original master. Yikes!

Non-Destructive Image Editing

With “non-destructive” editing, all of the edits (enhancements) you make to your photographs are managed by the program itself. In the background and invisible to you, the application is either duplicating the master image to create a new version, or in the case of most image managers, it is saving all of your enhancements in a database that are then applied in real-time “on top of” your master file.

Either way, your original photo remains completely untouched.

And if you ever want to remove your changes, it’s as simple as clicking an “undo” or “reset” button and your photo will be returned to the original state.

It’s like having a guardian angel that protects your master images at all costs. It’s brilliant and is 100% absolutely indispensable to me now.

Choosing the Best Non-Destructive Photo Manager For You

So if this sounds like you above, challenged and held back from trying to manage all of your files on your hard drive by yourself, I would like to introduce you to four “non-destructive” photo managers.

These are the only 4 programs I would recommend you use based on their longstanding track records for being solid performers and with great support. I would highly recommend you consider trying out a couple of them and then start using your favorite one. I think you will love how much easier it makes your life.

Two of the programs are for those of you with basic to intermediate goals for your collection. They are the easiest to use, have a more limited set of editing tools, but are certainly adequate – especially for the price. And the best part is both can be had for free!

And then for those of you with more advanced goals will welcome the control you will get with the remaining two photo managers. They come at a premium, but are well worth the initial investment considering how much they will do for you. You might be surprised how quickly you outgrow your photo manager and discover how advanced your goals have become!

Google’s Picasa

Google Picasa software icon

Best for: People with basic to intermediate goals for their collection
Platform: Windows XP/ Vista/ 7 or Mac OS X 10.4.9+ (Requires Intel CPU)
Price: Free Download
My scanned photo collection in Google's Picasa (v3.8 for Mac)
My scanned photo collection in Google’s Picasa (v3.8 for Mac)

It’s easy to have low expectations when it comes to free software. They usually cost you nothing out-of-pocket, but instead make you pay with frustration.

They often use in-application advertising banners, nagging pop-ups to get you to buy the premium version of the program, or offer so few features there is little reason to devote your time to them.

Picasa is free and I must admit, really has none of these strikes against it. Additionally the interface is so clean and fun to use, it’s like they are just begging us to latch onto it and trust it with our entire photo collection.

I was using this program when it was just called Picasa for several years before it was bought up in 2004 with Google’s war chest of money. This was back when I was a die-hard PC guy and built my own Windows-based computers. It was a fantastic program then, and has only gotten better.

Google Picasa Folder Manager
“Folder Manager” in Google’s Picasa (v3.8 for Mac)

Picasa manages your photos in a sort of semi-automatic way. Using a drop-down menu item called the “Folder Manager,” you set which folders of photos on your hard drive you would like Picasa to manage. You have the option to have a folder not scanned at all, scanned once, or always scanned (so that any photos added later to the folder will automatically be included in Picasa as well).

This method enables you to keep your originals stored in any folder structure you wish on your hard drive, but still have an easy way to group photos into virtual albums and edit them from within Picasa. This means even the messiest of “hard drive” folder organization can appear to be tidy!

It may not have all of the manual control over your photos the pricier (advanced) professional programs offer, but it still manages to keep up with a strong set of basic tools that every photo collection needs to have.

Apple’s iPhoto

Apple iPhoto software icon

Best for: People with basic to intermediate goals for their collection
Platform: Mac OS X (Requires Intel CPU)
Price: Free (with new Mac) / $14.99App Store / $49.00 (retail) — iLife Collection (boxed) [Amazon]
Apple iPhoto Photos in Event View
My scanned photo collection in Apple’s iPhoto ’11 (v9.1)

If you own a Mac and haven’t heard of iPhoto, you are probably just walking out of the Apple store with your first one.

iPhoto is part of the iLife suite that comes “free” with the purchase price of every Mac. Major updates however aren’t free like they are with Picasa. But now thanks to Apple’s new Mac App Store, the price to upgrade to the newest version is extremely affordable.

Those wishing Picasa had a more “hands off” fully-automatic way of storing their master images will love the default import option inside of iPhoto.

Keeping “Copy items to the iPhoto Library” checked will allow iPhoto to do all of the storing and moving around of your master files for you. It puts them all in a single “bundled” file (folder) called “iPhoto Library” usually stored within the “Pictures” folder in your home user folder.

It’s like having a near-impenetrable haven for your photos. The only way you can access it manually is by control-clicking on the library file and choosing “Show Package Contents.” This is done at your own risk. I do not recommend the average user set mouse in there.

Apple's iPhoto Advanced Preferences Tab
Advanced Preferences Tab in Apple’s iPhoto ’11 (v9.1)

What this means is that instead of telling iPhoto where you have stored your photos, you instead import copies of them into iPhoto and allow it to move and place them into the best storage folder arrangement. This is all done “behind the curtain” – out of your sight. So you can sit back and relax knowing that it’s being done for you.

For those more adventurous, de-selecting this import feature leaves the work up to you and your own folder structure making creativity.

Like Picasa, iPhoto has a very similar editing toolset such as rotate, auto “enhance”, red-eye, straighten, crop and blemish retouching. They both offer filter “effects” to make your photo look antique, black and white or vignetted for example. And they both give you a really nice basic level of control of exposure and color correction for those wanting to go beyond an “automatic fix.”

For Mac users trying to decide between the Mac version of Picasa and iPhoto — and if you were forcing me to pick for you, I would nudge you towards iPhoto; if for no other reason than how Apple integrates all of their software to easily communicate with one another.

For example, if you are using another piece of Apple software and you want to use one of your photos stored in iPhoto, there is always a media tab or pulldown that gives you easy access to all of your iPhoto Events and photos. (This feature works with Apple’s Aperture as well)

Seemingly little things like this, as well as familiar Mac-aesthetics, will make you appreciate going with iPhoto.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software icon

Best for: People with intermediate to advanced goals for their collection
Platform: Windows Vista / 7 or Mac OS X 10.5+ (Requires Intel CPU)
Price: $149 (retail) Full (Boxed) [Amazon] / $99.00 (retail) —  Upgrade (Boxed) [Amazon]
Adobe Lightroom Library View
My scanned photo collection in Adobe’s Lightroom (v3.0)

For Windows users who feel held back by the simplicity of Picasa, Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom is currently the best choice out there.

Sure there is Adobe’s lighter-weight Photoshop Elements, but it lacks the necessary feature of “non-destructive” editing that I suggest.

Additionally, this will be great to use if you are loyal to their flagship standalone professional photo editor Photoshop. Both programs work extremely well together.

Try not to be intimated by the sales literature suggesting this is only meant for professional photographers. Yes, many of the features are intended to aid the needs of professional photographers and their hectic post-process. But this doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of its feature set to organize and edit your entire collection of scanned photos “destruction-free.”

Adobe Lightroom Develop Editing Panel
Part of the editing panel in the Develop Module for Adobe’s Lightroom (v3.0)

But I won’t lie, this is quite a learning step-up from Picasa. It’s dark gray default palette is very slick-looking, but with all of its information jammed into every square inch of application real estate, it does a great job of making a “newbie” feel like you have no idea what you should be doing next.

On the bright side, if you are familiar with how to use Photoshop Elements, you will find the learning curve will not be as steep. Otherwise, you will definitely want to spend some time getting to know the application before you commit to any kind of workflow importing your photos and beginning to edit them.

Photos are managed by Lightroom from ordinary folders on your hard drive. You select which folders you want included and Lightroom goes to work to importing the file information for its database. This gives you the freedom to organize your masters the way you see fit.

But of course, like other programs working in the same manner, this will also put more pressure on you to make sure you don’t accidentally delete or modify your master images while working with other software on your computer.

For this added level of file protection, you should look into using either iPhoto or Aperture (both only available for the Mac).

Lightroom’s strength isn’t so much its ease at organizing your photo masters. Aperture seems to have that duty won hands down in my opinion. But instead, it’s a workhorse image editor with so many sliders, hidden panes and buttons that you will probably hear yourself say you may never have a need for the likes of Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS again!

Apple’s Aperture

Apple Aperture software icon

Best for: People with intermediate to advanced goals for their collection
Platform: Mac OS X 10.5.8 or 10.6.2+ (Requires Intel CPU)
Price: $79.99App Store / $199.00 (retail) — Full (Boxed) [Amazon] / $99 (retail) —  Upgrade (Boxed) [Amazon]
Apple's Apereture Browser View
My scanned photo collection in Apple’s Aperture (v3.1)

What’s so great about Aperture is how easy it is to use for such a professional application.

It’s like they took what’s great about iPhoto — how simple it is to do everything — and they used that formula to make a program that is much more powerful and feature driven.

If you can operate iPhoto, there is an excellent chance you will be able to operate Aperture after just a few short tutorials or playing around in it a bit. Aperture can do complicated things in non-complicated ways.

The first “advanced feature” I fell in love with was Aperture’s main strength — the ability to let me more thoroughly organize my collection by creating multiple Libraries, Projects and Folders. Its little brother iPhoto chose to make organization easier by keeping it simple.

They made single “Events” to contain your master image files and that’s it. So an Event labeled “2005 Joey’s Birthday” will be in the same list of Events as one labeled “1945 July 4th Fireworks.” There is no way for example to separate them out by say – decades.

Apple Aperture Folder Structure Example
Example of Folder, Project and Album usage to organize your master images in Apple’s Aperture (v3.1)

But with Aperture, you can have a folder called “2005 Photos” with a Project (Event) inside of it called “Joey’s Birthday” with an album inside of that called “Best shots.” (An album is a virtual collection [group] of your favorite selects from that day of shooting)

If this sounds as exciting to you as it was for me, the minimal premium price tag isn’t going to keep you from making the investment that will pay off very quickly.

Another huge advanced feature set that sets Aperture apart from a more basic program like iPhoto is its ability to manage all of the metadata of your photographs. In fact, there is a whole tab dedicated to it on the left hand side of the program.

Much of this metadata (stored inside of a photo) is camera information created by your camera when the picture was taken and lists the settings used to expose the image. But, we can use this same metadata repository to hold all kinds of information for a photo we scan — such as a caption (description of the photo), date the actual photo was taken, what scanner you used, who owns the photo, who should be contacted in the future about the photo if someone is inquiring (name and contact info). There are enough fields where you could store pretty much anything you wanted.

And for those who think they will miss the fun social features of iPhoto, you will be happy to know Apple seems to be trying hard now to keep the feature set of iPhoto available to their Aperture users as well. Aperture now contains “Faces” and “Places” and social networking integration to make using just Aperture a reality instead of having to load up both.

Polaroid icon

Please tell me what you think. Which photo managing program do you use and why?

And if you aren’t using one already, what about this article might be making you think you ought to start using one?

Let me know in the comments below.


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For a simple to use program that was designed pretty much specifically for this purpose check out the new CaptionsMadeEasy CaptionSuite software. It was designed to mimic writing captions on the back of old photos and under photos in albums. It stores the caption in the photo file but not on the photo and displays it in slideshows with CaptionViewer. Utility programs are available to quickly add multiple captions (QuickCaptions), sort photo slideshow order (PhotoSorter) and adjust the camera stored date and time taken data (TimeRepairer)


Is it possible to start using iPhoto and then upgrade to Aperture in the future or will we need to go through and make changes to the photos we have worked on already?


Thanks Curtis I appreciate the feedback. I just came across your site but I think it seems to be just what I was looking for. Do you have a suggestion of where to start with your content? I probably have 5,000+ photos in between iPhoto and my external hard drive. I want to set up a good organizational system to get those categorized correctly etc.

Thanks for putting together the site.

Jason McKnespiey

Just found your amazing website, and literally just as I am about to embark on my journey of scanning. I feel so relieved to have found you!

I have been using Picasa since its early days and love it, the Google+ integration is excellent for sharing photo albums with people (plus this gives me some assurance that the photo’s are “In The Cloud” as a method of backup (albeit not my only one).

It would be good if you could add Google+ to your options for “Sharing” options (to add alongside Facebook, Reddit, Tweet This etc”.

Anyway armed with my Epson Perfection V600, Picasa and big cup of tea, got to get on with some scanning.

(ps. Greetings from the England, UK)

Bruce Sammut

I love Iphoto faces programs


Using IPhoto, considering Aperture, esp if it can deal with some of the faded photos I am trying to scan.

Do you have some suggestions on how to restore photos that seem to have lost their blue or green tones? These tend have only the red/orange type colors remaining. I am trying some of the controls in iPhoto, but do not yet have a good process to improve them.


I just wanted to say a huge thank you for all the excellent information you share so generously. I have been using iPhoto for years and kept making valiant efforts to scan family slide collection of thirty years, and getting overwhelmed and scared that I was making fatal flaws in the storage and identifying system that would be enormous problems to fix somewhere in the future.
Thanks to you I have found so much reassuring important information, I love your concise and humorous style, and now my anxiety is so much less that I can actually enjoy building an amazing and large photo collection and not fear and dread it.
I particularly want to thank you for this article, I had often wondered if Aperture was suitable for me, and now I know it is.
Keep up the good work, it is much appreciated.


Hi Curtis

A big ‘hats off’ to you for this fantastic website. I only wish I had discovered it a couple of years ago. I am (hopefully) in the last few days of scanning my own voluminous photo collection, plus those of my parents and both sets of grandparents – over 24,000 photos, all in! I’ve enjoyed itall, and am extremely pleased that I set out to do what I’ve done (for my benefit and that of all the family) but it has taken up a LOT of time, so I am kind of relieved to be ‘very nearly there’ with it!

A key part of my plan has been to tag all the photos to make it easy for people to find what they want amongst my collection – I think it’s a ‘must’ when you have this many photos. The tool I’ve used to carry out the tagging is an old version (5) of Photoshop Elements. Bar one or two recent issues (where it kept crashing when I tried to ‘write’ the tags to the photo files and where it kept creating (without then deleting) ‘edTMP’ files on my hard drive that were duplicates of photos that were already there), I’ve had a good experience of using PSE5. However, I do sometimes look at Picasa and the Windows Live equivalent and think how nice it would be to enjoy the comparative simplicity of those services. The one thing that has put me off using them (at least in Picasa’s case – not sure about WLPG) is that I believe it stores the tags you create separately from the photo files and doesn’t enable you to write them to the photo files – with the result that any photos that you move to a different program or send to somebody else to view do not take the tags with them. Do you know if that is true? And would you think it would be worthwhile to move to Picasa or WLPG or stick with the devil I know? Many thanks in advance for your thoughts, and for your truly excellent and very, very informative website. Like I said, I wish I’d found it before I started my scanning project!!

Carmen Brining

Your info on scanning photos is great. I am ready to scan boxes of photos. I was interested in this article about photo managers. I noticed you did not include Corel Paint Shop Pro. I have used this program, and would be interested in your comments why this was not included. This may change what I use. I have used Picasa, many years ago. Do not have a MAC


I’m using Ubuntu (Linux) OS, and thus the Shotwell photo manager, and I was wondering what your opinion of it is, or whether you’re familiar with it. I do see similarities to iPhoto, myself.

Ben Cromwell

Hi Curtis. Thank you for your work on this important topic and the great info! Based on your recommendation, I installed Picasa, and really like it so far. I want to take another step with regard to back-up. I’d like to utilize a cloud-based service for this, and recently established a Smug-Mug account, and also have be playing with PIcasa Web-Albums. I think what I’m looking for is

-a Private (but shareable when I want),
-integrated/auto-syncronizing (Picasa has an uploader to Smug-Mug, but not syncronization).

Do you have any recommendations for cloud-based backup? I’m thinking that I’ll end up with around 5000 photo files when it’s all done.


I am just getting started on scanning all of my parents and their parents pictures. I am a photographer and I currently use Lightroom for my work. I also have iPhoto since I work on a mac. I’d like to be able to scan pictures and email them to my mother to add some captions, then email them back to me with the info. Then hopefully import them into my Lightroom. Is this possible or am I just crazy? So far I am absolutely loving your site. Its been helpful. Thank you.


Hi Curtis,
Thanks for your helpful and informative website. I found you because I recently purchased a Mac after years of using a PC.
I’m a wanna be photographer, so I want an easy way to store and retrieve my photos. I went to You Tube to view any and all available Iphoto videos, and happily found you.

I have to admit, I have not found Iphoto to be easy. I guess I’m missing the concept. I do know that I have almost 13K photos in my library and when I look at them, I find many duplicates. I don’t know how they all got there, but reading your email about non-destructive storage, may be the clue I’ve needed.

I have not one, but two books written on the subject of Iphoto, so It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have learned some things, for sure, but it’s like missing the first few algebra classes and expecting to be able to come in and understand the formulas. I am just not certain of how IPhoto is supposed to work so it’s hard to organize my photos in the most efficient manner .

I will continue to read and enjoy your emails. I’m sure between it all, the light will come on someday. Then I can get back to taking pictures, and scanning the old ones that I have, knowing that I have them stored where I can find them and work with them in the future.

Thanks again for your generous help. It’s much appreciated.

Elizabeth Lemon

OMG i am back to Aperture after going back and forth between iPhoto and Aperture for several years. I am overwhelmed with all of the photos, projects and albums. I begun sending family photos to be scanned two years ago and now I am really feeling the need for ORGANIZATION! I have read through many of your posts and am wondering if I need to start again. My combined iPhoto/Aperture library is a mess plus I have some photos in Pictures folders. The only way I am finding photos is by using Faces. I have the Fat Cat software but it adds another wrinkle and another learning curve. I do understand the managed vs referenced files and fear that over the years I have a motley mix of both and many duplicates. And then there is PhotoStream?????

So, where to begin? Everything new is getting labeled by your suggestions.



Hi Curtis

I’m using IMatch for Windows to catalogue (British spelling, not American!) my photos and scans. I love it. It can do all the usual tricks – search by filename, find binary duplicates, and so forth. The swinger for me is its tag categorisation system. Instead of having to remember tags, or select them from a drop-down menu (which could get quite bit large) it has an outlining style format. Think of the way files and folders are shown in Windows or other operating systems; you simply go down the list of folders until you reach the file you want. In this case until you reach the tag you want. Unlike a file system you can add more than one tag – just click on the box and the tag is attached. Once it’s setup it’s much quicker than typing each tag in.

My primary image collection is mainly for family history. I don’t have a lot of images – about 6,500 – but it means I can tag an image with several tags in logical groups. For instance, I can tag by family with each family divided into sub-families; by document type (will, birth, marriage and death certificates, portraits both group and individual, etc, etc); by location (country and then state/county, then city/town, etc); or by any other group I care to define.

I take your point about having a file naming system in case you lose your photo management software. My family history images are all coded into the filename by main family; person, thing or location; and so on using a 25 character format (no spaces so I don’t need to use quotes when manipulating files outside Imatch!). This gives nowhere near the granularity I get from IMatch but does give me a fallback system. I can also edit and add metadata in IMatch.

I don’t include scanning parameters in the filename since I don’t pre-process in the scanner – when I use an image to include in a photobook or web site I will inevitably need to post-process anyway to suit the medium, especially if the original image is from the early days of photography or from an old newspaper.

Your naming convention looks perfect for my secondary collection of photos and other images – I’ve about 18,000 digital images and I’m slowly scanning my old 35mm negatives. Don’t ask me how many of them there are! Until now I’ve simply left their filenames as set by the camera. I’ll be using your system from now on with just two differences. I’ll use 01 or (less often) 001 instead of 1 where appropriate. This avoids 10 sorting before 2 if that particular group has a lot of photos.

I know I have nowhere near the number of images some of you enthusiastic snappers out there have, but I would expect IMatch to work equally usefully for large collections of scans and photographs.

I hope this helps and thanks for your ideas. Usual disclaimers

Old Tom in the Old Country


Hi Curtis – thanks for your work on this site, it is very helpful! Most of my existing photos and videos are already digital (taken from phones / digital cameras). For me, being able to manage VIDEOS in-line with photos is key, and Picasa seems to check this box. I think iPhoto does also, not sure about Aperture.

Question about portability … I see that you put peoples’ names into fields in the file metadata, which presumably is portable across photo management software. But what if you want to use the automatic face detection in Picasa or iPhoto? From what I can tell from my experimentation, each package stores the name info in different fields, so it isn’t truly portable, at least not in a way that other software could “natively” recognize the people names. Any insight here into a better way, or perhaps an option that I’m not seeing?


Hi Curtis, Great website! I’m on about the fourth email from you in the subscription. Two things come to my mind as I ponder which software I will use on my digital, and eventually by hard copy collection. Right now I use Windows Live Photo Gallery.

First, is on captioning. I seem to always revert to a baseline of the old photos in my parents shoe boxes, which have the info written on the back of the picture, and how to carry that forward into my digital and scanned collection. A family relative sent me a photo album he had put together in MS Word and it had names and captions typed right in the photos. I actually found this to be quite useful. It made viewing the photos so much more enjoyable. So ideally, I would like to see all my photos with captions embedded in the image itself. Now I wouldn’t want the words to go over top of the image, so it makes me think back to the old photos with white borders with the names and captions written in the white space. Is this something that is easy to add with any of the software you have used? I’m on the PC side of things.

Second, regarding non-destructive editing. I understand your recommendation for this, but what ends up happening to the edits once you share the photos with other people? Do they revert to the original image if they don’t have the same software?

I appreciate everything you are doing here! Great job Curtis and thank you!

Best wishes,


Hello Curtis, thanks for the informative article (I have only just read it) it was very useful to me.
I am wanting to setup a workgroup where we can all (5 people) access the same images (and the tweaked/changed images). We want a tool that that can organise the images into albums (shared between all) as well as find images by a key word in the meta data. I know Picasa had some experimental options to share the database or place it on a shared folder for all to access but has anyone had any experience with this? Cost is also a factor given the number of licences we would require.
Tx a mil

Jacklyn Cremer

Very helpful! I’m on a journey to scan my family’s photos and have my mom help add meta data smile

Geoff Turner

Curtis – as ever, many thanks for your helpful articles and Newsletters.
I had previously asked you about using Aperture instead of/as well as iPhoto because I do not like iPhoto Events, and after your advice, was on the verge of moving to Aperture but now I read Apple is stopping development of Aperture (and iPhoto?) in favour of a new Photos App for the new version of OSX. :O
Any thoughts? Do I buy anyway – I don’t want to have to buy twice? Do I wait? I get locked in indecision!
Thanks again

Jim Van Cura

Hey Geoff,

Curtis had a great reply, so I won’t be redundant. I’m an Aperture user and, like you, at a crossroads for what the future holds with image editing. One thing I would suggest is to wait and see how the new Photos app works for you (if you can wait that is). If you can’t I would move in the direction of Lightroom or DxO. As a current Aperture user I definitely would not buy it now. It’s a dead product, and has been for some time.

I will continue to use Aperture as it meets my current needs, but when the time comes to migrate away from it I think I will make the switch to Lightroom. However, I’m waiting to see what Photos is like before doing anything. Overall, I think Apple is moving more toward the enthusiast market with device integration and simplicity. Whereas Adobe, DxO, and others are focusing (pun not intended) on power users and pro photographers.

I’m not sure what your needs are, but you may not need a majority of the tools in Lightroom – or Aperture for that matter.

Lastly, if you shoot in Raw format (which I recommend) it is managed by the operating system and not by the app. The new Photos app will still be able to handle all of your raw photo data that is currently stored on your computer. Lightroom has its own back end and does not rely on the OS, so you’re covered whichever way you go.

Geoff Turner

Hi Jim,
I’m grateful for your thoughts and I think I’ll take your advice and await Photos. I’ve managed with iPhoto since I got my Mac so will keep using it for now – I’m not a Pro or power user, would probably describe myself as an enthusiastic amateur so Photos may well be OK.
Thanks again

Charles Martel

Hello Curtis,

Great site by the way. Just found it today (2014-09-12) and think it’s really interesting.

For my part, I’m currently using Digikam for the KDE environment on Linux. This program “collection” (the main program is modular in design, with plug-ins for specialized tasks) has completely revolutionized the way I manage my digital photo collection, most of which is composed of “native” digital images (e.g. shot with a digital camera). I currently have some 83,000+ images, including 11,000 slides and negatives I just scanned this summer, and a whole lot of old photos I’d scanned about 6 years ago.

Your ideas about how to organize the images, what file names to use and so on, coupled with Digikam’s power will help me, I hope, to create a system that’s well thought-out for future users.

Zeev Katz


I browsed the blog and didn’t find any comments on a big concern I have, the backups. I wanted to have a full backup of all my photos, in a cloud storage if possible, and continously updated. Also I wanted that the pictures in the back up could be easily accessed through any platform. How can this be possible with iPhotos? it makes a single bundled file. Any ideias, comments or suggestions?

Trisha Hank

Hi Curtis – I like your easy, not overboard technical, way of answering questions so am hoping you can help me. I am coming off of 20 years of using a pc. I download pics from my camera, edit them in Photoshop cs2, then save on the hard drive in a certain way: year, months and then subfolders of specific activities. So for example: 2014… Jan-March…basketball. I have just switched to a mac and was so frustrated when the salesman transferred my photos for me and everything was jumbled in iphoto. What do you suggest? For photo management, I want total control of how I organize and file my pics. For editing, I am familiar with photoshop cs2 so want something advanced enough with features I am used to having. Just having trouble wrapping my head around the differences from pc to mac…thanks in advance!


Hi There! Here’s another user here that switched to MAC and happily was loading iphone photos to iPhoto for the last couple years. I now want to save them on my External Hard Drive – which is easier to travel with or save in the event of fire. however i followed all your steps to plug in the EHD and copy the library over but nothing happens. i have been unsuccessful copying anything from iphoto to any other location actually. Are there other settings somewhere that could be blocking this process? Still wishing i had the old Windows Explorer screen to work with now.


A couple of notes. I have tens of thousands of photos, and I wound up renaming most of them with the EXIF date. I’m really looking for a resource that stores the data I have regarding the photos separate from the image catalog tool. There are simply too many things to track with photos to have the limits of a single file, and an application that can’t adopt to a new tool.


Hi. Just found your site and it’s awesome. Don’t have tens of thousands of pics but I’m sure if I walked into my parents house i could find that many.

I just bought a scanner and im a beginner ready to go. I don’t know much about these online places like picasa. i use a pc so that may work for me since im a beginner. is picasa’s main use for editing photos? i was just going to scan them and put them on my external hard drive. Do you do both? put them on a hard drive and put them in picasa?



May I suggest you do get into your parents’ stash of photos and start scanning and identifying people in them. I’m doing that now for uncles, aunts, cousins–and since the people who know the details are rapidly losing their memories, it’s tough. Wish I had been able to do this a few years ago.


Thanks Robin. Once I tackle the ones i have and get used to scanning I will do just that!


Have to pipe up that this is an excellent site. The non-destructive point really hits home with me because I learned the hard way. A number of years ago some piece of shiny new software offered to correct all the red-eye at once as a huge batch job. Firstly, it was not clear to me that it was *all* the directories; I thought it was only the working folder. Secondly, it did a terrible job at this “magical” batch red-eye process. Finally, it modified the originals- no going back. I still bump into a photo now and again with terrible, diseased black marks on it. sad


Thank you for your website. I have so much to learn. I’ve been reading up for days trying to find the best way to get my originals into one file – hopefully before the demise of iPhoto. I just read that Apple is getting rid of iPhoto. I’m working with a MacBook Pro that has three user accounts I would like to merge – a long standing issue from when I first imported my files from my other computer when I first bought it. I haven’t edited or labeled many photos- so no worries about saving edits. I have a 250 GB hard drive that is nearly full. I know I have a lot of duplicates that would free up a lot of space if I could delete them. I just want to be sure that I keep all of my originals. That’s really all I want – then to be able to back them up safely. I tried to save photos to a thumb drive, but I’m now a little confused – the iPhoto pics aren’t the originals are they? It was taking over 3 days prepare the photos for copying to the thumb drive – so when I discovered those weren’t the originals anyway I tried to stop the process. Now it’s been “Stopping” for the entire day today. Good grief!! Any suggestions? How does the ending of iPhoto etc. influence your advice I’ve been reading here? Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

David Bayne

Very good information.
I use lightroom 5 and add captions to my photos in the metadata section. Is there a way to use the caption as filename when exporting photos as a jpeg? I do not want to rename all my pictures separately in addition to adding captions as metadata.
Thank you in advance

John Hanley

Hi Curtis. Enjoyed reading this article even though I am a Windows guy, and have not used Aperture, iPhoto, etc. You made me think about how I am managing my photos and that was useful. Thanks.

By the way — I see several references to emailing photos back and forth to family, etc. I have played with emailing from Windows Live Photo Gallery and from IrfanView. The photos do email, BUT, depending on the way the email is constructed, the protocol(s) *may* strip out any IPTC metadata you have added to the photo file. I have also found that when I copy and paste a photo into my Windows Live Mail program, the IPTC data is stripped in that case also. So, for me, when I want to securely send a photo with the IPTC metadata intact, I am careful to send it as an *attachment* and in that protocol, the IPTC metadata is preserved when it traverses the internet. Maybe everyone is aware of these ‘wrinkles’ when emailing photos, but I only recently tumbled to these idiosyncrasies.


Hi Curtis,

Just came across your site searching for differences between tif and png. I am really impressed with what you have done here. Congratulations. There are so many “experts” telling people what their options are rather than describing the best way to do it.

Like your beginnings, I’m a PC guy and have been since the first IBM PCs. I’ve been using Elements for years and have to admit I still don’t grok all the intricacies of layers and “photoshopping”. Sadly, almost everything I’ve archived is in jpg format even though my Nikon has been able to produce raw images for over a decade. Storage was always an issue in my mind. When I purchased my first Epson scanner in 2000 I tried to capture some photos at 9600 dpi (!) only to find it took hours for each one and chewed up gigabytes of disk space even as jpg images. I stopped trying to scan in 2010 because I couldn’t find the right compromise between storage size and quality. You can see why your recommendations mean so much to me.

Now that storage is so cheap I want to go back and rescan as much as possible at 600 dpi and tif as you recommend. I have thousands of photos and slides – four, 60-Qt. storage bins full – representing over 150 years of family photos. All the digital photos I took will just never be better than the jpg quality I used to initially capture them. There are about 16,000 of those.

Retouching is not as big an issue to me as scanning, archiving and organizing. I have the latest Elements but haven’t really figured out how to use the organizer in any kind of efficient way. My big hot buttons are: (a) getting dates on everything; (b) tagging by face and situation; and, (c) comments.

I confess I haven’t chased all this down on your site but I was wondering if you think I should stick with Elements or try to use Picasso for organizing and Elements for touch ups.

Thanks for your advice.


Since posting this message I’ve been reading that Flickr-Lightroom is a very desirable combination for a number of reasons. Some of them being the ability to download for backup, Flickr’s recognition capabilities for organizing and Lightroom’s small difference in price from Elements. Do you agree with this as a direction to take?


Hi Curtis,

I am encouraged by your comment that Photos for Mac is getting close to your dream set up. I was learning and liking iPhoto before it disappeared. I am still mourning the loss and trying to get my feet wet with Photos but I am having trouble with it. I’m a bit against paying (endlessly) for extra iCloud storage and my library is huge (70K photos and 500GB) so I want to work off of one hard drive. I was using an external drive with iPhoto. It got corrupted and I lost 14 months of photos. I have since learned to back up the external to another through time machine but I was still using iPhoto until the recent upgrade.

I guess my questions are:
-do you have a good article to walk me through Photos?
-can I use it without buying more iCloud storage?
-does it have any of the nice filing features of Aperture? (I am still contemplating trying to find a copy of Aperture and using that)
-and, can I merge libraries and will it edit out duplicates, as I have a couple libraries with overlap at this point and I keep running out of storage space as you can imagine!
-or, given this info, is there another program you recommend instead. I just want to manage and store – not edit (much).

Many, many thanks in advance.

Brian Smith

I’m really worried about Apple ending support for Aperture. It’s clearly going to die at some point in the future, or become incompatible with a later version of the operating system.

The thing is, iPhotos puts all your pictures in “Events” so you end up with a thousand events to wade through.

Aperture allows you to have folders. Thie means you can have folders within folders and easily locate the photos you want to look at. E.g. a folder called “Holidays” can have folders inside it for each place you visit. And these folders can have a folder for each year.

If you click on particular folder you see just those photos. 2015, for example. If you click on the parent folder, you see all the photos from all the years you went to that place. And if you click on the “Holidays” folder, you see every photo taken on every holiday you ever went on.

My point is that it’s incredibly versatile. Imagine the subfolders I have within the top-level folder called “Family”.

Now, this probably isn’t the best way to organise photographs but it works for me. The new Photos program (App?) seems to abandon all that and lump every photo you own into when and/or where it was taken.

“Moments” !! How unhelpful is that? Yes, it works on the iPhone but once I transfer them to Aperture I can then sort them to where I want them.

What am I going to do?
Am I alone in being troubled by this?
Should I be organising my photos in a different way?
Should I export my Aperture library (of some 5000+ photos) so I still have them when Aperture dies?


Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks,

Brian Smith
Stamford, UK


I have 2 millions old photos.
I need a free software for mac to organize them (renaming, adding keywords, saving…….)
I will first scan them in 300 ppi resolution and add some information in file info of every photo and edit them in Photoshop.
But I need to know how to continue to be ready for archiving them in the right way.
Thank you very much


Try this hardware from KS.


I have the “new” Mac Photo’s program and after several months of trying to learn this program, I can no longer do anything with it. It does nothing but crash when I open it. It wouldn’t matter it I could open it really, I could never find the photo’s I wanted anyway. …So much for all my organization. No idea where to go from here. Apple better wise up, with all these constant changes I might as well go back to PC. The main reason I liked my Mac was that I wasn’t constantly having to upgrade…


love your site! thanks for all the great info!

I use “Historian” by Panstoria for all my photo editing and, more importantly, photo organizing.


Hi Curtis, I just received your 5th email and I commend you on timeliness. It’s a little spooky how you knew I was thinking about moving up to better software. I’ve been a fan of Adobe products for years, and I’ve never made the switch to Apple products, so I think it’s going to be Lightroom (LR) for me. In addition to all the bells and whistles, I’m excited about facial recognition software.

My family has entrusted me with the big scan-all-grandmas-photos project, and there are currently 4 (or is it 5) apple boxes full of photos and albums sitting in my basement. So far I’ve scanned 1K photos. I have shamelessly used nearly all your advice on naming conventions, scanning duplicates, and DPI and am so far pleased with how the project is shaping up.

My question for you has to do with cloud-based security, and the security of free applications like Picasa and Flickr. Like commenters above, I won’t be using Facebook to share photos, partly for reasons of privacy, and partly for reasons of ownership. I’m concerned about any Google product, e.g., Picasa, because Google’s Terms & Conditions state that by using any Google product, while ownership is not in question, the user gives Google rights to use the data even if the user eventually stops using Google. By contrast, both Box and Dropbox’s T&Cs state that the user’s data is the user’s data.

What do you think? Should I be concerned?

Thank you so much for an excellent site. You really have made a nearly impossible project manageable.


Hi! Please check out Daminion ( – it’s also a non-destructive software which supports all files formats (not only photo formats, but video, audio, pdf – anything you can think of). And it’s free for 15000 files.


I see good articles in this site… I just want to make a difference here… media manager doesn’t mean it has to be the editing application as well.
I’d found a very good file (media) manager, I’m not using it yet but I’d indexed with it all my files and I was able to find some “lost” pictures very easily with it.
Don’t take it from me… read below article and give it a try..

Mason Hamilton

This article is badly dated and should be pulled from the net. More problematic is that is that its mostly a proxy ad for Apple and it exaggerates Apples photo management abilities and especially its professionality – which as of 2015 are problematic at best.

Look on the Apple Community site and you see loads of people that lost their photos to the newer version of iPhoto, Photos and Aperture. People there (an me) are looking and hoping for a class action law suit to join to try to recover financial loses from losing thousands of their Apple archived photos. Apple badly needs to debug their photo programs before foisting them on an unsuspecting public – and should be held legally accountable for not doing so.

Elle Gee

Could you provide more information and preferably some links? If what you say is true then I want to know NOW, before I commit to using Apple products and software for my scanning projects.


Thanks for your amazing site. Readers may wan to/be saddened to know that Google has in their wis…tupidity discontinue support for Picasa in April 2016. Dismal decision. I started a petition that if Google doesnt care about the desktop they should sell this much loved product to someone who does… and donate proceeds to charity (if they think it’s so worthless!). Heres the link… I don’t have many channels to promote it, so it is not big yet… maybe someone who reads this can get more signatures!

I gather that you will still be able to downlaod the installer through FileHippo, but anyone reading this before April 2016, I’d recommend they download it now and archive the installer for the current version.

The move is incredibly shortsighted. Google thinks that everyone wants to post and maintain their entire photo library online … so the new offering is “Google Photos” with none of the depth of editing, archiving, managing options that existed on Picasa (it couldn’t have them being totally cloud based). So


All mentioned program are obsolete or support is stopped.


Almost all mentioned programs are obsolete or support is stopped;
Picassa no updates anymore, google announced officially that the will stop with it (?!) and forcing users to put the photos on line with alternative app;
iPhoto, does not exist any more, has become Photos, but will be phased out;
Aperture, dito;


What now? 250,000 and counting in my library plus duplicates. Picasa, Aperture, Light Room all obsolete. Not sure about iPhoto but it is highly unstable and considers 250K a large library. What’s the latest and greatest? What’s a good long term solution??


Lightroom is still an active product as of today (4/3/2016).

Gary Zenker

So it is 2016. I used to use Extensis Portfolio but they stopped making the non-commercial version at 8.5 and it is showing it’s age on newer operating systems. The one feature I really liked was the ability to create PDF contact sheets that included the file name, resolution, path name and whatever other info you checked off. I am on a PC system. Does anyone know of a reasonably priced non-cloud system that would offer similar capabilities? I had about 60,000 photos in it and it did bog it down a bit.

Extensis would catalog nearly anything including video, Adobe files etc, whatever you wanted catalogues so that was a bonus. It really was digital asset management.

Kym Harris

I have used Creative Memories Memory Manager 3 for sometime on my Windows 7 laptop, and I have approx 85000 images (including duplicates and videos). The laptop has just died (all images on an external hard drive), and I replaced it with an iMac.
As Creative Memories went bust in Australia a few years back. I’d have to purchase Forever Historian to keep using the same vaults etc (Panstoria purchased the rights etc to Memory Manager, Panstoria was bought out by Forever last year).
My dilemma is that this software is not available for Mac unless I partition my hard drive and install Windows.

Does anyone know the software I have been using, and can recommend something similar? I don’t want to partition my Mac.


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