Graphic of several photo manager application windows stacked

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

Like many of us, for the longest time I just had photos stored all over my computer’s storage drives, in multiple folders, with only a reasonably decent approach at useful organization.

But, when I started using a really good photo manager, I began to see how easy and fun it is to bring all of my photos together, into one centralized location.

 

When a photo manager is at its greatest, it’s tapping into all of the information invisibly stored inside of your photos. This information called metadata, speeds up what was once a much more laborious task — the process of organization and identifcation of photographs. Calendar dates the photos were taken and GPS locations which are embedded inside of almost current photos, now makes it an almost instantaneous and automatic procedure to see your photos grouped by event and location.

And then there’s the ease at which we can now make fixes to our problematic photographs.

Non-Destructive Image Editing

Even if you have little desire to do a lot of complex color correction that professionals take pride in doing, you will be surprised out how many minor changes you may want to make to your photos, that are technically still considered edits.

Other common edits — especially ones done to scanned photos — are straightening, cropping and manually “painting out” small amounts of dust and scratches or blemishes.

Up until we had non-destructive image editing, if you wanted to do ones of these edits to one of your photographs, and you wanted to be able to keep the original un-edited version as well, it was up to you to manage both — the original and then the edited version.

You had to take the photo into a photo editing program, make the changes, and then do a “Save As” command from the “File” drop-down menu at the top. This would 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 completely overwrite your original master. Yikes! That’s what’s technically called destructive editing. 

 

With non-destructive editing, all of the edits (or enhancements) to your photographs are made without ever being able to affect the original copy of your photograph. Each program handles the magic in one of several different ways, but the end result is that no matter what you do to change your photo during editing, you will always be able to click an “undo” button, and your photo will be returned to the original un-edited state.

In more advanced editors, you will even be able to selectively “roll back” edits you’ve made. So, instead of removing the color correction, crop, dust removal and straightening you did to a single photo, you could just undo the crop, but keep the other edits. Even if you made the crop months ago, it doesn’t matter! Your image manager will have the information it needs, stored away, to be able put your image back the way you originally had it.

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.

What’s Important in a Useful Photo Manager

I find with a lot of photo managing programs being developed today, they seem to be highly focused on handling primarily the needs of photos recently shot with digital cameras. Which makes sense when you consider these companies are trying to help us from drowning in the thousands of photos we are casually taking monthly with our smart phone cameras of our children, pets and plated food at restaurants.

But what about our scanned photos? What if we care about them too?

Scanned photos have unique needs, especially in the beginning stages when you are trying to organize them, figure out when they were actually taken so you can assign the correct date to them, and possibly even assign a very useful filename to each of them.

Criteria Covered for Each Recommended Application

In my exerience in working with my own digital photo collection over the last couple decades, as well as helping people like yourself here on this website, I’ve developed a list of criteria that a photo manager needs to meet, in order to be good at handling all types of photos collections.

Many of these points you may never realize were so important to you until you are deep into using an application and then you unfortunately discover its limitations.

I will be doing my best to cover how each application I recommend handles all of the following questions:

  • Organizing Photos — Is there a database that keeps track of each and every photo you bring into the application? How do you choose which photos the application manages?a7a7
  • Photo Storage — Where will your original master images be stored (saved)? Who’s responsible for protecting them from being moved around or deleted?
  • Non-Destructive Editing — If it handles photo editing, will the application write over (delete) your original versions with your new changes?
  • Filenames — Can you view and edit the original filename while inside the application?
  • Metadata — Can you add and change useful information about each photo such as the date the photo was taken, written descriptions (captions), and identifying information (keywords, ratings and labels)?
  • Portability — How easily can you leave this application and move to another one and have all of your work (edits and metadata) go with you. Will it feel like you are now trapped using this application indefinitely?

How to Choose the Best Photo Manager For Your Needs

The list of photo managers below, are going to be listed more or less, in the order of those that serve the needs of those with basic goals and skills first, and works its way to the bottom with those handling advanced goals and skills.

At the end of each review, I will do my best to explain who each application is best suited for. This will hopefully make it easier for you to make a decision if you’re having problems choosing.

All of the applications that aren’t free, still offer a free trial period where you can download and use them for a set period of time at not cost. I would highly recommend you read through all of my suggestions below and narrow it down to at least a couple, and then try them out for a little while. I think you will love how much easier it makes your life once you learned how to use them.

UPDATE ~ July 2017

This article, which was originally published in January of 2011, has just been completely rewritten to include my favorite photo managing applications currently available today.

Because of the challenges of updating a massive article such as this, I have not completed the detailed reviews for a few of the applications I’m recommending below.

But, instead of making you wait until everything is completely finished, I’ve decided to do something I’ve never done before. I’m posting everything I have finished up to this point, and will then continue to make incremental content updates as I complete them — including new screenshot images for areas I’ve already written.

I’m doing this because I feel a lot of people could already be benefitting from what I do have finished, so why wait any longer.

Thank you for your patience, and having the ability to overlook all of the flaws in these content stages.  ;-)

So, bookmark this article, and check back to see the updates!

Cheers!

Curtis

Wall of image thumbnails - Adobe Bridge CC - Photo Manager

Adobe Bridge CC

Bridge

by Adobe

Windows Mac

Adobe Bridge is a fantastic and now totally free application. After you create and sign-in to your Adobe ID account (also free), you are then able to download the latest version that never expires, and now doesn’t require one of their paid subscriptions to their Creative Cloud (CC).

Adobe Bridge CC, as it’s formally called, is a desktop digital asset manager. This is a fancy way of describing what its purpose is, and that is as a visual hub for all of the files you use for your creative projects.

Other than being able to rotate images, it doesn’t have any other editing capabilities. You read that right, it’s not a photo editor. So you won’t be able to do color corrections, crops, or remove dust, scratches or blemish removals from any of your photographs.

I like to think of the analogy that Bridge is like a beautiful massive dining room table top where you can spread out all of your photos and easily get to work, moving them around, sorting, renaming, and captioning them.

Especially when you are working with newly scanned photos, much of your early work revolves around these organization processes, and detective work learning when your photos were taken and who’s in them. This application is perfect for this period of time because the program isn’t cluttered by the controls in a user interface also expected to handle visual editing.

Organizing Photos in Bridge

Bridge doesn’t use a centralized database to keep track of each photo you want to manage. So, there is no import process at all to gain access your photos and videos. Instead, you will be working with them where they are currently being stored on your storage drive(s).

Up in the top left “folders” and “favorites” panels, you simply choose which folder of photographs you would like to work with. And with 7 different displaying modes — Essentials, Filmstrip, Metadata, Keywords, Preview, Light Table and Folders — you are very likely to find a view of all of your photographs you will find to be perfect for the task at hand.

From within Bridge, while organizing your photos, you can easily create folders, and then move your photos around from one folder to another. Since there is no centralized database, you won’t be just moving them around inside the application. It’s mimicking the folder and file structure in Explorer (if you’re using Windows) or Finder (if you’re on a Mac). And if you were to update the content of your folders and file order outside of Bridge, the next time you launch Bridge, since it’s accessing your files live, all of your external updates will then be reflected inside the application as well.

Bridge also allows you to rate your photos with stars, add keywords, assign text/color labels, create stacks, and generate slide shows.

Photo Metadata and Filenames in Bridge

Metadata is definitely a strong suit for Bridge. Between the built in Metadata Panel or the floating “File Info” Window, you will have complete control over all of the metadata fields you could possibly imagine. (Such as Camera EXIF, IPTC, Video and Audio Data, GPS, etc.)

For most people, the majority of all of these available metadata fields will be unused. However, it’s nice to know you have access to them if you ever want to use them. And to make things easier and less cluttered from all of these options, you can create your own metadata template that will then hide all of the unused options and only show you the fields you will be using regularly — such as the date the photo was taken and the caption (description) etc.

In most cases, Bridge stores this metadata inside your master image files (using the XMP standard). If it isn’t possible to store the information (invisibly) inside the file, metadata is then stored in a separate file called a sidecar file.

Bridge’s Batch Renaming process is far beyond what we normally get in photo managers. If you’re ever seeking out a stand-alone batch-renaming application because you need the access to advanced features, you may find you no longer need to after seeing what’s already built into this application.

You can literally build out a “formula” for your perfect filenames by adding and removing bits of information such as additional text, sequence numbers, dates, camera information, metadata, and then apply your custom formula to all of the photos you have selected. A nice touch is the option boxes for Windows, Mac OS and Unix to insure operating system compatibility with your newly renamed filenames.

Since there is no central database with this application, Bridge will instantly save any filename and metadata changes you make right to your master images files. So, this means your revised photos will be available to other photo managing or editing programs immediately, and will have access to all of this new information.

Who Is Bridge For?

Adobe Bridge is easy enough to use, once you get the hang of it. I think even if you have basic goals and skills, you will enjoy using it.

Since it accesses your photos on your storage drives live, and writes all changes immediately, you aren’t locked into using only this application with your photos.

Bridge makes an incredibly powerful organizer and labeling application that will handle a large portion of your duties. And then you could use another application at any time to handle any visual edits you want to make such as color corrections, crops and dust and scratch removals.

For those possibly interested in using Adobe’s Lightroom at some point, Bridge could be a great starting point to see how you like working with a product in the Adobe Creative Cloud family. If you enjoy Bridge, you could then easily transition into Lightroom (now with less of a learning curve) or even the powerful editing capabilities of Adobe Photoshop.

Additionally, I think if you are already happy using a program like Microsoft Photos or Photos for macOS to handle all of your digital camera photos, Bridge would be a great additional application to use for your scanned photos. You could have two different collections of photos. And then at some point later, when you are done organizing and labeling your scanned photos, you could merge your two collections into one — if you so choose.

Wall of image thumbnails - Photos for macOS - Photo Manager

Photos for macOS

Photos for macOS

by Apple

Mac

Photos for macOS is a photo managing and editing application that comes free and pre-installed with every Mac operating system since OS X Yosemite in version 10.10.3 (April 8, 2015). It replaced iPhotos which was then discontinued.

It’s very clean and extremely minimal. So minimal, I find it’s at the risk of (still) not having features many have learned to rely on with previous photo managers.

After discontinuing their professional application Aperture, Photos is now the only photo managing application Apple is currently supporting. And since the 1. release, they arguably haven’t been quick to update the application with very many advanced features previous iPhotos users are likely still clamoring for.

But, what you do have with Photos is a very solid photo managing application that makes photo managing easier to learn and use than probably almost any photo manager out there.

Organizing Photos in Photos for macOS

Photos uses a centralized database, so it’s aware of and keeping track of every one of your photos managed inside. This means every one of your photos will first need to come into the application in one of two ways:

The first being through Apple’s internet “cloud-syncing” platform called iCloud. Most often its photos taken from iOS mobile devices such as an iPhone or iPad, and they are set to automatically sync with your desktop version of Photos.

The second method is through a standard import process where you specifically tell Photos which photos you would like to bring in from an attached camera or memory card, or simply from a folder of photos on your Mac.

The default and generally recommended import setting (Preferences > General > “Copy items to the Photos library”) will tell Photos to make a copy of each and every photo you import, and store it inside your single “bundled” file (folder) called a Photos library file. This library file, by default, is stored inside of your “Pictures” folder which is inside of your home user folder.

Your library file is like having a nearly-impenetrable haven for your photos. It’s like a protective egg, and all of your master image files are safely kept and organized inside for you. The only way you can access it manually is by control-clicking on the library file and choosing “Show Package Contents.” (However, I do not recommend the average user even set mouse in there, or risk doing damage that might cause your library file to never load correctly again)

What Apple has done with this “managed” style of organization is they have completely removed the need for you to understand how it all works. You just launch the application, import some photos, view them, edit them, share them with friends and family, and just plain enjoy them. You don’t need to know how and even where your original master images are being stored. You just know that when you load the application each time, your photos are going to be there — safe and sound.

It’s truly magnificent for many users — especially ones with basic goals and skills — who want the benefit of a photo manager, without having to learn all about file management, and fear each day they may accidentally push the wrong button and their life displayed in photos is suddenly now lost forever. I mean, you could use Photos for years and never even know what the Finder application is for on your Mac!

For those who want to do some manual photo organizing, you can still create folders (and put folders inside of folders) and organize photos how you want in them. But generally, Photos wants to do all of the organizing for you, by sorting your photos by the date and location they were taken. And this is information already stored inside of your metadata for each photo.

If you take a lot of photos with digital cameras, where this metadata was created for you in abundance, you might love not having to worry at all about having to organize a good portion of your photos, because all the work will be done for you!

But, for those trying to manage a scanned photo collection in Photos, it’s possible you are going to be very frustrated that in many of the views, such as “Collections”, “Memories” and “Moments”, Photos will also be trying and organize and sort your scanned photos, but this time it will often be doing so using the only available date which is when your photos were actually scanned. This will be the case until you have taken the time to manually replace the scanned date with the date you know the photo was original taken.

In the meantime, you can also create folders and albums to manually sort them how you wish. But, you will have to develop the ability to ignore seeing the “scanned on” dates that Photos will constantly display at the top of each folder of thumbnail images for you, believing those are truly the dates the photos were taken.

Advanced Tip:  For those more adventurous, if you don’t want copies of your original master image files to be stored inside of your Photos library file, just make sure the import setting I mentioned above is unchecked before each and every photo is imported into Photos, and your master images will be stored and accessed by Photos in the exact place they were when you imported them — which means your photos will be “referenced” not “managed”. This however, puts the burden on you to protect your master files and don’t move them at the risk of the application not being able to find them anymore.

Editing Photos in Photos for macOS

Photos for macOS makes it extremely easy to do basic editing. They have done a wonderful job of making this desktop version of Photos match the interface of their iOS version of the same name. You will feel right at home doing the same processes on your iOS devices as you will here.

They’ve made what used to be fairly multi-step corrective operations by making unthreatening looking sliders with names such as “Light” and “color” that each do complex calculations “under the hood.” And if you’re seeking more manual control, you can click on the downward facing triangle icon and individual slide controls for more granular manipulation will be at your disposal.

Pretty much any basic correction tool is already in the feature set, including a really nice implementation of “dust and scratch removal” by what they call Retouch (a bandaid icon). Anyone who scans photos and has a desire to remove as many pieces of dust remaining from the scanning process will learn to love this tool.

Photos for macOS is non-destructive. If at any point you are unhappy with one or more of your edits, you can click the “Revert to Original” button at the top of the application, and all of your edits will be rolled back, and you will return to the original “untouched” version of your master image. So it will now look the same as it did the moment you imported it into Photos — possibly years before.

Photos also gives you access to extensions, which allows you to use other applications while inside of Photos. This gives you the ability to expand the editing capabilities of Photos.

The cost of all of this “magic” and “lack of required knowledge about file management” that I spoke of earlier, comes at the expense of portability. All of your edits are stored as alternate version files or merely as data in its databases that Photos recalculates live anytime you click on a photo you’ve made changes to. Apple has chosen not to write edits and changes directly to your master image files.

This means you can’t easily access your Photos for macOS collection by another application. Even if your photos aren’t stored in the default “managed” method inside of the library file, and are being “referenced” instead in Finder folders, you still won’t be able to access your edited versions in another application.

Really, the only way to access your collection with most other “non-Apple” applications — especially your edited ones — is to share your photos (email, social share, message etc) or manually export your photos out of Photos (File > Export). This causes all of your edits you have made to be consolidated down into a new file version you can save anywhere you would like. From there, you could then load them in any another application. But, you’ve lost the ability to undo previous edits at this point.

Photo Metadata and Filenames in Photos for macOS

For a photo manager aspiring to cater to those with basic goals, Photos for macOS is actually fairly decent with the the basic needs of photo metadata. You can give your photos keywords, a caption (description) and even change the GPS coordinate where the photo was taken. And you can also change the date when the photo was taken — which is a must when dealing with scanned photos. That’s pretty much it though.

And the interfaces you change this data in is kinda clunky — a tiny floating file info panel and a separate “Adjust date and time” window that slides down from the top.

There is currently limited support for batch processing in Photos with much of this metadata, however it’s not obvious how to do it. But, at least you can do the basics to get by.

Once a photo is imported into Photos, you no longer have any control over the original filename. Even though you can see the original filename in the File Info panel, you don’t have the option to edit it, or even display it anywhere else (such as below the image thumbnails where many might find it to be very useful).

However, you can give each photo something Apple calls a “title”, which you then basically treat as the new working substitute for the original filename. But, the title field always starts out empty, so unfortunately you will have to copy and paste your original filename into the title for every single photo.

There is a silver lining here. When you export out a photo, you will have the choice to either use the original filename (which it had at the time of the import, and you haven’t been able to change all this time) or the current title you may have added and been working with. Whichever you choose now becomes the new exported version’s filename.

Who is Photos for macOS for?

Photos for macOS is a great application, that’s only going to get better in each release. And there’s no doubt in my mind, how powerful Photos is because of the synergy Apple has given it with corresponding Apple applications for each of their devices. If you are deep into the Apple Mac/iOS ecosystem of products, there is a lot to gain by taking advantage of their leverage they have by controlling the operating systems and the photo managing application at the same time.

If you have basic goals for your collection, and you don’t believe you will be in a hurry to “jump ship” and move to another photo managing application once you’ve put in editing work to a lot of photos managed inside of it, Photos could be the amazing photo managing solution for you.

And if you love Photos but hate how little control you have file renaming and additional metadata fields, you could easily have two collections — your iPhone photos in Photos and your scanned photos in a more advanced piece of software.  

Wall of image thumbnails - ACDSee 20 - Photo Manager

ACDSee 20

ACDSee

by ACD Systems

Windows

I apologize, but my complete review for this application currently isn’t finished yet. I will be posting it as soon as I can.

Short Version: ACDSee is as close to Google’s Picasa as I’ve currently found, yet from a reliable company with a long track record of constant updates and support. It’s great for people with basic goals and skills, but also has a lot of advanced features that will challenge and grow with you. It’s not free like Picasa was, but it really does a lot for what it costs. And it’s been around for years and years and years. I was using this application in the 1990’s, so it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere!  (Which I know, is what I had thought of Picasa [sigh] ).

ACDSee — Video Introduction Tour - (3 minutes)

Wall of image thumbnails - Picktorial - Photo Manager

Picktorial

Picktorial

by Picktorial Innovations

Mac

Within minutes of using Picktorial for the first time, I knew this photo manager was something special. And by the second day of my trial, I already had my credit card out and found myself purchasing a license for it.

Picktorial sports a dark colored interface, which in the past has usually been reserved for applications only advanced users were able to use. It’s modern, minimal, and unfortunately for Windows users, is only for the Mac.

 

My first impression was that Picktorial feels like what previous devotees of Aperture have been hoping Photos for macOS would have already become by now. And this seems to be proven when you take a look at their aggressive update timeline with version 1.0 coming out in just March of 2016.

I’m normally not so easily drawn to applications that have so little time out in the market, but I admit, I was dazzled by how polished and complete it already feels.

It’s incredibly easy to use, so those with basic goals and skills will probably take to it easily. Yet, Picktorial is also adding advanced features so deceptively, it’s easy to forget they are also trying to satisfy the professional users as well.

 

Not only is Picktorial a standalone application, Photos for macOS users can also use Picktorial as an extension. This gives you access to the full-range of editing tools from Picktorial while inside of Photos for macOS.

And those still looking for a right time and place to abandon their Apple Aperture libraries, you will be happy to know Picktorial allows you to natively read your current Aperture libraries — even multiple libraries at the same time.

Picktorial can’t modify Aperture edits but you can choose between viewing the original file or the preview, and make new edits to the original file or additional edits on top of the preview file.

Organizing Photos in Picktorial

Unlike photo managers that use a centralized library database, such as Photos for Mac OS or Photoshop Lightroom, Picktorial instead is “catalog-free” and uses your Finder hierarchy to organize your photos. But, instead of possibly overwhelming you with access to every single one of your folders, throughout all of your attached devices, the interface stays nearly “stress-free” by only showing you just the folders you have chosen for it to monitor.

And, similar to how Google’s Picasa worked, the folders you tell it to monitor are constantly being watched. So, even if Picktorial isn’t running, if you add or remove photos from your Finder folders, the next time you launch Picktorial, it will instantly show your revised folder contents of photos. Likewise, If you move a photo from one folder to another in Picktorial, it’s actually moving your master file in Finder from the one folder to the other. This means total organization freedom.

This freedom of course comes at the cost of accountability. Without a centralized database, Pictorial will be relying on you not to accidentally tamper with your desired folder organization. For example, Picktorial is not going to take any responsibility for remembering where you had certain photos stored if two nights before you moved them around using another seemingly harmless application.

 

Something I’m still not very happy with though, is the lack of a full-height view of all of your photo thumbnails. It appears the creators of Picktorial are trying so hard to keep a minimal and easy to use interface — with what they call their “Single-Space Workflow” — that the center area of the application has to share the space not only with your thumbnails, but also with a preview window of the image you’ve selected. Even though there is a slider to change the height of the separator between the two, there doesn’t seem to be a way to fill the entire area with just your thumbnails, which I seem to sorely miss.

Editing Photos in Picktorial

If you’re familiar with the editing tools in Photos for macOS, you will feel right at home with the adjustment panel in Picktorial. Not only is it in the same location, with a similar look and feel, but it also has an abundance of easy to use tools above and beyond what Photos offers.

The controls are so clean and minimal, you almost forget how powerful Picktorial is. It has a RAW processing engine built in to work with your raw image files, and currently already supports 500+ cameras.

Picktorial doesn’t use layers, and instead has gone with a method where your edits are applied in areas, such as “patches”, which gives you more precise control with each tool instead of affecting the entire image.

Because it’s non-destructive, it never makes changes to your original master images. And any edits you make can be undone anytime you wish.

 

What almost seems like magic, is how Picktorial actually handles all of your edits. Since it doesn’t rely on a library database to store all of the incremental changes, it instead cleverly saves all of this data invisibly right inside your master image files (as XMP formatted metadata) for formats such as JPEG, TIFF and DNG files. If your masters are in the RAW format, the data is stored in an accompanying .xmp sidecar file.

Because there aren’t any preview or alternate version files generated and accessed by a database, each time you click on a photo with edits previously made to it, there is likely to be a slight delay while the edit information is read and re-processed to generate a live version for you. You’ll instantly see the original version and then it’s replaced by the fully edited live version about a split second later — the delay time depending on how fast your computer is and how many edits you’ve made. It’s maybe slightly off-putting as you first get used to this phenomenon, but it seems to be a good tradeoff for those seeking the perks of a database-less photo manager that doesn’t leave a lot of extra (redundant) version files in folders all over your storage drives.

What this means, again, is freedom. For example, you can copy and move any photo edited in Picktorial to another Mac running Picktorial, open it and see all of your edits! You could even use a cloud platform like Dropbox or Google Drive to always keep them in sync between the two. And theoretically, you could also open them in any other application — now or in the future — that is capable of reading photos with edits saved with this same embedded XMP metadata process.

Photo Metadata in Picktorial

The amount of metadata you can currently add and edit is fairly limited. Some of the key EXIF camera metadata is viewable. And thankfully, there is already support to add and edit the important ones for scanned photos such as a title, keywords, and a caption. Again, because there is no database, this data you add is saved immediately and automatically into your master images.

Additionally, in response to a question on their Facebook page I found, I know they “are working on adding support for editing IPTC metadata fields as well.”

Batch processing I believe is also on their list. So, the future looks promising here for those who rely on adding a lot of additional data.

Who Is Picktorial For?

Picktorial feels as easy to use as Photos for macOS, yet has a development team proving to add features to it at a pace Apple seems uninterested in even attempting.

If you are a Mac user, who loves the aesthetics and workflow of Photos for macOS, but would love to have some more advanced features, then Picktorial is something you might really want to take a look at. Especially if you are at all intimidated by the looks of the alternatives such as Photoshop Lightroom or even ACDSee Mac Studio.

And because it doesn’t use a database, you won’t at all be locked into this application. You can even use this alongside others photo managers you like as well — such as Adobe Bridge to take advantage of all of its metadata capabilities.

If Picktorial Innovations continues to improve this application with features professionals rely on, at some point, I won’t be surprised if it becomes a serious contender in the professional field with those seeking a “lightweight” and less cluttered interface that’s also a lot of fun to use.

Picktorial — Video Introduction Tour — (2 minutes)

This is the previous review for Lightroom. A refreshed version will be posted shortly.

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!

 

Lightroom — Video Introduction Tour — (2 minutes)

I apologize, but my complete review for this application currently isn’t finished yet. I will be posting it as soon as it’s ready.

Short Version: ACDSee Photo Studio is the successor to ACDSee Mac Pro, which is the Mac version of the ACDSee product line. ACDSee Mac Pro appears to still be available for purchase and a free trial download, even though it’s no longer listed on their main product page. This is because ACDSee Photo studio will eventually be replacing it entirely when it’s finally for sale to the public. (It’s currently available to download through beta trial — public release I hear is estimated for July 2017)

ACDSee Photo Studio, was completely written from the ground up, to not only be compatible with macOS Sierra, but also to be faster. It has ‘powerful database improvements’ as well as ‘a better, more stable browsing experience’.

Wall of image thumbnails - ACDSee Ultimate - Photo Manager

ACDSee Ultimate 10

ACDSee Ultimate

by ACD Systems

Windows

I apologize, but my complete review for this application currently isn’t finished yet. I will be posting it as soon as it’s ready.

Short Version: ACDSee Ultimate is the ‘top shelf’ version of ACDSee. Users of ACDSee can move up to the Pro version or this Ultimate version if they ever seek more advanced features and tools. And since all of the ACDSee applications look almost exactly alike, the learning curve is not nearly as steep as moving to something like Lightroom.

ACDSee Ultimate — Video Introduction Tour — (6 minutes)

Final Thoughts

 

Something important I’d love for you to keep in mind, is like I hinted at in several of the reviews above, it’s very possible the best solution for you and your entire diverse photo collection, might be to use more than one photo manager at the same time. It’s likely one application may not currently do everything you want it to do to handle every type of photo you have.

You might decide what’s best is to use one application to organize and sync to your mobile devices, all of your recent digital camera photos. And then you could use a second application with more robust features, that will better help you while you work through the stages of scanning, organizing and labeling all of your scanned photos. At the end of your project, you could then combine the two photo collections into one if you wanted to, and then use your favorite photo manager with it.

 

Please tell me what you think of this article. 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.

Cheers!

Previous Recommendations

Below are the photo managers I recommended that are now no longer being supported by the developer, or I no longer feel are as good as the managers listed above.

I’m still including them for anyone running older computers or versions of operating systems, and is still interested in running these applications.

Just click to read the previous reviews:

Picasa by Google

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.

iPhoto by Apple

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.

Aperture by Apple

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.

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