Photo Management Software

I was going to write a lengthy blog post comparing Apple’s Aperture to Adobe’s Lightroom. I’ve been playing with both applications for a few months now, trying to find the perfect fit for my workflow. I discovered while catching up on my blog reading over Spring Break that the experts over at O’Reilly not only beat me to the punch, but did it in a way that would make anything I said redundant. I’ll provide links to their excellent reviews at the end of this post.

Instead I will focus on why every photographer, from the beginning to the professional needs photo management software and how to decide, not only how much to spend, but what will work best for you. I consider myself one of those in between shooters, photography is a passion, but I don’t use it to pay the bills. I do, however, have more than 11,000 pictures in my iPhoto gallery, and that’s without scanning the tens of thousands in my various photo boxes and negative safes. I’ve gone from hobbyist to loyalist and have a good feel for what it’s like to be both.

Organization was always a challenge for me because of the way I want to reference my images. Simply assigning a roll number and date never worked because it failed to cover subject data. If I included basic subject data, say, “Miami, March 1998” didn’t specify what part of the trip the roll covered. It was also a problem if, I wanted to find photos from different time frames of one subject (i.e. “Tara”). Before computers had the ability to organize photos, I would spend hours going through negative albums and boxes of photos looking for the perfect image for my project. My first steps into photo management were very basic, although they still work for many photographers out there.

The other challenge in this digital age is in work flow. There was never any doubt how I would handle image workflow when working in a dark room. Shoot, Develop, Print, Repeat – obviously with many steps under each category. Having instantaneous images with a digital camera confused the flow for me. Shoot, oh, there’s the picture. Print, wait, color is off. Adjust (taking the place of “develop” in terminology for me), print. Now I’ve wasted paper. You can see how it was a challenge. Four years ago, I embarked on the long-awaited journey of finding a better way of handling digital workflow. I had started photo management almost a decade earlier, but was slow to refine my work in the digital darkroom.

The everyday camera user may only need photo management software to keep their “albums” organized. There is no point in having shot a picture if you can’t find it. There are many inexpensive and useful products to handle this job, as long as you’re aware of their limitations. There are two products I always felt comfortable recommending to people new to photo management. The first is on PC platform, Thumbsplus. Thumbsplus used to be not only one of the best, but least expensive of the photo management utilities on the market. It’s gone up quite a bit in price ($140), but it still has excellent functionality. The user will be responsible to set up file structure, but the application does a good job of presenting not only image thumbnails, but also fonts and multimedia files. For the casual user, it’s an excellent choice.

On the Mac, I once loved iView Media Pro. Like Thumbsplus, it was fairly priced and easy to use. Sadly, Microsoft purchased the product and phased it out to make way for Microsoft Expressions. It seems far more feature rich, which isn’t what a lot of users need or want from a media management application. I have used iPhoto for the last few years and it works well, but has its own significant limitation. iPhoto imports images into it’s own file structure and builds a database around it. The problem with this method is that when you have a lot of pictures, the database gets very large. I found that after a few thousand, iPhoto started to hang. It was not only taking a long time to load, but a long time to scroll through and find photos. By the time I got up to 7000 images, it was significant enough to annoy me. Hence my move to Lightroom.

I should mention all of the applications mentioned here have the ability to create web galleries and do minor image corrections. I’ll discuss my favorite digital darkroom products in another post.

Lightroom vs. Aperture: The Results by Michael Clark
Aperture vs Lightroom: Field Test by Micah Walter

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