Managing Libraries of Photos

I’ve been photographing things since 1966. I started with 35mm (I’ve dallied with both negatives and slides). In 1997, I acquired an APS format camera and used it alongside my 35mm camera. The convenience of the APS camera (a Canon IXUS) meant that my Olympus 35mm camera was only used on “special occasions” when higher quality was essential. In 2001 I ventured into digital territory, replacing the APS camera with the digital format. I still kept the 35mm for the “special occasions” up until I acquired a 4 megapixel camera in 2003. Since that time, I’ve been taking digital format photographs exclusively.

All the above means that I have a lot of photos, in various formats, to manage. The first step for me was to scan all the “analogue” formats (35mm negatives, slides and APS) into digital format using a film scanner. I’ve now completed this, and, together with the native digital photos, have ended up with 12 GB of photos. This may not be a lot compared with some (I bet if my brother were to do the same he’d have ten times as much), but it’s enough to make me want to find a decent way to catalogue and organise them.

I’ve been looking around for a decent (and low-cost) software program to help me manage them. At first, I thought the answer was Microsoft’s Digital Image Library, a decent enough program that is packaged with a pretty good editor (Digital Pro). DIL allowed me to assign and group by keyword, as well as by other attributes (e.g. date/month/year). The keywords end up as metadata in the image file (and not in a separate database), so that in theory, they can be used by other applications. Sure enough, Windows Explorer could display the keywords, so the potential for the keywords to be used by other applications was there. So I went through my library, assigning keywords, and gradually the library took shape.

Then, last month, Google released version 2 of its picture librarian and editing software: Picasa. What was more, it was (and is) free. Naturally I downloaded it, gave it a spin, but then discovered what I thought was the fatal flaw – it didn’t recognise any of the keywords I had assigned to the image files using Microsoft’s DIL. Sigh – I really didn’t want to go through the hassle of assigning all the keywords again to all of my files.

So for the last month, that’s where it has rested. Until today.

Today, I returned to thinking about whether I should be using an online image library service. I’d looked at Flickr and Smugmug a while back, but hadn’t really thought about it in depth. Today, I starting looking at them again, in order to see if I could choose one over the other. Flickr has certainly got the technorati hyped up about it – and it does have some nice features. But, a) it’s still in Beta, and b) it does not offer a real storage/backup service – it’s primarily a photo sharing service. Smugmug, on the other hand, was set up by professional photographers with the aim of being a secure storage space for your image files, as well as enabling you to share them with friends and family.

It was while I was looking at and comparing the two, that I suddenly realised that I did not want to go through the hassle yet again of assigning keywords to every file that I uploaded.

It was at this point that I learned about the IPTC IIM (International Press Telecommunications Council Information Interchange Model) – a way of assigning metadata that is embedded into an image file. Then I learned that Adobe had taken this concept and produced an XML-based version: XMP. Smugmug supports XML/IPTC. Flickr has acknowledged that it needs to do the same.

I also came across another free software program: PixVue, which hooks into Windows Explorer and allows me to add IPTC/XMP metadata to all my image files. It’s a brilliant little application. I can even make templates to apply a set of metadata in bulk to files, so this should ease the task of re-assigning all my keywords. And the XMP standard ensures that all of the metadata I assign will be preserved – no matter where the files end up: on another Windows machine, on an online storage/viewing service, or on a friend’s Macintosh or Linux box. [Note 1: Pixvue is no longer available. It stopped development in 2007]

Then came the point of realisation: Microsoft’s Digital Image Library does not support IPTC/XMP, but Picasa version 2 does.

Right, that’s it: it’s Picasa for me from now on. Picasa is a very slick application – the search facility (which DIL does not have) is amazingly fast. DIL is dead as far as I am concerned. I only hope that Microsoft realises that they should add IPTC/XMP support into their next version of Windows (Longhorn). [Note 2: Microsoft did add support for IPTC/XMP in all subsequent versions of Windows. Hooray.]

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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9 Responses to Managing Libraries of Photos

  1. Tim says:


    I read this thread and let me say, I feel your pain. Your situation is so close
    to mine you sound like my evil twin! I have a very similar predicament. I was
    using ACDSee which I though was a very high quality image management application
    however after doing a fair amount of tagging realised I am locked into its proprietary
    database. I went searching for an application that stored the information
    within the file itself.  I wanted to get my digital images in order due to
    the upcoming release of Windows Vista and its reliance on virtual folders and Meta-data.
    I stumbled across Pixvue in a similar manor to you and also Adobe Bridge
    which I have been using for a while. I am looking forward to creating virtual
    folders and searching for my images.

    Anyway I will have to learn how to use the template feature in Pixvue as it may
    decrease the amount of time I spend assigning key words to images (I have a

    Any tips on how you tag your images, do you have mandatory fields etc? Title,
    Description and keywords etc? Do you just put who is included in the photo
    (person keywords). Any help in structuring this to increase the flexibility I
    will have when searching the information would be greatly appreciated.



  2. Geoff says:

    Tim – an email will be on its way to you shortly…

  3. Pingback: Managing Photo Libraries: Part 2 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  4. Pingback: Managing Photo Libraries – Part 4 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  5. Pingback: Metadata Woes | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  6. Pingback: Managing Photo Libraries – Part 5 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  7. Pingback: Managing Photo Libraries – Part 6 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  8. Pingback: Flickr Adds IPTC Support | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  9. Pingback: Picasa versus Windows Live Photo Gallery | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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