I’m sure many of you use photo management packages to browse through thumbnails of your photos downloaded from your camera to your PC. Popular photo management packages are Picasa, Windows Live Photo Gallery and of course the viewers in paid packages like Adobe Photoshop Elements. But how many of you actually tag your photos with keywords to help searching through your photo folders for the photos you want? I tried keyword tagging for a short while some years ago but gave it up once I discovered that in some management packages the tags you’ve painstakingly added to your photos don’t transfer to a different software package, i.e. they are held in a proprietary database in the software package and not within the photo itself. So I gave up then and just stuck with FastStone Image Viewer, a nice photo viewer and editor but without the facility to tag photos with keywords.
Some five or six years on, and a little wiser hopefully, I thought I’d revisit the subject of photo tagging and see how the current crop of photo management packages deal with it. I’ve specifically stuck with free apps or software that have free versions with more limited features to see if I could find what I wanted for free. That’s not to say of course that in future some of these apps will move to a paid or freemium model.
So I’ve gone back through my Delicious bookmarks over the last couple of years and looked at all the apps I’ve tagged ‘photo-tagging’. I haven’t looked at online photo management apps or tagging a la Facebook, just apps to manage your photo collection on your desktop. I’ve used the following four criteria to select apps which will tag photos the way I want.
1. Keywords in file rather than proprietary database
Tagging in photo management packages can basically be divided into two types. Apps that store the keywords within the photo file itself, as say IPTC tags, and apps that store the tags in a separate proprietary database. Clearly in the first type, the keywords move with the files and can be accessed in different management packages that use this format for storing keywords. In the second type, if you move to a different photo management app in the future, all your keywords will probably be left behind in the old software database. If you’re not sure if your photo management package is saving tags as IPTC keywords, install Irfanview and open your photo in it, click the Image Information button at the top, then click the IPTC info button at the bottom left corner. Then click the Keywords tab and see what’s there – your IPTC keywords should show here.
Because we’re all fickle and like to move around and try different packages and because some apps cease development or are likely to change to a freemium model, I believe it’s important to choose a package where the keyword tags are held in a standard format within the photo, so will move with the photo file and can be accessed in other photo organizers.
2. Folder versus album
If you’ve messed around with different photo organizers, you’ll know that there are basically two ways to browse the photos on your disk. Folder based organizers which just access and display the photo folders on your hard drive, and album based organizers which import your photos into a catalogue or album, possibly from a number of folders on your hard drive. I personally prefer the folder based organizer as that’s the way my folders are organized on my PC and I’ve become familiar with that over the years. As I’ve mentioned, the album based approach has the disadvantage of locking up information in a proprietary format. If you change software for whatever reason, you’re probably going to have to recreate your albums.
3. Group tag photos
Being able to select a group of photos and assign a keyword tag or tags to them all at once is obviously a massive timesaver compared with tagging them individually.
4. Search for and display only photos with specific tag(s)
I want to be able to pull out and display only those photos which have specific keyword tag(s); seems like a reasonable request. Incidentally, one other advantage I’ve discovered with IPTC style keyword tags is that Windows search (click Start button and enter search term in box) will pull up photos with your tag. Very useful, particularly when the photo file name is some cryptic camera derived label.
Zoner Photo Studio: My personal favourite. The user interface looks nice, and has all the tagging features I want: folder display, IPTC keywords, group tagging, and searching for tag combinations. In addition, a query I had was quickly answered on their forums.
Windows Live Photo Gallery: Couldn’t fault this also, just preferred the display in Zoner Photo Studio. Windows Photo Gallery has a plainer display, not so much info is displayed with each thumbnail. Keywords are called Descriptive Tags, and you can also draw boxes round faces and assign what are called People Tags to the faces in each photo. But no face recognition… as yet.
Picasa: Many people’s choice as a photo organizer but I personally don’t like the way it organizes photos into its own directory system. Assigning keywords was straightforward and there were no problems group tagging photos but I couldn’t work out how to select and display a combination of two keyword tags. It’ll probably do it, but I didn’t find it intuitive like the two I’ve just mentioned. On the plus side, it does have automatic facial recognition so you can assign People tags here too.
I must mention Irfanview in passing, again a popular free editing choice. It’s possible to enter keyword data in Irfanview (as I’ve mentioned above) which will be used in the above three packages. But of course Irfanview doesn’t permit thumbnail viewing of a complete photo directory or selecting photos by keyword. Updated (21-1-11): Irfanview does allow thumbnail viewing and batch adding of IPTC data. See comments below.
I’ll list the apps I looked at which for one reason or another, didn’t meet my criteria, generally because they stored keyword tags in a proprietary fashion if at all or had limited features in the free versions. I’ll just list the app names without links: Pictomio, Snapact Photo Manager, My Photo Index, Shotwell, Studioline Photo Basic 3, Album Burger, Inzomia Viewer 3, JetPhoto Studio 4.8, Pica Jet, iTag, Stoik Imagic 5, PhotoMeister, XnView and Fotobounce. Of these, iTag came closest but would only save up to 3 tags in a photo in the free version. I only had a quick look at all these so if you think they might be useful for keyword tagging drop a comment below.
So for me, Zoner Photo Studio stands out for tagging and photo management and my thanks to Raju at Technically Personal for blogging about it and drawing it to my attention although I’ve found that the Free edition is superior to the Xpress edition, particularly for keyword tagging. I’ve switched to Zoner from Faststone Image Viewer and am happily tagging all my photos there.
If I’ve misrepresented any photo management app or missed any and you think they might be suitable for photo tagging, please let me know in the comments. Do you tag your photos? How?
Update (27-10-10): Thanks to Steve in the comments who corrected me on two points. Picasa will do a tree view of folders and Irfanview does allow thumbnail viewing of directories. Nice to know.
Update (21-1-11): And Henk adds that IrfanView can also (batch) add IPTC tags to images selected in the thumbnail viewer. Check his comment below.