Desktop photo management software and photo tagging


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.

The winners

Of the packages I looked at, only two fulfilled all four criteria I’ve just listed: Zoner Photo Studio, and Windows Live Photo Gallery, while Picasa came close.

Zoner Photo Management

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.

The rest

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.

29 Responses

  1. Steve Makepeace Says:

    You can display images by directory structure in Picasa. ‘View – Folder View – Tree View’

    Also with Irfan View does allow viewing of thumbnails in a directory structure, simply press ‘t’ on the keyboard and it opens thumbnail viewer.

    I prefer Picasa because of it’s ease of use plus it can upload to many more locations (with plugins) than Zoner. Although Zoner has a far superior tagging system

  2. techandlife Says:

    Thanks for that Steve. I’ve updated the post.

  3. Henk Says:

    I’d like to add that that IrfanView can also (batch) add IPTC tags to images.
    Just select the files you want to tag in the Thumbnail viewer, then press Ctrl+I (or open the File-menu / the right-click context menu -> JPEG Lossless Operations -> Set IPTC data to selected files)

    Note: By default IrfanView is set to overwrite old tags with the new tags. If you want to append tags rather than replace, go to the final tab in the (batch)IPTC information window, and select “Append new text to old”

  4. techandlife Says:

    Thanks Henk. I’ve updated the post. There’s obviously more to Irfanview than I realised.

  5. Steve Says:

    Great article, and just what I’ve been looking for! I never anticipated what an absolute headache it would be trying to find good software that would enable me to give photos permanent, movable tags, etc. I have two questions, though, maybe you would be able to help? Firstly, I really like the idea of drawing boxes around faces to create people tags in WLPG (I presume this looks much like tagging in online Facebook-like situations?) – is this facility only available in WLPG and not in Zoner? As well as tags, I would like to physically add captions to photos (i.e. so they appear actually on the photos). Does either program offer a way of doing this automatically from the info you add to the tags/a way of batch captioning, or is either of the two programs a better performer in this respect?
    Thanks hugely both for your article and in advance for your help here – it is very much appreciated.

  6. Dirk Says:

    First: my English is not 100 ok… i’m from Belgium (Europe)
    But surely, thanks for this exellent information about tags. I’ve used iTag for 3 years, found it a great softw. tool, but now it’s not freeware anymore. (3 tags, is not enough) I wil give ‘Zoner’ a chance. But, i’m sure to pay for iTag, if ‘Zoner’ do not satisfy my tag-needs.
    Again, thanks for the clear & exellent information.

  7. len Says:

    I am using Kodak EasyShare. I provide a powerful user interface while relying on file system for tagging, so it can be used by other software.

  8. Fred Jones Says:

    I just tried it and am not thrilled with zoner.

    Looking at the zoner screen grab you have as a sample under “The Winner”:

    I assumed that long list on the left was the tags for the photo. It is not. It’s the menu for selecting tags.

    Your screen grab (used to show the winning tagger) does not display any tags!

    The actual tags would be below the text description under text information on the right.

    Because of the way tags are shoved into that box you don’t even get the complete tag just the first few characters.

    Very disappointing.

  9. techandlife Says:

    Fair enough. Would you like to suggest a good alternative?

  10. dlg Says:

    Zoner Photo Studio currently is still your favorite?
    It can make automatic backups (or sync) of only those photos which have specific keyword tag (keeping the folder structure)? Or there are other sw that you suggest?
    I would tag preferred photos and have a copy (automatically updated) only of them in my NAS folder.

  11. Stephen Says:

    Thanks for your review and suggestions in this area. It’s greatly appreciated. I am in search of a photo program that can change the EXIF (Date Taken) timestamp for a group of scanned photos. The feature would allow a time increment to be applied to each photo.

    Example: I have 60 photos selected. I select EXIF timestamp change for 3/22/2012 16:00:00 with a 1 minute increment. The first picture is changed to 3/22/2012 16:01:00 and the last picture is changed to 3/22/2012 17:00:00. I like using a minute so you can tell the change easily with any viewer especially one that does not display seconds.

    Have you run across any software with this feature?

    Thanks for you time and talent.

    Atlanta, GA

  12. techandlife Says:

    I had a look through the bookmarks I’ve tagged with EXIF but nothing stands out as a solution. Geosetter and jhead might be worth looking at.

    jhead: Fix date/time offsets in large batches of images


  13. robert Says:

    I like Zoner but how do you do photo tagging? There is nothing in the Zoner Help menu on tagging. Please advise.
    Thanks, robert

  14. techandlife Says:

    In Zoner, tags are called keywords. You should find info on this in the Help contents – search for keywords. Also, try Googling Zoner Keywords. Here’s a couple of links:

  15. Akis Says:

    Am i wrong,that after all these ways of tagging photos,still we cant see these tags on a simple windows explorer view,with checked of course all the details,and at the same time the slowest search of windows xp finds them???

  16. Anthony Malena Says:

    I am beyond frustrated with Google Picasa, after YEARS of use. There is too much that is undocumented, that doesn’t exist or work properly, and it is NOT intuitive to the extreme level I’m looking for. I’m not a computer newbie (in fact, the opposite). But can I figure out why, in my case (because I’m hearing some do NOT have my problems)….

    * I cannot turn on Sync on any folder and have it Publicly viewable in G+ (in fact, it won’t default to Public in PicasaWeb any more either!)

    * Face tags to NOT GO OUT regularly to PicasaWeb. They NEVER sync out after I’ve initially put out the folder (sic) album. And they NEVER go out on G+ versions of the folder/album (but maybe that’s fixed… if I could get tags to go out at ALL any more). I have tens of thousands of pics from my Band parent days, and I have tagged THOUSANDS of faces (only family and close friends). It’s all been futile.

    * Supposedly the new Tools–Options setting for Store Name Tag In Photo is exactly what I (we?) want, but… I don’t see it working. Does it NOT affect the tens of thousands of photos already tagged in my system?

    There is SO much more. I thought using Google’s product was great especially given the storage online and integration with it, but frankly, I’m very close to abandoning it. Their online HELP is woefully out of date (BAD example set by Google). Just lookup the Tools–Options help dialog. It references tabs that don’t exist any longer – just one of many examples).


  17. Luke Says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I didn’t know about built-into-file tagging but that will be VERY useful to me.

    It means I can work independently of folder structure when I move PC.


  18. Brent Says:

    Thank you for the review! After comparing the two products you recommended, I chose Zoner Photo Studio.

  19. Bandana Says:

    I have images in a folder and a list of keywords/tags that describes the images in a text file (one line of space delimited tags for each images). Can anyone suggest me how to automatically/programatically assign these dags to images in the folder.

  20. Luis Bonito Says:

    A post with lots of information about tagging photos.
    I agree that it is better to use a system that includes the tags in the file of the photo, because it remains independent of the program that you decide to use.
    Picasa, Capture, and many others like you refered do so.
    But windows 7, and newer, does it too!
    And allows you to search with operators AND OR NOT on the tags.

  21. Luis Bonito Says:

    On my previous comment I mean windows 7 file explorer.
    You can select the file explorer to show the tags, and change then also in a batch process.

  22. Max Says:

    For pure tagging software, Wikipedia has a useful comparison at

  23. Anna Says:

    Thank you very much for the article. Exactly what I need, too. I use Windows Live Photo Gallery right now, but I miss one crucial filter feature: show images NOT tagged ###.

    I tried digiKam, and it has very powerfull features, very good tagging an filters! The only downside is that it’s a Linux program and runs rather unstable and slow on my Windows machine….

  24. Arpad Says:

    If organizing what is most important to you, then Daminion could be your best choice.
    I’ve found that as the most sophisticated and most effective.
    Besides Daminion, you may have a look at digiKam (although it is not written directly for Windows OS), Pictomio and XnView.

  25. Deryck Says:

    Thank you, these are exactly my criteria too. I’ve been searching all day and kept coming across software that imported but didn’t tag.

  26. Jay Guenon Says:

    The holy grail: it would be most efficient to be able to tag photos at the time of shooting (or close do it) and have the tags stay with the picture. I have an iPhone and have been unable to find such a facility.

    I have been happy with Picasa.

    Windows only does the tag business in its “Libraries.”

  27. Jdonalds Says:

    Thanks for the work you did. I would wish for an update since this is four years old.

    I feel exactly the same way you do. I used Adobe Elements but had a disk crash. When I restored from a backup disk I lost ALL my tags because they were in the Adobe Elements database instead of in the photo files.

    I have over 50,000 photos, all tagged with the names of the people in the photo left-to-right.

    I’ve used Windows Explorer in Windows 7. It works great. But in Windows 8/8.1/10 Microsoft threw out all of the good features and published File Explorer.

    I’ll give Zoner a try.

  28. Rick Says:

    I downloaded Zoner, and it is all great EXCEPT it doesn’t have people tags, so if switching from Windows 7 media gallery you lose all your people tags (or rather, just can’t see them anymore – they are still in there, but hidden). Hard too belive but the software that came with Windows 7 was the best, and is still better than anything available to day. Huge opportunity for someone to basically replicate it for Windows 10.

  29. Rich Says:

    October 2016. Checked out Zoner but it is NOT free. Annual subscription of just under $100. Itag downloaded the free version and was hoping it would solve my tagging problems. Subscription is only $19 for lifetime upgrades, a great deal…except it keeps crashing. Haven’t got it to run yet. I miss Windows Live Photo Gallery. It just worked and was user friendly. Picasa works and is free but manages to make me mad every time I use it. Still looking for a workable satisfying solution. Good article though. thanks

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment. Please do not use keywords in the Name field. Comments must relate to the post topic. This website is here to help people, not for advertising purposes.

Please complete puzzle and then submit your comment *
Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

` `