Managing Photographs

Volume 9, Issue 69; 16 Jul 2006; last modified 08 Oct 2010

What do you use to manage your digital photo collection?

The problem with ad hoc solutions is that they so often turn out to be odd hack solutions.

Michael Sperberg-McQueen

I do my best to keep my photo collection organized. I keep track of when photos were taken, I extract metadata from the photographs so that I could, in theory, perform interesting queries, I often (but not often enough) add information about where they were taken, what event they document, who's in them, etc.

But my best isn't really good enough. Plus, I've got on the order of ten thousand photographs that, for all intents and purposes, have no meaningful metadata. Adding that metadata with any efficiency is going to require application help.

I'm not the only one with this problem. What do you do about it?

I'm sure there are lots more Windows options (and Mac options, I suppose) than there are Linux ones. Yeah, well, I'm still not giving up my Linux box, thank you very much.

I just tried F-spot, which I think has a lot of potential, but it seems to sort images based on the date/time stamp of the file, not the EXIF date/time stamp and it didn't handle my raw images. (And where does it store it's data, anyway?)

I wonder if this is the rails application I need to write? Or maybe the lazy web will come to my rescue.


I'm in a Windows box using XnView, an app that allows me to edit IPTC metadata, particularly keywords, caption and description. IPTC plus EXIF seems quite powerful to me. I don't know of any app like this in Linux, but I'm sure you'll find a good one.

—Posted by inkel on 17 Jul 2006 @ 04:11 UTC #

Some time ago I mocked up a prototype of something that never took off --- I still use the prototype...

See e.g. an example with two of your pub signs.

It has the advantage of "knowing" what I've previously annotated with, i.e. the concepts I've seen and the people I've met.

—Posted by Morten Frederiksen on 17 Jul 2006 @ 07:35 UTC #

Yes, Morten, that's the sort of thing I'm thinking about at the moment. Only on a local web server and with thumbnails, baked rather than fried.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 17 Jul 2006 @ 11:42 UTC #

I played around with one of, these, when I get the time I want to do some RDF organization with the ideas contained by both of these guys:

The latter has a nice mixture of using FOAF and RDF versions of Wordnet Enjoy!

—Posted by David Harris on 17 Jul 2006 @ 03:00 UTC #

What works for me is storing the photos in a date-based directory tree so every image file ends up with a path of the form:


I wrote a Python script to read the "date taken" EXIF field and copy the file to the appropriate directory. Sometimes (if I'm not feeling lazy), I will use gthumb to add comments to the photos. I should actually say "associate" rather than "add" as gthumb stores the comment in a separate file. BTW, I have started playing with F-Spot and it normally stores its metadata in an SQLite database, ~/.gnome2/f-spot/photos.db. I believe it can be configured to add metadata as an IPTC header.

While I'm usually too lazy to add metadata, I find that date-based storage system is usually sufficient to find a photo when I'm looking for it.

—Posted by mike on 17 Jul 2006 @ 03:55 UTC #

Weird, i just started trying to tackle this problem last night. I've decided to try digiKam out (as per Mark's suggestion). It has an external, SQLite db that i can play with. So far so good.

—Posted by Brian on 17 Jul 2006 @ 07:20 UTC #

The same question happens so many times in weblogs and discussion, that it would be really worthwhile to create a *very* simple *public* API for photos album. A kind of local flickr for those who wants.

—Posted by karl on 18 Jul 2006 @ 01:28 UTC #

I find that Phil Harvey's exiftool (perl script) is great for manipulating EXIF and IPTC information, and I've been using Picasa on both linux and Windows for viewing and browsing -- the beta windows version from can geocode photos and ties in with googleearth.

—Posted by Adrian on 19 Jul 2006 @ 06:54 UTC #

On my linux box I used kimdaba (now known as kphotoalbum), which is pretty cool. You can annotate with people, location and keywords... it stores the annotations in xml which could be rdf'ized quite easily.

Alas, I now use a mac and although theoretically possible i've not tried to compile kphotoalbum here, so i'm stuck with iphoto, which is just about jusable if you add keyword assistant...

I also started my own annotation tool a while ago, but I stopped when my colleague asked me if I was going to write a text-editor afterwards... (PySwim:

—Posted by Gunnar Aastrand Grimnes on 19 Jul 2006 @ 12:38 UTC #

I was looking for something similar a couple months ago. There are skads of packages for creating an album for display, far fewer for cataloging. But I stumbled upon zoph last week which looks pretty good; I'm going to give it a try.

—Posted by Michael Winslow on 20 Jul 2006 @ 10:35 UTC #

I think a great solution is to use XMP to embed RDF into the image. See That way all the metadata (description, tags, etc) can be embedded into the file and stays with the file.

Unfortunately, I haven't found any open source and/or linux tools that let you work with XMP nor any photo gallery software that uses it.

—Posted by Dave Brondsema on 21 Jul 2006 @ 12:44 UTC #

XMP, All softwares from Adobe are using the data. Flickr uses them to automatically put the description, keywords (tags), title, etc.



list of codes

perl module to parse XMP

Python module

—Posted by karl on 22 Jul 2006 @ 02:04 UTC #

have you tried ?

—Posted by stephen on 29 Aug 2006 @ 12:19 UTC #

Mapivi ( is an open-source and cross-platform (UNIX, Mac OS X and Windows) picture manager. You may add, edit and search keywords, location, caption, headline, rating etc. All information will be stored in the picture itself (IPTC, EXIF or JPEG comment) and a small database to enable fast searches. You may combine Mapivi with any other picture tool supporting the IPTC standard; you're not bound to use it forever. Mapivi will work with any picture folder structure (no need to import your pictures).

Regards Martin

—Posted by Martin on 22 Nov 2006 @ 09:17 UTC #

XnView is the best solution as far as I checked. It's not GPL, just freeware. But works better and faster than mapivi for example. It doesn't know any XMP. And it is quite cross-platform. There is an older version compiled as Linux native, but I say use the Windows version with Wine - a few glitches, but not crashes. Doesn't know catalogues either or uploading, but it has a nice HTML/webpage export which is quite flexible.

—Posted by Sidd on 28 Jan 2007 @ 08:19 UTC #

What about JAlbum ( It's written in Java and it comes with a GUI. It supports EXIF (default option), IPTC and XP data.

—Posted by Javad K. Heshmati on 12 Feb 2007 @ 10:31 UTC #