Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Photo management software for genealogists

 Genealogists are no different than any other computer user who wants to store photos or scanned images on their computer system, but they may have a greater need to specifically identify the images. Fortunately, there are dozens of programs, some of which are free, that can help organize images. One issue that arises immediately is the need to maintain image associations. As one commentator wrote recently, she had an old picture album from a relative and wanted to maintain the relationship among the photos. I handle that problem in a number of ways.

When I scan a photo album, I scan the entire album page first to show how the photos were originally situated. Then I scan the individual photos or, depending on the quality, simply make multiple copies of the page and then crop each copy to each photo. By scanning or digitally photographing the entire page first, I maintain the overall relationship of the items in the physical album. In addition, I name the photos with a name that I use to represent the album. This keeps the photos together in one set.

Additionally, any number of image management programs maintain “albums” or collections of images in whatever order they are designated. There are several free programs, the most useful one being Google's Picasa. Picasa will search your hard drives for any images and then put them in order by date or file name. If I scan documents into a folder with a date, all of those images will appear in the same folder in Picasa. I can then view the images in the same order and with the same relationships as scanned or downloaded.

Depending on the scanning software you are using, you can scan the images directly into Picasa.

Apple's iPhoto has features similar to Picasa but is not quite as useful. The iPhoto program is available as a free download for both Macintosh and PC computers. A more expensive, but more full featured solution is Adobe's Bridge program. Bridge also shows all of the images on your hard drives, but in conjunction with Camera Raw and Photoshop, it contains an almost bewildering number of features and options. I use Bridge to add metadata to my photos. Metadata is a way of adding names and text to a document that will be permanently attached to the individual document. The metadata is not usually visible, but can be searched and viewed in a program like Adobe Bridge. One advantage of metadata is that when an image is uploaded to the Internet, the metadata goes with the image and may include copyright notifications.

Many digital cameras come with photo management software. I am most familiar with the software that comes with Canon cameras. However, I have never found the software to be particularly useful and have mostly ignored it. HP and Nikon also have programs. Adobe also has a less expensive program called Photoshop Elements. The newest version comes with a photo management program.

None of these programs presuppose that you would have to organize your photos on your computer in any particular fashion. If you date and name the download folder at the time the images are scanned or downloaded from a camera, they will already be available for further organization by means of the computer software.


  1. Being a more advanced user, I actually run a virtual linux machine on my main desktop specifically to use the great opensource (i.e., FREE) photo management package, digiKam ( ). Why? digiKam's ability to write metadata like who is in the photo, who took it, a general description, etc., directly into the file using open-standards tools.

    They're playing with face recognition, but they have a long way to go. (YAY, Picasa!) Anyway, it's a tool worth looking at, albeit not really for the basic user.

  2. Thank you. Where does Adobe Lightroom fit into this discussion.
    For secure storage and sorting I use when I can upload high res photos and *key* be able to download them at same resolution. I can have unlimited photo albums and unlimited photo storage for a pittance. I also can then create heritage albums and genealogy projects.

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  4. This SHOULD be a hot topic. No app is all that good in the market -- and non-existent for mobile devices. In 2006 I adopted SureThing Photo Pro - which is now incompatible with W7, but brilliantly output to disk and any website a bundled, portable, photo archive package, with SEARCH, captions, tags, sorts, etc. I don't see any genealogy app that can do that, but Picasa may come close, with the new advantage of face recog, and video files, plus free storage. I have nearly 2000 images scanned back to the mid 1800's, which need to be re-indexed by something fast, cheap and good! Whew. Any other options?