database programs

Cleaning up the Digital Clutter - How to organize & utilize your digital images

Text and photos by the “PhotoGuru”, Sean Arbabi


The digital camera has definitely revolutionized the photography industry.  Per a number of studies, 70% of US households owned at least one by 2007, and the old phrase of “everyone’s a comedian” has morphed into “everyone’s a photographer”.  But the one universal aspect of the design that at first was a selling point, “email your photos, share them online and view them on your computer!” has created another dilemma.

“Now I have time, and the instant joy, of shooting hundreds if not thousands of images, but how can I organize them easily to search through, view, make prints, and reference when I need to?  How do I find the ones I want to email or show (as actual prints) to my friends and family?”. 

Through the necessity of keeping over 250,000 images in our files well organized (the current size of my photographic library), I have been forced to find methods to solve this problem, and to date have learned and used a few computer programs (or “applications”) to facilitate this predicament. I review some of these in this column, along with a few other image database applications, that will give you a start in solving your own potential quandary.


First off, there are a few things you may want to look for, and consider asking yourself, when it comes to organizing your photos:

1) Is ease of use, time, effort, and a small learning curve important to me when it comes to using an image database application?

2) How involved do I want to get in organizing my photos, how many images I have, and how many do I think I’ll want to store in years to come?

3) What platform do I use, Mac or PC based, and is my computer compatible with the program I would like to use?

4) What do I want to do with my photos after I organize them?

5) And finally, how can I solve world peace while watching Survivor?

What I like about organizing my personal photos is the variety of ways I can use them; whether I just want to print some of the best ones to frame throughout my home, or print a collection to create an album or calendar such as “Our 2006 Tahoe Vacation”, group a number of images to create a family webpage to share, or even take a selection and create a quick slideshow with music to play on our television during my daughter’s birthday party.  Since most of these programs organize the photos by date, title, and other specifications, all I have to do is input new images from my flash card, mark some of the best shots to use or print in the near future, and once in a while create new folders grouping images in the way I want (by vacation, family function, event, child name, year, etc).


Part of Apple’s flagship application for family media, iLife ’09’s software package (retailing for $79) includes iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie HD, iTunes, Garage Band, and iWeb.  All five applications are great on their own, but the brilliance that is Apple configured the package for all to work seamlessly together if desired.  With iLife, you can create slide shows, photo albums, movies, websites, music, then take each and incorporate them into a DVD if you wish (I created a DVD of my second daughter’s birth, complete with music, a menu of options that included a poem, a slide show of her first six months, and a video of her birth - avoiding the graphic rated “R” scenes of course!).  The latest version also offers podcasting and blogging, but let us not get ahead of cutting-edge creative selves just yet.

iPhoto on its own is a simple consumer image database program in which you can import, sort, arrange, share, and print your photos. It is great for organizing your images and can store thousands quickly and efficiently in one location on your computer (Apple claims the program can support up to 250,000 images).  I have over 10,000 images in iPhoto dating back to 2002 I use for fast referencing, workshop and lecture slide shows, personal emails, and as a backup of my original images (since iPhoto makes a copy of the images you import and stores them in another location on your computer’s hard drive). What I like about the application is every option is easy to find and figure out, there is a small learning curve, and it is not only simple but also extremely functional.  It is what we call in computer language to be “user friendly”, again another Apple trademark.  The ingenious design also allows you to order albums, cards, calendars, and books, with various themes and layouts to choose from, whether you chose one image or a series of photos.  There is even an “email” button which takes any photo you select and sizes it down to send in an email message.  What iPhoto isn’t good for is for those who wish to categorize their images in numerous ways with much more detail, cross-referencing capabilities, and caption information for each photo.  Although the new version offers “full-screen editing” it should not be mistaken for programs like Photoshop for editing or manipulating your images (adjusting the color, size, type of image file, etc).  It does have limited editing capabilities such as cropping, red-eye removal, re-sizing, effects such as black & white or sepia toning, and image rotation, but this is not the program’s forte.  It is however my favorite consumer-based image database program I would highly recommend for any Mac user; unfortunately it is not offered to PC-based customers as of yet.


An application available for both Mac and PC platforms is iView Media 3.0 ($45) or iView MediaPro 3.0 ($185), Microsoft’s version of an image “cataloging solution” for amateurs or pros alike.  iView works slightly different that iPhoto.  With the motto “the visual database for all your media files”, it allows you to manage thousands of photos regardless of where they
are located or saved in your computer (since the program doesn’t make copies of your images but instead finds the original files to deal with).  Although this saves hard drive space (where iPhoto makes copies of every image that is imported into the program) I would highly suggest you always back up all of your image files since photographs are often of most sentimental value.  Both regular and pro versions of iView Media can store images, movies, and sounds, and allows you to organize, edit, search, and annotate them in a detailed fashion. You can also review a preview of the original in the program, which saves you time opening the photo (if the original is a large file).  iView Media is a light version of iView Media Pro which is similar to Extensis Portfolio (reviewed below), and both Pro and Portfolio more extensive that iPhoto.  Another feature of the program is its support of more than 100 different file formats regardless of the type of digital camera you shoot with, or the way you save your files (whether as RAW images, TIFF files, JPEG, DNG, etc.).  Don’t understand the difference between image files? Not to worry, just know iView probably supports yours.  And if you want to organize your photos with more information, captions, and just have a PC computer, iView Media and MediaPro may be the way to go.


Built for the image and design professionals, Portfolio ($199 for the Mac or PC) acts as a souped-up version of iView or

iPhoto, without the consumer bells and whistles such as printable calendars or cards.  Although I use iPhoto for personal use and an occasional workshop slide show, Portfolio is the program I utilize in my business for the thousands of images compiled in my twenty-year career.   Extensis calls it “Creative Asset Management” (hence the professional approach) but we can simply call it “organizing our digital photos with the fullest of capabilities”.  I have used this program through numerous versions and believe in its flexibility, stability, and quality.  If you plan to manage and sort your photographs using a powerful program that lets you create low-resolution proofs, embed critical metadata, and batch-download capabilities through its NetPublish feature, this is the one to get.  Have a lost you yet?  If so, just know Extensis Portfolio is a great program probably more apt for the advanced amateur or professional, but with the easy-of-use for beginners as well.


Primasoft’s answer to iPhoto or iView Media, Photo Picture Organizer Deluxe retails at $65 and is only available for Windows or PC platforms.  Catered towards novices with an easy “ready-to-use” interface, you can manage all of your digital images through a choice of four templates (Picture Organizer Basic, Picture Organizer Detailed, Multimedia Organizer, and other Ready-to-use templates).  You can add as much, or little, information you chose to each stored photo, and view the database visually, through the text notes you have added (i.e. Grandma’s 70th birthday, July 2006), or by title and camera information (such as date it was taken, exposure, type of camera).  Picture Organizes also permits you to create photo albums, websites, and documents using your images.  Although it is a solid program, I would probably lean towards iView Media if you are a PC or Windows user, since iView not only seems to be a little easier to understand and control, but also runs under the Microsoft blanket, in which case you have a better chance of buying updated versions in the future (when it comes to choosing software to use, I often buy from larger companies having more of a guarantee the program will be on the market for years to come).


Although there are many other options in image database programs on the market not reviewed such as iMatch ( or Canto’s Cumulus (, the PhotoGuru does believe the ones in this article will give you a good start to photo organizing success.  Remember, why shoot an image if you can’t use it, display it, print it, mail it, email it, or just plain brag about it in various forms?

SIDE BAR: Portable slideshows/ My database/ Company contacts

Photo database on the go: My iPhone (which I love more than life itself) not only stores part of my 4000 song library (has over 1500 songs on my phone), my entire daily schedule and to do list, over 900 contact n
ames of family friends and colleagues, but also contains and displays 4000 photos and dozens of slide shows (from Apple’s seamless connection of iTunes with iPhoto). 

Similar to iPods, I can use my iPhone as a backup storage device when I teach workshops, but the slide shows with music are also nice to share with family and friends (when connected to a television or LCD projector). 

With one click of the “update iPod” or “sync iPhone” button in iTunes, my most recent photos are added to my iPhone as well as offering a choice of any one of my albums.  By connecting it to my television through the RCA cable Apple provides, I can select a slide show or group of images (gathered in iPhoto), match them up to a song selection, and run a continuous slide show for guests anytime we have a birthday party, family function, or gathering of friends.

By the way, with all that is in my iPhone, I still have over 1 Gigabyte of space left in it- you can even have more space if you use an iPod.

Reviewing my database online:

If you want to see how I have organized some of my travel images, go to our website, click on our “Image Search” section where you can review over 10,000 images by geographic location- just one way of how I have organized a selection of my photographs.

On the web: (Apple Computer’s iLife webpage) (iView Media and iView MediaPro) (Extensis) (PrimaSoft’s Photo Picture Organizer Deluxe) (this article on PhotoGuru)

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To re-publish this article, please contact Sean Arbabi @ 925 855 8060, or email

Title: Cleaning up the Digital Clutter

Subtitle: How to organize & utilize your digital images

Author: Text, photos, copyright by the “PhotoGuru”, Sean Arbabi / Arbabi Imagery

Words: 1959 (2200 words with the side bar)


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