We have too many photographs! I’d like to get them under control so that we can enjoy them now and preserve them for the future.

We have a dozen albums and a couple of big boxes of old negatives and prints, including some that I developed myself and a few old family photographs that go back to the 1940s. We’ve been taking digital photos for nearly a decade and my photo directory holds over 12,000 items already. On top of all of this, I also have hours and hours of digital video which I’d like to eventually fold into the same management scheme as the rest.

In order to get these in order, I would like to digitize everything. Eventually, I’ll buy or use a scanner for negatives and prints. In the meantime, I want to organize the photos that are already in digital form. That means using a photo manager. I’ve done a little research and there appear to be several options worth considering.

Right now I store everything in a carefully-designed folder hierarchy. All the image files are in folders by batch — each group I upload from a camera is placed in raw form in a folder named by the date I uploaded and a tag for subject matter when the pictures are all similar (e.g. 2007-01-13_kevin_birthday). I avoid spaces in the names and always use YYYY-MM-DD for the date format to ensure that the folders sort correctly. This works well to organize and store the photos, but it isn’t easy to browse or manipulate them. When I want a cropped or renamed version of an image, I save it under a new name and new location to ensure that the raw images are preserved. Over the years, I’ve ended up with some duplicate image folders which I’d like to purge, but I need some tools to help do so. I group the image folders in higher level folders by year (YYYY). This way I can archive each year and back it up without having to worry that the folder contents will ever change. This method meets my basic needs, but I really want something that will allow me to add metadata, manage versions of each image as required, and browse easily.

In fact, what I want is a system very much like what rhythmbox and other tools give me for managing my audio collection. I’d like to keep my directory system for raw photos, store tag data inside the image files themselves, and use a front-end application to browse images using the metadata. I don’t want to be locked into anything so that I can change front-end application at any time in the future. It would also be great to be able to sync some or all of my photo collection with a data store on the web such as flickr, picasa, or other. Oh, and I should be able to do non-destructive editing of the images using the Gimp (or at least in a way that is compatible with the Gimp).

What else do I want? It would be nice to have simple one-click options to correct basic image errors like red-eye and bad contrast. The application should be open source unless I have no other choice.

The options I’ve discovered so far include the default f-spot photo manager which is installed with Ubuntu, the KDE application digicam, and Google’s picasa. There are certainly others out there, but these three seem to be the most popular and robust. I will try them out and report back.