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Summary:

iPhoto is OK, especially if you like lots of automation when managing your image files, but it’s not as likely to appeal to pros or serious amateurs. Some will use Apple’s Aperture or Adobe’s Lightroom, but there’s another photo management solution you may already have on […]

BridgeiPhoto is OK, especially if you like lots of automation when managing your image files, but it’s not as likely to appeal to pros or serious amateurs. Some will use Apple’s Aperture or Adobe’s Lightroom, but there’s another photo management solution you may already have on your hard drive.

I’m talking about Adobe’s Bridge utility, a photo file browser bundled with CS3 and CS4, and in a slightly feature-reduced version, with Photoshop Elements 6 (PSE). I prefer Bridge’s more manual control and configuration options to iPhoto’s automation of how you browse, organize, delete, search, view, edit, and apply metadata to your image files.

bridgedefUI

Photoshop is too expensive for most, but its consumer version, Photoshop Elements, retains much of the power and functionality of the full version at a relatively low price. The Bridge version Mac PSE users get lacks only a few esoteric bits, like the “meetings” feature that supports project collaboration and the ability to apply camera RAW settings to groups of photos or to access the RAW converter directly.

When you access the Bridge from PSE (File Menu — “Browse With Bridge”), the Elements interface hides and the Bridge interface appears, allowing you to display folder icons or content thumbnails. Six interface layouts are available, with several panels — called Workspaces — that help you find and preview photos, review associated metadata, and so on. You can use the predefined panels, or create your own custom Workspace.

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Another Bridge feature, “Stacks,” organizes your photos into stacks of images. It lets you keep each series of photos in a single spot in Bridge, making it easier and faster to find the ones you want. Bridge also lets you apply keywords to help organize photos in growing photo libraries. In the Keywords panel you can create and assign terms to photos, allowing you to instantly filter your library.

There’s also Collections, which allows you to save groups of photos for quick access, or to gather shots you want to use in a project. For example, if you have several cameras, you can segregate your library based on the camera used by organizing the photos from each into different collections.

Note that, unlike in iPhoto, when you move or delete a file in Bridge, you’re editing or disposing of the original copy. Bridge doesn’t keep backups, as it is purely a browser for finding and organizing files — one of the reasons I, being manual control-oriented, prefer it. Bridge is not a busybody app that second-guesses you.

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Recently, a reader with a photography business asked my advice on a good Mac-based photo management system. His requirements included the ability to add the files’ EXIF to his contact info, details on where and why the picture was taken, copyright info, and keywords searchable by various image galleries he uses. He also wanted a tool that would leave his directory structure intact. Sounded like a job for Bridge.

The reader said he’d owned almost every version of Photoshop, from 5 to CS3, and checked out Bridge when it was first introduced, finding it slow and clunky, but would give it another try. He reported back that the current version is much better, adding that my suggestion might have just saved him hours of tedious organizing.

If you already have Photoshop CS3 or Elements 6, it’s worth taking a look at Bridge. If you don’t have one of those apps, Photoshop Elements at $89.95 has to be one of the greatest-ever software bargains, and inclusion of Bridge in version 6 is the icing on the cake.

  1. This is the CS3 version :P. Believe me, it is worth to use the CS4 one if you have the chance. Unfortunately it is at least bundled with Photoshop. The reason is, that Photoshop needs something to manage grafics like Lightroom do natively. From this point of view you can compare the Photoshop+Bridge Bundle with Lightroom or Aperture (if you overlook the feature set). And here’s the point: You can’t see Bridge as a standalone app because it isn’t.

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  2. Great article, and I couldn’t agree more. Bridge is a fantastic piece of software, I actually use it as my default file management utility. (Sorry, but I hate the finder. And no, it’s not me, it’s a crappy application.) I hadn’t realised that it was available through Photoshop elements. The $89 is almost worth it for Bridge by itself.

    Anyway … that’s not actually the purpose of this comment. In the example above, you might be better off guiding a semi-professional toward a professional photo management package. Adobe Lightroom will meet this particular gentlmen’s needs and requirements, and it isn’t really that much more expensive than a copy of elements. But in terms of power, you get a great deal more with Lightroom. It’s much faster and far more efficient for very large numbers of photos than Bridge alone.

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  3. Personally I hate Adobe “Bridge” and it’s one of the main reasons I’m switching away from Adobe software in general. Adobe Bridge is really only there so as to sell you Adobe pictures online, it’s use as a picture browser on the desktop is an afterthought.

    Trying to remove Adboe Bridge from Adobe CS suite will 9 times out of 10 result in a completely broken installation of the suite, which is typical for Adobe’s software efforts, but so unnecessary it begs the question of whether or not it’s really included for the consumer or for the manufacturers and sellers of the CS suite and the online pictures they are pushing.

    Massive “suites,” of software are so last century, and so opposed to actually getting anything done for the average consumer that I can’t believe anyone is still advocating this kind of thing today. Adobe has made the same mistake Microsoft has made in tailoring their software to a corporate market and to creative organisations that need the “one-stop” solution of the suite. The average end user and consumer is poorly served by such software which is always more expensive, more proprietary, more complicated, and harder to use than it needs to be.

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    1. Adobe hasn’t sold pictures through Bridge since January of ’09. Not installing it as part of the Creative Suite is as simple as clicking a check box in the installer – I’ve done so on two laptops where I didn’t need it and had no problems at all.

      Bridge being a completely separate application, I’m not sure why its simple existence would cause you to seek out replacements for Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and Dreamweaver simply because you don’t like Bridge.

      Is it **possible** that you’re exaggerating just a bit here, and simply choose not to use Bridge? C’mon, possible?

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    2. Reply to James Dempsey:

      Un-checking that checkbox just gives you the *appearance* of not installing Bridge. If you check you will find out it’s installed anyway. If you actually go find the file and delete it off your system,(what I did), it will in fact screw up your whole “suite.”

      This is only one small reason why I am moving away from Adobe products. I’ve been using most of these products on a daily basis since the early 90′s as well as their main competitors (before Adobe finished them off), so I think I know a little of what I speak.

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    3. Gazoobee, Bridge back in the CS days did truly suck. It’s not bad in CS4 (not sure about CS3) and the image purchasing feature is completely gone, now.

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  4. Ken Burns Effect Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    I will not buy Adobe, they are scratched!

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  5. Good article.

    Bridge is a VERY powerful piece of software. However, it’s just like any other application. You have to like it’s workflow. I can’t stand it. It does make for a good image browser, and it has great tools for sorting through lots of images, renaming, etc… But until the layout/workflow change, I can’t dedicate my time to using it.

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  6. Bridge is the weird uncle of the Creative Suite family. I just cannot seem to get on with it. I have no idea why, it just seems so uninviting. There seems to be lots of brilliant features just desperately wanting to be found and utilised. Much like most of adobe stuff much of the functionality seems wasted on 80% of the users… which is a shame really..

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  7. Funny:
    The windows version is buggy and unstable as he**.

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  8. Gazoobee, Bridge back in the CS days did truly suck. It’s not bad in CS4 (not sure about CS3) and the image purchasing feature is completely gone, now.

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  9. Mr. Moore, I haven’t even read the article but wanted to comment before I did so because I find it laughable that you would recommend ANY Adobe product. Let me also be clear: I don’t care for iPhoto THAT much – it leaves much to be desired in terms of organizing, sharing and storing/backing up; however, the abysmal Adobe Bridge is the quirkiest, buggiest POS software I have EVER encountered in my life. And I use it on PC at work, and Mac at home. Garbage. Shame on you :)

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  10. I find Bridge pretty easy to use (CS3) and very helpful. My problem is that it is designed to manage the entire collection of files on the machine. It bogs down with a terabyte or so, and becomes unusable for me. I’m switching to Lightroom, with many of the same features but designed to limit attention to only those files that have been catalogued; avoiding any performance barrier.

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