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 (s aapl) Aperture or Adobe’s (s adbe) 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.
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.
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.
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.