The perfect photo software – (hint: I haven’t found it yet)

In trying to transfer my pictures from my camera to my computer and then, for some images, to flickr there are several challenges.

First, I want my pictures to remain organized in some fashion so that I can work with them at the file/folder level and still easily figure out what pictures belong where.

For example, all my photographs are in a folder called “Photo Album”. Under this there are folders representing each year (2001, 2002, etc.) and under these are the actual image folders with dates. I want my pictures consolidated somewhat so I actually use the date the pictures were downloaded (or the date of the last picture taken) to group them together (i.e. 20080615 – Marc’s Birthday Party). This has worked very well for me for the past decade.

Second, I access my pictures using several different kinds of software, some more sophisticated than others, and I want the images to be in the correct orientation in all of them. Pictures taken in a portrait mode need to show up as portrait and those taken landscape need to show up as landscape.
In the earlier digital days, before I had a camera that recorded this information in the EXIF orientation tag, it was all manual and I rotated the pictures after I downloaded them manually using IRFANVIEW, Picasa or, more recently, Windows Life Photo Gallery.
Now that I’ve acquired a Nikon D60 that writes out the EXIF orientation tag, I find that some software honors the tag and some doesn’t. Windows Live Photo Gallery for some idiotic reason doesn’t. Screen-Paver, easily my most used application if you consider how many hours a day and how many pictures I view with it, also doesn’t recognize EXIF orientation tags. So the images end up sideways in the forum where I, and others, are most likely to be viewing them.

Third, I tag my pictures. Sometimes I tag with situations, but mostly with the names of people found within them. I have found this invaluable over the years and can quickly find pictures of people that I have across my collection in seconds.

So I’m trying to pick my way through the software available to accomplish the above. Ideally I’d like to use ONE piece of software and use it for everything but each application has great strengths and great flaws. As of this writing I *don’t* have a simple solution but I wanted to lay out the issues and see if any ideas jump out. If anybody happens to read this and gets some ideas for themselves, that’s a bonus. Heck, if anybody can jump in and offer some solutions or software that would address some of the issues, that would be an even better bonus!

Here is what I have available to me at the moment and why:


This is the default image viewing software on any PC that I use.


  • Freeware
  • Very robust, ability to view pretty much any picture format,
  • Walks through directories of images easily,
  • Can do basic manipulations,
  • Can do batch manipulations.


  • Can’t do batch rotations based on EXIF Orientation data,
  • Keyword updates (EXIF and IPTC) are awkward, must drill down through menus to get to these,
  • EXIF information appears to be incomplete – can’t see descriptive keywords at all.

Windows Live Photo Gallery:

This is my primary organization / labeling / bulk viewing tool on my main PCs


  • Freeware,
  • Superior tag manipulation ability (tags are intelligently suggested and can easily be updated on the right hand side of the screen, no drill down required),
  • Integrated flickr upload tool (after installing the flickr tool),
  • Excellent red-eye correction. The best I’ve come across so far,
  • Will optionally auto-rotate images on import (permanently rotates them).


  • Does not honor EXIF orientation on existing images – so portrait images remain in landscape orientation if they were imported by another application,
  • Does not initiate update of IPTC keywords (but will maintain them if they already exist),
  • Updating description info (used as caption in flickr) is cumbersome and only accessible via image properties dialog. Uses “Title” attribute for this purpose so that your flickr “title” is actually the image filename and the Windows Live Photo Gallery “title” becomes the description (caption) in flickr.


I use this software to easily add Title and Caption information to pictures that I want to upload to flickr. The advantage of adding this information via iTAG rather than on flickr or using the flickr Uploader tool is that the information remains a permanent part of the images files for future reference.
I started using it primarily for its ability to initiate/maintain use of IPTC keyword tags where Windows Live Photo Gallery was falling down.


  • Freeware,
  • Easy to manipulate Title and Description information (that will be used by flickr). You can easily and quickly see what is set for each image on the left hand side,
  • Recognizes existing EXIF keyword tags and will save both EXIF and IPTC Keyword tags.


  • A little rough around the edges – frequently need to restart to review another folder,
  • “Tag Bucket” consists only of those tags available from the currently shown images – making consistency in spelling, capitalization, pluralization and just naming somewhat challenging,
  • Completely dynamic, rebuilds thumbnails and any other ordinarily “catalog” information each time you access a folder which can be a little slow,
  • Need to explicitly save any changes you make – so making a change and then using an image in another application won’t have the expected updates. Unusual for tags (which update immediately in any other app I’ve used).

flickr Uploader:

I like being able to review all the images and, if necessary, assign them to different sets and assign different levels of access BEFORE initiating my upload.


  • Freeware,
  • Can create new sets, multiple ones if necessary, as part of a larger upload,
  • Can clearly see titles, descriptions, tags and permissions before upload.


  • Doesn’t recognize EXIF keyword tags.


I used this for quite a while before shifting to Windows Live Photo Gallery. I have not used the most recent version (have not used since October 2007)


  • Freeware,
  • Google product (I’m a big Google fan),
  • Easy to use, relatively fast,
  • Redeye correction was the reason I started using Picasa in the first place. It’s very good but the Windows Live Photo Gallery redeye correction is better IMHO.


  • Keywords were somewhat cumbersome to maintain – separate dialog required,
  • Not integrated with flickr.

Screen Paver:

I have been using this as my screensaver for YEARS. Not so much because I believe that my screens will burn in – the new technologies are not so prone to this – but because I absolutely love having my image collection displaying all the time. My main computer is in my kitchen so having my photo album displaying while we have guests over is a great source of conversation. But I love seeing images from old trips or adventures popping up throughout the day when I’m walking past my computer to get a glass of water.
I’ve been using Screen Paver since my Win95 days and have yet to find anything that can rival it in robustness and utility.
The Google Photos screensaver just doesn’t work how I want (can’t select all my folders, can’t pause or go forward or backward through images at will).
The Windows Live Photo Gallery screensaver simply doesn’t work on my machine (can only select a single folder, screen goes black and nothing ever shows up on it).
I’ve tried others through the years and they always crash or are too limited.


  • Very inexpensive ($13),
  • Always works,
  • Can select multiple folders,
  • Option to automatically pull in contents of all sub folders,
  • Can optionally play music (I never use this function),
  • Can disable all those annoying transition effects,
  • Can pause, jump back or move forward through images,
  • I have over 10,000 images in the folders that Screen Paver goes through and it has no problem with this,
  • You can configure it to display path and filename on the screen (which I do) so I can quickly find interesting items that show up on the screen,
  • Multi-Monitor support (as of 4.4b images are sized correctly on both).


  • Does not recognize EXIF Orientation flag,
  • While it supports multi-monitors, same image is shown on both.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6:

This is a new product for me. I’ve only had it for a week so far and I have to say I find it very confusing.
My experience with Photoshop years ago (needed it for a small project) was similar. I think I’m going to find the editor useful but the organizer appears to be nearly unusable.


  • Aggressive and robust photo collection – No hesitation trying to grab images from your camera,
  • Healing tool(s) and the very, very few tools I’ve figured out so far are staggeringly good,
  • Ability to rename photos on import has some potential.


  • VERY steep learning curve for all aspects of this product
  • Automated redeye reduction is terrible, leaves black eyes on most of the images touched,
  • Ordinary redeye reduction does not hold a candle to Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery’s,
  • Tries to get photos from EVERYTHING that connects to it (even wants to grab them off my iPod while I’m syncing with iTunes). I can see that there are profiles associated with this behavior but, as with anything else I’ve tried with Photoshop Elements, it’s going to require 45 minutes of research to figure out how to set this up,
  • Adding keyword tags is pretty obtuse, there may be simpler ways to do it than I’ve tried but so far it’s much more manual than it needs to be,
  • Renaming of photos on import from camera has option to name them with dates and then a counter. But stupidly counter doesn’t reset for each date so you can have 20080605_0001, 20080605_0002, 20080609_0003 etc. (where the 0003 should logically be 0001). Again, maybe something I’m missing but I *did* spend a little time on this as my base organization is important to me and I wasn’t able to make this work to my satisfaction.
  • I still haven’t figured out how to refresh the current view. If I delete images at the OS level or with another application, Photoshop Elements still shows it (’cause it’s in its catalog) but lets you know it can’t find the physical file. If the file is gone, please stop showing the picture to me.

Nikon Transfer (sorry no link that I can find to this software):

This came with my Nikon and allows me to import my photos and, optionally, add some information to them.


  • Free (with the purchase of the camera presumably)


  • Does not save IPTC info
  • Does not rotate images on import (con for me, anyway)

So, in looking at the above, it looks like my strategy is going to be:

  • Import photos from camera using Windows Live Photo Gallery so that the images will be properly rotated and saved in the correct orientation so ALL other software can take advantage of this.
  • Use Windows Live Photo Gallery to preview all images to discard bad or blurry images off hand
  • Use iTag to “Touch” all images with a dummy Keyword tag – maybe I’ll just put a “Taken by Marc Bourassa” tag or something generic on all images just to initiate IPTC Keyword tags.
  • Use iTag to compose any Title and Description information
  • For quick, one-off uploads to flickr I’ll use the integrated publishing tool in Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • For more extensive uploads I’ll go with the flickr Uploader.
  • Simple image editing will be done with Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • More extensive editing will be done with Photoshop Elements. I’m looking forward to using this product but Adobe REALLY needs to steal some folks away from Apple so they can learn about interface design…
  • Most viewing at home will continue to be done using Screen Paver as it keeps my old memories alive.
  • For quickly viewing new images downloaded from email or that I come across in folders, Irfanview is the way to go.

4 thoughts on “The perfect photo software – (hint: I haven’t found it yet)”

  1. Hey Marc, Cool site btw. I stumbled across it earlier today and have enjoyed reading through it.

    Being an avid photographer of no note at all, I too have been in search of the perfect software package. I will add two more to your list thou neither meets the goal.
    Thumbs Plus is one I’ve used for years and have had great luck with. It always had batch support for any feature within the product, from renaming, to resizing or colour corrections. Unfortunately it isn’t free.
    FastStone Viewer is a new member of my toolkit and is quickly replacing Thumbs Plus. It has many nice features and support for many camera’s RAW formats and the price is right. (included the link above)

    I hope this helps in some way in your quest.

  2. Hey Iain,

    Thanks for popping by. I took a look at the FastStone site and it looks interesting. I’ve got a bunch of pictures that I need to process so I think I’ll grab it and put it through its paces.

    It’s hard to move from a trusted tool to a new one, even when you intellectually know that the new tools are probably superior…

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