Choosing Image Management Software

Looking for a better way to caption and organize family photos? Choosing image management software is a key step to getting organized.

Do you have the right tools to add names, dates, and places to
family gathering photographs or complex documents like wills? Read on if you’re looking for a better way.

My good friend and fellow genealogist Judy Webster has started the new year with some resolutions about organizing her research using a “source-based incremental fix,” rather than a giant do-over approach. Makes sense to me!

One of her steps is choosing image management software to better organize her family photos. This is an essential step, and one that I cover in more detail in my e-book, Cataloging Family Photographs & Records. Being able to insert searchable information inside digital photographs is incredibly helpful.
So let’s take a look in this blog post at some of the software options.

Image management software features:

  • Create high-resolution master scans
  • Edit photos to resize, crop, and alter master digital files
  • Make changes to many photos with a batch edit
  • Add information to digital images using metadata
  • Search for images and retrieve them using keywords
  • Use special functions, such as creating albums, employing facial recognition or adding GPS linking

Adobe Photoshop is the leader in this category, but it’s extremely expensive and complex to use. It also has a lot of sophisticated features geared to graphic designers that genealogists will probably never need or learn to use. So an alternative to Photoshop is a good idea.
Fortunately there are several lower-cost image management applications available that are easier to use.

Alternatives to Photoshop include:

  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018  ($69) – think of it as Photoshop Lite. Has powerful image editing capabilities, including GPS and facial recognition; easier to use than Photoshop but still has a learning curve. Many free tutorials available. Also has scanning feature. Mac or Windows. A 30-day demo is available for download by clicking here. Tip: Adobe releases a new version of Photoshop Elements every year, usually with only small changes between versions. The current version of the software is 2018. Earlier versions are available for sale online at big discounts.
Choosing Image Management Software sassy jane genealogy

GPS mapping feature in Photoshop Elements

  • IRFanView (free for non-commercial use) – image viewer, editor, organizer and converter program for Windows.
  • GIMP (free) – open-source app that stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program; clean interface and easy to use for viewing, converting, and cataloging. Windows. 4 million users. CNet review here.
  • XnView (free) – app provides image browsing, viewing, cataloging, and converting. Windows. 2.5 million users. CNet review here.

For Macintosh OS X users, besides Photoshop Elements also consider:

  • GraphicConverter ($40) – Excellent all-round image editing program for viewing, converting, and adding metadata to 80 image file formats; stable, reliable, and much simpler alternative to Photoshop with a long track record. Mac only. CNet review here.
  • Choosing Image Management Software sassy jane genealogyAcorn ($30) – “The Image Editor for Humans” has a simple and elegant interface with tools for viewing, converting, and adding metadata, text, shapes, and effects. Mac only. CNet review here.

For more alternatives, visit:

My recommendation for choosing image management software for large or complex family photo collections is Photoshop Elements. It’s worth the investment in time and money.

For smaller collections, download and try free demos of some of the programs listed here until you find one that makes sense to you.

For information on choosing a portable scanner, click here.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”


  1. Aaron James 24 January 2015 at 1:14 PM - Reply

    Hello there,

    Check out also the Daminion, the pure sofisticated photo management software:

    With Daminion you can quickly describe your image collection by mutliple tags (like keywords, categories, people, place, rating, title, etc…). You can even create the custom tags.

    One of the Daminion benefits is all your tags (including hierarchical ones) can be automatically written into the image metadata. And this can be considered as an extra level of backup of your data.

    Another huge advantage (at least for me) is an ability to access to the same image catalog from multiple computers by multiple users.

    • Nancy 24 January 2015 at 5:04 PM - Reply

      I’m going to let this adlicious comment through because it does seem to support large collections and collaborative sharing. Without pricing, I can’t tell if this is feasible for individuals or is enterprise software priced above the pocketbooks of family historians.

      • JL Beeken 24 January 2015 at 5:25 PM

        Totally reasonable; from Free to Unlimited at $99.95 with two other options between at $19.95 and $49.95.

        My only concern with it is that it could be way beyond the technical ability of a lot of genealogists. The only way to know is to download it and try. Nothing to lose there.

  2. Anonymous 19 January 2015 at 5:35 PM - Reply

    My personal favourite is photoshop Elements

  3. Jaseem Prem 19 January 2015 at 9:40 AM - Reply

    Great article. Another great utility that is must have for digital photography is Binfer. A nice photo software to add to the list.

  4. Nancy 19 January 2015 at 9:37 AM - Reply

    Geni and JL, always eager to learn from my readers. What free apps do you suggest? And what alternative to Elements?

    My understanding is that GIMP has supported metadata since 2013. Xn has a suite of products that support the functions I’ve mentioned, including metadata.

    • JL Beeken 19 January 2015 at 10:22 AM - Reply

      I had another look at the Gimp and I can see metadata for an image I opened using File/Properties under the Advanced tab. It’s metadata I put there with other software but as far as I can tell there’s no way to add it, edit it or search it. It’s simply a carryover, read-only. It can be exported as XMP to a text-file and then presumably saved that way, for what use I don’t know.

      For free metadata software the only ones I know worth their salt are XnView and GeoSetter. ( There’s lots of free ones that work only with JPGs. Picasa for instance that’s also very limited in metadata possibilities generally.

      XnView is not my favorite for large amounts of metadata because the template system is clunky but I do use it as my default photo viewer and for occasional metadata entry. It’s excellent for searching, viewing and displaying metadata.

      GeoSetter is all round much better as a metadata writer although my favorite is Photo Mechanic ( which I use extensively but it’s not free.

      I recently updated a post I wrote back in 2008 on a selection of commonly known ones although I’m not saying much there that I’m not saying here. (

      I think of the word ‘cataloging’ in a different way; as making an actual catalog the way Adobe Elements does. I think it’s a horrible way to do things however because you’re then dependent on a catalog separate from the original location of your images. If you do anything to your images outside of it PSE causes you all kinds of grief. Anything that sticks you in a box you can’t get out of is trouble, IMO.

      • Nancy 19 January 2015 at 10:51 AM

        Thanks for the info, JL. I try to offer both free and commercial app suggestions and this is very helpful.

  5. GeniAus 17 January 2015 at 10:56 PM - Reply

    Unfortunately PS Elements crashed once my collection gre to around 30,000 images. I use an old copy of Photoshop for major editing. I find Picasa copes well with management of my collection of over 100.000 images.

    • Nancy 18 January 2015 at 4:36 PM - Reply

      Interesting – thanks for that data point, GeniAus. With collections that big, you’re definitely in need of more robust applications.

    • JL Beeken 18 January 2015 at 4:56 PM - Reply

      Totally agree with you, Jill. The PS Elements Organizer invariably crashes and long before 30,000 images in my experience. It’s also very limited, and utterly aggravating, in its metadata functions. Horrible.

  6. JL Beeken 17 January 2015 at 9:34 PM - Reply

    The Gimp is not cataloging software and neither is XnView.

    • Nancy 18 January 2015 at 4:36 PM - Reply

      We’ll have to disagree, JL. Since it supports metadata, it supports retrieval and that’s cataloging to me.

      • JL Beeken 18 January 2015 at 4:54 PM

        I must have missed something.

        I’ve never known The Gimp to have anything whatsoever to do with metadata. It’s possible to ‘browse’ to open a file.

        XnView does not have a cataloging option. Again, it’s ‘browse’ to find the image you’re looking for from wherever it exists on your computer. It does write and display metadata which I find quite handy.

  7. Judy Webster 17 January 2015 at 12:56 PM - Reply

    Thank you very much for this. I love your e-books, and this advice is a bonus. I currently have a limited budget for genealogy, so I will try the free programmes first.

    • Nancy 17 January 2015 at 1:21 PM - Reply

      Free is always good! Metadata should be embedded and transfer just fine if you use free apps on your computer, not webware. Adobe usually releases new versions of Elements in the fall and has special pricing around U.S. Thanksgiving if you ever want to go with more features. Personally, I use GraphicConverter (Mac only, sry) about 70 percent of the time when I’m editing and Elements the rest of the time when I’m adding metadata. But XnView or GIMP should be fine. Keep me updated on your progress. And when you’re done, you can organize all my photos, because the cobbler’s children always need shoes!

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