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Media Management Software Options for Digital SLR Photographers

You have a lot of choices for managing your dSLR shots, ranging from pure media managers to applications that focus on raw photo workflow and development. Also, plenty of photo editors have built-in basic management tools.

Adobe Bridge is one of the best (Adobe devotees would say the only) pure media managers. It’s big, credible, versatile, well supported, and backed by a powerful company. Bridge is truly a bridge. It links your photos to your other applications in a way that lets you manage thousands of photos seamlessly.

You can create and manage collections, rotate photos, apply different Camera Raw settings, and more from within Bridge, but you call on other applications to complete most development and editing tasks.

You don’t buy Bridge by itself. It comes with Creative Suite software and Adobe-bundled Creative Suite editions. Notably, Photoshop Elements for Windows isn't supplied with Bridge; the Mac version does include Bridge. It has its own, internal organizer.

The following applications focus on raw photo processing and workflow. This is necessary if you've set the image quality of your photos to raw in your camera. All have robust photo-management features as well. Photo enthusiasts can work with these applications, but they have features and capabilities that appeal to professionals, too.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

This Macintosh/Windows application is for photographers, not for graphic artists. It has just about everything you need in order to import, manage, develop, and publish raw or JPEG photos. (Look at all those cool photo-management tools.) From this tab, you organize, sift, sort, and select.

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In Lightroom, you create a single massive, all-inclusive catalog or create different catalogs based on different cameras, projects, or years. When you import photos into an open catalog, they show up as thumbnails in the Library tab, where you manage them. You can view, sort, filter, rate, delete, search for, compare, create, and assign keywords, quickly develop photos, and edit metadata. You can also export photos in different formats.

To work with layers, masks, adjustment layers, panoramas, HDR images, artistic filters and effects, vector shapes, 3D support, text, frames, and other aspects unique to photo editors, you need to get a photo editor other than Lightroom.

Apple Aperture

This Mac-only application marries photo development and management. The Library tab is where you create projects and organize your photos. Shortcut buttons above the preview window let you change views, identify faces, and geotag. When you import photos (or working Photoshop .psd files) into Aperture, you assign them to or create a new project.

Within the project folder, you can manage subfolders (or albums) and individual photos. (You can use Aperture 3 to create new libraries.) It also has sample projects so you can get familiar with how things work in Aperture.

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As you might imagine, you have all sorts of management tools at your fingertips. You can view, sort, keyword, delete, rate, export, track versions, manage and edit metadata, perform basic photo adjustments, and launch photos to an external photo editor for more advanced editing. Aperture 3 can even send GPS coordinates to Apple so that you can geolocate your photos.

Capture One Express/Pro

Capture One, by Phase One, isn’t well known outside of professional circles, but it should be. It comes in two versions: Pro has a ton of features and is priced accordingly. Express is better for casual photo-hobbyists.

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Capture One’s bevy of management features are comparable to Lightroom and Aperture. Import photos and then sort, rate, preview, organize, tag (add keywords to), develop, and publish them. Organize your photos in catalogs or work one-on-one with photos by using sessions. Capture One also has albums, which are virtual collections. It’s fantastic, powerful, and professional, and it focuses on workflow and photo quality.

Built-in media management

These relatively inexpensive editors are aimed mostly at the cost-conscious photo amateur (don’t let that statement deter you — they're quite capable):

Apple iPhoto

iPhoto is a nifty little Apple-cation with lots of good organizational tools. You can import and organize photos and then view, rate, tag (add keywords to), title, edit, and publish them. iPhoto is an excellent application for Macophile hobbyists.

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Adobe Photoshop Elements

The Adobe entry-level photo editor has a lot going for it, given its reasonable price. It has a photo editor, of course, and the Windows version includes a built-in organizer; Mac users have Bridge. This major editing project is underway, complete with various layers and adjustments.

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Corel PaintShop Pro

PaintShop Pro X5 Ultimate has three modes: Manage, Adjust, and Edit. You can sort, organize, rate, review, keyword, edit, and export photos.

Google Picasa

Even Google has an entry-level photo editor and organizer. It’s free and both Windows and Mac can use it. It’s Picasa, and it’s cool. As you’d expect, Picasa has close ties with Google Maps and Google Earth.

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Picasa scours your hard drive to find your files and then loads them into a library — you don't need to import them unless you want to. (You can add or subtract folders or import photos later.) You provide the organizational structure by creating albums and assigning photos to them. You can perform rudimentary editing tasks in Picasa, such as rotating, straightening, removing red-eye, and more.

The main management tasks revolve around organizing photos and videos into folders and albums, by people, and then sorting, filtering, tagging, sharing exporting, blogging, and creating other types of output, such as movies or collages.

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