What to do with all those digital photos? Part 2: Image/Folder Organization

If you’ve read part 1 of the “What to do with all those digital photos?” series you should now have a well planned and logical file and folder naming system and hierarchy. That’s definitely a good place to start but things certainly don’t end there. Since these are photographs we’re working with it’s going to be necessary to actually see what all of your properly named files are. That’s where good image organization software comes into play.

Over the years I’ve tried out lots of different pieces of software for cataloging and organizing my digital photos. I’ve used free software as well as paid software ranging from the very basic all the way up to Adobe Lightroom. Most of them are very good and have nice features but the one I have been using for the past several years and have really loved is FastStone Image Viewer.  FastStone Image Viewer is a free piece of software for Windows made by FastStone Soft that is currently on version 4.3 and gets updated regularly. In its most basic usage FastStone Image Viewer is just that, an image browser that lets you navigate through your folder structure and view many different formats of digital images, including camera raw files. However, FastStone Image Viewer is much more than that. In addition to its image viewing capabilities it is also a very powerful image converter and image editor.

FastStone Image Viewer - Full Screen Top

FastStone Image Viewer – Full Screen Top

For browsing my photo library I find it very useful for a number of reasons. First and foremost it is very fast when I just want to look at my photos and see what I have or find a particular image or images. It uses a very efficient thumbnail database so as you browse folders for the first time the program saves the thumbnails and image data so the next time you open the folder the thumbnails load lightning fast. You can adjust the size of your thumbnails with sizes ranging from 60 by 45 pixels up to 200 by 150 pixels.

FastStone Image Viewer - Full Screen Left

FastStone Image Viewer – Full Screen Left

When viewing your images you have the option of viewing them in windowed mode however your images are best viewed, in my opinion, in the wonderful full screen mode. In full screen mode FastStone Image Viewer truly uses the entire screen and has the awesome feature of hiding very useful menus along the top, bottom, left and right sides of your screen. These menus become visible when you move your mouse to each side of the screen. The top of the screen hides a thumbnail browser and folder tree so you can explore the rest of your photos while keeping the current one in the full screen viewer.

FastStone Image Viewer - Full Screen Bottom

FastStone Image Viewer – Full Screen Bottom

The left and bottom menus contain many standard image editing options and effects (rotation, resizing, color and detail enhancements, etc.) as well as options for e-mailing images, performing screen captures and a couple other cool features. There is an option to list multiple external image editors so if you have Photoshop or Gimp installed and like browsing with FastStone but want to edit with something more powerful just add the program in the settings and press “E” when viewing a photo.  Your selected photo or photos will open in your favorite image editor ready to be manipulated.

FastStone Image Viewer - Full Screen Right

FastStone Image Viewer – Full Screen Right

Hidden on the right side of the screen is the File and Attributes dialogue which is very useful for photographers as it contains your EXIF shooting data, file size attributes, a histogram and a JPEG comment tab if you want to add your own comments to your photo with location or shooting information or if your file already has notes embedded. Of course, in addition to the fly-out menus when in full screen mode, you can still access all of the menus with a right click on your photo.

One feature of the browser that I really like is the ability to tag images. When you’re looking through photos it takes just one click or press of a key and you can tag an image and have it ready for batch operations. Very useful when you have a lot of images and don’t want to bother with continuously pressing and holding the control key to select more than one file.

FastStone Image Viewer - Compare

FastStone Image Viewer – Compare

Another favorite feature which is extremely useful is the ability to compare to 4 images on screen at a time.  Let’s say you have up to 4 similar photos that you want to inspect more closely, you can select them and compare the fine details all at once to select your best image. This comparison, by the way, is also done in full screen.

FastStone Image Viewer - Slideshow Builder

FastStone Image Viewer – Slideshow Builder

There are several other cool and useful features of FastStone Image Viewer worth noting. One is the nifty Slide Show Builder which lets you design a self-contained slide show using images, transitions and even music and then export it to an executable file ready to be shared. The Contact Sheet Builder is surprisingly robust for a free program and lets you save your contact sheets in the standard image formats and in PDF format. With the Multi-Page File Builder you can select multiple photos then create a multi-page TIFF, PDF or even create animated GIFs. Finally, the Image Strip Builder allows you to be a little creative with your photo presentation and build horizontal or vertical strips of photos like the one I’ve created below.

FastStone Image Viewer - Image Strip

FastStone Image Viewer – Image Strip

All of these features, and many more which I did not touch on, combine to make FastStone Image Viewer a great all around photo browser and manager for beginning photographers or anyone who doesn’t want or need to invest in a more complicated piece of software. And, again, it’s FREE! Will it be the solution for your needs? I don’t know, but you can easily download it from FastStone’s website and give it a try.

There are certainly many alternative programs for you to choose from if you don’t like FastStone’s software or if your use Mac OS instead of Windows. Here are a few other programs for you to check out to make sure you find what’s best for you:

  • Google’s Picasa 3 (Price: FREE) – Available for Windows, Mac, Linux (currently in beta) and online with Web Albums.
  • ACDSee Photo Manager and ACDSee Pro Photo Manager (Price: ACDSee – $69.99; ACDSee Pro – $99.99 & $169.99 [Mac]).
  • Corel PaintShop Photo Express 2010 (Price: $39.99) – Available for Windows.
  • Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3/X3 Ultimate (Price: $59.99 SALE) – Available for Windows.
  • FotoTime FotoAlbum 6 (Price: FREE; Pro version – adds image editing and other features – $39.99) – Available for Windows.
  • Adobe Bridge (Price: Varies with price of individual Adobe Creative products) – Available for Windows and Mac.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 (Price: $299) – Available for Windows and Mac.
  • Apple iPhoto (Price: Part of iLife ‘11 – $49 or FREE with a new Mac) – Available for Mac.
  • Apple Aperture 3 (Price: $79.99) – Available for Mac.

Thanks again for reading and be sure to check out the rest of this series using the links below.

What to do with all those digital photos?

  1. Image/Folder Naming
  2. Image/Folder Organization
  3. File Storage
  4. Image Editing

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