Controlled Vocabulary

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Image Database and Cataloging Software Applications

Creating "catalogs" or image databases of your images is a great way to keep track of where all your images are stored. There are numerous applications that can make the task of creating an image catalog or database less work — generating thumbnails, automatically extracting information about the file (size, resolution, filename, color space, etc), and noting where it's located — but only a few work in a cross platform environment.

Nearly all applications can be divided into the "browser" or "cataloging" software camps. How are they different? Browsers allow you to quickly see the images in a specific folder, as well as provide a way to see the metadata embedded within the file, and often modify or add to that information. Cataloging applications note the path to a particular image asset, generate a thumbnail (or sometimes a thumbnail and a larger "preview" image), and extract the embedded metadata into their own database. They allow you to search across multiple folders, drives and even removeable media, even if the image is not currently accessible, or was moved by another application. Unless they employ some level of caching information, browsers only show you what is there now. If the image is moved; the application not only won't be able to tell you where it is now, but may not even know it was ever there.

Which application is right for you? That's hard to say without knowing what it is that you need to do. Choosing an image database product is like buying a car. Some go fast, some hold a lot of stuff, each have their own perks and quirks. One way is to outline the features you need and then check the various offerings to be sure that the application will do all that you need.

With that methond in mind you might find the Comparative Matrix for Evaluating Image Databases useful. Use this PDF (compatible with Acrobat version 5 or later) as an aid in your comparison of some of the programs mentioned below. This blank worksheet contains several columns where you can make notes on over 170 common features you can expect to find in many top-level image database software applications. A modifiable spreadsheet version is available to members of the Controlled Vocabulary Discussion Forum in the File Archives. If you are interested in collaborating on a revised version of this document, please contact me.

For another perspective on what to look for see the Catalogs vs Stock Management article by James Cook on the Hindsight website.

If you are looking for a large set of keywords that can be used with a number of the applications below, take a look at the Controlled Vocabulary Keyword Catalog (CVKC) which now works with a dozen of the top image browsers, and cataloging applications.

Image Cataloging Software


Metadata Annotation Software

The following applications are designed to add embedded metadata to your image files. Metadata is often described as "information about information" though a better description is that it's structured information about resources. Several of the following applications have image editing functions as well as the capability to create web galleries, but their strength is in the speed at which you can add descriptive metadata to a single file, or as part of a batch action.

Online Image Database Software

The following applications are designed to allow online searching of your image files. Some will require advanced computer, HTML or programming skills to install, while others are available as services. The capabilities of each vary considerably, so you will want to invest some time to investigate whether they meet your specific needs.

Image Database Utilities

The following are specialty applications that may be of use to those who are interested in expanding their image databases.

  • BabelPix™ is a java-based, multi-platform utility that can batch-translate the contents of the IPTC keyword field to foreign languages. It operates under Windows 98/ME/Win2K/XP, Mac OS X (PowerPC and Universal Binary) and Linux platforms.
  • ExifTool from Phil Harvey is a command line Perl utility for reading and writing photo metadata.
  • ExifToolGUI is a Graphical User Interface version of ExifTool created by Bogdan Hrastnik for reading and writing photo metadata on the Windows platform. Instructions for use can be downloaded as a ZIP file at
  • Jeffrey's Online Exif (and metadata) viewer: a web-accessible version of ExifTool for reading metadata in image files.

*DISCLAIMER: The decision to download any of the programs mentioned on this site is up to you; we can not be responsible for the use, functionality, appearance, or management of the actual applications so your mileage may vary, please backup your system and only work on copies of files until you are assured of proper performance. Contact the appropriate authorities with any questions. If you feel that your favorite program is not listed, please send details (including name of program, URL for demo download and why you think it's best) to the .

updated: December 15, 2010

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