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You'd think that there is more than enough photo management software out there. But for quite a while now, I have struggled to find Mac software suitable for my requirements.

The management software will be used on normal everyday pictures (holidays, landscapes and so on) as well as a large collection of documentary pictures with little artistic value from renovating protected old buildings. Working with those documentary pictures will require extensive tagging and search functions.

I don't strictly require built-in editing and raw conversion functions.

My requirements list:

  1. Native Mac program (or at least very well ported interface from a different OS)
  2. Pictures must be stored in a folder structure on disk, not a monolithic catalogue
  3. This folder structure must follow changes made within the software, and any changes made in Finder must be tracked and represented in the photo manager
  4. The manager must be able to write geotags, textual tags and timestamp corrections directly into the images (in order to make the metadata available to 3rd party apps -- sidecar files like those used by Darktable are useless there)
  5. Geotags must be viewable on a map
  6. Metadata and changes to the image catalogs must be easily syncable using classic, non-cloud tools like rsync, unison, Bittorrent Sync or SyncThing.

Bonus points for:

  • support of other operating system
  • hierarchical tags
  • user-definable integration of external editing tools

Apart from KDE's really great DigiKam, which suffers from a not-yet-perfect Mac port, I did not find any software fulfilling those rather simple requirements. Perhaps someone here can point out what I missed.

I evaluated the following programs:

  • Digikam. Great. It's just heavily using the KDE ecosystem, which makes building the port on a Mac hard. It's also badly integrated in the OSX desktop.
  • Aperture. That's what I'm currently using. Syncing catalogues between machines using rsync is not trivial. Managed libraries don't properly follow changes done in Finder. Tagging is unnecessarily complicated.
  • Lyn. Small, lean, Mac only. Rather rudimentary. Doesn't fulfil requirement 4.
  • Darktable. See no. 4 above -- sidecar approaches are impractical for me, and "darktable will never ever open source files for writing".
  • Capture One. Fails on point 3, and the support told me that syncing between machines should only be done through manual import/export of sessions.
  • Media Pro. Same as above.
  • Unbound. Very rudimentary. No external tools configurable. Needs Dropbox as sync backend.
  • Pixa. Seems to be developed only very slowly, which does not make me feel good about its longevity. Doesn't really seem like photo management, but rather more like digital asset management. No geotagging.
  • Apple Photos / Google Photos. Cloud based. Too rudimentary.

So far, those are my test results. Is there anything I'm missing / got wrong? Is there any software available that would fulfill my requirements?

  • Because I am looking for a folder-based archival approach that is easily synced using traditional, non-cloud approaches, I think the question has enough general relevance to be of interest here. – jstarek Apr 1 '16 at 13:10
  • If it exists, would you be willing to pay for this product? About how much? One reason developers likely avoid this market is the existence of many free photo management tools, like Apple's Photos. Are you happy to augment a near ideal application with the use of scripts and command line tools? As an example #4 could be dealt with through exiftool. – Graham Miln Aug 8 '16 at 11:36
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    @GrahamMiln: Sure, I'd be willing to pay about the same price as for the cloud-using competition (read: up to 300 EUR for a personal license). Augmenting via Scripts would be fine, however, I'd like to have an integration of geotagging into the GUI. While I personally am well at home on a Unix console, I a more generally useful suggestion would be more GUI-centric. – jstarek Aug 8 '16 at 11:58
  • I was looking for something similar some years back, used QPict for a while. But I figured out that these apps from smaller companies/individuals may go away, not get updated, etc etc, leaving the user stranded. I ended up sticking with the Mac Finder. I rename all photos with the date/time they were taken and organize in folders based on camera and location. I'll be following this thread to see what others come up with. – UncaMikey Aug 8 '16 at 13:46
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    No, I mention that it does not fulfill the second part of #3, but that is to be expected with any software. How do you propose that 3rd party software be "fully aware" of changes made outside of it? IMO, this is an unreasonable expectation. #6 is handled through rsync of Lightroom catalog. I have used LR since v3.0 and I have been able to sync LR catalogs between computers; the only downside is that you have to be diligent in not making changes in both catalogs before syncing as it does not merge changes. – Allan Aug 8 '16 at 15:02
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+200

You basically have written the summary requirements for Photo Mechanic.

It's a folder based, workflow tool that is cross platform and highly optimized for managing images. Whatever changes it makes are stored in metadata in the images so you can edit them elsewhere as you please and it won't break import/export like library based workflows cannot do.

  • Thanks for the answer! This tool has not come up in any discussion I've had about the subject, so your hint is very much appreciated. I'll have to add, though, that I won't purchase the tool even though it quite exactly fits my criteria (the only thing that's not a perfect fit: You can't see all your geotagged images on a map, only those in one folder). The UI looks just too strange and doesn't fit the Mac look and feel very well, which is especially visible in the Preview window with its strange icons. For that UI quality, the price is far too steep for me. But a great recommendation! – jstarek Aug 15 '16 at 13:34
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Given Lyn is close to your needs, consider combining it with other applications. Such as:

  • HoudahGeo offers a graphical interface for tagging and searching photos by location.
  • exiftool is a command line alternative from which you could craft any scripts or services you need.

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