Image management

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Under image management refers to a nowadays software-based solution that the structured storing, cataloging , archiving and retrieval of digitized images possible. In addition to viewing images, simple image editing functions are often also available within the software .


The basic objective of such software is to enable effective management of digital images and graphics. This includes the inclusion of images in the database, their textual description, assignment to categories, keywording etc. as well as the possibility of research, retrieval of the data and their presentation.

Image databases were originally mainly used by professional users, such as picture agencies , who work with large stocks of images. Since digital photography made its breakthrough among private individuals, image databases have been increasingly used for private purposes. Digital photography makes it possible to quickly generate large quantities of images, whose thematic or temporal management and sorting supports image management.

Often picture administrations offer a hierarchical representation in folders and categories as well as a preview overview of the pictures. Image data such as metadata , recording time, camera model and recording values ​​such as aperture and exposure time are also displayed or stored in a database or an index structure to enable the user to find images quickly and easily using search masks. Modern cameras usually save metadata directly in the image file using the Exif standard , which means that they can be used by most image management programs regardless of the camera manufacturer.

The IPTC standard is traditionally used for the additional information in image files created manually by the user . Compared to the old IIM standard , the XMP- based standard IPTC-Core can now be seen as the de facto standard.

Some image databases require updates relatively frequently, as the RAW converter is part of the software. The different RAW formats of the camera manufacturers are modified somewhat with almost every new camera model and have to be entered. A file extension such as .CR2 (from Canon) or .NEF (from Nikon) conceals numerous, slightly different formats.

In addition, video archiving and search functions are being implemented in more and more image databases. Another development is the storage of the georeferencing supplied with modern professional cameras in the corresponding tables of the SQL database cores. Search functions via map interfaces are already possible in some systems today. In addition to full-text research, good database interfaces usually also offer the search function of a controlled vocabulary (e.g. a thesaurus or keyword tree).

Image databases are usually a basic component of the digital asset management of a company or organization, i.e. the management of all digital data stocks, including other digital media, such as video and audio files and typical office documents. While such systems were initially only used as isolated solutions, today the focus is on integration, i.e. the connection with other systems in a company.


While in the past, archiving was the main focus of image management systems, modern systems are increasingly being expanded to include functions for handling frequently required work processes, including image processing functions.

Conversely, more and more image processing programs contain integrated image viewer software, some of which also offer image management options. For example, Adobe Photoshop includes the Adobe Bridge image viewer software . But programs such as Ulead PhotoImpact , PhotoLine , Microsoft Photo Suite etc. also contain modules for image viewing. Programs designed as image viewers also increasingly have functions for image management and processing.

The keywording is increasingly automated by reading out position data, recognizing faces and image content. The latter should not be confused with the "similarity search" found in some systems. This works with an index that only derives similarities between images based on color and brightness distributions, but does not recognize an image motif. This function can therefore only be used sensibly with small image stocks.

Summary of functions

Administrative functions
  • Thematic or content management of the images, mostly by assigning keywords or categories.
  • Titling or commenting on the images.
  • Viewing and editing of metadata according to standards such as Exif , IPTC and XMP
  • Search functions, among other things, for the image features listed above
  • Automatic keywording (adding metadata) by the server system
  • Management of copyright information
  • Geolocation determination - Recognize or manage where an image was created / recorded
Image viewing and conversion functions
  • Viewing images in different views, mostly as thumbnails in different sizes (usually called thumbnail and preview) up to full-screen view
  • Scaling of image sizes
  • Format conversion (e.g. GIF to JPG )
  • Renaming pictures
  • Moving and copying pictures
  • Provision for external parties, e.g. B. Share on a website or photo lab
  • Soft proof via a configured monitor
  • Color analysis for search support
  • Compare pictures

Implementation of image management solutions

Cloud-based database

In the case of cloud-based databases, the original photos are stored unchanged in the provider's cloud, the photo library. The photo library manages the synchronization of the saved photos and any image processing steps used between the devices connected to the cloud. In this way, all managed photos can be viewed on all devices and edited non-destructively. Depending on the available memory, the photo library will either leave the original photo on the device or (temporarily) replace it with a preview. This implementation is roughly comparable to the IMAP protocol of e-mail providers.

The target group are mainly smartphone users who want to seamlessly view, archive and possibly publish their photos on a tablet, PC or the web.

Providers of cloud-based photo libraries make their photo service available free of charge, but a monthly fee is charged depending on the selected cloud storage size. There are apps for various platforms and devices to maintain the photo library.


Local database

Some PC programs manage a local photo library in which all photos, including all processing steps, are stored and managed. The user structures, sorts, processes and exports his photos exclusively in the software application; Access to the photos at file level is usually not provided. This maintains the data integrity of the database, because photos or editing instructions cannot be changed and lost. A local photo library can easily be transferred to a new data carrier and started from there.


Local catalog managed folder structure

For extensive photo collections distributed on several data carriers (type) n, PC programs are suitable which read in a preview and the path of a photo and save it in a catalog; the original photo remains in its original storage location. Image processing steps are also saved in the catalog. The data carrier does not have to be inserted / connected for viewing. Changes to files and folders at the file level should be avoided to ensure the data integrity of the catalog.


Web-based database (web gallery)

Web-based databases, so-called photo / web galleries, are less intended for archiving a photo collection than for presenting selected photos, be it as a private web album in the family circle or as a commercial means of distribution.

The image material is uploaded to a web server and managed via the portal of a web provider, a computer program or an app. Here you can specify which groups are shown which images, or which users are only allowed to display parts of the collection or only perform certain actions such as uploading or deleting images. Photo galleries convert photo formats when they are uploaded or when downloaded by a user. Professional systems can generate variants with watermarks from a current database when querying images .

If it is stored on a non-own web server, the confidentiality and security of the data entrusted to it can be compromised; the service provider may also use images without being asked.


Digital asset management systems

Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems can be viewed as a special form of image database systems. They provide a workflow for capturing, managing and publishing a wide variety of digital media types. They offer the option of connecting a merchandise management system and online payment systems. DAM software packages are aimed at companies or companies.

Alternatives to image databases

  • There is no alternative for professional photo agencies .
  • There are several alternatives for the individual user and small teams.

Whether individual users and small teams want or need to use alternatives to the image database depends on the size of the image archive, the order in which the image archive is organized and whether the users are willing to invest time in the keywording of the image database or not. The alternatives can also be combined with one another.

Alternative 1 : The users have to be clever with the names of folders and files, i. That is, you have to incorporate the information that is needed for retrieval into the names of folders and files. Under no circumstances should you keep the names given by the digital camera . If this is the case, you can use software to search in the file system of the operating system . This software should also be able to work with Boolean operators . Disadvantages: the number of properties that can be assigned to files and folders is limited; this procedure requires a lot of self-discipline.

Alternative 2 : With JPG files it is possible to use IPTC fields and search in IPTC fields without using an image database. There are many programs that can edit IPTC fields as well as search for IPTC fields. However, users of this alternative have to wait for the search result until all images have been searched for the IPTC keywords to be found. The PC has to carry out its search in every single image, the software has to open every image file, search for the IPTC fields and close it again. Relevant search programs often offer very sparse search options. With IrfanView, for example, you can only search for text that appears in any IPTC field, and the only possible Boolean operator is 'OR'. XnView (Classic) can also search sequentially and uses the Boolean operators 'OR' and 'AND'. The ImageQuery program is well suited , here the user has to formulate SQL queries and use them to search through an image folder. A wizard helps to create the SQL query. This alternative is a good option for all users who were only convinced of the benefits of IPTC fields late. You can gradually add IPTC fields to all images and you will find at least those images that contain IPTC fields by the end of this project.

A combination of using IPTC fields in JPG files and finding them again using a free desktop search program is also conceivable . Almost all programs for desktop search can index image files in a selected image folder (and its sub-folders) . You will find the IPTC fields of each JPG file, but you cannot distinguish from which IPTC field a keyword originates. This distinction is lost. When searching in the index, the user can use Boolean operators .

Alternative 3 : Using the file info properties of the Windows operating system . This can be reached via Windows Explorer → right click on a JPG file → Properties → 'File info' tab. This file information is saved in the same way as the IPTC fields in the JPG file itself. Disadvantage: “tagging” many files in this way is very time consuming and also requires a lot of self-discipline.

Pros and cons of using an image database


  • In professional programs, a user can create a “controlled vocabulary” for the keywording , that is, one-time depositing the terms in the correct spelling that he would like to use. He can then quickly assign the terms to numerous files without a lot of typing and above all without typing errors.
  • Because each image does not have to be searched individually, the search result is available very quickly.
  • If metadata are entered in IPTC / XMP fields in images, they are retained in the better programs. In this way, the recipient of a picture also receives the information about the picture and can view it - provided that he uses a program that can display the pictures together with the IPTC / XMP fields.
  • The use of Boolean operators to link keywords is almost always better solved in programs with an image database than in the alternatives.
  • With alternatives to the image database, you cannot search meaningfully in numerical fields.


  • With a solution without image database software, the image archive can be moved to another computer or hard drive without any problems. If the information from the image database is to be retained, the move may be more complex. The effort involved in moving depends on the program used; the options range from problem-free to recreating the image database.

Database formats of image databases

  • Company-specific database format - With a company -specific ( proprietary ) database format, the software manufacturer prevents interference by software developers from outside the company. In this case, secrecy serves security, but also the commercial interests of the software manufacturer. In addition, the network capability often suffers with this format. Examples are Adobe Bridge , ACDSee , Picasa , ThumbsPlus , Adobe Lightroom . The database is often not referred to as such, but as a catalog, catalog , index .
  • public database format - examples are Microsoft SQL Server , Oracle , Microsoft Access (commercial database systems) or MySQL , MariaDB , Postgresql ( open source ). If an image database uses public database formats, it inherits the network capability of these formats and enables the database administrator to intervene directly in the database.

Overview of image database software (as of 2018)

Surname operating system License language Metadata Platform, access Unicode Remarks
ACDSee Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X Demo and commercial Multilingual Exif , IPTC , XMP Single seat Yes -
Adobe Lightroom CC Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X Demo and commercial Multilingual ? Single seat Yes cloud-based, cross-platform photo library with basic image processing functions
Adobe Lightroom Classic CC Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X Demo and commercial Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP Single seat Yes Professional tool for local image management; since 2015 subscription product (Adobe Creative Cloud)
Aperture Mac OS X Demo and commercial Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP Single seat Yes locally managed photo library; Development stopped
Apple photos Mac OS X Commercially Multilingual ? Single seat ? Successor to iPhoto; cloud-based, cross-device photo library with basic image editing functions
Bynder Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux Commercially Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP, Dublin Core Software as a service Yes Commercial subscription web service
Canto Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux Commercially Multilingual Exif , IPTC , XMP Software as a service Yes Professional cloud media management
Canto Cumulus Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux Commercially Multilingual Exif , IPTC , XMP Client / server Yes Professional media management
cavok Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux Commercially Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP, Dublin Core , ID-3 and many more From 5 simultaneous users, SaaS or installation on site Yes Browser-based ( HTML5 ); Format conversion for photos, videos, PDFs; includes transcoding and streaming server ; Service Oriented Architecture (SOA); SOAP - API for CMS , ERP , PIM ; expandable u. a. through scripts ( PHP , Perl , BASH etc.) and plugins etc. a. for Adobe InDesign or Prestashop ; multi-tenant
digikam Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux GNU Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP Single seat Yes Much similar to the commercial Adobe Lightroom
eyebase Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux Commercially Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP, Z3950, DublinCore Software as a service or on premise web server installation Yes
F-spot Linux GNU Multilingual Exif, IPTC Single seat ? No further development since 2010; has been replaced by Shotwell in current Linux distributions
FotoStation Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux Commercially Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP Single user, client / server, software as a service Yes Single user program, can be supplemented by server programs
IMatch 5.4 Microsoft Windows Commercially Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP Single seat Yes -
iPhoto Mac OS X, XiOS Commercially Multilingual Exif, IPTC Single seat ? locally managed photo library; Former standard program on Apple computers; Since MAC OS X 10.10.3 by Apple Photos replaced
Manja Digital Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux Commercially Multilingual Exif , IPTC , XMP Software as a service or on premise Yes Professional media management
Photo Mechanic Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X Commercially Multilingual Exif, IPTC Single seat Yes Especially for quick viewing and keying of large amounts of images; popular with sports photographers
PicApport Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) [1] Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP, Dublin Core server Yes Optimized for access from tablets and smartphones. Integrated map module for displaying GPS metadata
Picasa Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X Freeware Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP Single place, online access to Picasa web albums Yes Further development by Google discontinued without a successor product
Shotwell Linux GNU Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP Single seat ? Simply, part of some Linux distributions
ThumbsPlus 9 Microsoft Windows Demo and commercial English Exif, IPTC, XMP Single user and client / server Yes Imports XMP metadata only, not Exif / IPTC
Windows Live Photo Gallery Microsoft Windows Freeware Multilingual Exif, IPTC Single seat Yes Comparable to Picasa, only imports Exif / XMP, further development discontinued
XnViewMP Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X,Linux Freeware Multilingual Exif, IPTC, XMP Single seat Yes Quick search can only search for a single keyword

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Steidl: IPTC Standard Photo Metadata (October 2016) IPTC Core Specification Version 1.2 IPTC Extension Specification Version 1.3. In: IPTC Photo Metadata. IPTC, October 1, 2016, accessed December 28, 2016 .
  2. L. Clevy: Understanding What is stored in a file Canon RAW .CR2, How and Why. December 20, 2016, accessed December 28, 2016 .
  3. Sascha Steinhoff: 15 years Nikon NEF, 15 years wrong way. In: c't photography. c't, August 1, 2014, accessed December 28, 2016 .
  4. iOS - Photos; "Search photos for people, places, and even objects" section. Accessed December 1, 2017 (German).
  5. Hans von der Burchard and Helge Denker: Who do my photos on the Internet actually belong to? In: BILD. Axel Springer Verlag, May 26, 2011, accessed on December 28, 2016 .