The Best Photo Management App For Mac OS X

The Best Photo Management App For Mac OS X

NOTE: This app directory entry guide has been superseded. Click here for the most recent version. There aren’t many Mac photo management apps that aren’t somewhat specialised, but among the few we think iPhoto is the best for its simplicity, rich feature set, and good integration with popular online services.



Platform: Mac OS X

Price: $US15

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  • Easily import photos from your camera, flash card, or hard drive
  • Photos are automatically organised into events based on their dates
  • Automatic face recognition
  • Geotagged photos can be displayed on an interactive map
  • Organize your albums in a familiar, folder-like structure
  • Sync albums with Flickr and Facebook
  • Easily email photos by themselves or as a part of a graphically rich email template
  • Create slideshows with themes
  • Create and order books, prints, and other photo products
  • Syncs photos with iTunes-friendly devices like iPod and iPhone
  • Edit photo metadata (known as EXIF data)
  • Full-screen modes
  • Subscribe to photo feeds
  • Create dynamic smart albums based on specific criteria

iPhoto is attractive, it’s easy to use, and it has pretty much every feature you’d want (and then some). It’s easy to organise your photos manually, but iPhoto has several ways of automatically organising everything. Facial recognition is one of those ways, and you can manually improve it by identifying faces a few times on your own. iPhoto also helps you order things like prints, books, and cards directly from the app. This is convenient, but the prices are not that much different from what you’d find on the web for the same quality. Editing features aren’t too serious, but they handle most of what the average user would want. Overall, iPhoto does the best job for a standard photo management app on the Mac.


iPhoto often suffers from slow performance, part of which is likely due to a bloated excess of features. It saves multiple copies of your photos to your hard drive, making it require an enormous amount of disk space. Although sharing with Flickr and Facebook is better in iPhoto ’11, it’s still not directly tied to an album and changes aren’t synced both ways. You can only search local albums. Face recognition is useful if the face is looking straight at the camera, but even then it will sometimes be missed. In general, iPhoto could stand to perform a bit better with pretty much everything it does.


Most of the photo management software you’d use on the Mac other than iPhoto is pretty specific to a need. You’re either tying yourself to a service or paying extra to gain professional editing features.

Picasa is an obvious choice if you use Picasa on the web. If that’s your photo sharing service of choice, you’ll probably want to use the desktop app as well.

Flickery is essentially a desktop interface for Flickr. It’ll cost you $US10 (although you can try it for free for 15 days), but that price may be worthwhile if you’re primarily a Flickr user and want an iPhoto-like interface that’s dedicated to the service.

If you’re really serious about your photos, you may prefer managing them with the pricey, more professional Aperture or Lightroom. Aperture is like iPhoto for pros, and Lightroom is a similar take on the same concept.

Then there’s what I do: I put photos in folders in Dropbox. I can quicklook everything in the Finder, the thumbnails can be made large in icon view, everything automatically syncs online, it’s easy to share the files, it syncs with my iPhone the same as iPhoto, and I can access every photo from my phone with the Dropbox app. I chose to do this because all the photo management software I used was too slow and bloated. I wanted something quick. It’s not a solution for everyone, but if you just want to organise your images without hassle it works very well.

Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.


  • You can prevent iPhoto from saving copies of your photos into its own special location. Off the top of my head I can’t think of the setting, sorry. It’s similar to the iTunes setting that stops it making copies of all your songs.

    I really don’t understand why it does it in the first place.

    • I think – and I might be wide of the mark – that this is done because you can import straight into iPhoto from a connected digital camera. This is what the missus does; she doesn’t have folders with the photos in (as I do). iPhoto starts up as soon as her Sony point-and-shoot is connected and imports the photos. Simple and quick!

    • This is true in iPhoto 9, I don’t have version 11, so don’t know if it is exactly the same, but go to:

      iPhoto/Preferences/Advanced and uncheck the box that says “Copy items to the iPhoto Library”. iPhoto will be able to find the images, but won’t download another copy to your boot hard drive.

  • I have and Android phone I have been trying to download photos from phone to computer with no luck. I get a message saying the files are in an un recognized format what can I do to retrieve these photos?

  • I use Nikon Transfer 2 to import all pictures (and videos)– from my Nikon, iPhone, and other cameras. It allows me to batch rename files and put them in specific folders that I create.
    When I want to use those files in iPhoto I import them. To keep them only in one place exactly where I want (and can recover if iPhoto database crashes) I uncheck the iPhoto/Preferences/Advanced box that says “Copy items to iPhoto Library” that way iPhoto can find the image, but doesn’t move it to the main hard drive.

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