How do you manage your photos?

This is a request to anyone out there who’s managed to figure out the basics of photo management in the post-gigabyte-card-size era. How do you manage your photos? Specifically what software do you use to manage them?

Here’s what we struggle with: including cell phones, we have 6 digital cameras in our household. At some events, all four of us are shooting. We also have four computers in the house–3 laptops and 1 desktop.

Storing all the photos is not really a problem–we’ve got an NSLU2 device with two drives attached (for redundancy), and all of the computers map a drive to the public share on this device. We call this “The S: Drive (TM)”. When we download pics off a camera, the photos almost immediately get moved to The S: Drive (TM). The Photos folder is then separated by year, and for the most part, the pics are then stored in a folder with the date as a name, usually with some additional description. For example, the train pictures are stored in the “2010-01-02 Trains @ Library” folder. 99% of the time, the files are named the same asĀ  the folder with a sequential identifier attached.

What we want is to be able to a) easily browse the folders with thumbnails, and b) tag/categorize photos with searchable key words. And the tag/category database must be shared by all computers, ideally on The S: Drive (TM). It would be nice if the thumbnails were shared, but that really isn’t a requirement.

It sounds simple right?

We tried ACDSee. Unfortunately, its database stored the thumbnails and the tags/categories in the same place, and once you’ve cataloged more than about 1000 files (we’ve got more than 800 so far this year alone!) the database across the network becomes incredibly slow for every single operation. It seems that ACDSee’s database needs to read/write the whole darn thing every time a single file is touched. And don’t get me started on the rest of the bugs in the photo manager. Tears have been shed in our household over those bugs.

Windows supports storing thumbnails in the thumbs.db file, but it seems like nearly every time it is accessed, the thumbnails have to be refreshed. My guess is that the format of the thumbs.db file changed between XP (2 computers) and Windows 7 (2 computers) so just about every time we browse a folder using Windows Exploder, it has to re-read the thumbnails. And that doesn’t solve the tag/category problem.

I looked briefly at Adobe Photoshop Elements, but it too was very slow when I told it to store its database files on the network. I’ve looked at XnView and IrfanView but didn’t find a centralized tag/category database concept, though their cached thumbnails were very fast.

I’d be willing to pay a not-too-exorbitant price for this to work. FOSS would be awesome, but I’m will to compensate someone who’s created a solution that will work for our family.

What have you gotten to work?

Thanks for your comments and suggestions.

Cross posted to DPS, Strobist Flickr.