Photo Management on the Mac Just Sucks

Photo credit: blentley / Foter / CC BY-NC
There are no good photo management solutions for the Mac anymore. Yeah, I said it! At least, I’ve seen none that satisfy the few but crucial needs that are specific to me. And it’s my blog, so I don’t see what else could possibly matter.

Here’s what we’ve got now. Apple has recently released the first version of its new Photos app for Mac, and it’s not working for me. First, it’s been developed with the assumption that you own at least one iOS device, and its syncing-through-iCloud feature is marquee. Marquee, and inapplicable to me as a happy Android user. This emphasis is not technically a “flaw,” but I presume they’re aware that not all Mac users are also iPhone or iPad users. I also presume they just don’t give a shit. And from all I’ve read, the iCloud syncing aspect of it is a black box. It allocates what photos live on your local hard disk and which don’t in order to preserve space, but not in any way that users have any direct control over. You just have to trust Apple to get it right. Ahem.

But seriously, it sounds like a time bomb of sadness to me.

That aside, how does it function simply as a photo management tool for my machine? Meh. It’s got some nice features, it’s clean and fast, and all that’s great. But its editing features are strangely tucked away. They’re very good editing features, but you can’t remain in an editing mode once you’ve finished with an individual photo. You can click edit, do your adjustments, save them, and then you’re booted out of editing mode. You can’t just advance to the next photo and keep working. I think that stinks. It’s a huge waste of time that serves no purpose other than Apple’s overall philosophical stance that normals shouldn’t even bother editing photos. You shot them with an iPhone 6 after all, right? They’ll be perfect anyway. Ahem.

Also, it began geolocating many of my photos, taken at home or close to home in Maine, as though they were taken in Afghanistan. I shit you not. A bug, of course, which is fixable, and we all know how good Apple is at fixing bugs lately. Ahem.

So I don’t like it.

I’ve migrated back to iPhoto, which I also don’t like, but at least it’s the devil I know. It’s godawful slow, and its editing features are sparse and clunky, but at least once you’re editing you can stay editing. But it’s also a black box, storing everything in a package file called “iPhoto Library” which you can technically crack open from the Finder, but you really shouldn’t.

There’s also Google+’s photos feature, which I really, really like, but it’s not a desktop photo management app, it’s a web service more akin to Flickr. There’s no file system, and everything is stored on the cloud. I love its editing features, I like the interface, and I like the stuff it does automatically. But it’s not an application on my computer, and it doesn’t manage my local copies. So that’s not it.

There’s Google’s Picasa, which I have switched in and out of at various points. It’s closer to what I like, giving you an eye to the file system your photos live in, but presenting them in a manageable and mostly-friendly way. Editing is very easy, and it’s pretty fast. But it’s also a little byzantine if you have a large library with photos spanning various directories, and it’s easy to get lost. It’s very hard to share outside of Picasa, and you can’t even drag a photo out of its viewer to do something with it outside the app.

Oh, and it’s been more or less abandoned by Google, despite the very-occasional maintenance update. It was intended as a desktop interface to the Picasa web service which, of course, nobody uses, and has also been abandoned. It’s a very old app, and it looks it.

There are more “pro” apps like Adobe Lightroom, but I don’t have the scratch for that kind of thing, and my limited dabbling with it and similar apps lead me to similar conclusions: Too complex for what I want.

Here’s what I do want. I want something that uses the existing file system as its basis, something that doesn’t tuck all the photo files away in a mysterious package that will explode if you touch it. I want to know what is and is not on my computer, easily and obviously. I want editing features that are easy to jump in and out of quickly. This one will be controversial: I want destructive editing, meaning I don’t want multiple versions of any photo I work on. If I change it, I want it changed, and not have other versions taking up space (save for temporary caches for those “oh shit I didn’t mean to do that” moments). I want the system to be mirrored on a cloud-based service so that I can use the app mostly full-featured from a browser. I want it to be easy to share to any social network or app I choose.

Nothing I know of does all of this. This doesn’t mean such an app-service combo doesn’t exist, but I’ve not found it. I’m sure a lot of my wish list betrays my age and the baggage of 90s-era computing, but again, this is my blog, not yours, you damned millennials. But you could say that what I want is a well-maintained, prettier Picasa-Google+ hybrid with free and open sharing capabilities.

This may be too much to ask in a world where both Google and Apple are doing all they can to lock you to their ecosystems through a mobile-first paradigm, where the phone is the primary actor in all things photographic.

I could maybe be happy just with circa–2005-era iPhoto. I know I was happier with it.

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