Do you feel like you're drowning in digital photos? Sometimes it seems your phone gets filled up with selfies and snapshots all on its own, and yet picking the best shot and keeping your photos organized is never quite as automatic. It takes time to sort through the memories you create, but it's an important task because an organized photo library is an inviting photo library. While your phone OS probably has a service for storing and sorting through photos, there's a fair share of privacy issues around willfully giving copies of pictures of your life, friends, children, and activities to a corporation (for free, no less). Luckily, there are plenty of open source alternatives that provide control over who can see your photos, and there are open source tools to help you find and enhance the very best of all your favorite photos.
Nextcloud is far more than a photo hosting application, but its photo management stands out thanks to phone apps you can use for opt-in synchronization. Instead of sending your pictures to Google Photos or Apple cloud storage, you can send them to your own Nextcloud install.
Nextcloud is surprisingly easy to set up on your own server, and it has robust controls so you can select who on the Internet can reach your photo albums. You can also purchase a Nextcould hosting service, which on one hand may not seem any different from giving your photos over to Google or Apple, but there's a significant difference: Nextcloud storage is demonstrably encrypted, with source code to prove it.
Piwigo is an open source photo gallery program written in PHP with a large community of users and developers, featuring a number of customizable features, themes, and a pluggable interface. It has over 17 years of history, which is more than can be said of the comparatively recent cloud solutions that most mobile phones default to now. Piwigo has a mobile app, too, so you can sync straight from your phone.
Storing your photos is only half the battle. Making sense of them is the other half, and for that you need a good set of open source tools. The best tool for the job depends largely upon what you actually need. Nearly everyone's an amateur photographer even if they don't think of themselves that way, and then there are those who make a living off photography. There's something for everyone, though, and at the bare minimum you need a pleasant and efficient way to view your photo library.
Nextcloud and Piwigo happen to both have excellent viewers built in, but some users prefer to browse their collections with a dedicated desktop tool rather than a web browser. A well-designed desktop viewer is a great to quickly flip through multiple images without loading times or even an Internet connection at all.
- Eye of GNOME, the built-in image viewer with many Linux distributions, does a fine job with displaying images in most common formats.
- ImageGlass is another open source basic image viewer, which, while simple, benefits from the speed that comes with being so lightweight, and is a good choice for Windows users.
- PhotoQt is a Qt-based image viewer for Windows or Linux which is designed to be fast and flexible with thumbnail caching, mouse and keyboard shortcuts, and support of many formats.
A major function of Google Photos and similar services is the ability to organize photos by metedata. Once you’ve got a few hundred photos in your collection, a flat structure just doesn’t cut it; after a few thousand, it’s simply impossible. Of course, just because photo organizers use metadata to organize your pictures doesn't mean they always make sense, so having a good organizer that lets you edit metadata is invaluable. Here are a few open source tools for organizing your photos through automation, with just the right number of knobs and switches so you can step in to sort them the way you want them organized.
- Shotwell is an image organizer which you'll find as the default in many GNOME-based distributions. It contains basic editing features like cropping, red eye reduction, and adjusting color levels, in addition to automatic organizing including grouping by date and tagging features.
- Gwenview is an image organizer from KDE. With it, you can view directories of photos, rank them, delete the ones you don't need, and do basic operations such as resizing, cropping, rotation, and red eye reduction.
- DigiKam is an image organizer that is a part of the KDE family, supports hundreds of different file formats, has multiple different collection organization methods, and supports user plug-ins to extend its functionality. Of the open source image organizers listed here, it's probably the easiest to get working for Windows in addition to its native Linux packaging.
- Lightzone is a free and open source software for high-end photo editing and management. It's a Java application, so it's available on any platform that runs Java (Linux, MacOS, Windows, BSD, and others).
- Darktable is a photo studio, digital darkroom, and photo manager all in one application. You can tether your camera directly to it, or sync your photos to it, rank the ones you like best, sweeten your photos with dynamic adjustment filters, and export them for final delivery. This is considered a professional level application, so it may be overkill for the hobbyist, but if you like to ponder over apertures and shutter speeds or debate over the quality of Tri-X grain, Darktable is what you're looking for.
So how about you? Are you a current or former Google Photos user, looking for a new option to manage your photos? Or have you already moved on to something newer, and preferably, open? These certainly aren't all the options out there, so which ones are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.