Once you start taking photos seriously, organizing them becomes a priority, and you’ll need some of the best photo organizing software to help get it done. Folders full of images can sit anonymously on a hard drive for years, only yielding their secrets when opened. Import them into organization software, however, and you can tag them so they appear when you search for the appropriate subject, or look on a map to see where they were taken.
The best photo organizing software includes features to catalog your images in multiple ways. This might be through face recognition, reading the GPS tags embedded in the image files by your camera or cell phone, or by manually updating the tags with information about what the image contains. There is a great deal of automation creeping into this kind of software, and it makes the process of organizing your files, and more importantly finding the images again when you search for them, a fast and straightforward one. You can apply the same tag to batched of images at once, rather than trawl through each file individually, and many of the programs work in the background, updating their internal databases while you’re working on an editing task.
It’s common for organization software to be joined by photo editing tools, but these apps rarely work in isolation. You’ll still want some of the best photo editing software to complement your neatly organized image collection. And you may need a photo slideshow app to show them off to friends and family.
1. Adobe Lightroom CC: Best photo organizer overall
Adobe Lightroom CC - as part of the Adobe Photography Pack - is a fantastic photo organizer, as well as our top editing software. We've based this on the CC version, which automatically backs up your projects to the cloud, so you can access them from any device and use both the desktop and mobile app to sort images. This means you can actually organize your photos as you take them, rather than waiting until you're at a laptop.
There are myriad options for photo organizing here, including renaming, tagging, locations, copyright and more. You can batch sort images too, allowing you to apply the same tag, location, and metadata to an assortment of images in your library, and you can set copyright to be automatically added on import. Once this is done, the images can be ordered and sorted within Lightroom, or they can be exported to a folder of your choice on your computer's HDD/SSD.
If you want to create more design-based projects, by adding graphics to your images, you can quickly import to Photoshop, work on them, then switch back to Lightroom with ease. There are several views to help you visually sort images too. You can also share photos or folders of images with friends and family, or collaborators (clients, if you're a business) and get their feedback and activity on each one. Considering Lightroom is an unrivalled photo manipulation app too, the value you get here is incredible.
- Read our Adobe Lightroom CC review
2. CyberLink PhotoDirector 12: Best for beginners
CyberLink PhotoDirector 12 is perfect for beginners looking to roll a photo organizer and editor into a single package. Not only is it cheaper than paying for Lightroom CC, but it's also got a few handy tricks up its sleeve to rival Adobe's service. You can sort images using the regular options, like tags and ratings, or you can use PhotoDirector's face recognition software if you have a lot of images of people. It's surprisingly accurate, and will sort your images correctly more often than not.
For the beginner, there are over 40 pre-set filters for improving images once you've imported them, along with a suite of advanced editing options for anyone more comfortable with enhancing and manipulating images. It isn't as powerful as Lightroom and Photoshop combined, but it's enough for most users.
You can pull images directly from flash drives, cameras, and scanners without leaving the interface. While it does support RAW, JPG, TIFF and PNG files, this program does not support PDF, PSD or GIF files, which could be a deal-breaker depending on the contents of your image collection. Once you're done you can access images from any connected device, as you have 50GB of cloud storage, and you can import to any HDD or direct to Facebook or Flickr.
- Read our CyberLink PhotoDirector 365 review
3. ACDSee Photo Studio 2020: Best for file organizing
ACDSee Photo Studio Professional 2020 lets you to organize your photos in a variety of ways, such as using keyword tags or color labels. You can also give your photos ratings so you can easily sift through your best images. The organizational interface is intuitive and easy to navigate, and ACDSee allows you to regulate your photo collection by viewing and editing metadata. We like the ability to search for and delete duplicate images within the program too.
It supports 86 different file formats, and the most common files – RAW, JPG, TIFF and PSD – are on the list. You can directly import images from cameras, scanners and flash drives, as is standard. Once your images are in there are 54 included filters, making it easy to give your photos an artistic feel. You can also perform basic edits, including red-eye removal, cropping, resizing and color adjustments. The batch processing feature saves time by making the same edits to multiple images at once. Advanced users will rue the absence of more in-depth features, but beginners will be happy with what's here.
Sadly, while ACDSee 2020 does offer an online photo gallery, you have pay for the Home Plan subscription to use it, which does impact the value.
- Read our ACDSee Photo Studio 2020 review
4. Corel Aftershot Pro 3: Best budget organizer
If you want to save money on your photo organizer, and still get something powerful enough to enhance images, batch convert, and effectively sort your pictures... Aftershot 3 is a great option. It's the companion to PaintShop Pro 2021, and works in a similar way to the Lightroom / Photoshop combo. Aftershot has a wealth of tools for retouching and enhancing photos, along with a large number of presets if you don't want to adjust things like expose, contrast, highlights etc yourself.
As an organizer, Aftershot 3 is extremely powerful. You have all the usual tools for sorting, like tagging, rating, and creation of galleries and folders. There are an assortment of quick review options, to help you sort through similar images, and you have a number of search options for your images when you're looking for specific types (you can, for example, search by camera type to separate phone and digital camera shots).
The value of Aftershot is the main selling point, though. While it's around $70 at full price, you'll often manage to get hold of it for less than $50, which is a fantastic price for such a powerful organizer.
5. Corel PaintShop Pro 2021: Best value organizer and editor combo
If you're looking to bundle a powerful editor with a decent organizer, and you'd rather not pay a monthly fee, PaintShop Pro 2021 is a safe bet. Like the other photo organizers, it separates photos by keywords, calendar dates, categories and allows you to rate your photos and search by how much you like them. You can also access a backup manager and view your photos' EXIF and IPTC metadata to see what setting your camera was on when you took a shot. However, the software cannot search for and remove duplicate images, so you will have to do this manually, which can take a lot of time. This interface is very user friendly, and packs the necessary tools to satisfy more experienced users.
Paint Shop Pro has some of the best editing tools like content-aware fill, which removes unwanted objects from your images and fills in the space believably. Yes, these tools are offered by Photoshop CC, but that costs more to use. There are paint brushes and pencil tools, as well as a blemish remover and healing tools, so that nothing distracts from your portraits and photos.
This really is software for anyone looking to get the whole package, at a cheaper price than Adobe offers. Again, though, it isn't as powerful as Lightroom and Photoshop combined, and because Corel releases yearly updates, you'll miss out on new features unless you upgrade, which does impact the value a little.
- Read our Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 review
6. Zoner Photo Studio X: A solid all-rounder
Zone Photo Studio is a terrific program that offers plenty of organizing tools. You'll find the interface separated into four different tabs: Manager, Develop, Editor and Create. It's easy to find what you need here, as everything is well labelled. Organizing photos takes place in the Manager Tab. You can give your images star ratings, keywords, calendar dates, titles, locations and color labels. You can even add a specific GPS location to your photos to see where you've been on a map and to search your images by location. With all of these searchable options, it will be easy for you to organize your photos in the way that makes the most sense to you.
You can import photos into Zoner Photo Studio directly from your phone, camera or Facebook account, so getting images is a snap. The biggest downside we found is that this software must be purchased with a subscription of either $4.99 a month or $49.00 a year. There is also a decent amount of editing tools, giving you the ability to adjust the hue, brightness and contrast of your images to put them to their best advantage. The 35 included filters can help you add style to your images with just a few clicks.
- Read our Zoner Photo Studio X review
How did we test the best photo organizer software?
Our testers are experienced photographers and graphic designers who can recognize the most helpful features of organizing software. We performed the same edits in each program to see which ones had the best abilities. Some programs can make images pixelated, grainy or unfocused after applying edits. For this reason, programs that maintained excellent image quality after an edit ranked higher in our image quality score.
We wanted to see how well each program's organizational features worked, so we loaded the same set of photos into each system and assigned them to different categories. Programs with more arranging options were rated higher, since they were likely to be helpful to a wide user audience.
The number of file formats that a program uses is also very important. We wanted to make sure that the highest-ranked programs were compatible with the most common image files. These include RAW, JPEG, PSD, PDF, TIFF, GIF and PNG. Programs that supported all of these files scored higher, while programs that didn't scored lower.
How much does photo organizing software cost?
The best photo organizing programs can run anywhere from $25 to $50, though many use subscriptions and will need to be renewed monthly or yearly. Typically, programs that cost more will provide more advanced editing tools in addition to the organizing options, so you'll be able to get your favorite images looking exactly the way you envision and manage them in the way you want.
Things to look for when choosing a photo organizing software
A few years ago, photo organizing software used to be really expensive, but now you can get a decent program for a reasonable price. The most basic photo organizers will cost as little as $25 and range to about $50. More professional versions will cost between $60 and $130 but they will also provide more tools for you to work with. Typically, as far as photo organizing goes, paying more will give you more advanced image editing tools, but will not give you more organizational tools. If you want a simple, basic organizer, you'll likely be happy getting an economical software, but if you want to be able to edit your photos you might want to consider spending a bit more.
Photo organizing software should be easy to use and should provide you with several different organizing methods to choose from. Programs with search bars are incredibly helpful when finding a photo by its filename or keyword tags. You should also look for a program that comes with an online backup manager. That way your photos will be protected in case something happens to your computer. If you want to keep a clean photo collection, find a program that allows you to find and delete duplicate photos.
Choose an organizing software that is compatible with the same image files that you most frequently work with. Some of the most common image files include JPEG, TIFF, GIF and PNG. More-advanced image file types, such as RAW and PSD, allow you to make more controlled and advanced edits to your images.
Editing tools can help you make your photos pop. When uploading large numbers of photos, the batch processing tool enables you to enhance all of your images at once. For example, if your photos all turned out dark, you can choose to have the program brighten all of them. If you plan on using your organizing software to make advanced edits, make sure it works in layers, saving versions as you go, as this allows you to make changes while protecting the original image.
Making slideshows can be a big reason to buy photo organizing software, but not all programs are built alike. Some simply cycle through your photos, while others allow you to add animated transitions, effects and music. If you want to make more elaborate slideshows, look for a program that offers more than just the basics. Online galleries are a great place to back up your photos. Keep in mind that some programs come with a limited amount of online space and will require you to pay for more if you use it up.