Digikam : premier photo management on GNU/Linux

In Fedora Linux 14, the default photo manager and digital camera application is Shotwell. I tried using it, I really tried, but I ended up giving up because it was not easy to use in my opinion.

In Fedora Linux 14, the default photo manager and digital camera application is Shotwell. I tried using it, I really tried, but I ended up giving up because it was not easy to use in my opinion. In fact, I also tried to run one of my relatives through it on his desktop which also runs Fedora 14, and I concluded it just wasn't worth fighting. For one, Shotwell seems to want to keep all information about photos and their data in its own database. That's fine, but it makes it non-intuitive when you want to move photos into folders and sort them in ways that are different than Shotwell sorts them (which by default is to create one folder per year, month, and day). When simply moving photos to subfolders, Shotwell loses the thumbnails and doesn't know where the photos are moved to. Also, Shotwell has its own Trash folder which makes it confusing when trying to clean up photos. While Shotwell's features could be an advantage to some, in this case it did not work out so well.

So I decided to give Digikam a try. Up until now, I had manually copied photos from my own Canon Digital Rebel camera's storage which shows up on the Gnome desktop as a flash device. Let me say now that I've used Digikam, I'm hooked! Digikam is easy to use, once it is set up. A nice friendly prompt comes up the first time Digikam is run, and walks the user through the steps to set up the default location for photos (normally /home/Pictures), and other settings. And Digikam doesn't care if you copy or move photos around into subfolders. Subfolders show up in Digikam's interface since it keeps minimal information in its internal database. Once I had Digikam set up on my relative's desktop, he immediately caught on and was using it like he he already knew it.

One feature that I found most useful of Digikam is its ability to write metadata to the photos directly. Metadata is just information about the photo, such as a description or location where the photo was taken, etc. First, in order to enable this feature you must allow Digikam to write metadata to the photos. This is done under the Settings menu, then "Configure Digikam". Under the Metadata section, make sure that "Save image... in metadata embedded in files" (there are a few entries here) are checked. So, going back to the main interface in Digikam, highlight a photo and look to the right and you can access the meta tags as well as enter in information about the photo like "Captions", "Date", etc. In our case, we wanted to have an embedded caption inside the image, which the "Captions" field does. So, when viewing the photos in an application that is aware of the meta tags, it will show the information about the photo. The goal here was to allow a DVD slideshow to be created, and to have it show the captions at the bottom of each slide as a subtitle. But, we wanted to use a standard method for this so that it would be compatible with other viewing applications as well. Many DVD slideshow applications read the meta tags and do just this.

Another feature that I love is Digikam's ability to do custom file naming when photos are downloaded from the camera. Things such as changing the filenames to include the date and time (with format options), sequence number, finding and replacing text in the filename, and more powerful features are included. This allows for quick and easy batch processing of your photos. This is accessed by doing the import from your camera (using the Import menu then selecting your digital camera from the list of devices shown). Then, once the thumbnails window comes up, click "Options" to the right and under "Customize" you will see the file naming options. Simply click the question mark icon for tags that can be used in the syntax, or use the drop-down menus to insert tags. Once you have your settings changed to the way you want, Digikam will continue using those settings for future photo imports from your camera.

In Microsoft Windows, many cameras come with custom software that includes some of these features, but I've never seen something include as many features as Digikam has. What is really nice about Digikam is that it's standard open source software in GNU/Linux, and works with any camera that can be seen by the Linux kernel (which is a vast list). What's even better is that I can run Digikam on my PC, and support others also using Digikam because we can all use the same application to manage our photos, rather than having all sorts of different 3rd party proprietary applications like in Windows.

If you are looking for a powerful yet simple photo management program in GNU/Linux, Digikam is a wonderful application. My hats off to open source developers, yet again!