Photology: automagically finds images in huge image libraries

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Photology is a free image management program designed to navigate large image libraries and find images without the need for tagging or for organizing by folder structure. Instead, Photology scans all images and applies a number of innovative filters such as faces, color, location, time of day, exposure, etc. to find results.

This program’s slogan captures exactly what it’s about “No tags. No folders. It just knows”.

It is designed for users who may have a huge, untagged, messy image library and need some way to quickly filter through it and find the images they are looking for.

To evaluate whether this program succeeds at what it sets out to do, imagine the following scenario: you have tens of thousands of photos on your drive, but you are looking for one specific one.

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick

Say it’s the picture of your nephew that you took of him when you visited New York in August, where as a joke he was wearing dark sunglasses and a hat indoors and looked like one of the Blues Brothers. Except unlike the Blues Brothers he was not wearing a black suit but rather – you seem to remember- an orange shirt or something like that (see the “hypothetical” image below).

Let’s assume further, for the purposes of this review, that you do not download your pictures into any organized folder structure, that you stick with the generic naming scheme your digital camera provides (something like “DC12345” which does not seem to refer to anything), and that you do not rename or otherwise tag your files once they are donwloaded.Photology is a program that is designed to find images based on exactly the kind of information available in the example above. I will come back to this example below in the “verdict” section, but for now here are more notes on this program:

  • How it works: Photology scans user defined folders on your hard drive recursively (e.g. “My Pictures”, “Desktop”, etc.) to identify and “read” your images. Next it allows you to apply a number of filters to your image library in order to hone in on the image(s) that you seekbluesnephew
  • Available Filters: there are 7 groups of filters as follows: time of day (morning/afternoon/evening/night); date (by month, year, or both), features (overexposed/underexposed/vertical/horizontal/in focus/out of focus/black & white/monotone); location (indoors/outdoors); content (plants, sky, faces, beach, flowers, snow, sunset, water); text (a search box similar to most image management programs that looks at file and folder names and – I assume – tags as well); and color (allows you to select from a color wheel of sorts, and finds images where that color is significantly represented).
  • Using multiple filters: filters can be “stacked” in order to filter multiple criteria. For example say you are looking for a friend’s black and white portrait you could start with applying a “black & white” filter from the features group, and next, say, filter those results in turn by a “faces” from the content filters, eliminating all images without faces, etc. Overall you can use up to a maximum of six filters together. Note that the active filters are displayed in a column near the right edge of the screen, and that any single filter can be removed by simply clicking on it.
  • The user interface: I must say this is truly terrific, and if anything one of the program’s main draws is the ease of use and the nice user experience that it provdies — kudos to the developers for a job well done. The work area is organized into three columns that surround the main thumbnail area on three sides. These are: available filters on the left, operative filters on the right, while the bottom area is where you can work with your “groups” (see below). Hovering on the thumbnail prompts a number of useful commands that can be applied to the image, including a “show in order” command that takes you out of the filtered view and displays the current thumbnail .
  • Groups: these are essentially “virtual folders” that you can create and add pictures to. You could create a “favorite” group for example, or a group of images that you need to work with or consider for a project, etc. A rather good organizational tool.
  • Other functions: there are a number of functions that can be performed on an image individually when in image viewing mode, including adding a caption, printing, uploading to image sharing sites (Flicker, Picasa, Smugmug, etc.), and simple adjusting (redeye, crop, rotate, and straightforward color correction).

Wish list (or how this program can be even better):

  • Adding the following filters: filter by image resolution and size (would be extremely useful for designers/artists). Also adding “landscape” and “cityscape” filters to the content section would be great, if possible.
  • Selecting multiple images: the ability to select multiple thumbnail is strangely missing. To add a number of thumbnails to a group, the user is forced to add each image separately.
  • Manipulating multiple images: the ability to perform printing, sharing, and image adjusting functions is restricted to individual images; would be better if some of these could be performed on masse.
  • Displaying image metadata: adding the option to display image metadata: e.g. name, path, size, in the main thumbnail display. If not, then having the option to display these on mouseover.
  • Adding a vertical scrollbar: currently, scrolling through many pages of image thumbnails is achieved by using a horizontal scroll bar on the bottom of the page. The option to display this horizontally would be great, and much more intuitive IMHO.
  • Support for tagging: i.e. adding tags. I know that the whole point of this program is to filter in the absence of tags, but it could also be a great aide for someone who wants to add tags to their image library.
  • Support for browsing by folder structure: again, I realize this goes against what the problem is intended to be, but most of use have (and probably want to maintain) some sort of folder structure, and being able to browse that would allow users to use Photology as their primary image viewing program.

The verdict: I would say that there are two kinds of filters that Photology offers. On the one hand there are the mainly technical ones such as date, overexposed, underexposed, vertical, horizontal, black and white, by color, etc. that by are very reliable and mostly do what they intend to do. On the other hand the location, time of day, and content filters, while by and large very impressive, will on occasion fail to perform correctly.

In my quest to find the photograph that I mention in my example in the beginning, I started off by specifying that the image was (1) taken in 2008, (2) was indoors, (3) content=faces, and (4) color=orange-ish, and got… nothing. However, on further experimentation I realized that removing the “indoors” filter instantly displayed the photo in question at the top of the resulting set of images (Photology had decided that the image displayed above was outdoors rather than indoors). Two take home messages here (1) try to use as few filters as possible when searching and go for the most obvious ones such as date and color; (2) experiment with the filters; there will be more than one way to find what you’re looking for.

In closing I will say that this program deserves a lot of credit for its originality, ambition, excellent overall design, and the wonderful user experience which it manages to deliver. Download it today!

Version Tested: 2.0 build 117

Compatibility: Windows XP SP2, Vista.

Go to the program home page to download the latest version (approx 11.9 megs).