Keyword DAM on iPhoto vs. Bridge

I’m a keyword freak when it comes to my photos. I have hundreds of hierarchical keywords that I’ve created so I can pare down and search my thousands of photos for exactly the right picture a situation calls for. Data Asset Management, or DAM, gets more important the larger a collection you have and, for the most part, DAM is performed by the maintenance of metadata. You never know when you’ll need it, but proper photo organization is unbelievably helpful. My husband’s father died last year, for example. It was a breeze to locate pictures of him from when he was healthy and get them printed in time for the memorial.

In truth, however, I only have about 1/3 of my photos keyworded. A ton of them still sit in the “unprocessed” folder of my drive because, after investing a lot of time properly keywording them via Windows Gallery Live, I knew I was going to be bouncing to a Mac and didn’t know how well the keyword structure would survive.

I’m happy to report that my keywords are visible and usable in slightly different forms in both iPhoto and Adobe Bridge. In Bridge, I just adjusted one of the preferences (post on this later) to ensure that it interpreted the “|” as a break in levels. On iPhoto, the keywords were flattened, which is seriously aggravating, but at least every one retained its hierarchy in its name (thus, a photo that had been tagged as “Location>United States>New York>Long Island” in hierarchical form was interpreted as “Location, United States, New York, Long Island”).

I’m still dithering about whether or not I’m going to commit to Bridge or iPhoto as my main photo management tool. They both have advantages and disadvantages, the greatest of which, to me, is how they handle keyword metadata. Bridge has a hierarchy that is directly embedded into the metadata. Creating new keywords and navigating a deep structure like the one I’ve created is hard on the fly, however. Bridge doesn’t have an intuitive search mechanism for its keywords. Yes, there’s a general “search” box, but it would be nice to be able to easily pare down to the correct level without having to search. An example of this would be my cousin’s children. When I first entered my cousin into my system, she was unmarried. Now, she’s married with children. I’d like to be able to easily find the level with her children on it, but I forget if she’s under her maiden name or married name, which is a level in my hierarchy. If I could pare down to the level with my last name (which is her maiden name), I could see where she fits within the level – as a “Brown” or as a “Smith-Brown.” This is technically possible to do in Bridge, but the UI is so tiny that it’s like reading the fine print on a drug commercial. Windows Live Gallery offered several ways to view the structure (on the left panel and also within a separate panel on the right if you picked the option).

Another aggravating and limiting aspect of Bridge – and this is the killer – is it’s nearly impossible to change a keyword once you’ve created one. If you create a new keyword and have a typo, like “Chicagi” and realize this only after you’ve applied it to 200 photos – you literally have to go back to each one and change the keyword spelling. You can’t overwrite the “Chicagi.” You have to create a new keyword “Chicago,” apply it to each photo and then delete “Chicagi” from every individual photo. Serious buzzkill.

iPhoto, on the other hand, does not support hierarchies out of the box. As I mentioned, iPhoto just flattened all of my keywords on import. In addition, when you CMD-K to open the keyword dialogue, all of the keywords are represented as buttons with a very limited space. It’s like they thought people would only use 12 characters per keyword, never imagining we’d want to use a hierarchy. Thus, though all of my keyword structure was preserved in a manner, finding the right keyword is impossible when you are in the “button” view of the keywords. A keyword like “Location, United States, New York, Long Island” is only viewable as “Location, Ne.”

It is possible to view the keywords in their entirety, but only when hitting the “Edit Keywords” button on the keyword window. You can’t copy and paste a lengthy keyword structure to ensure you’re recreating the right hierarchy, nor can you easily search your keywords for the right one – an invaluable tool that Windows Live Gallery had. The only thing you can do is delete, rename or create a shortcut for the keyword.

There is, however, an aftermarket plug-in which is aptly named “Keyword Manager.” This tool purports to be quite flexible. The freeware trial version comes with strings attached via TrialPay that I don’t want to deal with. I’d like to buy the software and kick it around. It looks like it has everything I want and there’s no similar plug-in available for Bridge :-(. My only concern is that I want to be certain when I export photos that I can attach the keywords as metadata. We’ll see!

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