I have a Mac, my wife has a Win7 machine. Currently I take all of our photos and put them into iPhoto. There's about 35K images in there now. The problem is that they are all accessible only from my Mac and she has to wait for me to put the images on there, etc.

I'm willing to switch away from iPhoto. I know there are some tools that are cross platform (Lightroom, Picasa), but are there any that support a shared library? I can share a volume out via NFS or CIFS that we could both mount, but I want to avoid problems of (potentially) both of us hitting the image database at the same time.

  • Do you wish to share the same database, or the same image library? Few solutions can really share a database, but its fairly easy to share the image library. You can, with careful management of importing and exporting catalogs, do this fairly easily with lightroom or aperature
    – cmason
    May 24, 2011 at 20:23
  • I'd like to share both...no reason why we shouldn't benefit from each other's edits, etc. May 26, 2011 at 5:02
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    You might want to mention what wouldn't be too expensive. By the way, a license for Lightroom covers your desktop and your laptop computer -- so, two computers. Digital asset management is a common software need and is addressed a number of ways but decent ones are not free. You also may want to explain what editing capability you need (you said very little, but that implies some). Desktop software is different from Web based, insofar as there is no business model for giving the stuff away. Google can do this because they can serve ads to support Picasa.
    – Steve Ross
    Aug 13, 2011 at 17:09
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    How does Picasa not support this setup? If both computers are pointing to the same NAS folder and the folder is set to "Scan Always" then it will work. Remember NAS is slow. Aug 13, 2011 at 17:27
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    NAS isn't necessarily slow. With enough spindles, a high performance filesystem, and a fast interconnect it can outdo local disk. I know that's probably not the case here — just sayin'.
    – mattdm
    Aug 13, 2011 at 23:58

9 Answers 9


The issue you are going to face is similar to any database-based solution: the issue is ownership over a file and if two systems are trying to change a file at the same time. This can often corrupt a database for systems that are not designed with this concurrency in mind, and most systems are not designed with this in mind. As mentioned above, there are some higher end solutions that are designed with this in mind, but they are expensive and typically designed with an agency in mind.

Assuming you do not wish to purchase an agency solution, Lightroom would do fine, if you did not wish to share the database and each others edits. In this case, you would simply share an external drive with the photos themselves, but each keep your own catalog of edits local to your system. I am not sure if Aperture works this way or not, others can perhaps chime in.

The only alternative to get something close to this function with Lightroom, is for you to share the hard drive of photos as above, but then, use the export/import catalog function of Lightroom to "share' the catalog between machines. So, have your wife export a catalog of images she has edited, and then you import them into your catalog...and so on. Not especially simple, but it will work, as long as you can put up with it.

Of course, if you can get by without sharing edits, then simply put all your images on a network accessible drive, point each copy of Lightroom at this shared drive and edit away. One note: when your wife adds images, they will not automatically be added to your catalog, but you can easily solve this by right clicking on the shared drive link in the Library view, and select 'Synchronize Folder" which will add any new images to your local catalog.

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    Yeah, I'm apparently looking for something that doesn't exist in the consumer space. Sigh. If I had time, I'd write it. May 28, 2011 at 8:22

If you'd be on Windows only, I'd suggest you to take a look at Daminion, otherwise there two choices in your case: Final Cut Server or Extensis Portfolio

Of course if you are not tight with budget there are an endless number of enterprise level solutions with higher pricing.


I think the answer is to use something web-based. You can either run that on a hosted service somewhere, or on your own machine.

My recommendation is Gallery, which has a nice interface and a decent list of features.

This isn't ideal if you're doing a lot of image editing and want to integrate it into your workflow, but for organization, it works quite well. And as a plus, it works for presentation too.


Lightroom is meant more for editing workflow -> download raw images from camera and quickly process and edit. It's not a great viewer.

I would recommend the Picasa from Google. (PC & Mac) You can set it to listen to folder changes, etc. It also reads most common raw formats and has a few editing tools. (some like sharpenning is quite harsh but it is all non destructive)

Personally, I use Lightroom to initially process my images, various plugins to give some my my photos the required "oomph" and for the occasional photo I reach for the full photoshop.

However, once I export my processed photos to jpeg I then go to Picasa. In there i can see all my photos from the last 10 years neatly organized. Uploading to Picasa web albums, Facebook, SmugMug, Flickr, Blogger, etc. is a click of a button operation. E-mailing photos is easy with automatic sizing although I no longer use that very much.

All this being said I don't think things are going to be very snappy over a network, especially not when the files are stored on a NAS as these devices tend to be quite slowin terms of up/down speeds. It will work if you point Picasa to listen to the folder but after a while you might be pulling your hair out especially with large raw files.

  • Jakub, the question above states that Picassa doesn't work — is @Daws just missing the "listen to folder changes" setting you mention?
    – mattdm
    Aug 13, 2011 at 13:20
  • i missed that... Not sure what doesn't work. Don't think @Daws will be able to find a more suitable solution. Aug 13, 2011 at 17:23
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    The issue with Picasa is that when I create an album, it isn't visible to my wife's laptop. Seems the picasa database is stored locally. So yes, each of us do see all the photos in picasa, but then we both have to create albums from the photos, we can't share them (aside from over the web).
    – Daws
    Aug 14, 2011 at 3:47
  • Hm, not sure about the albums; I use picasa folders and the same user account... Quoting from Picasa Help: "Picasa is designed to work with multiple user accounts on your computer. When you access Picasa for the first time in a Windows or Mac user account, a separate photo database will be created for the account. For each photo, the database keeps record of certain information, such as the location of the file, unsaved edits, any album organizations, and previews of the images. This allows each user on a shared computer to maintain their own edits and organizations." Aug 14, 2011 at 11:39

You can use LR3 on two PCs:

"How many computers are covered by a single license of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3?

Subject to the terms of the software license agreement, the primary user of the computer on which Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 is installed may install a second copy of the software for his or her exclusive use on either a portable computer or a computer located at his or her home, provided that the software on the second computer is not used at the same time as the software on the primary computer. Lightroom is sold as multiplatform software, which means it can be installed on either Mac OS X or Windows."

Source: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/faq/

It is great software caching helps little but you may find browsing catalog pretty slow, when you'll use NAS drive it becomes horrible when NAS is connected over WiFi. It is general for any NAS/USB based solution.

I used to have photos and main database on laptop I work most, then I make a copy (using MS Sync Tool) to external HDD so I can use it on my second machine if needed. Also I always keep latest version of db on Dropbox (work as easy backup as well).

If you are going to buy LR, wait for rebate time :)... Adobe sells LR for $199 couple times a year.


You can use Adobe Lightroom, that is the best software for photos management. To enable over network storage you can use a plugin that might be obtained on my site - http://toptechphoto.com/space-light/ It allows to store LR catalog contents on FTP (that can be easily set on NAS).

  • You had forgotten the disclaimer that it's your own site, I added it for you.
    – Imre
    Dec 12, 2011 at 16:02
  • The problem I can't help with is that the plugin can not be obtained from there.
    – Imre
    Dec 12, 2011 at 16:18
  • @Imre — not that I can use it, but there is a download link that works for me. It's at the bottom of the page, and it seems to be a zip file full of lua bytecode files and a (proprietary) license text file. So looks legit.
    – mattdm
    Dec 15, 2011 at 3:39
  • @mattdm yeah, it has been updated; that link read "Coming soon" and did nothing back then.
    – Imre
    Dec 15, 2011 at 7:54
  • Ah. That explains it. :)
    – mattdm
    Dec 15, 2011 at 11:17

tagspaces could help.

cross platform, tagging, photo viewer, ...

limits: with the free 'community' version. you can not: write descriptions, generate persistent thumbnails, use geo tags, tag folders

tagspaces is open source, written in javascript, hosted on github, so you could write [or let write] an import tool, to convert your old database. [assuming an open or reverse-engineered database format.] [you could also hack your own persistent thumbnails generator, to make grid view faster.]


symlink is another method of tagging.

to browse images, use your regular file manager and image viewer tools.

symbolic links are supported in both Posix (macOS, Linux, BSD) and Windows NTFS.

NTFS 3.1 introduced support for symbolic links for any type of file. [...] Unlike junction points, a symbolic link can also point to a file or remote Server Message Block (SMB) network path. Additionally, the NTFS symbolic link implementation provides full support for cross-filesystem links. [...] Symbolic links are designed to aid in migration and application compatibility with POSIX operating systems. Microsoft aimed for Windows Vista's symbolic links to "function just like UNIX links". However, the implementation varies from Unix symbolic links in several ways. For example, Windows Vista users must manually indicate when creating a symbolic link whether it is a file or a directory.

windows machines should only have read access to posix machines, for security reasons.

to sync files, use cifs and rsync.

rsync --verbose --stats --recursive --times --links --keep-dirlinks --safe-links from/ to/

as for directory structure, you can simply move the images folder from camera to computer, and then do all the tagging with symlinks.

'symlink by metadata' can be automated, e.g. create symlinks by image time.

for really huge file collections (with more than ten million files), you should group [partition] the 'hard files' into sub-folders by time (year-month, year-week, or year-month-day), otherwise you run into filesystem limits.

to do 'complex queries' on your tags, you could use Tagsistant.


I have a Windows desktop and my wife uses MacOS. We use NAS to access our family photo archive in a shared folder. We use ImageRanger on both machines and quite happy so far with the performance and experience. The photo indexing is a great feature. No central database is needed.

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