I am looking for a photo manager that would be clean and simple and most importantly, would allow me to simply browse directories on my drive and view photos there directly without the concept of "Libraries" and having to import images into the application. I absolutely HATE dealing with libraries, and my preference is to just open the application that shows me a tree of my drive where I can navigate through different folders.

Any good apps for Mac?

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    So just use finder? Have you tried Photo Mechanic? – dpollitt Feb 23 '13 at 17:37
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    What does your "photo manager" do if it doesn't manage the library? Do you mean a photo editor like Gimp or Photoshop? Lightroom will allow you to manage your own photos, but most people let it do the image managment and file placement. – Pat Farrell Feb 23 '13 at 22:39
  • I need an application that will allow me to browse the directory structure as is (no library) and easily batch tweak/view/delete photos. Photoshop, is an editing program you need to actually go to Open> to open images. – antonpug Feb 23 '13 at 23:23
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    1.)What do you "absolutely HATE" about libraries? 2.)Do you have any examples of software that you have ever seen do this? 3.)Can you explain why Finder doesn't fulfill this need(or any other file browser such as muCommander, Path Finder, etc.)? – dpollitt Feb 23 '13 at 23:28
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    I don't like libraries, because I like to manage my images independently from some software. – antonpug Feb 26 '13 at 17:55

12 Answers 12


I recommend Lightroom. Wait. Doesn't Lightroom use a Library? Yes, Lightroom uses a Library, but perhaps not in the way you think.

Lightroom actually uses the directory structure you define, and will use it happily. In fact, it won't even touch your photos. It will publish to the directories as well. You can browse, tweak and yes, delete photos within your directory.

Lightroom uses a library to hold the edits and metadata for your images. The actual images are not stored in the library. Edits and metadata can be written to the image, to a new image, or to XMP sidecar files, depending on what you prefer.

Lightroom has superior image management capabilities, zero touch photo editing, and will allow you to manage the files exactly where they are, in directories of your own choosing. During the Lightroom Import process, Lightroom will even copy your originals to the directory of your choosing, because it doesn't put images in the library.

Lightroom does import, but it is not importing or even moving your images, it is simply importing the data about your image, and creating on-screen previews to aid in editing.

If you wish your images to maintain the ability to be platform independant, then simply use Lightroom's ability to attach metadata to the image or directory: you can have Lightroom save the images as DNG, with the metadata, including changes, embedded in the file. You can even choose to have the original RAW file embedded in the DNG. Or if you prefer not to have DNGs, simply instruct Lightroom to write XMP-sidecar files. This will cause Lightroom to create an XMP file for each of your edited RAW files, which contains the metadate and edits.

  • I have tried lightroom, thing is though, I don't like there being lightroom-generated meta and organization for my photos, I like them to be platform/software independent. – antonpug Feb 26 '13 at 17:56
  • I updated my answer to include how to use Lightroom to maintain platform/software independence. – cmason Jul 12 '13 at 17:54

You didn't mention which version of OS X you have, it's probably relevant.

RawTherapee is a pretty good editor/browser/manager as you describe. It's usually a little bit behind on the Mac build and it's only 32-bit there, but if you're able to compile your own, then you could build 64-bit since it's open source.

As mentioned, Adobe Bridge also does this, but then you're buying Photoshop and that's not so cheap. Having said that, it works very well, does batch (including batching through Photoshop when you want stuff from there), and is 64-bit.

There's also DxO Optics Pro that can work in what they call "File Mode" which is filesystem based. DxO is pretty well known for their imaging work, but I haven't used their software being a Photoshop user.

My thoughts would be to try and get RawTherapee going, it's a very good piece of software. Failing that, I'd probably go with the DxO package as it's significantly cheaper. Note, you can also download and try the DxO first.


Sounds like you are looking for GraphicConverter. This has been around for eons, and was very popular before library-based photo managers became popular. It is still updated (64-bit support, raw...). However, I have not used it myself for years.


Also check out Adobe Bridge.

By the way, library-less photo managers usually are called photo/image browsers.

  • not if you also want to to edit them, with more than gamma/contrast/brightness, but use retouching, local contrast enhancement,sort them, develop raws with full control, etc. – Michael Nielsen Feb 23 '13 at 20:45
  • @MichaelNielsen - well, you can, if you use Adobe RAW. Adobe Bridge uses the develop settings in the XMP file when displaying the image – Pete Jul 12 '13 at 10:36
  • but can you create/modify the XMP file in it? Also, my comment was to "lib less photo man usually called photo-image browsers" – Michael Nielsen Jul 12 '13 at 16:54

I love libraries (Lightroom is my favourite) but sometimes I just need to quickly view a couple of pictures in a directory. I use Xee for this purpose. No imports, no need to select images to view, simple navigation, a bunch of supported formats.

Xee is a lightweight, fast and convenient image viewer and browser. It is designed to be a serious tool for image viewing and management, with a sleek and powerful interface.

Xee is useful as a more powerful replacement for Preview, or most any other image viewer available on Mac OS X. It is very fast, and uses less memory than most other image viewing tools.


I feel the same about libraries and my main two tools are Picasa for browsing because its simplicity and Darktable for RAW editing because its power. Both work well in combination.


Xee, GraphicConverter, etc., are all good options. Since those are covered, I'll mention PhotoReviewer.app -- it's written by the guy who made "Solarian 2" back in the day, when he was tinkering around with MacOSX programming. I don't believe it's actively updated, but it's worked for me in the past when I wanted a quick browse.


You can also look at Capture One. This doesn't use libraries and is considered to be one of the best RAW converters out there. It does create a lot of files and folders for all the associated meta data however.

I have CaptureOne Express 6 which is pretty good and cheap too, but hardly use it as I prefer Lightroom 4.


No brainer. Picasa from Google. Also really dislike the fact that iphoto creates use a library structure. It either leads to duplication of files or forces a certain folder and file hierarchy on you. Picasa allows you to use your own file and folder structure and works within that. It allows basic photo editing, and there is a plug in that allows one click uploads to facebook. Best of all, it's very light and completely free.


If you're a Canon user, Digital Photo Professional that comes with most EOS camera bodies for free works based directly on the folder structure I think.. I vaguely recall that it did not have its own separate library. Changes to raw files are saved in .xmp sidecar files and not to the original image, and you can then export the file (plus changes) to a jpg when you're happy...

Haven't used DPP in ages though (as I hate it) so could be wrong on that.... (I use Lightroom and really recommend that - I have it point to my photo folder and don't get any duplicates etc...)


After many searches and comparisons I settle to XnViewMP. Ultra fast, cross-platform, full of features, actively developed. And of course, free.

Yes, I worked with Lightroom, Picasa et al.

PS: Don't be fooled by the version number. The program is much more mature than its version. :)


I also don't like using libraries. Reason is that I often carry over directories with partly processed photos from one system to another (e.g. from netbook during vacation, then to a laptop for sorting, and then to the desktop with calibrated monitor for processing). Or I even share the same directory on a hard disk from multiple OS or systems. Exporting/importing the metadata every time is just too much hassle for no advantage gained.

Thus I use Corel Aftershot Pro (ASP)

  • it can use the existing folder structure
  • it can store all edits and meta data (e.g. keywords, rating) in XMP files in the same folder as the pictures

ASP is a RAW converter, but it can handle JPGs as well. It has more editing features compared even to LR5, for example it is possible to apply all local changes to arbitrary shaped layers (not just circles as in LR).

Using a RAW converter as a photo manager might sound like a overkill, but ASP is comparable in speed with other simple photo managers I have seen. Just try it yourself, they have a 14 day evaluation licence.

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