Stacking or grouping

A way of keeping related images together in an image cataloguing program – such as different exposures in a bracketed series, the individual frames of a panoramic image, the shots from a continuous shooting sequence or edited and original versions of a photo. Adobe Bridge can stack images, as can Lightroom. Apple’s now-discontinued Aperture offered the most consistent and versatile stacking system.

Smart Album or Collection

An album or collection in a photo organising application that automatically brings together images that match the properties you choose. For example, you could have a smart album/collection containing pictures shot on a Sony A7 camera in the RAW format with the keyword ‘winter’.

Referenced files

Image cataloguing programs which use a central database to keep track of all your photos store both a representation of each photo and its location on your computer. Some programs will offer to import the photos into a central, ‘managed’ library, but usually they will simply ‘reference’ your files in their current location.

Managed files

Image cataloguing programs store a database of images and their locations on your computer. Most will leave your image files where they are without moving them (‘referenced’ files) while others may offer to store your files within the image database (Aperture) as ‘managed’ files.


With some programs you can’t just open an image straight away, you have to import it into the software’s catalog first. This is how database-driven cataloguing programs like Lightroom, Capture One and Aperture work.


This is an important distinction in image cataloguing and browsing software. Some programs can display the contents of your folders exactly as they are on your hard disk, but others supplement these with Albums or Collections which bring images together in ‘virtual’ collections without changing their location on your computer.


More and more photo editing applications now work non-destructively, so that the editing changes you make are stored alongside the image in a metadata file or within the software’s image browser, and are not applied directly to the image. To produce a photo with your changes ‘baked in’, you have to export a finished version of the image.


Lightroom’s name for its ‘virtual’ image containers. Some programs calle them ‘albums’, but the terms ‘album’ and ‘collection’ are generally interchangeable. You use Collections to bring together related images with actually changing their location on your hard disk.

Cataloguing software

Software designed to organise large collections of photos using an internal database that speeds up searches and lets you create ‘virtual’ albums and smart albums without actually having to move images on your hard disk. Adobe Lightroom is a good example, using a database ‘catalog’ to organise search and display images. Cataloguing software is more complex and powerful than image ‘browsers’ like Adobe Bridge, which simply show you the contents of folders on your computer.

Bridge (Adobe)

Image and file browsing tool from Adobe that’s used alongside its creative applications like InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Many photographers find it perfectly adequate for organising their photos.

Browser (photos)

Software that can ‘browse’ through the folders on your hard disk and show you any photos inside them as thumbnail images. This is the simplest form of photo organisation tool and works perfectly well for many photographers, even though it lacks flexibility. Adobe Bridge is a file browser, for example, while Alien Skin Exposure X2 and ON1 Photo RAW are examples of photo-editing programs that have browsers built in.