Quick Review: Importing and sorting images with Shotwell

Shotwell is a familiar photo management software for Linux users and has been included with most Ubuntu derivatives for years. Although it doesn't have the advanced features of KDE's Digikam, it's fast even on modest hardware and more than capable of handling large libraries of photos. If you're planning to back up images from an old external hard drive, Shotwell has options to import and copy files to your Linux box.


With my 4 year-old Buffalo DriveStation close to its 5th birthday (and still chugging along), I decided to copy all the personal and technical-related image files from the DriveStation to an SSD-powered Linux Debian Edition 2 Cinnamon machine using Shotwell.

To import image files from an external location in Shotwell:

1. Click File > Import from folder.

2. Navigate to the mounted external drive and to the folder containing the images you want to import and click OK.

3. Click Copy Photos or Import in Place.


You can click Import in Place if you have no intention of having another copy of an image on your system or your only objective is to sort photos and images, not back them up.

One of the advantages of using Shotwell is that it's pretty good at recognizing duplicate images. I have a bad habit of backing up camera folders more than once in different locations to an external hard drive when I'm not using Rsync in Linux or SyncToy for Windows so Shotwell's ability to ignore copies came in handy.


Unfortunately, Shotwell doesn't have a dedicated option to ignore movie files so video files will be imported to your system even if you only wanted to imported photos and images. Once import is complete, you have the option save a Shotwell Import log to a text file.

Note: Gthumb is a pretty good alternative to Shotwell since it includes similar features in an easy-to-use interface. However, in my tests, gThumb had problems importing and indexing images from external drives unlike Digikam and Shotwell.

External mobile device support on a Linux distribution isn't always consistent so this affects Shotwell's ability to import from Android tablets and Windows devices. With openSUSE 13.2 KDE, I had only minor problems mounting my Lumia 925 (Windows Phone 8.1) and MemoPad HD7. With LMDE2, I would get an error mounting the Lumia 925 but would still be able to browse the user folders using PCMANFM or Thunar. However, Shotwell could not import photos from the Lumia 925 (an issue Digikam would occasionally experience as well). To be fair, Ubuntu-based distributions should perform better and installing the proper MTP package should fix the issue.

Organizing images with Shotwell

Unless you are extremely organized when taking photos and backing them up, you would still have to take some time out to flag, tag and sort images. Shotwell provides plenty of automated and manual tools to facilitate the completion of such a huge task:

1. You can right-click photos and create Tags. Tagged images are automatically filtered in the Sidebar.

2. By selecting a set of photos from an Event, you can click Merge Events so that they are found under the same virtual folder in Shotwell.


3. Shotwell creates folders for each month detected in imported folders.

4. To keep track of your progress if you're archiving an external hard drive, you can click Last Import in the Sidebar and check the most recent folder or images you imported.

5. For images of significant importance, you can Flag them for no-fuss access via the Sidebar.

6. Shotwell supports Tags added by other applications. Detected Tags will immediately be listed on the Sidebar.

7. Like most photo-management software, you can rate your image files or add comments.


Shotwell includes basic image-editing options such as rotating and adjusting colors. However, you would more likely use the option to Open With External Editor from the context menu. 


As a final note, you can publish files to sites such as Tumblr, export and resize images directly in Shotwell, preview RAW files and videos, and write tags and metadata to photos if you intend to manage your images with other photo management software. 


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