Shoebox: A Slimmer, Faster iPhoto Alternative?

iPhoto is a great application for storing your photos. But as your library gets bigger and bigger, it can all turn into a bit of a mess and make locating that photo you’re after more of a mission than it should be. Shoebox from KavaSoft is a photo organization app which sorts your pictures by content based on tags and categories.

For those of you who feel like you are growing out of iPhoto, Shoebox might be just the solution. In this review I’ll take a look at how it compares to iPhoto, what it has going for it and what it doesn’t.


When you first open up Shoebox, it all looks quite different to other photo applications which is a little daunting. Don’t worry – as you get used to it, the change in layout makes sense. Shoebox is great at finding the exact photo you are after within seconds by searching by tags, and it sorts them a little like you might expect the Finder to.

Shoebox also packs a good range of other features that you wont find in iPhoto, such as backing up or storing photos on external media to save space and browsing photos full size directly from a camera without importing.

The standard Shoebox view

The standard Shoebox view

One notable difference between Shoebox and iPhoto, is that Shoebox doesn’t create it’s own giant file to store the photos in like iPhoto does, but rather links to their current location in the Finder.  This is good and bad, meaning you can keep the images where you want, but if you move them or change their filename Shoebox will lose track of them.

Shoebox uses the term “Categories”, but this essentially means the same thing as “Tags” or “Keywords” that you might be used to seeing in other apps.

Importing Photos

Shoebox makes transfering photos from your previous libraries a breeze. I imagine most people who try it out would already have an iPhoto library in place, and Shoebox offers a one-click import from iPhoto, whilst retaining any keywords and even ratings that you may have already added.

Import from iPhoto, a Folder, or a Disk with a click

Import from iPhoto, a Folder, or a Disk with a click

Getting Started with Categories

Of course, for search functionality to work seamlessly, there is a bit of manual labour involved; adding keywords to each and every photo you want to keep an eye on.  Shoebox does everything it can to minimize the effort;  you can quickly select multiple images to tag, and typing the first letter or two of a tag will automatically fill in the rest.

The Categories Window shows all of the various categories you will have created by tagging photos and allows you to arrange them, which is actually a powerful tool. This means that you can place “cats”, “sharks” and “bees” inside the category of “Animals”. This way, if you tag a photo “cat”, and then search for “Animals”, all the photos with cats in them will be displayed in the results.  This is a great feature and means you can give each photo less tags than you would normally need to.

Place categories within categories for more efficient searching

Place categories within categories for more efficient searching


There are four ways to browse photos in Shoebox; by folders as they are in the Finder, by categories that you’ve created, by searching, or directly off the camera.

All methods are useful for different scenarios. The Category Browser has a helpful ‘progress-bar’ feature which lets you see at a glance how many photos each category has, relative to the others.

The camera browser is perfect for looking at photos off a camera or memory card without having to import, a feature which iPhoto lacks.

Shoebox also offers the choice of grid, list or slideshow view.

Browsing by folders with list view

Browsing by folders with list view

Other Notable Features

Shoebox lets you back photos up to an external HD or disk with ease, and if running short of space, even lets you shrink the backed up photos on your main computer.  This means that you can still see all of your photos, at a lower resolution, but when you connect the backup media Shoebox will automatically show the full resolution version.  You can also instantly restore the shrunk photos back to as they were.

Shoebox can also play slideshows fullscreen while using another monitor to list the pictures, burn photos to a disk, and look up detailed info on each photo such as the exposure settings like f.stop and ISO.

What’s Missing?

There’s a few things that Shoebox doesn’t have.  A big one that iPhoto users will miss is any form of photo editing – you can’t crop or enhance images at all.  Shoebox wasn’t designed to have this, and is intended to complement a photo editing application such as Photoshop or Preview, but I personally find it a timesaver having editing functions within the app that you look at your photos with.

Most still cameras can now also film in video, so it is unfortunate that whilst you can categorize videos, Shoebox doesn’t display thumbnails of many common formats.

Shoebox has also crashed a few times while I’ve been using it which is a nuisance but is almost instant to reopen.


If you’re finding that your photo library is quickly becoming huge, Shoebox could be just the right application for locating the exact photos you’re after.  It lacks a few things iPhoto has like photo editing, but also provides a far superior method of finding photographs; it basically comes down to your needs.

Shoebox can be downloaded in a limited trial form (allowing you to only view up to 25 photos at a time), and can also be purchased in Express for $30 and a Pro version for $80.  Shoebox Express allows for up to 10,000 photos while Pro is unlimited.

Tell us what you’re preferred method for photo organization is.  Do you use iPhoto, Shoebox, or another, perhaps more advanced application like Bridge or Aperture?


Shoebox is a great tool for tagging your photographs to quickly locate the exact photograph you are after by categorizing photos by content. It also offers great backup solutions and browsing features.