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PhotoSweeper: Find Duplicate and Similar Photos

Technology affords us such amazing luxuries and fun that we could only dream about just 15 or 20 years ago. One of the areas that this is evident is within the photography realm where the days of being limited to 24 or 36 exposures are long forgotten by my generation, and not even known by the current generation of would-be photographers. As with all good things however, there is often a balancing price to be paid and that is very true when it comes to the number of photos we must now manage.
Shifting that balance back to the productive side, we must use even more technology to parse, process, and eliminate the duplicate and similar photos that end up in our digital photo libraries. PhotoSweeper, as its name implies, is just such a piece of technology for OS X created by the Overmacs Team. Much like the fantastic duplicate file finder Gemini, PhotoSweeper can help you find exact duplicates of files throughout your file system. But the real power within PhotoSweeper lies within its ability to search through your photos and find similar images based on different criteria that you can control.

If you have ever used a photo application like Adobe Lightroom, Apple’s Aperture, or iPhoto, you will notice right away that the color scheme and layout are very familiar. Supporting full screen capabilities and a Retina ready display, the application is attractive to the eye and is not cluttered and crowded with controls. Score one for somewhat minimalist control setup.

The use of this application boils down to a few basic steps. Identify where your photos are stored, have PhotoSweeper compare those photos to identify duplicate or similar photos, and finally remove those unneeded photos from your libraries. Obviously this doesn’t sound difficult in theory, but in practice the volume of photos I often have to sift through make for a tedious task.

IN ACTION: Where to look
While simple to use, the folder search selection process is actually very powerful allowing for several methods of interaction. The most basic way to tell PhotoSweeper where to search your photos is by dragging and dropping your photos, or the folder they reside in, to the main display screen. Additionally, however, you can add your photos via the Media Browser which recognizes iPhoto, Aperture, and Lightroom libraries. Choose your source and drag to the main display and you are off to the next step.


IN ACTION: What to look for

Duplicates happen no matter how hard you try and PhotoSweeper will hunt them down and put them right in your sights. To make this happen, you simply click the “Compare” button and a scan is completed using your own comparison criteria. The default criteria is to scan by time stamp of the file and the percentage of matching between the image bitmaps. My personal favorite though is to do the comparison with time stamp and histogram. This seemed to give me the best results for the photos below. You can also choose to do comparisons of each of your photos individually. These are all fantastic methods of identifying photos that are similar to each other and I found that PhotoSweeper implements them very well.


IN ACTION: Parsing

Having run your comparisons, next comes the big decision. Which files to keep and which to dispose of. Here you have options as to how you go about selecting the files. You can of course select your keepers manually, or let PhotoSweeper auto-select them for you. I know, auto-select sounds a bit scary but this is a great option for true duplicates or groups of images that are very similar and are all good. I found PhotoSweeper to be very good in this regard.


Often times however, when you have multiple similar images you will want to be able to review them and select the keepers yourself. A family portrait for example is one such situation where you will go through the several shots you took to ensure you don’t let auto select keep the one with your nephew picking his nose. When reviewing the photos you can either do it two at a time using the “Face-to-Face” method or simply by group where all of the duplicates or similar photos are grouped together.

IN ACTION: Removal
The big moment has arrived. You have captured your photos, imported them into your computer, cataloged them with your software of choice, and now it is time to do some maintenance so you don’t eat up more of your hard drive than need be. You have run your PhotoSweeper, chosen the winners and losers, and finally it is time to cull the herd. This is where I ran into a bit of a problem with the usability in that I hadn’t noticed, and maybe I should have, that PhotoSweeper was actually using a workflow process for the entire task.


I clicked the “Show Marked” button and finally saw I had several options to handle these duplicate and similar files. In this case, as with most I run into, I choose to move the duplicates to the trash. This is actually fantastic, because it really does just move them to the trash for the software that works best for you. If you prefer iPhoto or Aperture, it moves it to the trash within those applications. If you are an Adobe Lightroom user, it creates a new “Collection” called “Trash (PhotoSweeper).” This means it fits within whatever workflow you currently have in place really well.



Straight to the point, I love this product. I have shot a couple of weddings which generate a ton of images. This includes many that are all very similar since I am often shooting with a high speed shutter. This software would have made going through over 1000 images much easier if I had known about it at the time.

But you don’t have to shoot a 1000 photos to find use for this software. I bet you too have photos of birthday parties or family trips that include images that may not be exactly identical, but are very similar. I know we aren’t limited to 36 exposures anymore, but do you really need 20 images of little Johnny going down the slide in the park? Why not narrow some of those down to 5 or so images and minimize your life a little. Not to mention save a bunch of space on your hard drive. You can find PhotoSweeper in the Apple App Store for a very reasonable price of $9.99. 

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