Excire Foto Review: Supercharged AI-Driven Digital Asset Management
Excire Foto positions itself as able to help photographers tag, organize, and search their images quickly, including the capability to search through images to the level of discerning if subjects in them are smiling or not. It sounds powerful, but how helpful is it really?
Originally released as a plugin for Adobe Lightroom, has gotten some massive updates over the years and is now available as a standalone Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered digital asset management (DAM) software suite.
The company targets this AI-powered tool toward photographers who have extensive multi-year (or at least extremely large) photo collections with the intention of using it to scan and organize all of their images so that anything you may be looking for can be found quickly and easily.
Looking for photos of a sunset? Trees? Your group photos of friends with everyone smiling? You guessed it, Exire can find them from your entire library of photos and present them to you in a variety of ways making it really easy to find the exact image you’ve been looking for.
Basically, Excire Foto can take a cluttered hodge-podge of image folders and turn it into a practically curated collection.
While this tool may not be needed by the average hobbyist, working professionals can find some next-level efficiency added to their workflows by incorporating this tool into their process. Speaking from personal experience — and listening to the groans and headache stories from colleagues who have had to spend hours digging through hard drives and folders to find an old image for a client, family member, friend, or just for their own creative purposes — this software has some massive benefits to your work quality of life.
Getting Started / Adding Photos
The installation is rather straightforward for both Macs and PCs, and neither had any issues getting installed quickly. Once the app is opened, you have to import some images into the Excire photo catalog to get things moving.
To do this, simply point it to an existing folder on your computer (yes, this includes external and network drives/folders as well), select the optional settings like including subfolders and generating previews that you want, and then click “Okay.” At this point, the software will start importing and analyzing the files, applying keywords and tags to them wherever possible.
This first import, depending on the number of images in the folders, can take quite a while. For instance, my 2022 catalog had about 88,000 files in it and Excire took just shy of two hours to import and analyze the entire set.
What was actually kind of impressive to me about this initial process is how little memory and CPU usage the application consumed while doing its analysis. Even during the peak of the application’s work during an import, the memory used never went above 2.5GB and the CPU usage was actually less than the Google Chrome window I had open to write this review. While it may take several hours to import and process all your images, this is really just an up-front cost that is more than made up for in the results afterward.
Once you’ve finished your imports and Excire Foto has processed and analyzed your image library, this is where things get interesting.
Usability and Design
I will admit, the layout for the software is a little more “function over fashion” and could definitely use a few improvements, but I guess the team decided to put the tools and usability above how it looks, and that’s not really a bad thing.
Upon opening your new catalog, you should see image previews for all the supported images in your library including most RAW files, JPEGs, Photoshop files, and even PDFs. Selecting an image will bring up the image’s histogram, the keywords automatically assigned to the image by the software, the file’s metadata, and going even further, the images Keyword Hierarchy as organized by Excire Foto in the righthand side toolbar for the app.
On the left-hand side, you will find the database or folder section which contains all the images and folder structures that you’ve imported into the catalog, as well as any “collections” (think Smart Collections in Adobe Lightroom) you may have created. In addition to these options, the lefthand toolbar also is where the “results” can be found for all of your various searches which details your last search, similar images based on your last search, as well as your recent searches based on faces, people, duplicates, or keywords.
Finally across the top of the application are a selection of filters where you can actually start your image searches. On the very top right are five buttons for quick searches that include Find Duplicates, Find By Keyword, Find Faces, Find People, and Find Similar Photos. Selecting any of these will bring up a new window where users can select various options to filter their searches.
For instance, by selecting Find Keyword, you can search through your processed library for things like aerial photography, vehicles, light painting, nature, as well as any combination of those. Some even go into a “deep dive” for each. For example, in nature, you can then select from a variety of options like clouds, mountains, and lakes, while others have an option to filter images based on the dominant color presented in the frame.
While the UI may be akin to something like an old SQL database tool from the early 2000s, the results and speed of the process are pretty impressive. The system is pretty simple and easy to navigate, making it seamless to go back and forth between searches and deep dive into the results.
The only thing that kind of bothers me about this particular process is how the search results are presented. For instance, If I were to search for images containing sandwiches, while in the keyword search tool, I can see that the system has found four images that match my search, but it doesn’t show me the previews for those images until I click “Start Search.”
If I’m unhappy with this result, I have to reopen my Keyword Search tool and go back, clear the criteria, and start again to narrow things down. It’s not exactly a deal breaker, but this is definitely an area where a small image preview of the search in the background would be a welcome touch.
Something else worth noting is while you have an import and analysis going, you can do searches and filters, but you cannot do additional imports, preview generation, or manually add or edit the rating, flags, keywords, and metadata to images until whatever process in the app currently running is completed. Again, not a dealbreaker, but multitasking doesn’t seem to be something Excire handles well — or at all.
The Search Tools
As I mentioned above, the application contains five main search tools: Duplicates, Keywords, Faces, People, and Similar Photos. In this section we’ll go through each of these for a little more clearly.
The Keywording used by Excire Foto falls under two main categories: Photography and Content. Photography consists of criteria that describe the content like “Aerial, Bokeh, Bright, High Contrast, Unsaturated, and Light Painting,” while the Content section contains subject-matter-based keywords like “Animals, Person, Vehicles, Nature, and Sports.”
By default, the software will scan and automatically assign these keywords where it feels it is applicable to your image library. According to the product documentation, Excire Foto will add anywhere from four to ten keywords to an image to help the system, and users, navigate and find relevant images. As long as another large process isn’t being run by the software, users can add or remove keywords, metadata, and flags/colors/ratings to the images as they see fit.
On top of the keyword searches, Excire Photo can also do facial recognition-based searches and give you a variety of search criteria to meet find the type of faces they are looking for. While Facial Recognition has been present in a lot of photography software, I have to admit that the way Excire Foto uses it was pretty impressive. The tool allows you to search based on how many faces are in the image, the age of the subject(s), the gender, and even if they are smiling or not.
With the wide variety of events photographed over the last few years, using this tool I could search for groups of people specifically with at least someone smiling. This let me go through an entire year worth of images to find some highlight photos to use in a pitch deck to bid on jobs for the upcoming year — something that would have taken me hours to do manually.
Diving even deeper into facial recognition, once you’ve done a general search and found a person you’re searching for, you can then search by a specific person through all the photos with a new sub-set of criteria including distance from the subject.
While things get a little less accurate with the more “loose” you set the criteria, the search by people option is pretty dang impressive. In my particular testing, I searched for a model I’ve done a few sessions for over the last few years and the search even found an image of her shown on another device I was writing another review for. Obviously, for the best results here, you’ll want the person’s face to be as clear and detail visible as possible, but even when things are a little looser, the search results will vary but still be pretty useful.
Finally, you can also search by similar photos. Taking this photo-within-a-photo example above, I decided to search for similar photos showing the Steam Deck, and while the results did show all of the images left in my library with the portraits on a deck in them, it did also start feeding me some funny “similar” looking shots that included speakers on stage giving a presentation and some AV staging area BTS photos. While this was kind of off-center, I did have my search criteria sit to about as wide as it could have gone with a large sample size. Setting the values to strict will return a much more similar and limited result set back for you.
There are a few little hidden items I didn’t expect within the application as well. One such thing is I found that Excire Photos can even open Capture One photo catalogs and find all the RAW captures within them (tethered shooting) making it easy to add Capture One files and Adobe Lightroom Catalogs without messing up any file storage and organizational structures.
Additionally, the software allows users to manually edit the metadata of any and all of the images with the imported library. This includes the location information, capture dates, copyright information, descriptions, camera, focal length, aperture, and even the IPTC profiles. I only messed with this particular section a little bit to see how it worked and affected some search results, and it’s practically instantaneous. The only thing you will have to do is if you add new images to a folder that has already been imported into Excire Foto is you need to re-analyze the folder or entire library even by selecting the folders in the Folder view and selecting Update Analysis from the dropdown menu of the application.
Who Should Use It?
While most photographers may not find a need for a tool like this, working professionals, especially those in the stock and commercial photography realms, will most likely find the value in Excire Foto for its $99 price.
Even though going back through your catalogs to find a particular photo that an agency asked for may sound easy and fast, after spending several hours digging through hundreds or thousands of images, you’ll wish you had a tool like this at your fingertips. Yes, organizing your images, in the beginning, is very important, and most working pros do, but I honestly don’t know many photographers who sit down and add keywords and geotags, expand the metadata, and enable facial recognition on everything that they shoot.
Excire Foto will leverage its AI tools to analyze and tag the images in your selected folders with just a few clicks of a button allowing you to easily sort through the generated keywords and metadata to find the images you are seeking. This even includes providing analytics (if you add that package) to show you the images taken by each camera and lens type, and it even has a variety of setting range searches (aperture, exposure time, and focal length). The updated app even gives users the ability to search for duplicate images, including similar shots captured in bursts or stacks.
In addition to individual photographers leveraging this tool, I could also see it being massively advantageous to creative agencies with large numbers of shooters on their roster. Being able to search for and find specific images quickly and easily on the entire team’s collection of images for creating specifically themed posts could be incredibly valuable and cost-saving.
For photographers with giant libraries, Excire Foto is worth the $99-$189 investment. If getting the standalone application isn’t that appealing, the software is also available as a plugin that can be used inside of Lightroom Classic catalogs, but the UI and search criteria are massively lacking in comparison to the full application. It is definitely a niche tool, but one that I and many creative directors and commercial photographers would use very frequently.
Exceptional Data Asset Management
While Excire Foto is not a photo editing or RAW processing tool, it is an absolutely exceptional management and search tool for your photo archives. The minimalistic application is absolutely jam-packed with advanced search tools that even with the boring design and few flaws, can be incredibly useful to find those missing and long-lost images in your library.
Are There Alternatives?
While this seems to be a relatively underserved aspect of the photo market, there are still a few competitors out there for Excire Foto. You could consider one to be Adobe Lightroom Classic. While this is likely the most popular and directly related app in the game, it does not have anything AI or Machine Learning based around its metadata, DAM/Library management, and keywording of the images. Yes you can manually create most of the keywords, tags, ratings, and more, but again, you have to take the time to do this manually for every image within your system, and that can be a mind-bogglingly overwhelming task for most.
In the same lane would also be Adobe Bridge with almost identical features as Adobe Lightroom Classic, and is also included in most of the Adobe Creative Cloud photographer plans. Another to consider is a cloud-based app called Extensis Portfolio which also uses a keyword-based search engine, but its primary use is for sharing images with teams and colleagues.
Finally, the $139 to $229 Photo Mechanic, while not AI-driven, is a very very fast tool for importing and culling through your images with an impressive array of metadata, copyright, keyword, and IPTC options available.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, if you have a massive library of photos that spans into the tens or even hundreds of thousands and you need to be able to find and search that library.