Digging into iPhoto - Library Management

Digging into iPhoto - Library Management

Digging into iPhoto – Library Management

January 9, 2011
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iPhoto manages photos in a library. This library is a collection of files called a package. When you go looking for your photos in Finder, all you’ll see is a library item similar to the one shown below. If you right-click on the library item, the popup menu will give you a Show Package Content item which will open the package so you can see the files and folders it contains. This includes your images and all the organizational information related to them.

iphoto library

There is a way around this. Go to iPhoto Preferences. In the General pane, you’ll see a Connecting camera opens: item. It’s default setting is to open iPhoto. Change this to No application. Now, when you plug in your camera, you will use the Finder to copy/paste your photo files where you want them. You will also have to manually import the photos into iPhoto (more on that later). One other preference option needs to be changed. This one is on the Advanced pane. Uncheck the option to Copy items to the iPhoto library. The library will still contain all the organizational and management information (the metadata) about your photos, but will point to them at the location on your file system where you saved them.

Yes, this is a more time-consuming process, but it does have several benefits. Your photo files can be stored on an external drive and are available to apps – and operating systems – that can’t function in iPhoto. You have the benefits of both worlds – using iPhoto and not using iPhoto.

To manually import photos to your library, choose the File > Import to Library command. If all your images are in one folder, just point iPhoto to that folder and all its contents will be imported. Otherwise, you will need to select the images you wish to import before clicking the Import button. Once imported, don’t forget the titles and tags!

For those of you busy digitizing your family photos and heirloom documents, you can turn off the Copy items to the iPhoto library option but leave iPhoto as default app for importing from your camera. Scan your images to whatever location you prefer – local or external drive – then manually import those images into iPhoto. The images can be organized and managed by iPhoto but you’re not creating all kinds of duplicate files eating up drive space.
iPhoto also provides the capability to have multiple libraries. They just don’t make it easy. You’re probably already asking why anyone would want multiple libraries. iPhoto wasn’t designed to manage humongous collections of photos. Very large libraries move very slow. We family historians are notorious for our collections of high-resolution images. So . . . you may reach a point where you want to create an additional library.

Hold down the Option key when you start iPhoto and you’ll see this dialog box.

choose library dialog

From here you can create a new library or choose the library you want to work in if you already have multiple libraries.

If you’re like me, you won’t realize you need multiple libraries until your first one is stuffed so full that it’s an effort to even get iPhoto to open. The bad news is iPhoto doesn’t have a facility for splitting up and existing library. The good news is there’s iPhoto Library Manager.

iPhoto Library Manager

This app has both a free and a premium [$19.95] version. It makes your life with multiple libraries so much easier. With iLM you can easily switch from one library to another, copy photos – with metadata – between libraries (20 photo limit on free version), set permissions, perform direct imports and more. With the advanced version there’s no limit on the number of photos you can copy between libraries and you have the ability to merge libraries too. And you can import images directly into a library. It’s a very impressive tool.

As you can see in my example, I’ve still got one photo library, but I’ve also got a library for graphics and scrapbook stuff. Look at the properties for this library and you’ll notice that it’s now located on an external drive. If you look at the size of my photo library, you’ll see that it’s time for some housecleaning – and probably a new library. We’ll talk about that in another post . . .

Next on Digging Into iPhoto – Managing Scanned Images.

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