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iPhoto Power Techniques

Apple’s iPhoto is simple and easy to use for importing, organizing, editing, and sharing photos, right? Not so fast. iPhoto is extremely simple, but that very simplicity sometimes makes it harder to use. During and since writing my latest book, iPhoto 1.1 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide, I’ve come up with a few techniques for working around iPhoto’s limitations. If you’ve found iPhoto clumsy, these techniques will simplify working with your images.

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Keeping Photos Outside iPhoto — Many people have expressed concern about the safety of the way iPhoto takes over organization of your photos, storing them in a chronological hierarchy inside your Pictures folder. In the worst possible case, where iPhoto stops working entirely, you could find and extract all your original photos for use in a different application, but it would be tedious. Luckily, there are several ways to maintain a separate photo archive; remember that doing so doubles the amount of disk space your photos occupy.

  • After you’ve imported pictures into iPhoto, click the Last Import album and drag all the pictures to a folder in the Finder to make identical copies. Alternatively, after clicking the Last Import album, click the Share button, and click Export. Leave the Format pop-up menu set to Original, and make sure the Size options are set to Full-size images. Then click Export and choose the export location.

  • In your Applications folder is a utility called Image Capture that was the primary way to download photos from your camera to your Mac before iPhoto. However, you can import photos into iPhoto normally and use Image Capture to save them to a separate location on your hard disk (launch Image Capture, connect your camera, select an appropriate destination using the Download To menu, and click the Download All button). Be sure not to delete images from the camera until you’ve performed both actions.

  • Instead of connecting your camera to your Mac via USB, use a memory card reader and copy the pictures to another location manually before importing into iPhoto.

Once you have all your originals outside of iPhoto, consider copying them to CD-R to save space on your hard disk. Obviously, if you’re ever forced to revert to these copies due to iPhoto problems, you’ll lose any changes you made within iPhoto, but that’s preferable to losing the photos themselves or extracting the originals from iPhoto’s folder hierarchy.

First Pass Culling and Editing — One of the wonders of digital photography is that there’s little downside to taking a lot of pictures. In fact, the main downside, aside from using up memory card space and battery power while shooting, is the extra effort needed to cull the lousy shots from the gems. iPhoto doesn’t make this process easy on the surface, but I’ve come up with a technique that works well.

Before you get started, open iPhoto’s Preferences window and set the "Double-clicking photos opens them in" setting to Edit View.

Import your pictures as you normally would, and then, making sure you’re in the Photo Library and not in an album, double-click the first picture so you see the image at full size in edit mode. There are only two actions you’ll likely want to perform on this first pass through your new pictures – deleting and rotating. You could perform additional editing at the same time, but I find it’s best to skim through all your photos quickly first, deleting the terrible ones and rotating those that need it. Other edits can wait for later.

Decide if you want to keep the first photo. Let’s assume it’s a terrible picture. Press the Delete key (something you probably didn’t realize you could do in edit mode). iPhoto prompts to make sure you want to delete the picture permanently; press Return to agree.

iPhoto automatically displays the next photo. Let’s assume it’s good, but needs rotating. Click the Rotate button under the Info pane or use the appropriate keyboard shortcut to rotate it. (In iPhoto’s Preferences you can set the default rotation direction to apply when you click the Rotate button or type Command-R; Option-clicking the Rotate button or typing Command-Shift-R rotates in the opposite direction.)

Since you want to keep this picture, after rotating it, either click the Next button or press the right arrow key. If you want to go back to compare two pictures, click the Previous button or press the left arrow key. (To compare two images side-by-side in their own windows, Option-double-click anywhere on the image to open the first one, move its window out of the day, navigate to the other one, and Option-double-click it as well.)

Now go through the rest of your photos, deleting the bad ones and rotating those that need it. Be careful once you get going – it’s easy to hit Delete and Return quickly without thinking.

Two points. First, although it seems like you could do this in organize mode with large thumbnails, it doesn’t work as well because iPhoto loses the selection after you delete a picture, forcing you to click the next displayed picture to be able to delete or rotate it. Second, if you want a nice shortcut for switching from edit mode back to organize mode, just double-click anywhere on the image.

Working with Keyword Search Results — Many people have been confused about the utility of iPhoto’s checkmark keyword (which you can’t modify). I’ve found it’s good for temporary marking of photos. For instance, when I was showing my grandparents a recent set of photos, I simply marked the ones they wanted as prints with the checkmark keyword. That made it easy to find them later when I had time to do the necessary cropping and uploading.

Once I was done, though, I was faced with a niggling problem. How could I remove the checkmark keywords from those pictures? I could of course scroll through the entire set and manually remove the keyword, but that would have taken quite some time, since the photos were scattered among numerous film rolls. And although I could search for all the photos with the checkmark keyword, as soon I switched the Assign/Search toggle back to Assign, iPhoto displayed my entire Photo Library again. If you run into a similar situation, try this technique.

First, in iPhoto’s Preferences, make sure the "Assign/Search uses" setting is set to Keywords. Then click the Organize button to switch to organize mode, turn off the Film Rolls checkbox and turn on Keywords. Move the Assign/Search toggle to Search, and click the checkmark keyword to display just the checked photos. Now select all with Command-A and drag them to the album pane to create a new album. (If you had left Film Rolls showing, Command-A would have selected all the photos in each film roll, rather than just the checkmarked photos – that’s a bug.) If you don’t have any blank space left in the album pane, create an album manually and drag the checked photos into it.

Now, click the new album to switch to it. Since it contains only the checked photos, there’s no problem switching the Assign/Search toggle back to Assign, selecting all the photos, and clicking the checkmark keyword box to remove it from all the photos. Obviously, the album isn’t useful any more, so delete it by selecting it and pressing the Delete key.

This technique works well any time you want to add or remove keywords from a set of photos that you’ve found by searching for keywords. The trick is that you can create and delete albums easily while working with photos – don’t assume they’re permanent.

Using Photos in Multiple Ways — Using albums as temporary holding spots for photos works well in another situation where iPhoto falls down. Assume you want to use a set of images in multiple ways, ordering prints, creating a book, and uploading to the Web. The problem arises with aspect ratios – Apple’s book layouts assume a 4×3 aspect ratio (the native aspect ratio of almost all digital cameras), whereas you’ll want to crop the photos for prints, since standard print sizes are never 4×3.

The half-baked solution is to crop your photos for the sizes of prints you want to order. Those aspect ratios (4×6, 5×7, 8×10, and so on) won’t work perfectly with Apple’s book themes, but if you use the Story Book theme, it won’t be a major problem. And of course, aspect ratio isn’t important on the Web. But if you do want to do things "right," follow these steps.

First, in iPhoto’s Preferences, make sure the "Assign/Search uses" setting is set to Comments, and perform any edits like red-eye reduction that you want to apply universally. Select your desired images and add them to a new album. Switch to that album, select all the photos with Command-A, and then duplicate them with Command-D. Now you have two copies of each image in your album, and the only difference between the copies is that one has the word "copy" appended to its title. Unfortunately, iPhoto doesn’t arrange the copies regularly, so the easiest way to select just the copies is to switch the Assign/Search toggle to Search and type "copy" in the big Comments field. That displays just the copies; select all, add them to another new album, and then return to the previous album and delete the copies.

You now have two albums containing separate copies of the same pictures. I’d recommend naming the albums appropriately – "Vacation 2002 Prints" and "Vacation 2002 Book" – so you can keep them straight while you’re editing. Then go through the album from which you want to order prints and crop each image as desired. If you’re ordering multiple sizes, drag the photos around so all the 4×6 images are together, all the 5×7 images are together, and so on to make it easier to remember the sizes for each image in the Order Prints window.

When you’re done with the prints, you can turn your attention to the other album, where you’ve stored versions of the photos for use in a book. Those you’ll want to crop using the 4×3 aspect ratio.

This technique works equally well for creating multiple copies of the same photos for printing at different sizes or for making one set black-and-white. One tip, though, if you want to delete these albums after you’ve ordered your prints or books, you might want to note in each photo’s title or comments the aspect ratio you’ve used. That way, if you want to use that photo again in the future, you’ll know exactly how it was cropped.

Other Techniques — I’m sure people have bumped up against other limitations in iPhoto, and if you either have a technique to share or would like one for working around your particular irritations with iPhoto, send a note to the TidBITS Talk thread I’ve started, and I’ll see what I can think up. Hopefully the iPhoto engineers at Apple have been using the program heavily and will be building in features to work around some of these problems in iPhoto 2.0.


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