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iPhoto 2 Steps into the Frame

For me, the commitment of writing a book goes beyond the initial effort because I end up being linked with the book’s topic for what feels like the rest of time. When that happened with the Internet and Eudora, I wasn’t bothered, since the Internet and Eudora are parts of my everyday life.

I was unsure of how the relationship would work out with iPhoto after writing iPhoto 1.1 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide, since as much as I liked and used iPhoto 1.0 and then 1.1, I don’t take enough photos to need to use the program on a daily basis. But the real problem with committing wholeheartedly to iPhoto was that the program had some glaring holes with sharp edges, and I couldn’t really argue with the people who complained about its performance, its haphazard interface, or the way many features seemed to stop short of what users wanted.

So although I didn’t know iPhoto 2 would be announced Macworld Expo, I wasn’t surprised because iPhoto 1.1 so clearly needed a significant upgrade. Is iPhoto 2 the upgrade I and so many others were hoping for? With last week’s release, we can look at the program in enough detail to decide whether the new version breaks new ground or is merely a welcome update.


Importing — I haven’t seen any changes to the way iPhoto imports pictures, which is unfortunate, because it means iPhoto still can’t import a selection of photos from your camera or memory card – it’s all or nothing. Since importing is slow, sometimes you want to import just a few photos without waiting for or dealing with all the other photos on the card, and importing sets of photos helps make film rolls more topical. You can still use Image Capture to simulate this feature, or if you have a memory card reader, you can import a selection of photos by dragging them into iPhoto from the Finder.

The solution is clear. Import mode makes little sense now, since the main display pane shows the current album even when you’re importing. Instead, iPhoto should display thumbnails for the photos on the camera or memory card in the display pane, and the Import button should be replaced by two buttons: Import Selected Photos and Import All.

Also unchanged is the way iPhoto declares itself the caretaker of all your digital photos, filing them away chronologically in the iPhoto Library folder in your Pictures folder. This approach has been controversial, since it forces people with long-standing filing systems to give their photos over to iPhoto or duplicate everything. Many people asked for iPhoto to work like iTunes, which can manage your MP3 files wherever they may be located by relying on a reference to the file instead of the file itself. To be fair, iPhoto is in a slightly different situation, since you don’t generally edit MP3 files, whereas iPhoto must track original and changed versions of photos. For better or worse, iPhoto 2 sticks with the existing approach, but at least the concern about iPhoto’s collection of photos becoming inaccessible is significantly reduced by iPhoto 2’s new capability to archive photos to CD or DVD.

Organizing — iPhoto’s organize mode received both major and minor improvements in iPhoto 2. Most notable is the new Keywords window, which replaces the tremendously awkward controls for assigning and searching for keywords in iPhoto’s earlier versions. It also lifts the restriction on the number of keywords you can create.

The Keywords window provides a list of keywords; a pop-up menu with commands for creating, renaming, and deleting keywords; Assign and Remove buttons; Show All and Search buttons; and a text field for searching for text in titles and comments. Although the Keywords window is a huge improvement over the previous interface, it’s still weird, with the Assign and Remove buttons using a different style from the Show All and Search buttons. And the items in the keyword list have two selection states – highlighted with the selection color if you’ve clicked them and highlighted with gray if they are assigned to the currently selected photo.

Along with useful new functionality, such as being able search for a set of photos using keywords and then apply a new keyword to the found set, Apple also built in some welcome tricks. Double-clicking a keyword searches for that keyword; Option-double-clicking assigns it to the selected photos. When you search for a keyword, iPhoto also finds photos with that keyword in their title or comments, and if you perform a text search for a word that’s also a keyword, iPhoto finds keyworded photos too.

By moving the keywords interface and the checkboxes for titles, keywords, and film rolls out of the tool area in organize mode, Apple was able to eliminate the need for a separate share mode entirely. This is a big win, since share mode made little sense given that the display pane continued to show whatever album or book was active. The share tools now appear in organize mode, making them more easily accessible and removing complexity from the program. A new View menu lets you toggle the display of titles, keywords, and film rolls, and lets you arrange your photos in different ways, with "by Title" being a new addition.

Editing — Despite having the excellence of Caffeine Software’s free PixelNhance staring them in the face, Apple chose a different route with two new editing features, Enhance and Retouch.


Most film photo processors manipulate pictures slightly when printing because they’ve learned that most customers prefer good-looking photos to accurate reproductions of the original. So they may bump up the brightness or increase the saturation of colors in an attempt to produce a more pleasing photo. That’s exactly what iPhoto’s Enhance button tries to do, but just as with the photo processors, it sometimes screws up. From what I can tell, it adjusts brightness and contrast, sometimes for just parts of the photo, and it can improve colors, such as by warming up skin tones or changing blue-tinted snow to white. It may be doing more, but Apple hasn’t said exactly what. In my testing, it improved about half of the photos, made no appreciable difference for a few, made most of the rest slightly worse, and royally screwed up several (so be prepared to take advantage of iPhoto’s multiple Undos). In short, it’s always worth trying Enhance, since it can help some photos, but don’t assume that what it does will be better than the original or what you can do with iPhoto’s still-awkward brightness and contrast controls or PixelNhance’s color correction tools.

I’ve recently discovered a feature that’s in both iPhoto 1.1.1 and 2.0 that simplifies comparing the results of the Enhance button with the original. Press the Control key after clicking Enhance (or making any editing change), and iPhoto flashes back to the way the photo looked before the change. Let up on the Control key and you’re seeing the edited version again. It’s a fabulously quick way to see before and after images.

Where Enhance works on the entire photo, you use the Retouch brush on very small parts of the image. Speaking as someone with a ton of kid photos, it’s easier to clean a photo using Retouch than it is to hassle your child to wipe that bit of jelly off his face. Retouch blends the colors around the area you’re fixing well, but can’t handle large areas. When I tried to erase a piece of paper in a shirt pocket with Retouch, it ended up looking like a large dust bunny instead.

I’ve also learned two other useful editing tricks that still exist in iPhoto 2. When you’re working with a constrain rectangle in Edit mode, press the Option key to switch it from portrait to landscape, which is easier than switching the selection in the Constrain pop-up menu. And if you want to switch to None in the Constrain menu briefly, press the Command key while you’re dragging.

Sharing — When it comes to sharing photos, Apple has given us a number of welcome enhancements, although many leave me wanting more.

If you like printing photos on your own printer, you may appreciate the two new styles: N-Up and Sampler. N-Up lets you fill a page with 2, 4, 6, 9, or 16 images, either of the same photo or of a set of selected photos, and is quite similar to the Contact Sheet style. The Sampler style comes with two templates. The first displays a single large photo and two smaller ones on a single page, and the second arranges five smaller pictures around a single large photo. The effect is not unlike printing pages from iPhoto’s book layouts, but it’s nowhere near as flexible as Econ Technologies $20 Portraits & Prints, particularly with their $10 Portraits & Prints Template Maker.

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iPhoto’s Slideshow feature has been enhanced by integrating it with iTunes. When you want to pick a song to play with a slideshow, you now have access from within iPhoto to all your iTunes music, complete with a search function. Each photo album can even have its own song attached. Annoyingly, iPhoto’s slideshow doesn’t even notice a second monitor. But far worse is the painfully obvious fact that a slideshow can still have only a single song associated with it, and that song will repeat as necessary if the slideshow lasts longer than the song. iPhoto should let users pick multiple songs or select iTunes playlists – that would be real integration with iTunes. If you’re looking for other sounds for slideshows, check out the $50 SmartSound Movie Maestro, which helps you build professional soundtracks for movies and slideshows (but read the help for instructions on use with iPhoto).


The embarrassing limitation in iPhoto 1.1.1 of being able to send photos via email only with Apple’s Mail has now been lifted, and iPhoto 2 uses the same technique as Simon Jacquier’s free iPhoto Mailer Patcher: a custom AppleScript script and icon for each of the supported programs (America Online, Eudora, Mail, and Microsoft Entourage). Simon has updated iPhoto Mailer Patcher, letting you use iPhoto 2 with Emailer, Mailsmith, Outlook Express, PowerMail, and QuickMail Pro. You must still pick your preferred email client from iPhoto’s Preferences window rather than it picking up your default email client from the Internet preference pane.


Ordering prints and books, and uploading to .Mac HomePage albums hasn’t changed significantly, but new among the share tools is a .Mac Slides button that uploads the selected photos to your iDisk so others can view them as a screensaver using their Screen Effects preference pane in Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar (choose .Mac, click Configure, and enter the .Mac member name – use "adamengst" to see pictures of Tristan). iPhoto does shrink the size of the uploaded photos to reduce download time and iDisk space usage, but they still look decent in the screensaver.

The Desktop button does double duty in iPhoto 2, replacing the Screensaver button in iPhoto 1.1.1. If you select a single photo and click Desktop, iPhoto makes it the Desktop picture on your main monitor. If you select multiple photos, clicking Desktop sets those photos to be a screensaver slideshow and rotates through them as your Desktop picture. There’s a problem, though. If you want a set of photos to be your screensaver, reset the Desktop picture to use a single photo or risk having your Dock crash and relaunch itself on a periodic basis. A future version of Mac OS X will fix the bug.

iPhoto’s integration with the rest of the iLife suite is most obvious with the iDVD button, which takes your selected photos and sends them to iDVD for simple creation of a DVD-based slideshow for viewing with any DVD player. I haven’t had a chance to test this yet, but it’s a great idea for a simple way to share a lot of photos via a big screen.

Missing from the share tool buttons in iPhoto 2.0 is an Export button, but its functionality remains accessible if you select the desired photos and choose Export from the File menu. Little, if anything, has changed in the Export tools. Since third-party export plug-ins such as Simeon Leifer’s useful BetterHTMLExport plug-in or El Gato’s Toast plug-in caused problems during the iPhoto 1.0 to 1.1.1 update, I recommend removing them before updating to 2. A new version of BetterHTMLExport is now available (as $20 shareware, not freeware), and I suspect an update to the Toast plug-in will be forthcoming, since it’s still useful in iPhoto 2.

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You might wonder why the Toast plug-in retains its utility in iPhoto 2 when there’s a Burn button for archiving selected photos and albums to either CD or DVD. Although iPhoto 2’s new capability to archive to CD or DVD is wonderful, especially for backing up your photos (it even shows you how much space the selected photos will take on the destination), it creates an iPhoto Library folder on the disc and retains iPhoto’s chronological organization within that folder. iPhoto 2 can display the contents of those discs in its album pane (complete with a hierarchical view of albums you had selected when you burned the disc), but you wouldn’t want to send the disc to a friend without iPhoto. It’s great for friends with iPhoto, though, since they can just pop the discs in, view the contents in iPhoto, and copy files into their Photo Library albums for editing or rearranging into books.

Archiving may be the most important new feature in iPhoto 2 because it reduces any worry that iPhoto will go south, forcing you to extract your precious photos from iPhoto’s hierarchical folder structure manually. I’ve kept a set of photos outside iPhoto for safety until now, but this feature made me sufficiently comfortable to commit all future photos just to iPhoto. It also makes me sorry that my iBook has only a CD-ROM drive, since I’d probably back up irreplaceable vacation photos while traveling if it had a CD-RW drive.

Archiving, particularly to CD-RW media, can also replace the clumsy workaround for merging the work you do in iPhoto on your laptop while traveling with your main iPhoto Library back home. Instead of exporting sets of photos, transferring those to the desktop Mac, and importing again, you can now burn a CD of your vacation snapshots and copy them back to your main iPhoto Library, retaining all titles and keywords. A better future approach would rely on Apple’s iSync.


Still clumsy, though, is sharing a single iPhoto Library between two users on the same machine or between two Macs over a network (don’t even think about doing it without at least 100Base-T Ethernet between the two computers). Brian Webster’s free iPhoto Library Manager still works with iPhoto 2 and remains the best way to manage multiple libraries and to share libraries. When sharing on the same machine, make sure to store your iPhoto Library folder in your Shared folder, set the permissions in the Get Info window for Others to Read/Write, and apply those settings to enclosed folders if you want to allow editing of images. Again, I’d like to see Apple use iSync as a way to keep two users’ collection of the same photos in sync, perhaps with a special keyword that identified which photos should be synchronized.

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Miscellaneous — iPhoto 2 boasts performance improvements, but there’s room for more. When you’re looking at a single photo in the main window (in either organize or edit mode), iPhoto pre-loads photos on either side of the current one so moving to the next photo doesn’t have to draw a rough preview first, then refine it a second or two later. Or at least that’s the theory. After a while in iPhoto, this feature often seemed to stop working, although quitting and relaunching always restored it. Other actions, such as resizing the iPhoto window, changing the thumbnail size for thousands of photos, or scrolling through a large Photo Library, still aren’t smooth, even on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 (though they weren’t notably worse on my 500 MHz PowerPC G3-based iBook). The spinning pizza of death showed up more frequently than I would have liked, but in defiance of its nickname, it has usually gone away on its own.

That’s not to imply iPhoto 2 has been a paragon of stability (not that 1.1.1 was either). It has crashed seven times on me so far, mostly in relation to importing, which is why I always recommend avoiding the "Erase camera contents after transfer" checkbox. Upgrading to iPhoto 2 changes the format of your iPhoto Library, so it’s a good idea to make a backup of both the iPhoto 1.1.1 disk image and your iPhoto Library in case you feel the need to revert.

Some people will find the addition of AppleScript support particularly welcome, though I haven’t been able to confirm how complete it is. It looks, for instance, as though you can read the date of a photo via a script, but you can’t change it, something you can do to a single photo (but not multiple photos) in iPhoto’s interface. Since digital cameras sometimes lose track of the correct date, a script that set dates for multiple images would be helpful.


One final comment. iPhoto 2 offers contextual menus of the standard commands when you Control-click or right-click on photos in organize or edit mode. The commands are available elsewhere, but the menu can provide faster access. For instance, you can Control-click a photo and choose "Edit in external editor" more quickly than you can toggle iPhoto’s preferences.

Overall — iPhoto 2 is a must-have upgrade if you’re already an iPhoto user. It’s better than 1.1.1 in every way, and some of the new features, like archiving and unlimited keywords, make it much easier to give your photo collection over to iPhoto. As a free download it’s particularly worthwhile, and even as part of the $50 iLife suite, it’s a good value if you also need the other components (iTunes 3, iMovie 3, and iDVD 2) or lack a high speed Internet connection to ease the 32 MB download.


But at the same time, there’s much in iPhoto 2 that disappoints. Why can’t slideshows use an iTunes playlist instead of just a single song? Why can’t you download only a subset of photos from your camera into iPhoto? Why hasn’t Apple provided a clean way to share an iPhoto Library with other users of your Mac? Why can’t you edit photo titles underneath the photo, rather than in the information pane? I’m happy to accept limitations that are out of iPhoto’s scope, such as Photoshop-like editing tools, but these lapses are so blatant that it’s hard to imagine why they’re still missing a year after iPhoto first appeared. Don’t get me wrong, I like iPhoto 2 a lot, and I’m already deep into updating my iPhoto Visual QuickStart Guide to cover it. It’s just frustrating to see a program with so many hints of greatness dragged down by what look like sloppy omissions.

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