Tips for organizing a large iPhoto library?
August 4, 2009 2:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to start the colossal task of organising several years' worth of photos on my Mac in iPhoto. Workflow tips, experiences, scripts or software suggestions to make this task easier are much appreciated!

The photos are currently stored in three separate iPhoto 09 libraries across my internal HD and external drive, mostly in RAW format. My goal is to end up with three piles of photos:

1. 'To work on': the 'decent' photos, living on my internal HD, to be worked on later (~10% of the photos at a guess)
2. 'To keep': The rest, living on my external drive (~80% of the photos)
3. 'Trash': Poor quality photos and all duplicates, in one place, that I can easily review and delete (~10% of the photos)

I prefer to use iPhoto to organise the photos as I'm familiar with it, but I'm open to other options. The new structure needs to play nice with other software like Aperture / Photoshop as I will use these to work on the first group. For photos I've already edited, I'd also like to preserve the originals (currently stored in iPhoto) for safety.

So far the only sorting of the photos that I have is with iPhoto's events - I don't really use ratings, faces, or geotagging. I have iPhoto Library Manager, which enables copying between iPhoto libraries but is quite slow, as well as Duplicate Annihilator (which didn't catch all my duplicates after several passes and tweaking the options).

What can you guys suggest?
posted by scrm to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Create some custom albums in iPhoto that sort the photos by what type of camera took them. Everything likely already has the proper EXIF data in it. It's been really helpful in organizing 18,000+ photos on my wife's laptop. We have a small pocket size camera and a full size digital SLR.
posted by thewalrus at 2:29 AM on August 4, 2009

As much as I despise 'ratings' (I'm a bit of an absolutist, so 1-5 star ratings is too much for me - just gimme 'crap', 'good', and maybe 'OK' ;-) they're actually handy for this kind of organisation, particularly when combined with keywords. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for addings ratings (Apple-1 through Apple-5, IIRC; it's a pity there's no shortcut key for adding keywords).

I presume you're already using Smart Albums; adding ratings (& keywords, if you use them) gives another data point to search with i.e. "give me all crap photos taken with my DSLR and a focal length <55mm while on holidays in Malta during May 2007". Then you can drag & drop smart albums between libraries in iPhoto Library Manager.

I was reminiscing today about the SQL-like smart folders in BeOS. They're the perfect thing for that type of sorting / collating. Pity Palm bought, then ignored, BeOS. You could approximate something like them in AppleScript, but...
posted by Pinback at 4:49 AM on August 4, 2009

I enforce a fairly rigid directory hierarchy for sanity's sake.

All photos go into folders per events, prepended with the year-month-day (e.g., "2009-08-01 - Dad's Birthday").

Each of these folders has one RAW sub-directory. When I go through I'll rate keepers to work on later. Any completed images are stashed in the principal folder. Occasionally I'll have a "work" folder to go along with the "raw" folder, but normally it's not necessary.

Rating is great for editing; it helps you determine where you should spend your time.

The advantage of the "YYYY-MM-DD-event" folder structure is that it works everywhere on anything.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:11 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's my problem: Often I'll just snap a half-dozen photos of my dogs on the couch or the cats dozing in the sun or my wife yelling at me to stop taking pictures of her eating lunch. I find it hard to consider these "events", and since iPhoto by default splits "events" by day, I'm pretty much going to have an event for every day I'm alive, which makes no sense to me.

Are you folks saying that I should be leaving the default "events" taxonomy in place? I should have been creating albums for "Pets" and "Wife" instead? </bangs head on desk>
posted by GatorDavid at 6:19 AM on August 4, 2009

GatorDavid, yes. Events are by iPhoto's definition, discrete moments in time. Albums are collections based on some subjective qualification ("great landscapes", "mom").

Scrm, I would suggest putting it all into one library...but I've never really worked with multiple libraries and the one time I did I ended up with pictures in the wrong library and that was a pain. If multiple libraries are working then stick with them.

If you do go with one library I would use ratings & smart albums. If it's trash, 1 star. To work on, 5 stars, or however you feel your stars are best distributed based on the granularity you want.

Personally, I love iPhoto's taxonomy, but if you have Aperture they undoubtedly have a much more powerful library system. Maybe look into that?
posted by Brainy at 6:32 AM on August 4, 2009

I find it hard to consider these "events"

It's just a catch-all word for "generic description."

2009-08-01 - stupid cats
2009-08-04 - my beloved sofa
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:02 PM on August 4, 2009

Best answer: this assumes that your photos have at least the date created metadata. if you have more than that, you can sort by camera type, GPS location, whatever and make it a bit easier to add keywords or identify dupes.

notes: iphoto assigns the first letter of the keyword to be its hotkey when you have the keywords box open. hotkeys for ratings are apple+1 thru 5.

step 1 (if possible): add a keyword ID to each image in each library (everything in library 01 has keyword "library 01", etc.) then merge all of the libraries to one huge library.
step 2: run the de-duper software just in case it catches anything new.
step 3: create three smart albums: "rated 1", "rated 2", and "unrated". go through your unrated photos, sorted by date, and rate 1 for photos that you don't want to keep, 2 for the "fix later" photos, and 3-5 for keepers.
step 4: flag all of the photos in the smart album "rated 1". go to (I think) photos -> create event from flagged photos. Select that event and trash it.
step 5: go through all of your remaining photos and add keywords as required for future categorizing or whatever.
step 6: flag all the photos in the smart album "rated 2". create event from flagged photos. in iphoto library manager, move that event into a new library and move it to your external drive.
step 7: go through all your remaining photos sorted by date and split them into events if desired.
posted by Chris4d at 7:37 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

oh and albums/smart albums are how you get photos sorted by keyword or category. Events are designed as contiguous stretches of time (like "hawaii vacation" or "april/may at home"). You can sort them manually, but by default they are sorted by the date of the first picture in the event. Some people don't care for them, but they're good for their intended use. GatorDavid, if you want to fix your system for the best of both worlds:

- for each event, select all the photos in that event and apply the keyword with the name of that event ("cat", "wife", etc.)
- merge all of the events into one great big event
- go through and split events by date wherever you feel a logical break
- create smart albums "all photos where keyword = cat" or whatever)

the benefit to this is that now you can find photos by date, and also find them according to what's in them (and if you have a photo of your wife with the cat, you can apply both keywords to it so it will show up in both albums!).
posted by Chris4d at 7:46 PM on August 4, 2009

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