Digging into iPhoto – Photo Organization

iLife logoiPhoto is the photo organizing component of Apple’s iLife suite. Yes, it does have some editing tools, and while they do work quickly and easily, they are still very basic. What makes iPhoto special is that it has its hooks into just about every other Mac application that uses photos. Apple makes the programming interface available to developers and it’s a lot easier for them to use it than to build their own from scratch. This is a benefit to the user too. Once you are comfortable adding photos to a project in one app, you know how to do it in just about any app.

iPhoto interface

iPhoto stores your photos in a library. When you add photos to your library, each set is called an event. So, you’ve taken a bunch of Christmas photos and plug your camera (or memory card) into the computer to transfer them. iPhoto will automatically open and a wizard walks you through the upload process. It gives you the opportunity to choose which photos you want to upload, what you want to call this event (Christmas 2010, maybe?) and then it will ask if you want to delete those photos from your camera/card. Every expert I’ve read says that you should delete photos from the camera, not your software. According to them, it will insure your camera/card won’t be corrupted. I’ve chosen to follow their advice.

iPhoto info panel

Once your photos are in iPhoto, you can open the event to begin organizing them. Here, I’ve clicked on one of the photos in the event to display it, then opened the Information panel by clicking the Information icon in the toolbar at the bottom right of the iPhoto screen. At the top of the panel is information about the photo that digital cameras automatically add to the image file. Below that I can add a title and description for this photo. The time stamp also comes from the camera.

The Faces function is fairly new and I’m still undecided about its usefulness. When I’m not rushed , I’ll take the time to identify faces in the photos and it does find other photos from the tagged ones – just not as many as I expected. It’s probably my fault, but I’m not that concerned.

Where I do get carried away is tagging my photos with keywords. I usually do this to the entire event in one quick operation (more on that later), but I will also add tags here when a unique photo needs a bit more description. Yes, I’m a tagging fool and you’ll see why soon enough.

Places is also relatively new to iPhoto and something I do find useful. GPS-enabled cameras will include geo-data with the image which iPhoto can read and pinpoint automatically. Since I don’t have this capability, I take advantage of the Google search function built into Places to find almost the exact spot where my photo was taken. In this example, the photo was taken at Faver-Dkyes State Park on Pellicer Creek. I searched for the park, Google found it and pinpointed it on the map. Later, if I want to see all the photos I’ve taken at Faver-Dykes, I can go to the Places section in iPhoto and click that pinhead on my map to pop them all up.

To move to the next photo, I can either click the arrows above the photo or click an image in the slideshow at the bottom of the screen.

iPhoto Batch Editing

iPhoto does support some bulk editing and if you’re like me these will be the tools you use most frequently. First, select the photos you want to edit – shown here with yellow highlight. Now choose the Photos > Batch Change command or press Shift/Cmd/B. This editing panel appears at the top of the workarea. From the Set dropdown box you can choose to change the title, date or description. The appearance of the editing panel will change based on your choice. In this example, I’m going to change the text of the title to whatever I type into the editing field. I also have the option to change the title to the event title for the event where these photos are included, the date the photo was taken or the filename of the photo (the default name when photos are added to iPhoto).

iPhoto keywords

Once that’s done and while your photos are still selected, press Cmd/k to display the keywords screen. You can click on existing keywords – and even add new ones using the Edit Keywords button – to quickly add tags to all the selected photos.

At this point, we’ve done everything we need to do to insure we can find a photo again. The next feature – albums – is useful when you’re using iPhoto to add photos in another app. Actually there are two kinds of album: the regular album and the smart album. After creating a regular album, you must manually “drag” each photo into the album. Smart albums are based on search criteria. For example, I can create a smart album that will include any photo in my library that is tagged with the keyword “Florida”. So, once I finish adding the information for the photos in my Faver-Dykes example, they will all automatically be included in my Florida smart album because they are all tagged as “Florida”.

Smart Album

To create a smart album, choose the File > New > Smart Album command. In the smart album panel, type a name for this album and then begin setting your criteria for the photos to be contained in the album. In this example, I’m creating a smart album for all the cemetery photos I’ve taken. I’ve selected the first dropdown box to show you the various options available to you. In my case, I’ve chosen Any Text that contains the word “cemetery”. This could be a title, description, keyword, place, etc. The second dropdown box offer options like “contains”, “starts with”, “ends with” and more.

But that’s not all. Once I set that first criteria item, I clicked the plus sign to the right of it and iPhoto gave me another criteria line. So, I added additional Any Text items to include various cemetery names. Now notice just below the title there’s another dropdown box – here shown as Match any of the following conditions. The options here are “any” and “all”.

Once an album is built, you’ll see it listed in iPhoto’s left pane. Click on the album and all the photos associated with it appears in the workarea. While most of my albums are smart albums, I do put standard albums to use for managing projects. Currently I’m working on a scrapbook project about my Barker family. I’ve created a standard album for that project and pulled in photos from various smart albums that I plan to include in the project. Now, while I’m working in Pages, all those photos are waiting for me in one place and I don’t have to wade though hundreds of photos in that tiny media panel.

Pages media

As you can see, while iPhoto’s organizational tools are easy to use, with a bit of planning you can build a pretty sophisticated organizational system that will support you in most of your photo-based projects. Experiment with keywords and smart albums to find that sweet spot where you can quickly “process” new photos added to your library while still including the information needed to document the contents of your photos. And, while this will get you started in iPhoto organization, there’s lots of tips and tricks yet to come. Stay tuned!

Next up – iPhoto Library Management.

2 comments for “Digging into iPhoto – Photo Organization

  1. January 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks, Denise, for the great “how to” for iPhoto. As a new PC to Mac user, I’ve been fumbling with this for a few months and your step-by-step is very clear and direct.

    I previously used Adobe Lightroom on my PC, and intend to continue with it on the Mac (I’ll write more about it at The Family Curator), but I don’t think you can beat iPhoto for easy integration with the other Mac and iLife products.

    Thanks again, Denise L, The Family Curator

  2. January 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for this, Denise. I’ve had iPhoto for years, but I’m still only using about 10% of its capabilities – this is the prod I’ve needed.

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