Recently, David tee’d up a great article about migrating from Aperture to iPhoto. And iPhoto is a great photo management application — it’s easy to use and extremely powerful. But the problem (for me at least) comes when trying to archive photos. I try to keep about […]

iphotoRecently, David tee’d up a great article about migrating from Aperture to iPhoto. And iPhoto is a great photo management application — it’s easy to use and extremely powerful. But the problem (for me at least) comes when trying to archive photos. I try to keep about 16 months worth of photos at any given time, but unfortunately because iPhoto stores everything in a tidy library file (rather than several individual ones), it doesn’t support this sort of backup.

So what happens when you want to incrementally back-up your iPhoto photographs? Although problems ensue, there are some ways to work around them.

The Problem

On one hand, it’s ideal to have a single mega iPhoto library where everything is stored. The downside of course, is that it quickly grows out of control — I get that. So I’ve taken to naming my iPhoto library files ‘monthyear-monthyear.’ (That way I can go back to that range of time and see how much hair I had. Ah, those were the days!) The problem arises if and when you want to only backup a portion of the current iPhoto library, and retain the rest locally. I’ve used a couple solutions, none of which are anywhere near as user friendly as everything else in iPhoto.

Some Sorta Solutions

One way to manage this scenario, is to select all the photos to backup from your current iPhoto library, and drag them to a temporary folder (say, on your Desktop). Now open the backup iPhoto library and drag all of those photos over to their new backup home. The first, and most obvious, issue is that this is a manual task. (I attempted an Automator workflow, but selecting images by time frame didn’t work.) Regular backup programs do everything on their own, so why would I want to do this by hand? The other issue is that the metadata, like facial recognition, has not always transferred accurately (for me at least).

You could opt to view the package contents of the iPhoto library file (right click the library for this option), and do a stare and compare, again, manually dragging all folders and files from the local library to the backup library. This is both more robust in transferring metadata accurately, and more time consuming. The downside is that you’re messing with some important data structures, and could potentially hose your backup (or local) library if you miss something.

I suppose the most obvious is just to get over my own desires to carry a rolling 16 month libray of photos. If I can get past this, then I could just backup the library each calendar year, and start from scratch each time. My issue with this is then I have no immediate access to my photos from even a few weeks ago, depending on the timing of that transition. So now all those images are unavailable to load to my iPhone, and show off at the drop of a hat. Bummer.

A Disappointing Verdict

There doesn’t seem to be an ideal solution to this dilemma. Worse yet, as you try to view older iPhoto libraries (assuming you keep up to date with the latest iLife updates) you then have to go through upgrading them prior to viewing. It would be great to see iPhoto given the ability to backup to a Vault type solution as Aperture boasts — but perhaps that’s just one of the ‘Pro’ features you’re paying for (unlike Faces and Places).

I’m hopeful that some of our sly readers have some great solutions to share that may solve this annoying problem. If you fit this description, please share!

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  1. I agree-

    The iPhoto, Aperture and even Lightroom solutions are failures because they keep all pictures within a library or container. Although this makes for speedier searches and display of your photo information, it is less than ideal for both backup and using the information over multiple computers.

    My largest issue is that I primarily do everything on laptop, and wish to keep all of my pictures in a repository, like on a computer at home, which has a large enough hard drive to hold all of the pictures. But even connecting to the home computer from my laptop to edit photos is a pain, and I still want to reference photo thumbnails in the field with my laptop. Not sure why Apple does not address the large amount of photos in our databases with some new way of going about this process.

  2. iPhoto and Aperture both have support for storing the master pictures somewhere else. In the case of iPhoto, this requires multiple import steps, though.

  3. I use jungle disk to backup my librarys.

    I have libraries called pre2004, 2004-2007, and 2007-2010.

    Basically 3 year increments.

    It makes incremental backups and only backs up new photos.

    I wish .mac backup would backup to dvd different iphoto libraries, but it only seems to find iphoto libraries in your home folder, and mine is on an external drive.

    Seems to work. What do you think?

  4. for starters, to have the easiest backup solution, you have to uncheck the option in iPhoto to add to the iPhoto’s Library, which is contrary to what you would think.

    what i do with lightroom 2 is have a Master catalog in a master catalog folder on an external and a master images folder on that same HD. then, i create separate catalogs for specific projects. the Key to this is keeping folder structure identical in regards to catalogs and images. then update the images, project catalogs and the Master catalog all at the same time.

    i was recently working with a client and they used iPhoto. what i did for them is copy their master catalog to their external HD, remove the iPhoto Library on their local drive and start up iPhoto. it asks which library to open or if you want to create a new one.
    i think this would work in the same way that Lightroom works and i know you can have Aperture work the same way as well.

    hope that made sense, heh ^_^

  5. R.J. Gilmour Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    This has been an ongoing problem with me for iPhoto. In the past I was able to copy the whole iPhoto directory onto a backup drive in order to have a backup copy but recently this no longer works. Everytime I try to do it I get an error message and would love to know an easy and quick way to ensure a safe backup.

  6. Like ks said above, how bout making multiple iPhoto libraries? You can create a new iPhoto library by holding the option key while opening iPhoto.

  7. Just set up Timemachine, which will dive into the library and make incremential backups. THough on the other hand. Timemachine isn’t the most reliable thing for pro users.

    Or, backup the library seperately, say, once a month in its whole and keep the last 3 or so months for going back.

  8. Yes I find this a real pain, especially as we have Linux, apple & windows pcs in our household. I keep all the photos on a nas (synology – brilliant device that shares them out to friends and family by built in website), this is automatically backed up to amazons s3 service nightly, so I have a backup even if the house burns down. I then import just as links (don’t copy to iphoto library). The only problem is that if you try to rotate a photo in iphoto it can DELETE it, (First time I had to resort to that s3 backup to retrieve it, so I now do all my rotations on my pc as when I tried to raise this on apples support forums I got told that to use this import option is unreliable!

  9. I use iPhoto Buddy with several iPhoto libraries and don’t have to use Option (what I would forget). It’s a free and nice tool, absolutely recommended.

  10. I just create an album with the photos from the time range I want then export/burn to DVD – then I delete them from my library.. Works well for me…

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