Blog Post

First Look: iPhoto ’09

I’ve spent several hours tinkering with Apple’s (s aapl) new iPhoto ’09 — part of the newly updated iLife ’09 suite of media applications — and I like what I’ve seen so far. The entire application is a strong step forward, and the exciting new features (facial recognition and geotagging) don’t disappoint. The following is a focused walkthrough of iPhoto ’09 and the interesting new features it boasts.


The most interesting (to me at least) of iPhoto’s new tricks is facial recognition. Immediately after firing-up the application, your library will be updated, and then analysis of all captured faces begins. The nearly two thousand photos in my library took around 30+ minutes to process. Once it was done, I named the members of my family and began training it for accuracy. After confirming about 20 photos for each person, the results were pretty accurate. I’d get an awful lot of utility from this feature in Aperture — fingers crossed that it comes sooner than later.

An unexpected side effect of Faces was an answer to the question my wife and I ask each other often — which one of us do our kids look like? It was interesting to see my oldest showing up, mingled amongst images of me, and our middle mixed in with photos of my wife — we always considered it the other way around. I’m no expert on how the face-matching algorithm works, but its accuracy is enough that I trust its take on the question.

From the high level corkboard view of all the Faces you’ve identified, you can add extra information about each individual. Specifically, their full name and email address. A peek at Help, and I discovered that the email address comes in handy when using the Facebook upload feature, but details on this below.

A small niggle comes when updating the keyphoto (or identifying photo for a grouping of photos) for an individual. When reviewing the info for a person, you can scrub through their pictures and click on one to change the keyphoto. The keyphoto doesn’t change until you exit the info screen. Lack of instant gratification led me to believe it hadn’t worked. I would suspect this behavior to change in a later update.

iPhoto Faces Corkboard View
iPhoto Faces Corkboard View
iPhoto '09 Picture Info Bezel
iPhoto '09 Picture Info Bezel


Thanks to my GPS location tagging on my iPhone, Places immediately had some points of interest for me to review. The rest of my photos lack geographical EXIF data, so it was on me to mark them accordingly. Thankfully, the Events grouping makes it relatively easy to grab all images from a specific place and mark them at the map in one fell swoop. My preference is to geotag the trips we’ve taken — places that aren’t home, because home is the obvious place for the majority of our family photos.

The map displays pins, in typical Google Maps style, where your photos were shot, and hovering over the pin displays the name of the location and an arrow to view the related images. It’s simple and effective. The Smart Album button below the map makes it easy to create an album of all the photos from the location of the selected pin — nice if you want to group all of your ski photos for instance.

If you decide to email off some of your photos, you can choose to include location information. When I tested this however, I couldn’t find the location in EXIF, or captioned beneath the photo in the email. It’s quite likely I didn’t look in the right place, but from my experience, it didn’t seem to work. (Feel free to point me in the right direction in comments, if you’ve found it to work properly!)

The Places feature is nice, though for my family who doesn’t travel too terribly much, it’s not all that interesting. Though it does have me thinking much more about grabbing one of those slick Eye-Fi Explore memory cards which will handle the geotagging for me.

iPhoto '09 Places Map
iPhoto '09 Places Map
iPhoto '09 Places Assignment
iPhoto '09 Places Assignment

The combination of these different grouping options (Events, Faces, Places) is ridiculously powerful, with little user input. Suddenly we can find any photo or group of photos in a variety of different ways, cross-checking them by parameters in what might be described as different dimensions. This is very cool and I’m excited to see how my photo management evolves because of it.

Facebook & Flickr Upload

Prior to iPhoto ’09 you could upload your photos to these two popular services, but through third party plugins. Now however, it’s baked right in (along with Mobile Me, if you like that sort of thing). The process is simple and streamlined, and when the upload is complete, iPhoto displays a clickable URL to go directly to the photos in your favorite browser. Very handy!

The Facebook integration has a couple of extra features that are nifty in an understated sort of way. At upload time, you can choose (directly within the iPhoto interface) the security level of your photos — who can actually view them. The other comes from the Faces feature, when you add the email address to an identified face in your library. That email address, when an associated picture is uploaded to Facebook, is matched to your Facebook friends and alerts them that a photo of them has been uploaded. This is quite nifty indeed!

iPhoto '09 Facebook Upload Link
iPhoto '09 Facebook Upload Link


If you’ve ever used the Flash gallery plugin SlideShowPro, it feels like much of iPhoto ’09’s slideshow layout and functionality came from there. This isn’t a bad thing mind you, it just has a very familiar feel to it, and it works.

The slideshow setup options are a bit more intuitive than they were in earlier versions of iPhoto, and get out of your way for full screen play as soon as you’ve selected your desired settings. Of the settings, there are 6 themes to choose from for presenting the photos. These themes give a fresh feel to the slideshows that were once ‘wowing,’ and as of late, getting a bit stale.

iPhoto '09 Slideshow Launch
iPhoto '09 Slideshow Launch


While you can use the Share menu in iPhoto to export your photos to iWeb, there’s a simpler option hidden under Export in the File menu. Webpage gives you some simple options for generating a barebones web gallery page with navigation. It’s nothing elaborate like iWeb, just a quick and dirty HTML generated gallery for when you need to throw some pictures up quickly (temporarily?).

There’s no doubt that iPhoto ’09 is a wonderful update. The highlight features seem to work very well, and haven’t disappointed. I haven’t had time to play with the other iLife apps yet, as I’ve been working on this article. But if the rest of the updates are on par with iPhoto, the suite as a whole is certainly (as always seems to be the case) a steal at only $79.

24 Responses to “First Look: iPhoto ’09”

  1. Great review. I think the new features are pretty good improvements to the Mac. Maybe someone will come out with a program that takes the Faces feature from iPhoto and turn it into a “who do you look like” application. It could be used to compare photos of different family members or to compare to celebrities for fun.

  2. To show locations of photos on a map for photos which already have location info, go to Preferences->Advanced, and set “Look up Places” to Automatically.

  3. Graig Kivell

    I just installed iPhoto 09 and wonder if I should have selected YES to “Show location on a map” when the program first started. I selected NO because I don’t have GPS on my older camera. Can I adjust for this the in Preferences should I want to change this? Any help greatly appreciated.

  4. I´ve been using iPhoto 08 for a few months, and Arne I don´t know if this is of any help: If you EXPORT a pic from iPhoto 08, the keywords will show up – both when controlclicking on the new file, or when opening it in Photoshop. Please let me know if this still works in the 09-version.

  5. I also have problems with the slide duration in iPhoto. It tries to give you more flexibility (even customizing each slide) but I don’t even know how it calculates the duration (yes, the seconds seem to run really fast). In an older version of iDVD at least it tells you the total time of your slideshow so you can add/subtract seconds per slide or choose music with same duration. Should I create slideshow in iMovie instead? Problem is I don’t want the file to be to large. It’s taking forever to export the slideshow in iPhoto already.

  6. Will Monterroza

    Why is iPhoto not giving me an option to Randomize the photo transitions? I have a photo slideshow with 99 pictures that I have to individually change – this is a big missing feature; If I am missing it from somewhere please let me know, but so far in my prodding I have not found it.
    Also, does anyone else find that the picture duration is not exactly the number of seconds chosen? It seems to run faster, meaning that if I chose 10 seconds for a picture, it will only last for 8 seconds.
    I am a bit disappointed in these two things – I hope that an update resolves these issues and soon!!

  7. Hi, Nick!

    Thank you very much, it was a great review. I read it with pleasure. More notably, as far as I account, this is the first one review of iPhoto after its shipments started among major Apple blogs. This is really great.

  8. @Arne my pleasure. I added a keyword to an image and dragged it to my desktop as a test. Upon examining the EXIF in Preview, I did not see the keyword listed. As a second test I then imported that Desktop copy to Aperture, and the Keyword is not listed in the Aperture’s Keyword field of the Metadata view. So I’m fairly sure it is NOT applying keywords in any universally recognized fashion. Too bad. Good question though.

  9. Hey Nick,
    thanks for the review. iPhoto ’09 sounds great.

    Do you know if iPhoto ’09 finally stores the keywords you assign to your photos in the appropriate meta-data fields of the file instead of saving it in iPhotos own database?

  10. @Chris thanks for specifying the Eye-Fi thing. I’ve heard the marketing but haven’t drilled to deeply as is obvious I guess.
    Also, interesting you should point out what screws with facial recognition – when I was putting together the screens for this post (I used random, background faces for the examples), one of the suggestions given as a match to Larry, Curly, or Moe, was the animated Anakin Skywalker face on the front of one of my son’s shirt. That struck me as a bit funny.

  11. Watch the details on the Eye-Fi card before jumping on it – it doesn’t use GPS, but instead wifi network based location so your coverage may be limited. There are also many dedicated GPS loggers or more traditional GPS units or cell phones with GPS that can record your location [tracks] to which you can sync up to your photos when you’re back at your computer.

    As for iPhoto, haven’t played with it too much yet but have had fun seeing what throws off the face recognition. As described in this article it seems to all work as expected. There are a few surprises [if spotted faces in the static image associated with movies] and a few quirks here and there [to add to the lack of address book integration, not being able to find hot to rescan an image, and i’ve also noticed some weird UI and windowing /overlay bugs with both iphoto and imovie], but its a nice update.

  12. BootCamper

    I too think that the “faces” feature is incredibly powerful but suffers from a lack of integration with Address

    The “Places” feature is quite satisfying to use, but my one minor annoyance is that the pan/zoom interface does not match Google Earth or Google Maps. This is too bad because many users such as myself already become quite used to that particular mode of navigation. “+” and “-” for zooming? 2005 called….

    All in all, iPhoto 09 is a top notch release. Great value and more than enough to toss Picassa from my Dock. I do wish that some of these minor issues get ironed out soon through a minor update.

    If I were to go for one bonus wish (and I realize that this less likely): How about Picassa Web integration?

  13. @HobbesDoo – Add the Eye-Fi Explore card I mentioned in the post (they’re $130 I think) to any camera you pick up and you’ll have the geotagging taken care of. One of these is certainly on my current wishlist…

    @Tom You’re right! I noticed and played with this, and they slipped my mind in the final write up. But yes, they are a great level of control improvement. Thanks for pointing these out.

  14. Nice review. I think the face recognition is a key differentiator between iPhoto and other such software that requires you to identify everyone with no assistance.

    Meanwhile, don’t forget two huge (to me) improvements in the area of photo adjustments. Both of these were borrowed from the 2.x version of Aperture:

    – Definition. The Definition slider is now in iPhoto, and it does a great job of adjusting contrast in a more intelligent way.
    – Vibrancy. No, iPhoto does not have Aperture’s Vibrancy slider, but it has more or less the equivalent with the addition of a checkbox under Saturation to avoid saturating skin tones. That’s basically what Aperture’s Vibrancy tool does, and it’s great.

    I use these controls a LOT in Aperture, and to have them in iPhoto is a huge plus.

  15. HobbesDoo

    Great article!

    I’m getting my copy today. Woo hoo!!!! Can’t wait to try iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband’s lessons.

    I’m also on the market for a small digital camera for my next trip. Does anybody know of a good gps-ready point-and-shoot camera? Other than a GE model and more expensive SLR (I already own a Nikon D80, but don’t want to bring it with me – too bulky).

    Thanks in advance.

  16. I am very disappointed in Apple that they are not taking care of their customers who have purchased Macs for Christmas when it comes to the new ILife. Although I have a brand new computer, my second Mac in fact, it does not have the latest programs at barely one month old. When put in touch with a girl named Jen in customer service in Texas, she could not have been more rude about the fact that they do not intend to do anything for those of us poor souls with bad timing. I think Apple has bad timing releasing a program after December, likely one of their better months of sales, especially given the poor economy. Shame on you Apple. I will be sure to tell all my friends! I expect more from your company.

  17. @djbressler – good point. Possibly a point release update…?

    @Jacob – it worked for me when I tested against my wife’s account – perhaps your friends used a different email address for facebook than their everyday account? (I don’t use my normal account for facebook, so I could see where that may cause a ‘breakage’ in the intended link)

  18. I had problems with Facebook export: even though the names I entered in iPhoto matched exactly with the names of my friends of Facebook, and even though the images uploaded to FB got tagged with the very same names, the names weren’t clickable as usual on FB. So me friends didn’t get notified about the new photos, and I had to tag the photos once again online on FB. Problems with integration of the two tagging systems, obviously… But perhaps it was just me doing something wrong.