The iPhoto Backup Dilemma

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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