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Conundrum: Syncing Personal Media From Multiple Sources

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So you’ve got this great Mac, and you’ve probably got some great photos or video of the family, or that mountain bike adventure, or the last rock concert you and your friends attended. Whether you like to show off these great moments and experiences on your mobile iDevice, or at home on the computer or high-def TV, the same conundrum can occur: How do you store and organize all this great stuff so it’s easily accessible in one place all the time?

I’m sure I know what you’re grumbling right now: “iPhoto/Aperture does that, what’s the big deal?” Well, if you want to get right to the good stuff — all the good stuff — without scrubbing through the chaff first, there may be a better way to address the situation.

The situation as I see it, looks something like this:

  • Over time, I’ve used iPhoto, so I have some photos there.
  • I also, and exclusively now, use Aperture.
  • I’ve got random video clips from the point-and-shoot camera that are scattered around Finder and iPhoto.
  • I’ve got Flip video in the Flip version of iPhoto.
  • I’ve got photos and HD video from my iPhone 4 in Aperture.

I realize that maybe I’m just sorely disorganized (ok, I know I am), but I’m guessing similar conditions probably exist in many a household out there in reader-land. Sharing all of this from my Mac is one thing. At least it’s all right there, so even if I have to switch apps and dig a little bit, I can get to it. But then there’s the real kicker: How do I elegantly get all of the good stuff synced to my mobile iDevice to share on the go?

My Solution

The solution I came up with isn’t necessarily the best (please share your own in the comments for the good of the community!), but it has certainly proven to suit my needs. Basically, I siphon all of the photos and personal video from their various locations (older iPhoto libraries, various Aperture libraries, Flip Video, Finder, and so on) and drop them all into a single iPhoto library (which I’ve named ‘sync’).

If you’re unfamiliar with creating a new iPhoto library, it’s quite easy. When you launch iPhoto, hold down the Option key, and a dialogue will ask you if you want to select a different library, or create a new one. Once I created the new library and dragged all my media in, I made sure it was organized in a way that made sense for me to show it off. So I’ve got ‘Family 2009’, ‘Family 2010’, ‘Photography’, and ‘Home Movies’ albums for easy access to everything. Of course, you may want to drill down to specific events like iPhoto and Aperture do, so do whatever makes most sense for your needs.

The beauty of this particular solution is that since Aperture is my main photo application, iPhoto is left untouched. Therefore, leaving the ‘sync’ library as the default in iPhoto means it’s always available for syncing to my iPhone. And of course if I’m at home I can pull up iPhoto on the MacBook or big screen to easily share the content that I want without having to sift through tons of other media that isn’t nearly as interesting.

The downside here is that whenever you have new photos or videos, you have to manually drag and drop them into your new ‘Sync’ iPhoto library. Although with a little time and know-how, Automator could be utilized to solve this problem as well.

If you’ve run into the same problem, and developed your own workaround, we’d love to hear your solution as well.

8 Responses to “Conundrum: Syncing Personal Media From Multiple Sources”

  1. I have run into the same issue in regards to my iPad. I have multiple Aperture libraries for different projects as I prefer not to lump them all into one big library. But sadly I want a few on my iPad from each library. The easiest solution has been to export select photos to a sync folder vs a library. This is all of course seperate from any back up solution i have in place.

    I understand why Apple did it this way. It falls in line with all of the other categories, but unlike the other categories, you dont run into the DRM lke you would with music or videos. Sharing some photos with family is not illegal, so it would be easier if they could just hook up their iPhone and synch just a few pics without having to lock their device to my library for that category. Its something Apple should work on.

  2. I keep all my photos organized in iPhoto on a dedicated home server (a Mac Mini with a couple of Ministack drives attached). Whenever I download pics off a camera or iPhone onto my iMac, I copy the photos to the server and put them in a special folder. (At some point I’ll probably start geotagging the photos before they are uploaded to the server.) Then I import from this folder into iPhoto.

    iPhoto on the server is set to sync the photos to an AppleTV. (The family gets a kick out of just letting the screensaver run and watching random pics float past.) Eventually we’ll get a “family” iPad and sync the photos to it as well for a an “official” digital photo album.

    I’m really hoping that a new version of iPhoto will include some sort of “Home Sharing” feature like iTunes. Then it will be easier to pull photos from the Home Server to family computers instead of doing it from the Finder.

    Currently, a complete set of photos is stored in at least 4 different locations. (I also copy the photos onto a separate NAS box running in the garage at the end of the month. At the end of the year, I copy each year’s worth of photos onto DVD. I’m also planning on backing up to HD’s to store in a safety deposit box and maybe even start storing them online – so that will make it 6).

    Yes, it sounds complicated, but I’ve got the flow down pretty well. And I can NOT afford to lose the memories.

  3. Instead of an alternate iphoto library, I have Folder in iphoto with Albums like “Video”, “Personal”, “Travel”. I drag flip video and various photos to their needed locations and just sync the folder.

    maybe I have that backwards – folders in albums and I sync the albums. I forget.

  4. Marcel Winkel

    I use iPhoto Buddy ( It lets me define iPhoto libraries whenever I need and lets me choose one before it launches iPhoto. Simple, easy and comfortable.

  5. We have a desktop iMac, 2 laptops, 2 iPhones and 2 iPod touches (kids) as well as the iPad.
    I sync my phone and camera with my laptop, where it goes into my laptops iPhoto library. The iMac has an iPhoto library on an external disk, so we can share it between all users on the iMac without permissions issues. My partners dslr syncs with the iMac library. I have a smart library on my laptop iPhoto which shows all photos imported after x date. Both iPhoto libraries are shared, so I periodically import from the laptop into our main library on the iMac, then update the dare on the smartfolder. Photos are grouped into albums on the iMac, and those are shared with the laptops, so that on the iPhones and ipts Ives selected which albums to sync– which is different for different devices.

  6. I have had to recover way too many photos from iPhoto Libraries that have gone bad to ever trust it with mine. I prefer to just use decent Finder organization, DVD based backups, and Expression Media.