Managing Multiple iPhoto libraries

If you’re managing your photos with iPhoto, it’s only a matter of time before you need to deal with multiple iPhoto libraries.  As the 10 megapixel image format becomes the norm, importing a new batch of photos to your computer now requires some extra planning to be able to handle the huge storage requirements.

The challenge

Loading large libraries can be slow, unless you upgrade your disk to an SSD, and also backing up can be painful if you stick to one monolithic library.  If you do have an SSD machine the disk will be quite a bit smaller than the 500 GB you might have become used to, so space will be precious.

10-15 GB is quickly and easily reached in terms of library size, and as long as you keep it less than 16 GB you can always do a quick backup on a dedicated USB key, at the time of writing one of these goes for around £24.

But how to you create and manage multiple libraries?  If you are stuck with a monolithic monster, how can you move some of your iPhoto events to another library to cut down on size?

The solution

Enter iPhoto Library Manager: it’s a commercial offering and currently the best option I’ve found available, it will set you back $20 but is well worth it in my opinion.

When you start managing multiple libraries probably the easiest way to keep them arranged is by chronological date.  The three I currently have are just iPhoto 2008, iPhoto 2009, etc.  When you rename your existing library (do this when iPhoto is closed) the next time you launch the app it will ask you which of your multiple libs do you want to load, or do you want to create a new one called iPhoto Library.  Accept the default name offered, that way it’s always easy to see which is your current library.  With iPhoto 11 (version 9.x of the app, confusingly) you can launch the relevant lib in iPhoto just by double-clicking it.

In terms of shaving a few GBs off your monolithic library, iPhoto Library Manager makes the task very easy.  Simply do the following:

  • locate your large library and your newly created empty, default library in the library list view
  • select the large library
  • change the default view from photos to events
  • select the events you want to migrate to the empty library
  • drag them to the empty lib within the library list view
  • sit back and wait

I recently relocated around 8 GB and it took around 1/2 an hour.  Once the move is complete open iPhoto with it pointing at your large library, and simply delete the events that you copied into the new lib.  You can rename all your libs appropriately when the event move is complete.

Using this approach you can clean up your digital photo collection and keep future libraries down to a manageable size.

I just uploaded 1000 DSLR photos from a trip to India and it took up 3 GB!  For active photographers I can imagine managing disk space becomes a real concern.

Bonus win

Once your libraries are nicely packaged in smaller 8-16 GB bundles, you can easily offload them onto another machine on your network, like a Time Capsule, freeing up space on your lightning fast SSD.  Then just mount the disk on your local machine, fire up iPhoto by clicking the remote library, and be amazed as it browses the photos almost as fast as if they were local!

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4 Comments on “Managing Multiple iPhoto libraries”

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Doris, Seagull Systems Ltd. Seagull Systems Ltd said: Managing iPhoto libraries: If you’re managing your photos with iPhoto, it’s only a matter of time before you nee… http://bit.ly/hOo19W [...]

  • Hi..
    I just bought my brand new macbook pro – the new version with 8 GB sRam & 750 GB hard disc. I am find it very slow in opening the application esp the iphoto.
    So far I have transfered only 200 photos less than 1 GB but I have closer to 6000 photos – almost 250 GB. What is the best way to manage?
    I paid a hell of lot money for this – is it a waste?

  • When you say slow, how many seconds? It sounds like you got a model with an spinning hard disk as opposed to a solid state drive, the latter is much faster esp. for opening iPhoto, it would take < 1 second.

  • Thank you for the insights on managing Library volumes in iPhoto. I am having difficulties with the application bombing when dropping a large number of digitalized images into the system and assigning dates and event categories. I have rebuilt the data base and the thumbnails in the past day. I am hopeful that these steps can get me back to my full library. From there I might be able to rework the problem using your advice.

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