Switching to iPhoto from Picasa

When I switched to Mac from Windows one of the programs I missed the most was Picasa, Google’s free photo management tool. Picasa and iPhoto are very similar and perform many of the same functions, including photo editing basics like red-eye removal, cropping, straightening, etc.

Back in March I talked about the basic differences between Picasa and iPhoto. Since then I’ve acquired my Mac Pro, shut down the Windows machine that used to be my primary photo archive and moved everything to iPhoto. That has presented some interesting challenges.For many years I had established a pretty standardized model for storing and managing my photos, necessitated to a large degree because I didn’t have a photo management tool other than the Windows file system and Photoshop for the first few years. My system was quite simple: I had a folder for each year and within each year I had a folder for each day. A typical folder structure looked something like this:

When I would take new photos I would grab the memory card, put it in my reader on my PC and then just move them to the appropriate folder based on the date the photos were taken. This eliminated naming issues if the auto-generated file names rolled over (an issue in the early days) and gave me a pretty easy way of finding things based on date.

Picasa was great because it supported this model. All I had to do was tell Picasa to monitor my Photos directory and everything under it and Picasa took care of the rest. Everything was indexed from there and all I had to do was copy the files off my memory cards and on to the hard drive.

Switching to iPhoto

iPhoto supports two models for storing photos: they can either be copied into a single library “file” that iPhoto manages or they can be left in their original directory and referenced from there.

Copying the files into iPhoto’s library is the default behavior. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this will double the size of your photo library if you use this option and plan on keeping the photos on disk. You can of course just delete the photos from their original location once they are imported or even use iPhoto’s ability to suck them right out of your camera.

The other option is to leave the files in the location you started from and have iPhoto reference them from there. You lose the ability to embed ColorSync profile information if you go this route and you really don’t want to move those files around once iPhoto knows about them. This is the method I’m using for a couple of reasons.

Sharing Photos on my Network

While Mac has become the platform of choice in our household, my wife and son are still clinging to Windows machines and I still have a couple Windows boxes that are used occasionally, along with an Ubuntu system to round it all out. Sharing photos with all of those machines is pretty important.

If you copy your photos into iPhoto’s library you can share them from there, though there is a catch; you have to keep your copy of iPhoto running at all times (in order to share) and the people that want to access the photos must have a Mac and run iPhoto.

Given my multi-cultural network of machines that is not an option. As a result I have a volume on my Mac Pro that contains all of my original photos. This folder is shared on my network in Read Only form so that anyone on the network, regardless of OS, can see them.

The other reason I do this is because there is a pretty good possibility that at some point I will use something other than iPhoto on my Mac to manage my photo library. It may be Aperature, Lightroom or even the rumored Mac version of Picasa. Keeping my files in a neutral storage location—all 21,000 of them—ensures I won’t have any problem getting them into my next tool. Even if that next tool is the next version of iPhoto.