The iPhoto Challenge I

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows
Over the years I’ve had to deal with many different forms of digital asset management solutions. I’ve managed big iron, I’ve wrangled the archaic and show mercy on the weak. But for my personal use, only one application was ever good enough; iView MediaPro (or iView Multimedia as it was originally called). iView was fast, it was feature packed, it was logical. iView was designed by people who understood what users like me need and want out of an image management application. And then came iPhoto; and absolutely nothing changed.

I am of course an Apple geek, and I love their in-house applications. When iPhoto surfaced, it seemed like a great idea; iTunes, for photographs! Absolutely logical. It also absolutely failed to deliver.

Gettin’ in Tune
iTunes works well because it’s is 100% tied to, and reliant upon, the id3 tags–the metadata–imbedded in the music files. If you’re like me, you’re anal about making sure the tags are correct, so you can quickly find the music you want. iPhoto failed on this front for a number of reasons. First, the equivalent metadata to images, IPTC, isn’t automated as with music and CDDB, so each image has to be hand tagged. iPhoto’s keyword function was anemic and buried. The “roll” system was weak and hard to navigate as well.

iTunes doesn’t ask a lot in terms of working with your music files, short of the tagging and perhaps imbedding album art. Images are a whole different story; they are there to be handled, edits, cropped, printed; interacted with. And while iPhoto had rudimentary “mom and pop” features to handle this, more seasoned users found it wanting. Why bother with iPhoto when you can do real editing in Photoshop? But more than this, iPhoto’s file system seemed to be openly hostile to anyone who wanted to make sense of the file structure of their images. And so, pro users sniffed and turned their noses at iPhoto. Users like me.

The Seeds of Discontent
iPhoto went through a number of revisions to address the biggest issues; speed and capacity were improved, the filesystem, while still quite dictatorial, at least made some visual sense. I gave every revision the benefit of the doubt, throwing all I could muster at it. But at the end of the day, I always returned to my faithful iView Media Pro.

By version 2, iView had grown some serious functionality, particularly folder watching (but, significantly, not sub-folder watching), which enabled me to alter my workflow enough so iView sitting in the background could automatically load up images I had dumped into my directory. It would also automatically generate dated and file-type folders.

You can now create nested folders
in iPhoto
Now comes iPhoto 5. It has RAW import and more advanced editing tools, but most significantly, Apple seems to realize how important organization is, and is addressing it. The only major feature missing is folder watching, but (and here’s where this article is relevant to this website) it should be no brainer to create folder watching and other hot-folder functions tied into iPhoto with, you guessed it, Automator.

Annoyances remain, however. iPhoto’s filesystem is unchanged, and it perplexes me there is no preference to choose your own images folder; iTunes allows this, why not iPhoto (yes, I’m aware you can alias it to another location and other tricks, but that doesn’t count)? Camera import remains very slow, probably due to iPhoto’s insistence on copying and databasing every image. Even EXIF auto-rotated images are treated by iPhoto as edits, so every rotated image is duplicated and backed up into the “originals” folder. I wish iPhoto had a “lower power” mode, wherein it would treat its filesystem as a “dumb” directory, make editing backups manual and turn off all the on-the-fly Quartz scaling. Then it might feel like a fast and nimble image cataloger.

Despite my initial misgivings and the repetition of history, I am now conducting an experiment: I am forcing myself to use iPhoto 5 for the next month. If-and this is a big if-its performance is up to par, and the folder management delivers, then I could be looking at “switching”; the promise of Automator and other subtle-yet-devious OS X integration and functionality is too great to ignore. I’ll report back with my findings as time and inclination allow, but my gut feeling at this point is that iPhoto is now “good enough” for most anyone’s personal image cataloging needs.

On to Part II…



  1. While There are nice little hooks into iPhoto from other Apple applications, and the iApps media browser is a nice touch, iPhoto will never be, nor should it be, a Media Pro contender. Those are two different audiences with different needs. I agree with all of your beefs about iPhoto and my biggest is that I believe it to be not only Finder hostile but blind to Spotlight as well. Spotlight depends on FILE metadata, not metadata stored in a proprietary database as with Entourage and iPhoto. There is a keyword metadata field that will be a standard field for all files in Tiger, and hopefully some future update of iPhoto will support it.

    Comment by David Chilstrom — April 18, 2005 @ 2:47 pm

  2. I agree that iPhoto and iView are in different classes; I tried to make it clear throughout the “iPhoto Challenge” series that this was strictly for my personal photo cataloguing needs. Professionally, iView and better are the only way to go.

    The issue you raise is more accurately that Spotlight is blind to iPhoto; Spotlight does search image and music metadata, but NOT ones inside the the iPhoto and iTunes folders. This behavior is oddly logical from Apple’s point of view; they see media types as being compartmentalized. iTunes is the only interface you should use to manage music, iPhoto for images, and Spotlight for all others.

    That said, I agree that keyword fields need to be globally accessible. We’ll see how this all shakes out once Tiger is in the hands of the pros…

    Comment by Steve — April 18, 2005 @ 4:05 pm

  3. I tried Automator and found, not surprisingly that doing a rename based on the album wouldn’t get this done. Within iPhoto, I selected all within an album, then right click… batch change… title, text… Seemed to work for me, but of course, not automatic.

    Comment by Aaron — May 1, 2005 @ 8:01 pm

  4. I tried Automator and found, not surprisingly, that doing a rename based on the album wouldn’t get this done. Within iPhoto, I selected all within an album, then right click… batch change… title, text… Seemed to work for me, but of course, not automatic.

    Comment by Aaron — May 1, 2005 @ 8:01 pm

  5. Thankgod someone else has issues with iphoto, I came across this blog trying to figure out how to change to my own images folder.. I couldnt believe that it wasn’t possible. Now I realise that it is infact impossible and I’ll give .. back to iview for me until they sort some of there issues out.

    Comment by Simon — February 6, 2007 @ 5:46 pm

  6. been looking for information like this for awhile now for my project at Uni, thanks very interesting.

    Comment by denae — June 7, 2007 @ 1:10 am

  7. Even professionally iView is/was somewhat disappointing.

    Comment by Mike — October 6, 2007 @ 11:59 am

  8. I tried iview and thought it could have been better.

    Comment by Resell Rights — November 2, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

  9. Don’t know why everyone was down on iview, I thought it was fantastic.

    Comment by Mammoth Crocs — November 14, 2007 @ 2:08 am

  10. I tried Automator and found, not surprisingly, that doing a rename based on the album wouldn’t get this done. Within iPhoto, I selected all within an album, then right click… batch change… title, text… Seemed to work for me, but of course, not automatic.

    Comment by celebs — July 21, 2008 @ 9:12 am

  11. I think iview is fantastic and looking great. I like itunes because in the itunes id3 tags are used in music files. The clarity of iphotos is well. So i want to do the trade of these iviews. Please give me full information of these iviews.

    Comment by Trade Assets — July 5, 2009 @ 5:34 am

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