Welcome to the Machine
To use iPhoto is to submit to the dictatorial constraints of the OS X police state. Forget choice, forget flexibility; it’s the Apple Way or the highway. This is Steve Jobs’ world, you’re just printing books in it. Or so what many critics would have you to believe. In this installment of The iPhoto Challenge (if you’re late to class, please catch up with Part I and Part II), I’m going to delve into what was traditionally the most limiting aspect of iPhoto, its file management, and try to assess whether it truly is evil incarnate, or simply misunderstood and seeking love.
iPhoto’s 5’s ability to create hierarchal folders is its single best improvement over previous versions, and probably the only reason I’m even conducting this challenge. You’ve already seen a jillion screenshots of (or are already using) the new folder function, so there really isn’t much else to say; you make a folder in iPhoto’s sidebar and drop albums (or other folders) in it. Simple. Obvious. And four versions late. iView’s equivalent is the “Catalog Sets” feature, which uses “Containers” and “Sets” as analogous to iPhoto’s Folders and Albums. It works just as well, although I do find iPhoto’s terminology and visual cue of folders and albums to be more intuitive.Folders aren’t the only improvement, of course. Keywords are now front and center, no longer (entirely) banished to a buried dialog, but I never really use them much in my personal image management. It seems to me keywords are meant for people who need to find images they don’t know the location of; in other words, not you. If you need to keyword your Telluride photos as “ski trip 2002″ so you can find them, then your base album organization is probably pretty weak. I did however, come across one good use of keywords in iPhoto which helped solve a vexing problem, and it has to do with Smart Folders.
Part of my traditional workflow in iView is to have a folder called “Prints”, where I save edited images expressly for printing. The Prints folder is in my iView catalog and set to auto-update. But how to do that in iPhoto, which doesn’t recognize folders outside its own filesystem? The solution is simple:
The duped image that was keyworded as a “Prints” will now automatically appear in the smart album. Now I can edit that dupe all I want, and not only is the original safe, but I can now create multple edit iterations of an image without the worry of accidentally saving over an original in Photoshop.
The King of Panes
iPhoto 5 has a host of new organizational and searching abilities that really strengthen its usability. Unfortunately, much of it feels just slightly “wrong”. Take the calendar pane in the sidebar. I want to like it, I really do, but it doesn’t feel as direct and easy to use as iView’s hierarchal date view (shown at right). For one thing, it’s contextual; it will only show images contained within the selected album. This is annoying, as at any given time I might have one album selected, but want to quickly go to an image from a different year. I’m stopped dead in my tracks because I have to go up and choose the right album (usually the Library, so I don’t leave any dates filtered). The same thing applies to the search field. You can search by title, comment, keyword or filename, but again is contextual. Why it doesn’t automatically use the whole library as the basis for search is beyond me.
The Keyword pane is primarily for filtering keyword views, not applying them. To do that, you awkwardly drag the files onto the keyword button, or worse still, opt-drag to remove them. To apply keywords the way god intended, you need the Info Panel (cmnd-i); simple enough, but this panel is a fixed size that I have trouble finding a comfortable location for on my screen. Again, why couldn’t this panel (including the EXIF tabs) be incorporated into a sidebar pane? Ya know, like iView?
Perhaps it’s partially due to iPhoto’s clean, simple interface and lack of feature bloat, but I find using the folders (smart or otherwise) to be fun. They give me new, efficient approaches to organizing my images. But to get to this point, I really had to let go of thinking of my “actual” files sitting in buried folders created by iPhoto, and let the virtual album/folder/roll metaphor do the job. As I said in the first part of this series, we all pretty much do this already with iTunes, so there’s no reason that the same shouldn’t apply to iPhoto; and in terms of file organization, I think it’s finally there. Minor quibbles persist of course (mainly the calendar and image info UI), but so far they aren’t a deal breaker.
Next week I’ll tackle iPhoto 5’s image editing, export and overall performance/responsiveness, and I’ll say right now it’s not gonna be pretty.
(note: iPhoto 5.0.1 has just been released, and fixed the bugs I described in part I of this series. Woo-hoo Apple.)
Wrapping it up in Part IV…