Switcher Sensei: Get your pictures in the picture

David Braue
29 December, 2010
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One of the first things you’re likely to do with your Mac is start loading your digital photos to admire them on the Mac’s crisp, bright screen. Yet depending on your philosophical leanings, Apple’s approach is either restrictive and annoying, or the most liberating and time-saving change since the TV guide.

If you’ve been using Windows for long, odds are that you’ve accumulated an assemblage of digital photos in subfolders inside your My Pictures folder. You probably import pictures into ordered folders and browse through them using Explorer and Windows’ built-in photo viewing and management tools – or you prefer an app that lets you manage details from within a single interface and takes care of the actual files itself.

Apple has adopted the second approach, with its iPhoto application the only photo manager most happy-snappers and even prosumer photographers will ever need.

iPhoto pops up whenever you plug in a camera, sucking down your photos and adding them to new Events – groups arranged by the day photos were taken (each Event corresponds to a unique folder on disk) while Photos view lists your photos in one long thumbnail view.

Faces scans your photos so you can sort photos based on who’s in them; spend some time with it each week to keep an up-to-date index that makes it easy to find pictures for making books.

And Places (pictured) groups photos by location: add this information either by using embedded geotagging information, or by clicking on the small ‘I’ button when you mouse over an Event or a number of selected photos.

iPhoto groups images into ‘Albums’: create one by pressing Command-N and dragging specific photos into the folder, automatically adding them by using ‘Smart Albums’ (Command-Option-N), or selecting a group of photos and using 1-Shift-N to make a new folder containing them.

Smart Albums are useful but the Album motif forces you to do common tasks in a specific way: for example, there’s no image bin as in Google’s Picasa, so if you’re printing pictures from multiple events, you have to create a new album, then click on it to select them for printing. Ditto burning pictures to disk.

Use Keywords (Command-F) to label images for later searching, whether in iPhoto or in related applications that use Mac OS X’s built-in Media Browser (accessible in the File > Open dialogue) to access your photos.

While you may hate handing control of your images to iPhoto, benefits include simple creation of books, calendars and cards as well as goodies like one-click Facebook publishing, options to share photo libraries to other Macs or Apple TVs, and sync photos to iPhones and other Apple devices with so much ease that you won’t mind not knowing how your images are organised.

If you’re really keen to know, open your Pictures folder, find the ‘iPhoto Library’ file, right-click it, then choose ‘Show Package Contents’ to browse through it. Your pictures live in the Originals folder, while every time you edit an image it creates a new version in the Modified folder.

iPod Photo Cache contains lower-resolution versions of your photos created and copied to iPods and iPhones.

Just don’t copy files directly into the library; if iPhoto doesn’t import them, it won’t know they’re there. You can, however, drag and drop files into the ‘Auto Import’ folder to have them automatically added; drag this folder to the left-hand side of your Finder window to create an alias, then give it a meaningful name so you can easily add pictures without launching iPhoto.

Apple’s focus is on letting you find and use your photos, and iPhoto does it extremely well. It has good photo editing tools as well – but if you need high-end photo manipulation capabilities, consider investing in Apple’s Aperture, Adobe Photoshop Essentials, or similar commercial package.

Before you do, however, experiment with iPhoto and you may be surprised at how many features are crammed in there for free.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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