How to fix problematic iPhoto library imports into Photos

Glenn Fleishman
15 March, 2017
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A failing hard drive has stymied Jill Ellis. She’s having errors trying to copy her entire iPhoto library to migrate it to a new computer and upgrade it to Photos. However, she was able to copy all the files in the iPhoto package’s Masters folder.

(How can you find that folder? Control-click an iPhoto Library and select Show Package Contents, and then you can open the Masters folder, which is aliased as Originals. These are the as-imported images and don’t reflected modifications you have applied in iPhoto.)

But the folder, while divided by date, is missing all her painstaking organisation work in iPhoto. Jill writes:

When I try to import the Originals folder to Photos, it no longer has any of the folder or structure from iPhoto Library. I’m also assuming the only way to do this is to import the entire library structure. Am I without hope? Do I need to just accept there is no way to maintain the file structure, grouping of photo by dates even, or any kind of grouping from previous iPhoto?

If you can’t copy the entire library, you lose all the external structure you’ve created, as it’s all stored in iPhoto’s internal files. You might try iPhoto Library Manager, a third-party macOS app that offers features far beyond Apple’s for iPhoto library manipulation. It might be able to open your library and copy data. It’s only sold as part of a $30 bundle with PowerPhotos, which offers the same features, including library merges, for Photos.

The other danger of using Originals is that you will lose all the metadata, like titles and keywords, applied within iPhoto. With an export within iPhoto that creates a new file, you can retain these details.

It’s possible that you aren’t losing as much structure as you thought, though. Photos allows you to search by date, and it automatically groups images and videos into Moments, which are defined by time (and location when available). It also recognises a large number of objects. Because the search is so much more robust, you might not feel the need to recreate as much of your iPhoto sorting in Photos.

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