Working with Multiple iPhoto Libraries

When I threw my father a surprise 50th birthday party a number of years ago, we had to scour our family to find decent pictures of his childhood, teenage, and early adult years. In the age of cheap storage and phones that double as many people’s only camera, today we have the opposite challenge of past generations: we have way too many photos.

My wife’s MacBook Air is a testament to that. Her iPhoto Library has grown to over 125 GB, causing her machine to be resource-constrained while iPhoto is open. Between the birth of our son at the start of 2012 and the advancements of the iPhone, she went from snapping around 1,000 or so photos back in all of 2010 to nearly 7,000 just through October 2013 alone.

While a second stage will be to move significantly older photos off of her hard drive, step one was to make iPhoto more manageable by reducing the overall size of her iPhoto Library. My approach was to group photos by year into multiple iPhoto libraries. Beyond speeding up iPhoto usage, this felt like a nice way to browse photos and just as importantly ensure there was no longer a single point of failure by having a single, massive iPhoto Library.

iPhoto does natively support the ability to have multiple iPhoto libraries but as usual, the simple solution is not as simple as it sounds. The main issue is that the easiest way to get photos from one library to another will cause the important metadata associated with the photos to not be maintained. That’s where Fat Cat Software’s iPhoto Library Manager comes into play. While iPhoto Library Manager does much more, what I mainly used it for was to copy photos from the default iPhoto Library into ones associated with each year.

The best part about this app, is that it actually uses iPhoto itself to do the work. After you create the library and choose the photos (and videos) to copy, iPhoto will systematically open and close in the background. Unlike the “easy way” of moving photos mentioned above, iPhoto Library Manager automagically employs the importing functions multiple times to maintain event info and other metadata of the photos. Doing this manually would take a considerable amount of time and could also introduce copying errors.

iPhoto Library Manager also has a nifty find duplicate photo feature—even across libraries—that I’m sure will be helpful at some point. And if I ever want to eliminate certain libraries, there’s also a merge function. For now, problem solved…no more fans kicking off when iPhoto is open. iPhoto Library Manager is well worth the $29.95 price tag.