Dear Aunt TUAW: Help me get my iPhoto library under control

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Dear Aunt TUAW: Help me get my iPhoto library under control

Dear Aunt TUAW,

Do you have any good ideas for cleaning out a 165GB iPhoto library and getting it down to a manageable size?

Your loving nephew,


Dear Mike,

Back in the days of film, each shot had a real cost. People realized, "If I snap this, it will cost $ for film and $ for printing" because you couldn't pick and choose shots on the roll at most photo processors.

Then video happened. And digital cameras. And people got out of control.

When you had 12 shots on a roll, you treated each one like a precious gem. You took maybe one or two photos per event, and then you put it in a photo album, maybe framed it.

Now people don't enjoy their pictures because they have too many. When you record your entire life, where are the moments that matter?

Even more, when you spend your life with an iPhone in front of your face, what kind of connection can you have with other people? People watch entire *live* concerts through their phone. You might have seen this during the Olympics opening ceremonies, too.

Who's actually experiencing that event? The person or the iPhone? It's a thin line to ride: record this incredible experience or pay attention and be part of it. Professionals might need to be shooting all the time; amateurs (from the French, "lover of") are supposed to be enjoying what's going on around them.

Yes, you can go all Alien with a camera strapped to your chest or a GoPro -- set it, forget it, and pay attention to what's going on, but even though you can now look around and enjoy the event, a vast monster of digital backlog is waiting to drown your computer. Utilities and approaches to deal with it may be current or abandonware or possibly somewhat ill-advised, but no software is going to tackle the core problem -- not even if you switch to the more library-flexible Aperture or Lightroom.

How do you trim your iPhoto library (or libraries) to a manageable size? Discipline. Even if you're not OK starting from scratch, you still have to be willing to ruthlessly throw away memories. Allow yourself to curate your experience and pick just a moment or two. Select shots that have people's faces in them, or that show life in action, and then toss the rest. Just let them go, like the flow of time passing through your fingers. (And don't forget to empty iPhoto's in-app Trash.)

You can open up iPhoto holding down Option and Command for some minor cleanup tools (including a thumbnail cache cleanout that's recommended by our commenters), and if you find that you have to split off a chunk of your library and file it away on discs, iPhoto Library Manager can help, but beware of bit rot -- pick your favorites, spend a little money and get them printed in a real album that can sit on a real, physical shelf.

The secret of the iPhoto library is this: smaller is better. Too many moments mean that you won't enjoy any of them.


Auntie T.

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