Five tips for speeding up iPhoto

If you find that iPhoto is running a bit sluggish on your Mac, here are a few suggestions for speeding it up—some tried and true such as rebuilding the library, and others a bit more esoteric such as vacuuming the database. While iPhoto '09 performs well on my MacBook Pro 17” 2.5 GHz with 4GBs of Ram, performance can vary widely depending on the age and power of your machine, and the size of your library.

If you attempt any of the techniques that involve the iPhoto Library, I recommend that you back-up all of your images first. I’ve never had anything go wrong during a rebuild, but it is one of those things that is best not left to chance.

1. Rebuild iPhoto library for a faster launch

Over time the iPhoto database can accumulate some cruft that can affect performance. Rebuilding the library can act as a tune-up.

To test this, I timed a launch of iPhoto '09, which clocked in at 11 seconds. I then quit the application and prepared to rebuild the library. I held down the Option and Command keys and opened iPhoto again. When greeted with the Rebuild Photo Library dialog, I checked the “Rebuild all of the photos’ thumbnails” and the “Examine and repair iPhoto Library file permissions” boxes. After rebuilding, I quit iPhoto. I then launched it one more time, and the application fired up within 2 seconds.

I’ve tested this by checking all of the boxes to see what would happen, and the results seemed about the same. If you’d like more information about the options in this dialog, check out this Apple Article on rebuilding your iPhoto library.

2. Speed-up scrolling thumbnails

When I’m scrolling through hundreds of thumbnails in iPhoto, performance can get a tad jerky. If this happens to you, just press the 3 key. This sets your thumbnails to a medium default size instead of the custom size you may have set with the size slider. If you want baby thumbnails, press the 0 key. For big daddy thumbs, press the 1 key. Any of these settings should provide you with smoother sailing as you breeze through your pictures.

There’s an old tip that’s been around for a long time that suggests you turn off the drop shadow for the thumbnails and set the background to white (Preferences -> Appearance). Personally, I don’t notice any difference on my Mac, other than iPhoto doesn’t look as pretty as when I have that nice dark gray background with drop shadows. But your mileage may differ on an older machine.

3. Learn keyboard shortcuts

Part of speeding up iPhoto includes training yourself to work more efficiently on your Mac. Keyboard shortcuts, such as using the Command-right bracket key (]) when editing text in the Information field, can save you loads of time. To see the complete list of time savers, open iPhoto and go to Help -> Keyboard Shortcuts.

4. Add more RAM

iPhoto requires that you have at least 512MB of RAM installed on your system, but recommends 1GB. It won't come as shock to learn that iPhoto runs much smoother with 4GBs of RAM available instead of just the default 1GB. As an added bonus, everything on your Mac will probably run better with more memory.

5. Vacuum the database

(advanced technique)

Back in 2009, there was a popular post on Mac OS X Hints about vacuuming the iPhoto database. This technique involves opening the Terminal to get to the SQLite databases. I’ve never needed to use this tip myself, but if you know what you're doing in Terminal and like tinkering under the hood, take a look at the post and see what you think. Personally, I think using iPhoto’s built-in Rebuild iPhoto Library command should get the job done in most cases.

Now that you’re racing through your images on iPhoto, it’s time to head outside and shoot some more.

[Senior Contributor Derrick Story teaches iPhoto on Lynda.com and runs a virtual camera club at thedigitalstory.com.]

At a Glance
  • Read the full review

    Pros

    • Solid Facebook and Flickr integration for sharing photos
    • Subtle but good editing enhancements
    • Faces and Places make it easier to categorize your photos

    Cons

    • Minor bugs
    • Faces and Places could be easier to use
    • No Effects improvements
    • No AppleScript or Automator support for Faces or Places
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