How to import and view images in iPhoto

Last week we took a long look at iPhoto’s interface. Now that we’ve got our bearings, it’s time to use the application for something worthwhile. And what could be more worthwhile than adding images to iPhoto’s library and then viewing them? We’ll start with the traditional method of importing images—connecting your iOS device, camera, or storage media to your computer and copying images between the two.

Stringing you along

Apple tries to make pulling images off your digital camera or iOS device as easy as possible. In the best of all worlds, when you string a USB cable between your Mac and your iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or switched-on camera, iPhoto launches and offers to import images from the device. (I’ll provide the gritty details shortly.) I say “best of all worlds” because, while this almost unfailingly occurs when you use an iOS device, it doesn’t work with all cameras.

For example, I have no problem importing images when I attach my Nikon D300 DSLR in this way. But iPhoto refuses to recognize my Canon S95 point-and-shoot photographiser. Since there isn’t a universal “Hey, here I am!” technology that the Mac OS can use to recognize every camera that comes along, Apple must instead create updates that allow cameras to work with its software. Many popular cameras are included in these updates in reasonably short order, but some—like my S95—don’t make the cut.

Fortunately there’s a way around this. Inside your digital camera you’ll find a memory card. These days it’s some variety of SD (Secure Digital) storage card. If your Mac has an SD slot, as many now do, you can simply remove the card from your camera and slide it into this slot. By default, iPhoto will launch and offer to import your images.

A typical multiformat memory card reader.

If your Mac doesn’t have such a slot, or if you’re using a media card format other than SD (Compact Flash, for example), you can purchase a memory card reader from your local camera store or from an online outfit such as Amazon. Such readers plug into a Mac’s USB port, and many of them accommodate a range of media cards. Just shove the card into the appropriate slot on the reader, and iPhoto will launch and prompt you to import the images from the media card.

(By the way, if you’d prefer that iPhoto not launch when you connect a camera, iOS device, or media card, do this: Launch iPhoto; choose iPhoto > Preferences; and from the Connection Camera Opens pop-up menu in the General tab, choose No Application.)

Importing your pictures

And now for those import details. You’ve plugged your iOS device, camera, or card into your Mac. iPhoto launches and a progress bar appears. When the progress bar disappears, an Import pane takes up the majority of the iPhoto window. On the top-left of the pane you’ll see the name of your iOS device, camera, or memory card (CANON-DC, for example) and a date range derived from the timestamp of the first image and the timestamp of the last. Below this name is an Add Event Name field, along with a Split Events option. As should be pretty obvious, you can add a name for your event—Toga Party or Grunion Bake, for example—rather than having iPhoto create a series of Untitled Event entries, followed by their date.

iPhoto's Import pane.

When the Split Event option is enabled, iPhoto will create events based on the Autosplit Into Events setting in iPhoto’s General tab (found in iPhoto’s preferences). (The choices are ‘One Event Per Day’, ‘One Event Per Week’, ‘Two-Hour Gaps’, and ‘Eight-Hour Gaps’.)

Thumbnails of the images occupy the bulk of the Import pane. If the device contains already-imported images, you’ll see an Already Imported row that displays small thumbnail images of those pictures. Below that area is New Photos, where pictures you haven’t imported appear.

(Note that this area is confined to thumbnails. Double-clicking an image doesn’t expand it to fill the window. If you want to see a larger thumbnail image, use the Zoom slider at the bottom-left of the window.)

To the top-right of the pane are two buttons: ‘Import Selected’ and ‘Import X Photos’ (where X is the number of photos on the camera or card that haven’t already been imported). To import all of the unimported photos, click Import X Photos. To import just some of them, Command-click to select images noncontiguously (or Shift-click to select everything between and including the first and last selected images) and then click Import Selected.

When you do either of these things, a progress bar appears at the top of the window, along with a Stop Import button. You can click that button if you think better of your decision.

Making progress as iPhoto imports images.

When iPhoto finishes importing the images, a window appears asking whether you’d like iPhoto to delete the now-imported images from your device. Your options are ‘Delete Photos’ and ‘Keep Photos’. I follow the advice of the pros on this one and click Keep Photos. When I want to delete images from the camera I do it directly on the camera rather than depending on iPhoto to do it for me. I do so figuring that the camera knows how best to do this. With some cameras, I’ve found that the command simply doesn’t do what it promises.

Many people prefer to delete images on their camera rather than letting iPhoto do it.

Once you’ve made your decision about deleting images from the device, your imported pictures appear within the Last Import album, separated (by default) by event. Those events will also appear when you select Event in iPhoto’s Library pane, and all of the imported images will appear when you choose Photos in that same pane. If you took the images within the previous year, they’ll appear when you select Last 12 Months, too.

Elsewhere in the Library pane, you’ll see an entry for your iOS device, camera, or card. Next to a card entry you’ll spy an Eject icon. Click it and wait until it disappears from the pane, and you can safely disconnect the device. You needn’t eject iOS devices or cameras. Just detach the cable from your Mac or from the device.

If you have images that aren’t on an iOS device, camera, or card, but rather are just sitting somewhere on your Mac, dealing with them couldn’t be easier. Simply select the images and drag them on top of the iPhoto icon in the dock, or drag them into the iPhoto window, and they’ll be imported.

Viewing your images

Once the images are in iPhoto, you can perform all the magic you’d expect—viewing, editing, and sharing them. For the moment, let’s concentrate on viewing.

To view an image so that it takes up most of the iPhoto window—or the Mac’s screen if you’ve chosen View > Enter Full Screen (Command-Control-F)—just double-click it. Once it has expanded in this way, you can move between images by using the Mac’s left and right arrow keys, clicking the arrow keys at the top of the window, or (if you’re using a trackpad or Magic Mouse) swiping two fingers to the left or right.

The other option is to view your images as a slideshow. As I explained in our last lesson, iPhoto supports two kinds of slideshows. You can create one type on the fly, for viewing your images within iPhoto; the other type you construct with the idea of exporting and sharing it with other people. In this case we’re taking about the former.

Creating a slideshow on the fly is a cinch. While viewing images as thumbnails, just click the Slideshow button at the bottom of the window. At once, any images in the selected album or event will become part of the slideshow.

When you do this, a sheet appears telling you that some photos need to be prepared for full-size viewing. If you click Prepare Photos, you may have to wait awhile for the images to be, well, prepared. I click Continue Playback. If there’s a problem due to the lack of a full-size image, I quit the slideshow and try again, this time after clicking Prepare Photos.

Before your slideshow starts, iPhoto presents you with a window from which you can choose a theme and music and configure settings. They work this way.

Use this window to configure you slideshow.

Themes: Themes include Ken Burns, Origami, Reflections, Vintage Prints, Snapshots, Sliding Panels, Scrapbook, Photo Mobile, Holiday Mobile, Shatter, Places, and Classic. I’ll let you explore these themes rather than attempting to describe each one to you. But if you want the most basic theme possible—one without movement or fancy transitions—choose Classic.

Music: Click the Music tab, and you can choose music to accompany your slideshow. You can use theme music provided by Apple or songs from your iTunes library. To preview a track, select it and click the Play button in the middle of the window.

If you like, you can select multiple tracks and they will play one after the other. Or you can enable the Custom Playlists for Slideshow option and click and drag tracks into the playlist area below. (Hint: Click and hold until you see the ghost image of a file. Then drag it into the playlist. If you don’t wait long enough, you’ll end up selecting multiple tracks in the Source list.)

Settings: Within the Settings tab, you choose how long each slide will play. (Alternatively you can specify that the slideshow last as long as the music that accompanies it. iPhoto will do the math to determine how long each image will appear.) You can also choose the transition to use between images, and its direction (if the transition supports it) and speed. In addition, you’ll find options for showing captions (which can be titles, descriptions, titles and descriptions, places, or dates), showing the title slide, shuffling the slide order, repeating the slideshow, and scaling photos to fill the screen.

Finally, to play the thing, click the Play button in the bottom-right corner. (Or click Cancel, if you’ve thought better of it.) While playing a slideshow, you can quickly jump to any image you like. Just move the Mac’s cursor to the bottom of the screen and you’ll see thumbnail images of all the pictures within the slideshow. Click the one you like, and press the Spacebar (or click the Play button in the transport controls that appear), and the slideshow will play from that point.

Once you’ve created a slideshow for an album or event, the theme, music, and settings that you applied to it will take effect whenever you play it. If you’d like to change those settings, just move the cursor and the transport controls will appear. Click the Themes, Music, or Settings button to adjust that element. To leave a slideshow, press the Mac’s Escape button (the one marked esc on the top-left of the Mac’s keyboard).

Seeing that the end of this lesson is nearing, users who know a bit more about iPhoto are frantically typing “You forgot about Photo Stream! You forgot about Photo Stream!” To which I reply, in my most pedantic voice, “Nuh-uh.”

Photo Stream is a very cool way to sync images between your devices and the Web via iCloud, but it requires enough explanation to merit its own lesson. Which means...

Next week: Photo Stream.

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