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How to speed up a slow iPhoto library

Reader Marty Schettler is unimpressed with iPhoto’s speed. He writes:

I am a casual photographer who has amassed about 10,000 pictures in my iPhoto library. iPhoto now runs so slowly that it is essentially unusable (and occasionally tells me that my Library has been corrupted). I’ve heard a few people recommend switching to Aperture, adding iPhoto Library Manager, or jumping to an Adobe or Google product. I just want something where I can organize my photos by date/event and do very light editing. What do you recommend?

Given that the vast majority of us have been filmless for a decade or more, it does seem odd that iPhoto chokes on just 10,000 images. But you’re right, it can and does. Poky performance with largish libraries has been a feature of iPhoto for years and the latest edition is no exception.

And yes, there are several alternatives. Thankfully you’ve provided me with enough information that I can eliminate some of them.

If you’re really just interested in organizing and lightly editing your photos, the higher-priced spread will be overkill. Apple’s Aperture and Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop offer more features (and complexity) than you need. Even Photoshop Elements 12 may be a longer leap than you wish to make.

While you could look at some less-expensive (and less complicated) applications such as the $20 Lyn or $30 Pixa or even the free Picasa (which I find kind of clumsy and ugly) I might suggest that you stay right where you are—with iPhoto.

“Gee,” I can hear you say, “I’m so glad I took the time to get in touch with you just to learn that I should do absolutely nothing.”

Ah but no. I suggest you do something, but that something is acquire and use the iPhoto enhancement you’ve mentioned—Fat Cat Software’s $30 iPhoto Library Manager.

I suggest iPLM because you seem to be familiar with iPhoto and, I presume, you’ve organized your photos in a way that pleases you. Why start over with another application? Where iPhoto fails is in the speed department. With iPhoto Library Manager you can continue to run iPhoto just as you have, but you can use it to create multiple smaller libraries, which takes care of the speed issue. Here’s how I’d go about it.

Think long and hard about how you’d like to split up your existing library. For example, you might wish to gang together all the images from particular years or by the camera you used or by face or location. Once you’ve made that decision, launch iPhoto and choose File > New Smart Album. In the sheet that appears configure the conditions to match your organizational strategy. So, for example, Date is in the range 1/1/2010 to 12/31/2010 to gather together all the images created in 2010. Assign a name to your smart album and click OK to create it.

iphoto date

Create a smart album to organize your library.

Now launch iPhoto Library Manager and click the Create Library button in the top-left corner of the window. Give the album a descriptive name—2010 Photos, for example—and click Create.

Select the iPhoto Library entry (this reflects your current iPhoto library along with all the events, albums, projects, and slideshows it contains) and then locate the smart album you just created. Drag this album to the album you made in iPhoto Library Manager. It will then set about copying those images to a new album (this can take a long time and tie up your Mac if you’re moving a lot of images). Repeat the process if you want to create additional libraries.

If you’d simply like to browse your images you can do that directly within iPLM. Just launch it and select an album. The images it contains will appear as thumbnails to the right.

iphoto choose library

Hold down Option while launching iPhoto to choose your library.

When you want to work with one of these libraries in iPhoto you have two options for doing so. You can launch iPhoto Library Manager and double-click on the library you want to view. It will open in iPhoto. Alternatively, you can hold down the Option key while launching iPhoto. Do so and you’ll be prompted to choose a library.

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