How to cull your iPhoto library of duplicates and bad photos

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Reader Phil Rogers has more images than he cares for. He writes:

Because digital photos are so easy to save, my wife and I developed the bad habit of downloading, and downloading, and well, downloading. If we needed to show each other something at the store, we’d snap a photo and email it. Then at some point, that orange, or stapler, or whatever, would eventually get downloaded. Net result? Over 50,000 photos in iPhoto, with many duplicates.

How does one even begin to cull the herd? I’ve tried many of the duplicate-finder programs with varied success. But what about just plowing through to get rid of the clunkers?

This is a common problem, particularly now that so many of us carry around cameras (in the form of mobile devices) each day.

duplicate annihilator

Start by annihilating your duplicates.

Varied success though you might achieve, I’d start with the duplicates. For this kind of thing I like Brattoo Propaganda Software’s $8 Duplicate Annihilator for iPhoto. Unlike some other utilities I’ve tried, it allows you to search by a variety of factors, including SHA1 checksum, creation date, EXIF creation date, first x characters of title, first x characters in filename, width, height, and file size. It also provides you with plenty of results options—what to do with the duplicates that the app finds (trash them, rename them, and so on). If your iPhoto library is anything like mine, eliminating the duplicates will put you way ahead of the game.

Detective work

With that done I’d then create a strategy for eliminating the clunkers based on their EXIF (EXchangeable Image Format) data. When you take a picture with a digital camera, metadata (the EXIF data) is embedded in it. This metadata is searchable within iPhoto and other apps and if you can pinpoint those images that are likely to be crummy based on information in the EXIF data, you’ve made a better start.

For instance, if you enter 240 in iPhoto’s Search field, any 240 by 180 thumbnail images will appear. These are surely candidates for the scrap heap. (Note that such a search will also cause 2400 pixel images to appear in the list of results, so be sure you’re tossing an actual thumbnail rather than a larger image that has 240 somewhere in its EXIF data.)

iphoto thumbnails

Much as I love my cat, I don't need these thumbnail images.

Do you have a less-than-terrific camera in your past? Though it may have captured a few precious memories, perhaps a lot of its images are no longer up to snuff. Find out by searching for its name—CrudCam A200, for example. Weed out the ones you don’t want.

Or consider the situational camera. You say that you snap pictures of items at the store. I'm going to guess that you didn’t do this with a DSLR bur rather with your phone. If this is a habit, maybe you should search for any images taken with an iPhone 4s (or any iPhone model you’ve owned) and remove its worst efforts from the results.

Get smarter

This is all well and good, but sometimes it helps to search for more than one bit of information. For example, pictures shot in really low light with your iPhone 4s. The Search field does no good because you can’t combine queries. But you can with a smart album.

Choose File > New Smart Album and in the resulting sheet configure the first condition to read Camera Model is Apple iPhone 4s. Click the plus button to create another condition and configure it to read ISO is greater than 1250. Make sure that the Match pop-up menu reads All, name your smart album, and then click OK.

low light iphoto rule

A cleverly configured Smart Album can help pinpoint poor images.

Any images that meet these conditions—an iPhone 4s pushing really hard to capture images in low light—will appear in the smart album. Again, some of them may be keepers because they document important events, but they’re not going to be great-looking pictures.

You can use this smart album technique with a wide variety of conditions. For example, if you’ve used iPhoto’s Faces feature to identify the people who appear in your pictures and never want to see that miserable worm JoJo again, just search for any images that contain him and banish them.

low res images

Who needs images shot in very low light with an under-performing camera?

The rub is that you can’t delete images from a smart album, so you’ll have to consider your next steps. One option is to select a poor image and choose Show Event from the small menu in the image’s bottom-right corner. This will take you to the event that holds this image. With luck, other images in this event are also not worth keeping. Delete those you don’t want.

Another option is to select all the images you don’t care for within the smart album and then rate them with 1 star (once they’re selected press Command-1 to assign the rating). Repeat this process with other smart albums and images. Once you’ve finished the job, select Photos in the Library column, click on the Search icon in the bottom-left corner, choose Rating, and click on the first star. Any images you’ve assigned a single star rating to will appear. These you can select and delete.

Finally, at the risk of appearing to be a scold, you may wish to be a bit more careful about which images you choose to import in the future. Do so and you won’t have to go through this kind of thing five years from now.

Have a question of your own? Drop a line to mac911@macworld.com.

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