Your Photos for OS X questions answered

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Last week I offered a first look at the developer’s beta of the Photos app, which is included in the just-as-beta OS X 10.10.3 developer’s release. Unsurprisingly, my inbox was flooded with questions. Let’s get to some of them now.

Will Photos import my events from iPhoto?

iphoto events

iPhoto events will be added as Photos albums.

In its own special way, yes. When you import your iPhoto library, events will appear under the Albums heading as iPhoto Events. Open this album and you’ll see each event listed by date. Double-click on one of these former events to view its contents.

What about star ratings? If I understand correctly, Photos doesn’t support them.

While it’s true that star ratings have been replaced by Photos’ on/off Favorite feature, Photos does import star ratings from your iPhoto library. When it does so, it turns them into keywords along the lines of 1 Star, 2 Star, 3 Star, and so on. Although you can no longer sort by the star character, you can perform a keyword search by entering 2 Star or the like. If you’d like to gather together all the images that you’ve assigned a particular rating, you can do so by creating a smart album using that keyword search as its condition.

star smart album

You can continue to create smart albums based on rating.

But that means I can no longer easily assign a rating by typing a keyboard shortcut!

Actually you can, but it takes just a little finagling. Photos has a Keyword Manager window where you can add keywords. You might, therefore, add 1 Star, 2 Star, and so on. When you do this, these keywords are automatically assigned number key shortcuts. In my case, because the first five keywords I assigned were 1 Star, 2 Star, 3 Star, 4 Star, and 5 Star, they were assigned numbers 1 – 5. To assign a rating all I have to do is open the Keyword Manager window, select an image (or group of images), and press the appropriate number key to assign the rating.

keyword manager 1

Open the Keyword Manager to easily assign ratings to your images with a click or key press.

What about applying geotags as I could do with iPhoto’s Places feature. Is it possible to assign a geotag after the fact?

As far as I can tell, no. When you import images from your iPhoto library that have been geotagged—either by the camera or by your manual efforts—those tags are respected and appear in the image’s Info window along with an accompanying map. Likewise when you import images from an iOS device or camera that geotags them, that information is imported right along with the rest of the metadata. But I haven’t found a way to manually assign geotags to images that don’t already have them.

photos location

Photos can display the location of geotagged images, but it doesn't appear that you can manually add such tags.

Is there a way to upload just a portion of your photos to your iCloud Photo Library?

There’s nothing in the beta that indicates that you can. As with iTunes Match it appears that this is an all or nothing operation. But there may be a way to work around this. Photos will sync only its default library to the cloud. You could use this library for only those images you want synced. You might then create a second library that includes those images you don’t want to sync. It means switching between libraries, but this is easily done by quitting Photos, holding down the Option key, launching the app, and then choosing the library you want.

choose library photos

As with iPhoto before it, you can choose to open a different Photos library.

You’ve said that your iPhoto library isn’t duplicated when you import it into Photos, yet I’ve downloaded the beta (because I’m a developer) and I see both an iPhoto library and a Photos library of around the same size. Can you explain the discrepancy?

As you say, the Finder seems to tell us that you’ve doubled the storage requirements necessary to maintain these two libraries. The Finder, however, is telling a half-truth. Here’s why.

When you launch Photos and it pulls images from your iPhoto library, a new Photos Library archive appears in the same location as your iPhoto library. And the Finder tells us that it’s a bit bigger than the iPhoto library. But the truth is that it’s not really consuming that amount of space. The Finder simply reflects the size of the library as if it held all the original files, which it isn’t as it’s referencing the original images.

It’s a bit confounding, but you can test it yourself. In Disk Utility create a disk image with a capacity 25-percent larger than your iPhoto library. Let’s say that your iPhoto library is 2GB and you create a 2.5GB image. Copy your iPhoto library to the disk image and then launch Photos while holding down the Option key. Click Other Library and navigate to the iPhoto library on the disk image. Photos will launch and create a Photos Library archive.

Given that the disk image can hold just 2.5GB of data—4/5ths of which is already being used by your iPhoto library—you should be told there’s not enough storage to complete the operation. And yet it works and there’s the Finder proudly displaying two file sizes that exceed the capacity of the image. This tells you that the Finder is fibbing in regard to how much data each library really holds.

The upshot being that you’re perfectly safe importing a large iPhoto library even though it seems you don’t have the storage space to accommodate it.

I use a lot of AppleScripts with iPhoto. Will they work with Photos?

Photos, like iPhoto, is scriptable. However, the scripting dictionary in the beta isn’t complete nor is it as robust as iPhoto’s so many iPhoto scripts won’t currently work with Photos. Also, there’s currently no support for Photos in Automator.

Will I be able to view the shared photo library of someone else on my local network as I can in iPhoto?

That feature isn’t in the beta release I’ve seen and, because of privacy concerns, my guess is that it may never reappear. When using iPhoto on a hotel Wi-Fi network I’ve been able to access another person’s images because they weren’t cautious enough about their sharing settings. Given all the security and privacy breaches we’ve seen over the past couple of years I’m not sure I’d blame Apple for deciding this feature is just too risky.

I’m not using Yosemite and don’t plan to anytime soon. Will Apple provide a version of Photos for Mavericks?

No. There are things happening under the hood that require Yosemite. While Apple isn’t going to continue selling new licenses to iPhoto and Aperture, current owners can always re-download the apps should something happen to their original copies. And they’ll continue to run perfectly well under the OS you’re currently using. But if you want to make the switch you’ll also have to upgrade to Yosemite.

photos projects

Sorry, without Yosemite, no Photos for you.

Grumble grumble grumble Aperture replacement grumble professionals grumble no substitute grumble grumble!?

Some people have made the argument that because Apple will no longer support Aperture as well as iPhoto, Photos is a failure because it doesn’t offer all the power of Aperture. I would suggest, in the most respectful way possible, that we all get over it.

Photos is not an Aperture replacement. It doesn’t offer Aperture’s organizational powers, brushes, versions, and so on. You can certainly be disappointed that a free bundled app doesn’t replace one that once cost a couple of hundred dollars, but all that’s going to earn you is frustration. Apple’s moved on and it seems you’ll have to as well.

Much as I counseled AppleWorks users to stop doing work in an app that had no future, so too would I suggest that Aperture users start looking for the next way forward. While Aperture will continue to work perfectly well for quite awhile, if you continue adding images and editing them extensively, you’re making more work for your future self when you finally have to jump to another app.

Most of the pro shooters I know moved to Adobe Lightroom years ago. And unlike most of Adobe’s pro apps, it can be purchased with a perpetual license (versus requiring a Creative Cloud subscription). The latest version includes a plug-in for importing Aperture and iPhoto libraries. The migration is hardly seamless—you can’t import your adjustments, for example—but, as I suggested, doing it now will save you some work should you wait a year to take this step. If Lightroom doesn’t rock your boat, Capture One is another option you might consider.

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