How to upgrade an old iPhoto library to Photos (or recover it)

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Reader Celia Drummond had a Mac crash so severe, she had to upgrade her system from Mavericks to El Capitan—I didn’t ask about Sierra—although she was able to recover her data from Time Machine.

However, after using the iPhoto Library Upgrader, Apple’s recommended path for converting iPhoto 7 and earlier libraries to a newer format that iPhoto 8 and 9 can use, “The result is photos a fraction of their original size—most were between 1MB and 7MB each—and all are pixelated.”

I never used the utility, so I don’t know what went wrong, but something did if that’s the outcome, or something is missing in the Time Machine backup. Because she can’t run the older version of iPhoto, she can’t simply rebuild the library, which is the usual suggestion. (I’d make sure you had version 1.1 via the link above, as older versions are out there, too.)

I’d normally suggest for forward version compatibility to try to find an intermediate version of software, which has been useful for folks with various older releases of the iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote). However, the only course of action with an iPhoto 7 library is apparently to run it through the upgrader; you can’t just try to open it in iPhoto 8 (or 9). (I don’t have older libraries to check this out, so I’m relying on Apple and forum posters.)

If the upgrader just won’t work with the old library, the only real solution is to crack open the library and extract ones photos.

  1. Control-click the iPhoto Library.
  2. Choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu.
  3. Drag (to move) or Option-drag (to copy) the Masters folder to the Desktop or to another drive.
  4. Launch the latest version of iPhoto 9 and import that Masters folder. Or launch Photos and do the same.

Unfortunately, you’ll lose a lot of information associated with photos and video that’s stored within the library, such as metadata, potentially some edits, albums, and other organizational elements. But this is better than losing the high-resolution versions of your media.

After importing the images and videos and making sure they’re the high-resolution ones you want, you can then use a de-duplication program, like PowerPhotos or Photosweeper 3 (review coming), which can clean up the low-resolution images and possibly help fix the missing metadata.

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