There’s a gaping hole in Photos, and it’s not a missing photo of your grandma. Rather, it’s how the app handles adjusting the date and time of photos that have been imported without the correct information.
This has quite likely happened to you, based on the volume of reader email about this particular situation.
When iCloud Photos syncs images captured on an iPhone or iPad, the date and time of capture comes through correctly. Likewise if you use the Finder (in Catalina) or iTunes (in Mojave and earlier) to sync images between your Mac and an iPhone or iPad.
However, importing images captured elsewhere, such as on a digital snapshot, mirrorless or DSLR camera, or scanned photos and documents, Photos relies on a combination of the file’s creation date and time and embedded metadata. In many cases, the date and time you see for an image in the Finder is what Photos uses to tag the image in its library.
This also normally works correctly unless you have a set of images that were exported from iPhoto or Photos or intentionally or accidentally had its metadata stripped out of it. In those situations, importing photos without any additional work will result in images that Photos sets to the date and time of export.
One Macworld reader, for instance, exported everything from their iPhoto library in anticipation of an Apple Store repair, not realizing they should perform a full Time Machine backup or clone the drive. Their Mac wound up wiped during repair and they reimported the exported photos, all of which were set to their export date and time.
If you catch this before importation, you can fix it, using a $15 utility I’ve recommended many times: A Better Finder Attributes. This app can perform a bulk operation to extract the capture date and time from stored metadata and change the file creation date and time to match.
However, if you’ve already imported your images into Photos, there are two paths forward, but none of them is without significant drawbacks.
Modify within Photos
Photos offer a limited control with one or more pieces of media selected via the Image > Adjust Date and Time item. With a single image or movie selected, you can set the date and time, as well as time zone. With multiple items selected, the first piece of media is changed to the date, time, and time zone selected, and then the remaining items are adjusted relative to the change you made to the first.
Let’s say you adjust Photo 1 from May 3, 2010, at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time to June 3, 2015, at 5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. That’s a change in time zone plus an offset of five years and 31 days. If Photo 2 was taken on June 1, 2010, it will now be moved to PDT and July 2, 2015, and so on.
It’s a relatively limited feature, designed largely to fix time zone and clock errors in a digital camera, by fixing all the offsets at once.
Export, use A Better Finder Attributes, and re-import
This is far less desirable, but will achieve your result. Because you’re exporting, you cannot retain any modifications you made that were handled within Photos, including adding descriptions, titles, and keywords and any image manipulation. You also lose album organization.
This is a sort of first resort—before you’ve done any work on the images after importing with the wrong datestamps—or a last resort, when you’ve given up on all the work you’ve done in order to fix time organization.
Select all the photos and videos set to the wrong date and time.
Export the media by selecting File > Export > Export X Items. Choose Original for Color Profile and Full Size for Photos. For Videos, it’s more complicated, because you don’t want to downsize video in the process of fixing the time. (You may want to just exclude videos altogether from this and correct their time directly within Photos, in fact.)
Save the images and videos to a location where you’re sure you have enough space.
Launch A Better Finder Attributes to adjust the EXIF data or Finder data as necessary. (Three different features in the app may apply depending on how your media’s time has been set.)
In Photos, delete your exported images with Image > Delete X Items. These items will be placed in the Recently Deleted album.
Also in Photos, choose File > Import and choose the location with your corrected images. Click Review for Import.
Use the Import view to ensure you’re importing just the images and movies you want. Select images and click Import Select or just click Import All New Items.
Now you can delete the folder containing your exported images.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Gary.
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