How to work around a Photos bug in macOS Catalina that thinks an image or movie remains in an album

A bug in tracking the state of photos and videos can mess up your smart albums.

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The Photos smart album feature provides a powerful way to organize images by an extensive list of attributes, including date captured, photo exposure, picture orientation, and many other parameters. For sorting pictures, I’ve long recommended creating a smart album that is a set of all photos not found in standard, manually created albums.

Macworld reader Hasith discovered that Photos for macOS 10.15 Catalina has a nasty bug in this regard. Don’t follow these steps, as it will capture your media, too, but here’s what she had happen:

  1. Create a smart album with images not in any album.

  2. Create a regular album with some of those images.

  3. Delete that album (not the images in it).

  4. Return to the smart album and those images have not returned.

In 10.14 Mojave, this problem doesn’t occur, so it was introduced in Catalina. It appears as if deleting the album doesn’t clear the “I am in an album” state for associated media.

mac911 not in any album photos bug IDG

This album includes images that are, in fact, not in any albums.

Just as interesting, because I have iCloud Photos enabled and have Mojave on one computer and Catalina on another, I was able to test what happened after triggering this problem in Catalina: the images remained incorrectly tagged on my Catalina Mac as in an album, but are correctly tagged as not in any album on my Mojave Mac!

The way to avoid this problem at the moment is to delete the items from inside the album, rather than use the Control-click > Delete Album option from the sidebar. Select the image, Control-click, and choose Remove [X Photos/Videos] from Album This correctly resets the in-an-album flag and your smart album is once again accurate.

I attempted to reset the state of images by creating albums, adding improperly tagged images to those albums, then removing them from the album, but not luck. There appears no way to reset this state of things.

Apple will ostensibly fix this bug at some point, but you might be required to rebuild your Photos library if they do to reset the state of images.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Hasith.

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