How to automate changing the date and time on HEIC files

The not-quite-new format isn’t supported by some utilities for fixing photo timestamps.

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When you snap a picture with a smartphone, tablet, or camera, the date and time are encoded in the image’s EXIF (Exchangeable image file format) metadata. It’s embedded so that it can be used later by any software that works with the image.

However, as readers will testify, it’s very easy to wind up with a mismatch between the time and date recorded in an image and what they see for creation date in the Finder on a Mac. Photos for macOS seems to have made this worse in Catalina. Export an image from Photos in Mojave or earlier versions of macOS using File > Export > Export Unmodified Original, and Photos uses the same timestamp you can view via Window > Info.

For example, this picture I took at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on July 10, 2018 exports correctly with that creation and modified date from my Mac running Mojave. On my Catalina Mac, the same file linked to the same iCloud Photos collection shows up with a Finder created and modified timestamp of right now.

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Photos for Mojave exports this image with the correct Finder creation and modification date (top, right), but Catalina uses the export date and time.

While Photos includes an option to adjust the timestamp on single photos and videos or shift it for batches, that doesn’t help in this situation, where the items are inside the Photos Library and you want to have them sort correctly and be searchable by date correctly in the Finder.

A Better Finder Attributes ($17.95) is what I’ve recommended previously, as it can extract the EXIF timestamp and update the Finder attributes, including for batches of files.

That’s fine if you’re using JPEG, CR2, NEF, ARF, RAF, SR2, CRW, PEF, and CIFF image formats, all of which the app can manage. But it doesn’t support HEIC, Apple’s implementation of an industry-standard high-efficiency compression format introduced a few years ago to preserve and video quality while packing in image data more tightly.

If you’ve switched to HEIC, as many people have, GraphicConverter ($39.95) is the best option. An image editor and Swiss Army knife for image formats that’s been in active development for 28 years, it also offers two kinds of batch operations:

  • Using File > Browse, you can navigate to a folder of images, select some or all, and then Control-click to select Exif Metadata > Set Creation and Modification Date Depending on Exif. This updates the Finder timestamps. (It also offers other options).

  • You can also use GraphicConverter’s powerful batch-processing feature that lets you stack up operations via Convert & Modify. This feature requires careful study of the manual, but let you create a standard task you can then apply to selected folders, including subfolders. Once mastered, it gives you access to powerful multi-step photo-processing in general, so it’s worth learning if you have potential future needs.

If you just need to make this sort of change in bulk once, both A Better Finder Attributes and GraphicConvert offer free trials. But I find myself reaching for both utilities again and again.

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

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