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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Use Photos to fit event photos into a single timeline

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

The bride and groom shouldn’t be cutting the cake while we’re all still riding a double-decker bus to the reception.

I went to a wedding in London over the summer, and as you might expect at an event full of techy people, I ended up with hundreds of photos of the event from numerous sources—at least six. I imported them all into my Photos library and then discovered that they were all mixed up—the bride walking down the aisle, immediately followed by dancing at the reception, followed by the exchanging of vows.

Most cameras embed time data on every file they take, which is great, but whenever I try to mix photos from multiple sources in one place, I end up discovering all the ways that the clocks don’t match. For some of them, the clock is right but the time zone is wrong. For others (especially non-cellular devices that rely on a human to set their clock correctly) there are a few minutes of drift. For still others, there’s a time but not a time zone embedded.

Anyway, as a user of Photos for Mac, I end up needing to figure out how to get the times of the various cameras at an event adjusted and in sync. To do this, I use two tools: Smart Albums and the Adjust Date and Time command.


Since each camera may have its own time discrepancies, the first thing I do is figure out what cameras were shooting at the event. Do to this, I open the Info palette by typing Command-I, then click on a photo. The Info Palette will reveal all sorts of information about the shot I’ve selected, including which camera model took it.

By clicking on the photos on either side of any time discontinuities I spot in my list of Photos (which is, of course, sorted by time, with newer items toward the bottom), I can quickly spot the different makes and models of cameras being used at the event.

Then, for each camera I find, I create a Smart Album designed to display only photos from that camera on the day of the wedding. To do that, I choose New Smart Album from the file menu and then add two conditions: Date Captured is the day of the wedding, and Camera Model includes some unique portion of the camera name.

Being sure to set the whole thing to Match all of the following conditions and giving it a name that makes it clear which camera it’s collecting gets me this:

Smart Album in Photos

Once these are created, I’ll be able to batch-modify all the results from a single camera, because presumably if one of the photos it took is off by an hour, all of the photos are.

Then I go back to my list of photos and try to identify those time discontinuities—here’s the throwing of confetti, preceded by a toast by the Best Man. Using the floating Info palette, I do a little detective work and figure out what the time discontinuity is. (For instance, the wedding started at 1pm, so that shot of the bride walking down the aisle at 12pm is probably off by an hour.)

In the case of this summer’s wedding, one SLR was off by a few minutes. The others seem to have been set with the correct local time but no time zone, so Photos assigned them to my current time zone—placing them eight hours behind London time.

In any event, once I figure out the offset for any particular camera, I switch to that camera’s Smart Album, select all the photos, and choose Adjust Date and Time from the Image menu.

In the resulting sheet, Photos displays the first item in the selection, with its current date and time settings, which I can adjust as needed. There’s also world map, from which I can pick the proper time zone. After adjusting the time zone and actual time, I click Adjust, and Photos will move every single photo I selected—in other words, all the photos shot by that camera—into what should be the proper time zone and with the right time stamp.

Then I switch back to the main Photos view and see if those photos are now in the right order. (If they’re not, no problem—I can adjust the date and time on a set of photos endlessly until I get it right.)

I continue the process with all the other cameras until the Photos view runs from the nervous groom checking his tie all the way to people joyously dancing at the reception, all in the right order at last.

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