six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

Support this Site

Become a Six Colors member and get access to an exclusive podcast, private community, and monthly newsletter!

Six Colors coverage of Apple's Photos app



By Jason Snell

iOS 12 adds powerful search to Photos

In iOS 12, searching in the Photos takes a big step forward—while leaving macOS Mojave trailing, alas. Search results in Photos on iOS are incredibly rich. When you search for something, you won’t just find the photos that match, but you’ll also see all the Moments and Albums that contain matching photos.

The real power, though—and the place where iOS 12 really has it over macOS—is the ability to combine search terms.

If you want to search for a dog, you can type in dog and tap on the Dog category (this is important—you must tokenize each query, as Photos is not smart enough to figure out what you mean otherwise), and you’ll see all the photos that Apple’s machine-learning technology has identified as containing dogs. On that search-results screen you’ll also see a bunch of suggestions for related items that are often found with dogs—people, locations, even years or seasons.

If you tap on one of these items, they’ll be added to your search query, so now you’ll see all instances of, for example, a particular person and a dog.

Searching for dog and then adding my daughter as a suggested query.

When I searched my photo library for dog, I found 729 items. Adding the category snow dropped the total number of items to just three—and all them were my dog in the snow.

Searching for my dog in the snow.

This is incredibly powerful. If you want to find photos with specific combinations of people, places, or actions, you can do it in seconds. I searched for my son by name and then added the second search term swimming and instantly found 57 photos. Ten years of pool parties, found in just moments.

A decade of pool parties!.

It’s a pretty big upgrade, especially if you have a large library. And it makes Apple’s automatically generated machine-learning categories much more useful by letting you connect them to people, places, or other categories.

Now if only it also worked on the Mac….


By Jason Snell

Use Photos to fit event photos into a single timeline

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.

info-window-photos

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.


Jason Snell for Macworld

iOS 11: HEVC, HEIF, and what you need to know about these new video and photo formats ↦

Up until now, iOS devices have captured video in the MPEG-4/H.264 format, and still photos in JPEG. But with iOS 11 (on recent hardware), Apple is breaking with tradition and switching to a new set of formats that promise dramatic decreases in file size—albeit at the cost of some added complexity in terms of file compatibility.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

What’s new in Photos for macOS High Sierra

One of the major areas of improvement in macOS High Sierra is to the Photos app, which is only a couple of years old and has plenty of room to grow. I literally wrote the book on Photos, so it’s been interesting to watch Apple’s replacement for iPhoto as it has grown and changed. Here’s a look at the changes and new features in Photos for Mac on macOS High Sierra.

New image formats. Beginning with iOS 11, the iPhone 7 and later and the latest generation of iPad Pro models no longer capture photos and video in the JPEG and H.264 formats they’ve previously used—at least by default. Instead, they use the new High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) for video and HEIF (pronounced “heef”) for photos. Photos for High Sierra supports these formats natively, as you’d expect. If you share your photos (or drag them into the Finder), Photos will transcode them to JPEG and H.264, because Apple realizes that many devices can’t yet understand the formats.

(Because these formats are not supported on Sierra, Macs that are still back on Sierra will be able to view low-resolution derivative files synced via iCloud Photo Library, but not edit them.)

Portrait mode support. Photos for High Sierra supports the same portrait effects supported in iOS 11. This means that if you edit a photo taken in portrait mode on an iPhone 7 Plus, 8 Plus, or X running iOS 11, you can edit the portrait effects. (This is all aided by the fact that unlike JPEG, the HEIF format allows Apple to embed multiple images and depth-sensing data inside the HEIF file, so all that data carries along with the file up to iCloud Photo Library and back down to the Mac.)

Photo editing upgrade. Perhaps the biggest changes in Photos are in the editing pane. Previously, when you decided to edit a photo, you’d be presented with a sidebar containing seven icons: Enhance, Rotate, Crop, Filters, Adjust, Retouch, and Extensions. You could click through to any of them to reveal a subset of editing tools—or in the case of Enhance, do a one-click global enhancement to your photo.

There are nine new filter presets, replacing the older ones.

With Photos on High Sierra, when you edit a photo you’re taken to an interface with a sidebar as well as a toolbar. Tabs at the top let you toggle between three different editing views: Adjust, Filters, and Crop. (One-click Enhance is now an icon at the top right of the screen, next to the Done button.) Clicking the Crop tab will bring up the Crop functions of Photos, largely unchanged; clicking Filters will bring up a revamped set of nine pre-built image filter presets, three variations each on three different styles (Vivid, Dramatic, and black and white).

Every advanced editing tool now lives under the Adjust tab, including the new Curves and Selective Color tools.

Everything else—all the more advanced editing tools—now live under the Adjust tab. Instead of having to hunt for them, they’re all there in the sidebar together. You can click disclosure triangles to show additional editing options, or hide them away entirely. It’s certainly more cluttered than the old approach, but you no longer have to remember if a particular effect is in the Filters, Adjust, or Retouch section.

There are also two new editing tools, though they’ll be familiar to users of other editing tools, including Apple’s discontinued Aperture: Curves and Selective Color.

Support for third-party edits. In the transition from iPhoto to Photos, the ability to edit a photo in an outside app and then save it back into your photo library was lost. 1 It’s back now, and it’s better than it ever was in iPhoto.

In Photos on High Sierra, you can open any photo in an external image editor via the Edit With command under the Image menu. Under the Edit With menu will be a list of all the apps on your Mac that have been updated to take advantage of this feature of Photos, meaning you don’t need to pick a single external editor—you can choose different apps as you see fit.

Once an image has been opened in an external editor, you can do pretty much anything you want to it. Once you save in the app, the adjustments you’ve made come back to Photos right where you left it. You can make further edits on that photo if you want, and as with any photo in Photos, the original image is stored so you can revert back at any time.

One caveat: If an image is shot in the Raw file format, the Raw file is not sent to the external editor; instead, a JPEG version is transferred. (The Raw original is always saved and can be reverted to later, of course.)

Browsing adjustments. In previous versions of photos, the interface focused on tabs at the top of the screen—which you could optionally swap for a more iPhoto-like sidebar pane. On High Sierra, Photos has fully embraced that sidebar—it’s always visible when you’re browsing photos. (As someone who always ran Photos with the sidebar on, I applaud this move.)

The selection counter (top) and a quick-filter pop-up (bottom) are additions to the Photos interface.

The contents of the sidebar have been reorganized into sections. The Library section contains different views of your library—auto-generated Memories, all of your Favorites, the People who appear in your images, the Places you took your pictures. And, in a new feature, all the photos you imported—organized by when you imported them. (This is the new import-history feature, so if you remember you imported a bunch of photos a few weeks ago, you can scroll back and see everything that came into your library from that batch.)

The Albums section of the sidebar now contains two two-level items, Media Types and My Albums. Media Types contains automatically-generated views of your library filtered by media type—Selfies, Live Photos, Panoramas, and so on. My Albums contains every album and Smart Album you create manually.

Another new feature in the image-browsing interface is the selection counter in the upper right. As you select images, the selection counter keeps count. Select 18 images and it will helpfully tell you, “18 photos selected.” The image counter is also a draggable proxy for your images—drag the image counter to your desktop or into an album, and the selected images will go there, too.

Just below the selection counter is a new quick filtering option that lets you quickly narrow the view to show only favorites, edited items, photos, or videos.

Speaking of albums, in macOS Sierra you can now import photos directly into an album—either an existing one or a new one. If you’re someone who always organizes photos by album, this will save you a step or two, since you will no longer need to import photos, make a new album, and then drag the imported items into the album.

Improvements to Memories and People. Memories, introduce to Photos last year, is a feature that looks for commonalities in the photos in your library and gathers them together into collections. Think of them as computer-generated albums that are meant to surprise and delight you with images from the past.

In High Sierra and iOS 11, Photos has increased the number of ways it parses your library looking for commonalities. According to Apple, among the new types of Memories are ones for pets, kids, hiking, diving, winter sports, nights out, and meals with friends.

In High Sierra and iOS 11, Memories is also better at picking photos from particular events, using image analysis to try to pick the best image out of many—the best smile or one where nobody’s blinking.

The People interface, which uses facial recognition software to lets you view all the images of a particular person, has been updated in High Sierra. It’s a more attractive design, and the face-recognition engine has been upgraded (Apple says it’s as much as twice as accurate) with the ability to make educated guesses about who is in a photo based on a face’s relationship to the other faces in a photo. For example, if a child is frequently in pictures with another child, the algorithm can use that to improve its confidence in its ability to assign a face to a particular person. And when you identify a photo as containing a particular person, that data is synced along with the photo, which aids your other devices in identifying that person themselves.

Transform Live Photos with the Long Exposure effect.

Live Photos improvements. Apple’s Live Photos format was introduced two years ago, and in this version of Photos, there are finally much better controls for editing Live Photos. You can manually change the Live Photo’s representative image to a different segment of the video, trim Live Photos video, and set one of three effects: a traditional live photo, a back-and-forth bouncing effect, or a Long Exposure image that processes the stack of images to create the equivalent of a photo with the shutter left open for a long time. Think about streams and waterfalls going from freeze-framed reality to a luminous, fuzzy fantasy.

Third-party projects. For years, Apple’s photography apps have made it easy to design and order printed versions of your photos—books, calendars, prints, and more. Those still exist, but in High Sierra, Photos allows third-party developers to integrate directly with Photos to create new projects. There’s a new third-party app interface that lets companies build Mac apps—there’s a special category in the Mac App Store for them, linked to from within the Photos app—that connect to Photos and allow you to order products or integrate with outside services from directly within Photos.

Apple’s announced several partners who will support this feature, including photo printers Shutterfly, Whitewall, Mimeo, iFolor, Mpix, slideshow builder Animoto, and web-hosting service Wix.

What’s not here. With every new version of any app, there are inevitably the wish-list items that didn’t get crossed off. I’m disappointed that Apple hasn’t made machine-learning-generated metadata syncing available across devices, so that every device you own doesn’t have to re-scan every photo in your library. Photos on iOS has the ability to auto-generate a movie for every Memory, but the Mac still lacks this feature. Smart Albums don’t have access to the categories generated by machine-learning scans, making it impossible to automatically combine two categories together.

And, of course, the big one: There’s still no way for members of a family to opt in to automatically sharing some or all of their photo libraries with one another, something my wife and I have been wanting for quite a while now—and a feature that Google is adding to Google Photos. Still, there’s no denying that this update to Photos is a big stride forward on several fronts.

Updated September 2017 for the final version of macOS High Sierra.


  1. Apps could previously provide Extensions that ran inside a Photos window, which some apps used as a gateway to then open the image themselves. This new approach is direct, requiring no intermediate extension window. ↩


Jason Snell for Macworld

How iCloud Photo Library matches up to Google Photos ↦

Last week at the Google I/O developer conference, Google announced a raft of forthcoming additions to its Google Photos service. Since Google Photos runs on iOS and in any web browser, it’s a serious photo-storage option for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users—and in many ways, it’s way ahead of Apple’s Photos apps and iCloud Photo Library service.

Then again, WWDC—Apple’s own developer conference—is in just two weeks. It’s an opportunity for Apple to declare where it’s taking Photos and iCloud Photo Library next. In the meantime, though, it’s worth pointing out where Google Photos is beating Apple’s offerings, and where Apple’s ahead—and how WWDC could be poised to change both sides of the equation.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

What’s new in Photos for iOS 10

Lots of options are available for editing Memories videos.

Search is the best way to find items detected by iOS 10’s machine-learning algorithm.

The release of iOS 10 marks the debut of a bunch of major new features to Apple’s Photos app. By far the biggest change to Photos is the addition of a comprehensive machine-learning algorithm that scans the contents of your photos to automatically identify people, objects, settings, and other items in your images without any help from you.

With both macOS Sierra and iOS 10, all the images in your Photos libraries will be scanned millions of times with machine-learning algorithms to identify faces, as well as more than 4,000 different scenes or objects. Every time you take a photo in iOS 10, Apple will scan that image for any possible information and use that metadata in several different ways. For all the photos already in your library, well—your device will need to scan them all, one at a time. That will take time and use a whole lot of processor power, so be sure to leave your iPhone plugged in overnight after you upgrade so that it can stealthily scan your photos while you sleep.

summary-page
Memories are automatically generated and come with an optional video slideshow.

Photos exposes all the faces that it identifies via its new algorithms in the new People album. The rest of the machine-learning data is best discovered via the search box. Objects Apple identifies—including things like dogs, cows, and beaches—are organized in Categories, and you can search for them just by typing whatever you can think of. If you type dog, Photos will show you all the photos it thinks might feature dogs.

Another major addition to Photos is Memories, automatically generated collections of your photos. To create a Memory, Photos selects photos based on location, time, and even the people identified in the photos. You can tap on the header image at the top of any memory to view an automatically generated video highlight reel for that memory, a collage of audio and video clips that’s assembled by iOS. You can also tap on the clip and edit it, choosing a mood from a palette of choices such as Uplifting and Chill, and a length (Short, Medium, or Long). If you really want to go to town, you can add or omit items, pick custom music, and adjust the length down to the second.

The new Places album lets you browse all of your photos based on where they were taken. Maps are also more prevalent throughout Photos, most notably in Memories.

I loved being able to view photos taken on a beach hike, location by location, using the Places album.

people-ios
The Details view will tell you a lot about who’s in your photo and where it was taken.

A new Details view lets you see more information about any given photo in your library. Open an image and then tap the Details button or just scroll. You’ll see the people Photos has identified as being in the photo, the location where the photo was taken (with an address, a map, and an option to show other photos taken nearby), a set of Memories related somehow to the contents of your photo, and even a link to see all the photos taken on that particular day.

Those “related Memories” links spread throughout Photos are cleverly generated based on the metadata gleaned from Apple’s machine-learning algorithm. An image of a baseball game offered other outings to the ballpark; an image of my mother offered collections of her various visits to our house and ours to hers.

When you’re viewing details of a photo, you can teach Photos the name of the person it detected by tapping one of the faces in the People section. Photos opens a screen for that face, with a collection of photos, related groups and people, places where that person was spotted, and related collections of photos. At the very top of that screen, tap the Add Name header and enter in the person’s name. Photos suggests names based on the Contacts list, but you can also assign a name that isn’t currently in Contacts. If you identify a person that’s already in People, Photos offers to merge the two entries into one.

I’m finishing up a new edition of my Photos Crash Course ebook that will cover a whole lot more about Photos on macOS Sierra and iOS 10. When it’s ready to go we’ll announce that here at Six Colors.


By Jason Snell

Copy files back into a Photos for Mac library

Longtime Mac writer Ted Landau posted this on Twitter earlier today, and since I wrote the book on Photos for Mac, I was able to help him out:

By default, every image you import into Photos from your hard drive is copied into the Photos library. You can throw away the file that’s out on your desktop if you like, because a copy of it now resides inside the Photos library package. But some people want more control over their photos, preferring to organize their image files themselves, in the Finder. For those people, Apple offers a setting in Photos Preferences: “Copy items to the Photos library.” If you uncheck that box, any image you copy into Photos will not be copied into the library package. If you delete the photo later, Photos won’t be able to do anything to bring it back.

Accidentally unchecking that box can lead to some terrible consequences—like you deleting your photos without realizing you have no backup! Fortunately, in Ted’s case the photos still existed—but he had moved them to an external volume. Ted’s question then, was twofold: Can he do something so that those images are entirely copied into his Photos library, and what happens if he’s moved the image files in the meantime?

A photo not stored in the Library (left) and one with a missing source file (right).

First off, it’s worth noting that Photos displays a special icon on any photo that hasn’t been copied into its library: In the bottom-left corner of a thumbnail, it will display an image of a square with an arrow. (If it can’t find the source image, this becomes a yellow alert symbol with an arrow.) You can toggle this icon on and off via the View: Metadata: Referenced File command.)

Fortunately for Ted, Photos does include a command that will find all the source image files and copy them into the library. To perform this task, open Photos and select the photos you’d like the app to copy, then choose File: Consolidate. If you haven’t moved the files anywhere, once this task is completed your Photos library will be whole again.

Ted moved his items to a different hard drive, but if Photos can’t find a certain photo in its original location, it will ask you to pick a folder to search in. Ted was able to point Photos at his alternate disk, and then the app was able to import all of those files.

So if you ever regret leaving items outside of your Photos library, you can import them later with the Consolidate command. But for most people, it’s a better idea to leave the “Copy items to the Photos library” preference checked, now and forever.

[If you want more tips about Photos, check out my book, Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course.]


By Jason Snell

Understanding “Optimize Mac Storage” in Photos for Mac

One of the more interesting features of Photos for Mac is its ability to not store my entire photo library on my Mac’s drive. 1 It does this by syncing the entire library to iCloud Photo Library 2 and then dynamically loading and unloading photos as you use it.

In true Apple fashion, Photos protects the user from thinking about managing storage — everything happens automatically, with absolutely no intervention from the user. That’s as it should be, but a few optional controls for the control freaks among us wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

This thought occurred to me when I was fishing a file out of my Pictures folder and noticed that my Photos library takes up 46GB of my precious iMac SSD storage space.

That’s a lot, especially when you’re supposed to render an HD video in Final Cut Pro, but you can’t because you’re out of disk space. There’s no button for me to press to put Photos in Austerity Mode, no interface to force it to slim down what it’s using. In fact, there’s no communication at all from the app about how it manages its own storage space.

Plumbing the depths of the Internet, I found this pretty great post on StackExchange that charts the size of the Photos library and a Mac’s disk usage. Photos is definitely optimizing the size of its library, though it’s still not entirely clear to me whether it only does this when it’s running, or if there’s some background process that might do it all the time. (My guess is that it’s the former.)

What that post does clarify is that Photos apparently has an optimization target: 10 percent of free disk space. So on my 467GB partition, it’s trying to free up roughly 47GB of free space. (At the moment that drive has 42GB free, so I guess it’s working?)

I’m also a little surprised at the 16GB of thumbnails in my Photos Library. That’s 240K in thumbnail data for every one of my 67,782 photos. It turns out that the Photos library actually generates two thumbnail files for each image: one “1024” image (roughly in the ballpark of 1024-by-768 pixels, though it varies based on aspect ratio) that’s 200K-300K, and a standard thumbnail that’s more like 480-by-360 and 50K-75K.

Those thumbnails are what make the Photos interface so pretty and responsive, even at Retina resolutions. At the same time… 135,000 thumbnail files on my SSD taking up 16GB of space. I guess that’s the trade-off of having a huge cloud photo library, but… wow.

I’m so happy that this feature exists, but in a future update I’d love to see a bit more transparency about how the storage is being optimized, and perhaps even a user option to blow out the cache or reduce the library size by some amount. Or, failing that, it needs to be much more aggressive in pruning its library in low-disk situations.


  1. After all, my photo library is larger than my Mac’s drive, so it just won’t fit! I had to break my old iPhoto Library into pieces and store it on a server. ↩

  2. You can’t use this feature if you aren’t using iCloud Photo Library, because Photos needs a data source for the files it’s deleting. ↩


By Jason Snell

PowerPhotos merges Photos 1.1 libraries

Merging libraries in PowerPhotos

Because I wrote a book about Photos for Mac, a user group in Chicago asked me to give them a presentation about Photos, which I did earlier this week. 1 At the end of the presentation, someone asked about merging the contents of multiple Libraries together, and I had to give them the bad news: There’s just no way to do it.

Less than two hours later, there was an email in my inbox from Fat Cat Software, makers of the go-to utility for merging iPhoto libraries (as well as a bunch of other iPhoto-related stuff), iPhoto Library Manager. Fat Cat has a similar utility for Photos, PowerPhotos, but due to the limitations of the Photos app itself, it wasn’t able to merge libraries together.

It turns out that a lot of those limitations of Photos were erased with version 1.1, released with OS X El Capitan. Now PowerPhotos has been updated to version 1.1, and it has added support for merging multiple Photos libraries together into one. (It’s got a bunch of other useful features, including the ability to detect and remove duplicates and to view the contents of a library as a list.)

There are some limitations, however. The merge feature can bring in the edited version of your photo, or the original, but not both; and manually assigned locations, faces, and projects aren’t supported. Still, it’s progress. And Fat Cat has simplified the connection between PowerPhotos and iPhoto Library Manager—a single $30 license works with both apps. (Users of iPhoto Library Manager 3 can upgrade for $15.)

Despite the limitations of this new approach, it’s good to know that there’s finally a way to merge the contents of two libraries together, short of dragging all the images into the Finder, changing libraries, and then dragging them back in.

Now you know, Chicago.


  1. Alas, via Skype, meaning that I was not able to partake of the city’s hot dogs or deep-dish pizza. ↩


Photos 1.1 features editable geolocation data.

By Jason Snell

What’s new in Photos for Mac 1.1

Available now as a part of El Capitan is Photos 1.1, the first major update to Photos for Mac, the replacement for iPhoto and Aperture that Apple launched earlier this year.

Here are the major additions in Photos 1.1:

You can geotag using the location database used by Apple Maps.

Geotagging. In Photos 1.1 you can add a location to an image or batch of images that weren’t geotagged, as well as edit the location of data of already-geotagged images. To do this, you open the Inspector window by pressing Command-I. In a not-yet-geotagged image, the Inspector will display a line labeled Assign a Location. Clicking in this area will let you enter a street address or a name of a point of interest, and Photos will search Apple’s Maps database. If that location isn’t good enough for you, you can always click on the pin and drag it around the map, placing it wherever you like.

For photos that have already been geotagged, you can click on the location label above the map in order to search for a new location, or just click on the pin and drag it to a new location. This behavior works whether you’ve got one item selected, or many. There’s also a new menu item that lets you remove location data or revert to the location data of the original photo.

If you’re using iCloud Photo Library, you should know that changing the geodata on the photos will sync, so you’ll be able to see the new locations on iOS devices and other Macs. In fact, Macs running Yosemite will still see the geotagging data, because although Photos 1.0 doesn’t let you edit geotagging data, it does let you view it.

Add descriptions, titles, and keywords as a batch.

Batch titling/describing/keywording. If you want to name a whole bunch of images in one go, or add a description, or add keywords, you can do all of those things, too. Just select a bunch of images and, again from the Inspector window, click in the Add a Title, Add a Description, and Add a Keyword fields and add what you need to do. (Sadly, there isn’t a way to apply something like a unique serial number (i.e., Photo 1 followed by Photo 2) in a batch.)

Album sorting. In the first release of Photos, albums could be sorted in one way: by date, with the oldest on top. In Photos 1.1, you can now sort photo albums by date with either the oldest or newest on top, or alternatively you can sort the photos by title. You can also still keep freestyling it, and drag the images into any order you want. You can also sort your list of photo albums by name, or by date (newest or oldest first), if you feel your albums themselves need some organizing.

Editing extensions. Photos now supports image-editing extensions written by third-party developers. Like the built-in editing tools, you can actually stack multiple extensions while editing a photo, so you can combine third-party editing extensions with Apple’s own tools to get exactly the image that you want to see. However, each extension edits a “burned-in” version of your photo, so you can’t edit a photo with three extensions and then go back and turn off the first of the extensions. Instead, you’d need to revert back to the original photo (which is always retained by Photos) and start again.

Editing extensions will be available from the Mac App store, either bundled with an existing app or distributed as standalone extensions. I’ve tried a few beta versions of photo-editing extensions, and they definitely add a new dimension to what you can do without leaving Photos.

Other stuff. The Recently Deleted folder is now visible all the time, not just when you enable it from a menu item. There’s a new Reduce Motion checkbox in the Preferences window that claims it reduces the motion of the user interface, though I haven’t picked up on quite what it’s reducing.

There’s support for the Live Photo feature introduced with the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. Hovering your cursor over a live photo for a fraction of a second will start the photo playing; you can turn this off with the Turn Off Live Photo command under the Image menu. In the larger photo view, there’s a Live Photo sticker you can click on to start playing the Live Photo.

[Want to learn more about Photos for Mac? Buy my book, “Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course”. And yes, it will be updated in the next month or so to reflect all the changes in Photos 1.1.]


By Jason Snell

Hands on with Photos for Mac 1.1

photos11-publicbeta

Due as a part of El Capitan this fall, and available right now as a public beta is the first major update to Photos for Mac, the replacement for iPhoto and Aperture that Apple launched earlier this year.

Here are the major additions you can expect to see in Photos when 1.1 arrives this fall (or when you install the public beta, depending on your enthusiasm):

Geotagging. Yes, in Photos 1.1 you can add a location to an image or batch of images that weren’t geotagged, as well as edit the location of data of already-geotagged images. To do this, you open the Inspector window. A not-yet-geotagged image will offer a section of the window labeled Assign a Location. Clicking in this area will let you enter a street address or a name of a point of interest, and Photos will search Apple’s Maps database. If that location isn’t good enough for you, you can always click on the pin and drag it around the map, placing it wherever you like.

For photos that have already been geotagged, you can click on the location label above the map in order to search for a new location, or just click on the pin and drag it to a new location. This behavior works whether you’ve got one item selected, or many.

Batch titling. If you want to name a whole bunch of images in one go, you can do that, too. Just select a bunch of images and, again from the Inspector window, click in the Add a Title field and add your title. (There doesn’t appear to be a way to apply something like a unique serial number (i.e., Photo 1 followed by Photo 2) in a batch.)

Album sorting. In the first release of Photos, albums could be sorted in one way: by date, with the oldest on top. In the Photos 1.1 public beta, you can now sort photo albums by date with either the oldest or newest on top, or alternatively you can sort the photos by title. Apple says other sorting options may arrive before Photos 1.1 ships, but I’m not sure what they might be.

Editing extensions. Photos will support image-editing extensions written by third-party developers. Like the built-in editing tools, you can actually stack multiple extensions while editing a photo, so you can combine third-party editing extensions with Apple’s own tools to get exactly the image that you want to see.

Apple says editing extensions will be available from the Mac App store, either bundled with an existing app or distributed as standalone extensions. I haven’t had a chance to try any editing extensions out, unfortunately, so I can’t report more about this feature yet.

Other stuff. Apple says you’ll be able to batch organize Faces, letting you drag multiple photos onto a Face to assign them to that person, but I couldn’t make that work in this beta. Apple also says that large libraries can launch up to 40 percent faster than in Photos 1.0, something I won’t be able to verify until I upgrade one of my primary photo libraries to the public beta.

[Want to learn more about Photos for Mac? Buy my book, “Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course”. And yes, I plan on updating it when Photos 1.1 gets closer to shipping.]


Linked by Jason Snell

Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course (1.1)

tc-photos

The complete edition of my book about Apple’s replacement for iPhoto and Aperture, “Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course,” has now been released. The book’s initial release was essentially the first half (if you bought it, update to the new version for free!), but now the entire book is complete. It’s a dense, visual look at the main features of Photos for Mac.

In the book, I describe how to perform most of the tasks readers will want to do with Photos. No previous knowledge of iPhoto or Aperture is required, though I also walk readers through the migration process from both apps and show you where the stuff in those programs ends up—if anywhere—in Photos.


By Jason Snell

Photos for Mac’s unrestrained iCloud uploads

I’ve been using Photos for Mac since day one of its beta release—have I mentioned lately that you should buy my book about it?—and on day one I encountered a problem that, surprisingly, seems to have gone unfixed throughout the entire beta process.

The first day I used Photos, I imported a substantial portion of my family photo collection—20,000 or so photos—into what Photos calls the System Photo Library. And set it to upload to iCloud.

The next day, my Internet connection seemed to die, or at least become sporadically inert. Traffic would sometimes squirt through, but after long delays. It was weird, and intermittent, and I was really sad.

Later that day I discovered something, though: Even though Photos wasn’t open, a background task was uploading my photo library to iCloud. All 20,000 photos. The process was using all the available bandwidth, saturating my outbound Internet connection and making it essentially unusable. (Was Comcast also throttling me due to a sudden explosion of uploading data? I don’t know, but the net result was the same. And the moment I paused the upload, all the problems went away.)

If you’re trying out Photos and wondering why your Internet is suddenly slow, now you know! Fortunately, Apple provides you with a way to pause the upload—a single button labeled “Pause for one day.” (Note that Photos needs to be using the System Photo Library for you to see this option, because that’s the only library that syncs with iCloud.)

This is certainly better than a boot to the head, but it’s not enough.

What Apple needs to do to fix how Photos syncs with iCloud is take a tip from online backup services like CrashPlan and Backblaze. Yes, it’s good to upload things fast, especially when you’re doing your first backup. But these services combine some intelligence with user settings to not make the Internet unusable while they operate.

Perhaps photos could sense when someone’s using the computer and throttle back the upload speed. Or let users optionally choose hours when uploads should take place, and when they should be curtailed. Or let users choose how much bandwidth the backup can use. (Or, if you want to be all Appley about it, Photos could figure out how fast a user’s connection is and try to use a conscientious percentage of that bandwidth.)

Users with bandwidth caps should be able to somehow throttle the uploads so they don’t end up with bandwidth overages. And users should be able to pause iCloud uploads indefinitely, not just for one day. Bug me if I’m still paused after a few days, sure, but don’t force me to open Photos every day and pause the upload just so I can visit websites or make a Skype call. Pauses for shorter amounts of time—just this next hour when I’m FaceTiming—would also be welcome.

I understand that Apple doesn’t want to junk up the Photos interface. A commitment to simplicity is admirable. But in this case, what’s there is not enough. If Apple wants to commit to that simplicity, it can make this feature as hands-off and intelligent as it likes. Or it can punt and provide users with nerdy settings to control all of it like the online backup services do. Maybe it could even pick some nice middle ground between those two extremes.

What it shouldn’t do is abdicate all responsibility for what the initial iCloud photo backup does to an Internet connection. In version 1.0 of Photos, that’s what it feels like Apple has done. I don’t think it’s good enough.


By Jason Snell

Things you should know about Photos for Mac

photos-mac-releaseday

With the release of OS X 10.10.3 today, Photos for Mac is available to the general public. I’ve been using it from the first day it was released as a developer beta because I’m writing an ebook about it. And so I’ve learned a lot about it.

If you’re used to iPhoto, Photos won’t be that jarring. Photos can import your iPhoto library and retains most, but not all, of the features of iPhoto. Star ratings have been demoted to keyword status, flagged items are now Favorites, and Events are now just another kind of photo album. But with the optional sidebar displayed in Photos, you’d think you were using a slick new version of iPhoto.

Hard-core Aperture users will probably be disappointed. Photos is much more iPhoto than Aperture. If you use Aperture because it’s more than iPhoto, but haven’t availed yourself of most of Aperture’s features, you may find Photos sufficient. But if you rely on one of the many Aperture features Photos doesn’t support, be prepared for disappointment.

You should read my Photos FAQ, which I wrote back in February and just updated.

If you’re wondering about how importing libraries from iPhoto and Aperture works, check out my story about how Photos accomplishes that task.


Linked by Jason Snell

Two reviews of Photos for Mac

OS X 10.10.3 is out today, including Photos for Mac. iMore’s own Serenity Caldwell has a full review. Check it out.

[Update: Jeff Carlson’s got a review at Macworld, too.]

And I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that I’m writing a book about Photos that you can pre-order now and get the entire first half.


By Jason Snell

‘Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course’

I’m writing a book for TidBITS/Take Control about Apple’s new Photos app, which is due out with OS X 10.10.3. This app is the replacement for both iPhoto and Aperture.

The book costs $10 and we’re now taking pre-orders. If you buy it now you’ll actually receive the first half of the book! The second half will be available soon after Photos arrives in its final form, and all buyers will get upgraded to the full book when that happens.

The book is a visual guide to the new Photos app. The PDF edition is quite attractive, if you ask me. If you’re interested in this new Photos app, I encourage you to check it out.


By Jason Snell

Photos for Mac: Quick answers to simplified questions

photos-mac-levels

[This story was updated on April 8, 2015. If you want to know more about Photos for Mac, you should pre-order my ebook. If you order it now you’ll get the first half of the book immediately, even as I’m writing the second half!]

After my Photos for Mac overview appeared on TidBITS, I’ve been pelted with questions about Apple’s forthcoming replacement for iPhoto and Aperture. Presented here, then, are quick answers to simplified questions about Photos for Mac.

I keep my existing iPhoto/Aperture library on an external drive. Will the program continue to use that location automatically?

Yes. Photos automatically detects if you’ve got an iPhoto or Aperture library and if you have only one on your system, it’ll use it as the basis for its new library without duplicating the media. If you’ve got more than one library, it’ll ask you which one you want to convert and set as the system library.

What happens to my old library?

It’s still there. The next time you try to open it, iPhoto or Aperture will remind you that it’s been migrated to Photos, but that’s just a reminder—you can keep using iPhoto as usual if you want. However, changes you make in libraries after they’re imported do not sync to the other app. You can’t import an iPhoto library to Photos, then edit something in iPhoto and expect to see it also edited in Photos. It doesn’t work that way.

What if I want to convert my library and save it in a different location?

Library conversions always happen in the same folder, for the very reason you specify. If you want to move the library later, that’s fine—if it moves to a different volume, that data will copy and the hard links will be disassociated. It’ll just be a regular library.

Can I have more than one Library?

Yes. Hold down option when launching Photos to pick a library or create a new one. Only one library can be designated as the System Photo Library. That’s the one that syncs with iCloud.

Can I organize my photos myself, in folders on my hard drive, and still use Photos?

Yes. There’s a “Copy items to the Photos library” setting in the General preferences tab. If you uncheck it, then Photos will consider the canonical version of that photo to be the file you dragged in. (This is signified by a small alias icon in the lower left corner of the image.) If you delete that photo later, Photos will no longer have access to the full-resolution image. However, referenced media files don’t sync to iCloud.

Will Photos support extensions to expand its capabilities?

Apple suggested at much when it announced Photos, but beyond support for sharing extensions there are no signs of addition extensions in 1.0.

Is Photos a direct replacement for iPhoto?

Yes. It’s basically iPhoto X — a reworked iPhoto that drops some iPhoto features but will feel quite familiar to iPhoto users.

Is Photos a direct replacement for Aperture?

No. It’s a step back from Aperture, and people who use Aperture to the fullest will probably be frustrated by this version’s limitations. People who didn’t take advantage of most of Aperture’s features might like it, though.

How does the new iPhoto handle burst mode pictures? Does it auto stack/group them?

iPhone burst mode photos come in as stacks. If you take 50 photos in a very short amount of time with an SLR, though, those seem to just come through as a whole bunch of individual pictures.

I don’t want to use iCloud with my photos. What do I do?

Just keep iCloud syncing turned off. That’s it. iCloud syncing is optional, not required.

I gave up and moved my library to Dropbox along with all my photos. Is there any reason to move back to iCloud?

The big advantage of Photos is that you don’t need to have your entire photo library anywhere except in iCloud. My iMac’s hard drive isn’t big enough to hold my iPhoto library, so I can’t sync it with Dropbox on this iMac. But I could open that same library in Photos, because almost none of the images would need to be stored locally.

If you’re someone who wants all your photos on your hard drive at all times, you could do that with Dropbox and Photos rather than iCloud.

Is sync to iCloud ‘all or nothing’? What I want is the ability to choose which photos sync from the Mac.

You can sync everything in the system Photos library, or nothing. That’s it.

iPhoto’s still on my Mac. Can I delete it?

Sure, if you want. Apple keeps it there just in case you want to get your iPhoto libraries in order before importing them. There’s no harm in keeping it around for a little while, but you can delete it if you need to. Keep in mind that deleting imported iPhoto libraries probably won’t save you much space.

Can I still sync photos to my iOS devices via iTunes?

Yep. It works just as you’d expect—choose Photos as the app you’d like to sync from, then you can sync everything, just certain albums, only favorites, or even all the photos from a recent period like the last week or last month.


By Jason Snell

The (hard) link between Photos and iPhoto

Screenshot 2015-02-10 12

[Updated April 9 to account for the final release of Photos for Mac. Also don’t miss our Photos FAQ.]

As I wrote my TidBITS article about the initial beta release of Photos for OS X, I was struck by how iPhoto imports work, which I described like this:

The Photos import process is friendly when it comes to disk space — it doesn’t duplicate the photos it imports from iPhoto and Aperture, so you don’t lose precious storage space.

What is this magic? How can it not duplicate the photos, yet not risk losing all your data if you were to throw away your old iPhoto library?

I had an inkling that this was all happening due to a feature of OS X that I believe has previously only been used by Apple in Time Machine, and prodded by TidBITS reader Bryan Walls, I confirmed it this morning. Photos uses Unix-style hard links when importing iPhoto libraries.

Mac users are probably more familiar with the concept of soft links, also known as “symbolic links.” Mac users would recognize the idea of a soft link from the long-time Mac concept of aliases 1. In both of these cases, there’s something that looks like a file or folder/directory that’s actually just a reference to the real version of that file somewhere else in the filesystem.

Hard links aren’t like that. The best way to think of a hard link is that the contents of a file appear to exist in more than one location. If a file has two hard links, and you delete one, the file isn’t deleted—because it’s still linked to from another location.

That’s what the iPhoto import inside Photos does 2: It creates hard links to the contents of your iPhoto library inside the Photos library. If you delete your iPhoto library, the files that were hard-linked from the Photos library still exist in the Photos library and aren’t deleted. For Mac users used to the a-file-is-a-file approach of the Finder, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

Time Machine uses this approach to create full backups while saving disk space. When you delete an old Time Machine backup, any files that are still hard-linked from subsequent backups remain intact. Any files that no longer have hard links elsewhere are deleted. iMovie apparently uses it, too, from time to time.

You can actually see if a file is hard-linked by using the Terminal. Before I imported my iPhoto library, here’s what an image deep inside the iPhoto library package looked like:

jsnell% ls -l
total 5968
-rw-r--r--@ 1 jsnell  staff  3054588 Jun 10  2013 WWDC13_0910.JPG

The 1 just before “jsnell staff” lists how many hard links exist to this particular file. One link, the one we’re looking at.

But after I import this iPhoto library into Photos, here’s what that same directory looks like:

jsnell% ls -l
total 5968
-rw-r--r--@ 2 jsnell  staff  3054588 Jun 10  2013 WWDC13_0910.JPG

Now there are two. To find the location of the two links, I find the unique ID of the file in question:

jsnell% ls -li
total 5968
10652722 -rw-r--r--@ 2 jsnell  staff  3054588 Jun 10  2013 WWDC13_0910.JPG

And then another Terminal command shows me where those two links are:

jsnell% find /Users/jsnell -inum 10652722

/Users/jsnell/Desktop/An iPhoto Library.migratedphotolibrary/Masters/2015/02/10/20150210-110352/WWDC13_0910.JPG

/Users/jsnell/Desktop/An Photos Library.photoslibrary/Masters/2015/02/10/20150210-110352/WWDC13_0910.JPG

This reveals two interesting facts.

  • When Photos migrates an iPhoto library, it changes the file extension on the iPhoto library package to .migratedphotolibrary3

  • On import, Photos makes a hard link to all iPhoto media assets in its own library package, using the same directory structure as iPhoto.

So what happens if you edit one of those files? Something very clever, it turns out: If I open the JPEG image from the migrated iPhoto library in Photoshop, edit it, and save it, that version is indeed altered—but the version in the Photos library is untouched. Basically, modifying that file causes the link between the two versions to break. They’re different, and no longer connected.

I can also confirm that Photos is pretty comprehensive when it comes to its iPhoto import. Both Albums and Smart Albums are imported, and the Smart Albums remain “smart.” Smart Albums based on deprecated data like star ratings still work—since star ratings are converted to keywords, Smart Albums based on star ratings are converted to search for the equivalent star keywords. Descriptions, titles, flags, and geotagging from iPhoto are all picked up as well, and iPhoto Events are imported as Albums.

If you’ve edited a photo in iPhoto before importing, Photos will display that edited version—but the original has also imported behind the scenes, so you can revert back to it if you need to.


  1. Pedantic note: OS X aliases are not the same as unix symbolic links. But in general terms they do more or less the same thing: connect a “real” file to a separate representation of it. ↩

  2. It doesn’t seem to do this when you just drag images into Photos—in that case, it copies a version of the photo into its own Photos Library package. ↩

  3. It also uses the iPhoto library’s name as the basis for the imported Photos library’s name, which is why my “An iPhoto Library” was imported as the amusingly wrong “An Photos Library.” ↩


Linked by Dan Moren

Photos for Mac coming as part of OS X 10.10.3

/Users/dmoren/Desktop/photos-for-mac-bleed.jpg
Our former colleague Chris Breen has a first look at Photos for OS X, which Apple first announced at 2014’s WWDC keynote:

I’ve had very little time with Photos but my general impression is that it hits a sweet spot for the casual-to-enthusiastic iOS and digital camera shooter. Its navigation is more nimble and, from what I can tell, its performance is significantly improved over iPhoto’s, which I found sluggish with large image libraries. And, scaling back to the big picture, it’s the first of the old iLife apps that shares a common experience among the Mac, iOS devices, and iCloud. All your photos, your most recent edits, wherever you are. It’s an app worth looking forward to.

It seems that The Verge and Christina Bonnington at Wired also got some hands-on time with the software. General consensus seems to be that it’s a lot speedier than iPhoto—which, let’s admit it, wasn’t a very high bar—and is, also unsurprisingly, heavily influenced by the iOS Photos app.

Developers can get their hands on Photos as part of the OS X 10.10.3 beta seed going up today; everybody else will have to wait until that update is publicly released later this spring.