Apple iPhoto / Photos doesn’t work.

iPhotoI have about 40,000 photos, which makes iPhoto impossible to use. I don’t mean, “It’s difficult for me to use.” I mean, “I can’t use it at all.” It crashes on me constantly; And on the rare occasions I am able to even open the application, its performance is too unbearably slow and unresponsive to actually use.

A few months ago I decided to spend $29.95 to purchase iPhoto Library Manager from Fat Cat Software, primarily because of the hundreds of references to it on the Apple iPhoto Support Forums. I used it to split my original iPhoto library into eleven smaller iPhoto libraries, each containing only a single year’s worth of photos, and one which contains the few hundred photos I have — mostly scanned ones — from before digital cameras became commonplace.

So far so good, I thought. But then …

Issue #1: It’s Now Impossible to Organize My Photos

That is close to a deal-breaker for me.

Splitting my master iPhoto library like this makes my life a bit more complicated, because now I can’t use any of my Smart Albums, which sort of sucks. Most of my Smart Albums display photos based on keywords. For the past five and a half years I’ve been methodically tagging all of my photos with keywords. (There are probably less than five thousand of them not tagged.) Unfortunately (a) Smart Albums are associated with a single iPhoto library, so there’s no way to see all of my photos of pets or Rhode Island regardless of which year’s iPhoto library I’m using and (b) a Smart Album in a single year’s iPhoto library will only display me photos with the keyword Vegas from that year, which is useless for showing me all of my Las Vegas photos (since I have visited Vegas in different years of my life).

That is really close to a deal-breaker for me. Having to split my photos by year makes it nearly impossible for me to use iPhoto the way I want to use it, which is to see groups of photos based on how I’ve tagged them.

And, no, it wouldn’t make sense to split my iPhoto libraries based on keyword instead of by year. I would then never be able to see, for example, all my photos containing my mother and taken in Florida, or all my wedding photos containing only my wife.

But I was willing to sacrifice my ability to organize and view photos how I prefer since it seemed like doing this was the only possible way to even ever see any of my photos.

Then I attempted to import photos from my iPhone for the first time since splitting my original iPhoto library.

Issue #2: No Longer Synching Photos with iPhone

Your iPhone can only synch with a single iPhoto library.

Your iPhone can only synch with a single iPhoto library, and it’s going to choose to synch with the iPhoto library you most recently opened. It will do this regardless of whether the iPhoto library you most recently opened is the iPhoto library which contains your most recent photos.

That’s only a minor annoyance. With a little bit of self-control, you can teach yourself to always ever leave iPhoto opened to your library containing your most recent photos (so you don’t have to close and force quit and re-open when you connect your iPhone and automatically launch iPhoto).

Oh, and don’t go telling me that there’s no reason to ever use a Lightning cable to synch photos from your iPhone to your Mac because all that can be handled “over the air” now. As far as I can tell, your photos synch but your videos do not. So you need to connect your iPhone to your computer using a Lightning cable if you ever want to import your videos to iPhoto.

What makes this a massive annoyance instead of a minor one, though, is that I really, really like keeping copies of my favorite photos — of my son, for example — on my iPhone. By splitting my iPhoto library into multiple ones grouped by year, though, it means I can only keep photos from the most recent year on my iPhone. That sucks even more now that it is January 2014, because it means I am not able to synch *any* photos to my iPhone.

All of this would only just really, really stink — and not be a complete failure — if it wasn’t for Photo Stream, which is Apple’s fabulous system of storing pictures “in the cloud”. By doing that, I can keep all my favorite photos on my iPhone regardless of when they were taken and / or in which of my iPhoto libraries the pictures live.

That’s great. Except for …

Issue #3: My Photo Stream Disaster

Any photos downloaded by Photo Stream are actually stored in an entirely separate location from any of your iPhoto libraries. This means that, even if you do switch Photo Stream from one library to another, you will not need to go through redownloading all the photos you already have in Photo Stream back from the iCloud servers. So, switching Photo Stream from one library to another is a relatively inexpensive operation, so you can do it as often as needed without it being much of a hassle.
iPhoto Library Manager FAQ

I don’t think this is true, and it is the final nail in the coffin for me.

You see, when I opened my “2013” iPhoto library, I realized that there was no way for me publish photos from it to my Photo Stream because you can only have a single iPhoto library connected to your Photo Stream. (My original iPhoto library was still connected to my Photo Stream.) No problem, I thought, I’ll just associate my “2013” library to my Photo Stream and all will be well. So I did that.

And then I stared, dumbfounded, as my computer froze while attempting to download my entire Photo Stream into my “2013” library. The thousands of photos in my Photo Stream — including photos that aren’t even mine, ones that are in libraries of Photo Streams that other people have shared with me — were all now rapidly filling my external hard drive. This even though I already had copies of them in my original iPhoto library. This even though hundreds and hundreds of the photos in my Photo Stream are from years other than 2013, which was just completely screwing the entire system.

Yes, I confirmed that the Photo Stream photos were actually re-downloaded and copies now exist in multiple locations on my external hard drive. Right-click any photo (in iPhoto or in iPhoto Library Manager) and choose “Show Original File”.

And all this brings me to …

Issue #4: iPhoto Bloat

iPhotoI am forced to store my photos on an external hard drive because they simply don’t fit on my 250GB laptop hard drive. The photos themselves are only (“only”) about 130GB. But because of the absurd and idiotic way iPhoto manages photos, they take well over 300GB of space to store. Yes, that means that — on average — iPhoto uses twice as much space to store a photo as the size of the photo itself.

That means I can’t ever see any of my photos — or use them as a screensaver, or broadcast them to an Apple TV — unless I have my external hard drive with me and connected to my laptop.

It’s really as if iPhoto was written a decade ago, by a single junior developer who had no idea how to deal with memory management or data storage, or how to write an application, and has never been properly updated since then. (I really think that this whole problem started when I hit just north of 32,000 photos, which would indicate a classic integer overflow bug. But the answer can’t be that simple, can it?)


At this point I don’t know what I’m going to do, or what I can do. I legitimately cannot in any way do anything with any of my photos right now because I can’t open iPhoto. I haven’t been able to synch the photos on my iPhone for weeks.

This is pretty awful when you consider that there are primarily only three things the average person wants to do with a computer:

  1. manage media files (music, movies, and TV shows)
  2. check email and surf the internet
  3. manage photos

I have no doubt that this situation is even worse in the Microsoft universe, but it’s particularly shocking when you think about how great Apple does everything else.

Oh, and Picasa sucks. Please don’t suggest it. I can’t stand the interface and even if I could get beyond that, you’d have to be insane to trust Google (of all companies) with all of your photos.

I’ve read so many other people complaining about these issues that my eyes bleed. I’m not even close to the only one dealing with a large iPhoto library. Telling me, “Don’t save so many pictures!” is just insulting. Telling me, “Don’t take so many pictures!” is just stupid. There’s got to be a way to deal with this, but I haven’t been able to find it yet.

Anyone? (Bueller? Bueller?)

Do you have more than 32,000 photos in your iPhoto library? Do you have problems similar to mine? Do you have a solution?

There are 2 comments on this post

  1. Write some code 😉

    Write something that interacts with shuffling iPhoto libraries around. Starting with a cheesy lamp/node/python app that abstracts the core methods of interacting with iPhone. Iterate the interface to something nicer than iPhoto, so you can let iPhoto just be the backend for interacting with iOS.

    Yes, it’s an internet shot from the hip answer. But, then again, sounds like a real problem. It might sell.

    Btw: I think GitHub and Twitter are maintaining Ruby frameworks for Mac apps.

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