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Missing Events and Photos in iPhoto?

Let me guess – you got your new iMac. You had a recent Time Machine backup on your Time Capsule. Setting up the new iMac was ridiculously easy — just point to the backup. A few hours later, your new iMac is just like your old Mac, right down to the wall paper and browser history. You shake your head in disbelief and say to yourself, “Man, this thing just works! This is the way it is supposed to be!”

A couple of days later, you fire up your iPhoto. It says it needs to update the database or whatever. No sweat. Just a couple of minutes — the new iMac is ridiculously fast. Hullo — what is wrong with the last four events? How come they have no photos in them? Well, actually, they do have something, you can see the thumbnails for a second, and then they disappear. The events seem to have the right number of photos. They even list the camera model and exposure data.

You scratch your head and say to yourself, “Well, may be the Time Machine backup didn’t unpack properly or whatever. May be the version upgrade messed up some data. No sweat. I can use the Time Machine and find the right iPhoto Library.” You fire up the Time Machine — probably for the first time for real. You restore the last good backup of the iPhoto Library to your desktop, and launch iPhoto again. Database update again. Anxious wait. Hey, the damned events are still missing.

Panic begins to set in. Mad Google for answers. Ok, hold down the Option and Command keys, and launch iPhoto. Regenerate thumbnails. Repair the library. Rebuild the Database. Still, the ****** events refuse to come back.

How do I know all this? Because this is exactly what I did. I was lucky though. I managed to recover the events. It dawned on me that the problem was not with the restore process, nor the version update of iPhoto. It was the Time Machine backup process — the backup was incomplete. I had the old Mac and the old iPhoto library intact. So I copied the old library over to the new iMac (directly, over the network; not from the Time Machine backup). I then started iPhoto on the new machine. After the necessary database update, all the events and photos showed up. Phew!

So what exactly went wrong? It appears that Time Machine doesn’t backup the iPhoto Library properly if iPhoto is open (according to Apple). More precisely, the recently imported photos and events may not get backed up. This bug (or “feature”) was reported earlier and discussed in detail.

I thought I would share my experience here because it was important piece of information and might save somebody some time, and possibly some valuable photos. And I feel it is disingenuous of Apple to tout the Time Machine as the mother of all backup solutions with this glaring bug. After all, your photos are among the most precious of your data. If they are not backed up and migrated properly, why bother with Time Machine at all?

To recap:

  1. If you find your photo collection incomplete after migrating to your shiny new iMac (using a Time Machine backup), don’t panic if you still have your old Mac.
  2. Exit gracefully from iPhoto on both the machines.
  3. Copy your old iPhoto Library from the old Mac over to the new one, after properly exiting from iPhoto on both machines.
  4. Restart iPhoto on the new Mac and enjoy.

How to prevent this from happening

Before the final Time Machine backup from your old Mac, ensure that iPhoto is not running. In fact, it may be worth exiting from all applications before taking the final snapshot.

If you want to be doubly sure, consider another automated backup solution just for your iPhoto Library. I use Carbon Copy Cloner.

Photo by Victor Svensson

How to Avoid Duplicate Imports in iPhoto

For the budding photographer in you, iPhoto is a godsend. It is the iLife photo organization program that comes pre-installed on your swanky new iMac or Mac Book Air. In fact, I would go as far as to say that iPhoto is one of the main reasons to switch to a Mac. I know, there are alternatives, but for seamless integration and smooth-as-silk workflow, iPhoto reigns supreme.

iPhotoTaggerBut (ah, there is always a “but”), the workflow in iPhoto can create a problem for some. It expects you to shoot pictures, connect your camera to your Mac, move the photos from the camera to the Mac, enhance/edit and share (Facebook, flickr) or print or make photo books. This flow (with some face recognition, red-eye removal, event/album creation etc.) works like a charm — if you are just starting out with your new digital camera. What if you already have 20,000 old photos and scans on your old computer (in “My Pictures”)?

This is the problem I was faced with when I started playing with iPhoto. I pride myself in anticipating such problems. So, I decided to import my old library very carefully. While importing “My Pictures” (which was fairly organized to begin with), I went through it folder by folder, dragging-and-dropping them on iPhoto and, at the same time, labeling them (and the photos therein) with what I thought were appropriate colors. (I used the “Get Info” function in Finder for color labels.) I thought I was being clever, but I ended up with a fine (but colorful) mess, with my folders and photos sporting random colors. It looked impossible to compare and figure out and where my 20,000 photos got imported to in iPhoto; so I decided to write my very first Mac App — iPhotoTagger. It took me about a week to write it, but it sorted out my photo worries. Now I want to sell it and make some money.

Here is what it does. It first goes through your iPhoto library and catalogs what you have there. It then scans the folder you specify and compares the photos in there with those in your library. If a photo is found exactly once, it will get a Green label, so that it stands out when you browse to it in your Finder (which is Mac-talk for Windows Explorer). Similarly, if the photo appears more than once in your iPhoto library, it will be tagged in Yellow. And, going the extra-mile, iPhotoTagger will color your folder Green if all the photos within have been imported into your iPhoto library. Those folders that have been partially imported will be tagged Yellow.

The photo comparison is done using Exif data, and is fairly accurate. Note that iPhotoTagger doesn’t modify anything within your iPhoto library. Doing so would be unwise. It merely reads the library to gather information.

This first version (V1.0) is released to test the waters, as it were, and is priced at $1.99. If there is enough interest, I will work on V2.0 with improved performance (using Perl and SQLite, if you must know). I will price it at $2.99. And, if the interest doesn’t wane, a V3.0 (for $3.99) will appear with a proper help file, performance pane, options to choose your own color scheme, SpotLight comments (and, if you must know, probably rewritten in Objective-C). Before you rush to send me money, please know that iPhotoTagger requires Snow Leopard and Lion (OS-X 10.6 and 10.7). If in doubt, you can download the lite version and play with it. It is fully functional, and will create lists of photos/folders to be tagged in Green and Yellow, but won’t actually tag them.