iPhoto 11.x; organize pictures your way with folders and albums

Although it may not look like it, iPhoto really only has one copy of every picture you load into it, and those pictures reside in one place; the Library.

Built-in organization

The Library already has some simple, automatic organization.  It has four filtering tabs:

  • Events lets you access your pictures in event “buckets” that are each represented by a single thumbnail.  Typically, you’ll see one Event for each day on which you took pictures.
  • Photos is similar to Events; here all the thumbnails for each event are shown under the event’s header line.
  • Faces lets you access your pictures in person buckets that are each represented by a single thumbnail.  This tab’s results depend on you to tag your pictures with peoples’ names.
  • Places lets you access your pictures in location buckets.  Like Faces, its results depend on you to tag your pictures with locations, using a built-in map.iPhoto 05 library

Pointers

Beyond the Library, iPhoto looks like it has more copies of a picture in various locations.  They aren’t really copies; they’re pointers to the one picture that’s in the Library.  (iTunes has the same design; a playlist is just a bunch of pointers to the songs held in Music.)  A pointer is like a Windows Explorer shortcut or a Finder link; it stands for something, it’s not a copy of the thing.

Pointers save storage space in your computer, compared to storing copies of pictures.  That’s  because they’re so much smaller than picture copies.  So feel free to put the same “picture” in several albums; you’ll use hardly any additional computer storage space.

Most of the time, pointers look and act just like the pictures they point at.  But if you delete a pointer, you’ll still have the picture it was pointing at in your Library.  If you delete a picture in your Library, it’s gone.

Building your organization with folders and albums

Under Albums, iPhoto gives you two kinds of containers for organizing pointers to your pictures.

  • An album can contain pointers to pictures.
  • A folder can contain folders and albums.

Folders are great because they let you organize pictures in a hierarchical way.  In a hierarchy, the top layer of the organization is the most general.  Each additional layer can have more specific divisions, just like a company organization chart.  The organization you design should be based on how you like to look for pictures.  If you change your mind later on, it’s easy to adjust your organization by moving, renaming, adding and deleting albums and folders.  As an example, here is my organization:

Inside the 2012 folder, the Events folder is one I made up; it isn't related to the Events tab of the Library.

Inside the 2012 folder, the Events folder is one I made up; it isn’t related to the Events tab of the Library.

Here’s an “explosion” of what I put inside the 2013 Activities folder (so far!):iPhoto 12 album dtl

(“But why would he take pictures of plumbing?”)

To create a folder, click the File menu; click New folder.  It will appear on the bottom of the Album section in the left pane.  Rename it as you like, and drag it to the place or folder under Albums in the left pane where you want to attach it to the hierarchy.

To create an album, select one or more photos/pointers in any location.  In the bottom right corner, click Add to.  A floating menu appears; select Album.iPhoto 15 add to

iPhoto displays existing albums, and also a + icon that stands for a new album.  Click New album to create it.iPhoto 20 new album

The new album appears at the bottom of the left pane.  Rename it as needed, and drag it to the place or folder under Albums where you want to keep it.iPhoto 30 position

Once you’ve arranged the folders and albums you want, it’s easy to add and change the pictures in them.  Just open an album or other location and drag thumbnails to other albums.

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