Updated: January 5, 2015 | Contains affiliate links

The good, the bad and the ugly of Apple’s iPhoto and Photo Stream


icon_iphotoThe Apple World Wide Developers Conference has come and gone. It was awesome! Lots of new and refreshed mobile products and laptops. In the midst of the presentation there were lots of things about updates to Mac OS including Photo Stream and iPhotos. Great things overall, but there is always one important assumption when using Apple software. Read on about the good, the bad and the ugly of Photo Stream and iPhotos.

I love Apple products even though I don’t own any Apple products…that’s weird, I admit. I love their product design, I love their attention to detail and I love their marketing. But there is one thing I don’t like…the price! So I stick to my Windows based, cheap, many time ugly, but perfectly functional tools.

When it comes to their products there is one rule that Apple tries to apply everywhere. As a general rule, Apple is about simplicity and simplification…which is awesome!

Apple, applies this principle everywhere, including the software they create. However, when this principle is applied to how users store their pictures on their Macs, things are getting from great to ugly pretty fast.

So, let’s look at Apple software in more detail, in particular let’s take a look at iPhoto, which is the default photo management tool that is part of the Mac OS X operating system.

The good of Apple iPhoto and Photo Stream

Just like their hardware, Apple makes beautiful software. iPhoto is no different in terms of being pleasing to the user.

However, in addition to just being beautiful, Apple has almost solved the hardware problem most photographers face today. A lot of people these days have multiple devices with photos: cameras, computers, tablets and phones. All of these devices can take digital photos and store digital photos…great! The trouble comes when you try synchronizing all these devices and avoid having duplicates of your digital pictures on multiple devices. With digital pictures, Apple seems to have solved the large part of this problem with its Photo Stream concept and iCloud…as long as all your devices are Apple devices.

However, as usual, Apple solves complex problems by making choices (mostly good choices) for their users in order to hide the complexity of computer systems (like operating systems, folders, file names, etc).

With Photo Stream and iPhoto Apple will take care of synchronizing your photos

With Photo Stream and iPhoto you can synchronize all your devices so all your pictures taken with any of your devices will be funneled back to your main desktop or laptop, while the other devices only keep their own pictures. I am sure there are some limited ways for the user to customize this synchronization, but for the most part, things will work fine with the default settings. So, thumbs up for Apple again!

However, there is a big assumption here! Apple wants you to wholeheartedly embrace this assumption without even thinking about it.

For Photo Stream to work, the assumption is that all your devices are Apple devices. As long as you go along with that, you are pretty much safe and everything works very well for the most part.

The bad of iPhoto. Organizing your folders is messy, so iPhoto will create its own folders

So what is so great about iPhoto? Simplicity.

Well, at least the appearance of simplicity.

You do not have to deal with organizing your folders. iPhoto will do that for you. All your pictures are stored on disk magically in a set of folders that iPhoto knows how to deal with.

However, you cannot and should not modify in any way these folders and their content.

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If you do decide to change something in this folder structure….well, you are screwed..in reality iPhoto is messed up and you end up frustrated.

And just to make sure the geek in you doesn’t rise up and mess things up, iPhoto locks these folders.

Now, take a look at these folders:


This directory structure is simple but useless to you as a user especially if you want to understand something about the pictures in these folders.

date of import-time of import

Does this mean anything to you? Of course not!

Well Apple wants you to not be concerned about this at all and as long as you do not think about the folder structure you are fine…until you actually need to know where your pictures are stored.

The ugly of iPhoto. Folders are messy, so iPhoto will hide them

iPhoto is actually a very powerful program, complete with a database for fast indexing and searching and metadata management. Beautiful interface and fast operations. All is cool so far.

iPhoto is hiding your folders because they are messy

So in iPhoto you plug in your camera…and just look at your photos…well sort of.

You still have to group your pictures using albums, keywords and smart albums. Otherwise you will still be overwhelmed and confused by your growing media collection. So you have to do some organizing, but you never have to deal with folders…ever. you do not even see your folders. In fact you cannot see your folders.

Why is iPhoto is hiding physical folders from users?

Because folders are messy…for the most part. With iPhoto things are simple..or to put it better …simplified. It goes well with the whole Apple philosophy. Simpler things are better. Nobody can argue with that of course.

However, Apples decisions will become painful and frustrating when you want to access your photos outside of iPhoto. If you need to transfer your photos or organize the folders outside of iPhoto then you are out of luck and you are stuck.

It is because of this reason that all my students using Mac OS are moving away from iPhotos. They are switching to Picasa or Lightroom so they can manage their folders.

Essentials for organizing your digital photos

Here are the essential products and services I have come to rely on for many years to keep my media collection organized and safe. Even though these are affiliate links, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

Excellent Lightroom alternative. If you need a cheaper and simpler photo manager then ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac (save 20% until Feb 15th) or ACDSee Photo Studio Professional for Windows (save $20 until Feb 15th) is my preferred solution for organizing all my media. It has a very fast browser, great image editing and it's simple to use.

If you do a lot of image editing like I do, I recommend using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC via the annual Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Lightroom has best photo editing capabilities even though it has a steeper learning curve. Adobe Lightroom is my favorite for image editing.

I recommend Backblaze Personal Cloud Backup for affordable & reliable unlimited cloud backup. I have been using Backblaze for backing up all pictures & videos for more than 5 years now. All my invaluable digital memories are safe and secure. This is the best solution especially if you have a large quantity of media files.

Use a reliable & affordable external hard drive for backing up everything on your computer. It is absolutely essential for keeping all your memories backed up and safe.

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