iLife 09: iPhoto

I have a confession to make: until this year, I didn’t have all my photos in a properly cataloged database. I’d tried various programs, but none of them quite satisfied me.

iView MediaPro seemed to have bugs in its ITPC handling. I e-mailed their support address reporting the problems, and got no reply at all. Then they were bought by Microsoft, so that was that.

QPict works well as a browser for large numbers of random files, but I don’t find it a very helpful tool for organizing them. This seems to have been reflected in the changes in the new version, which looks more like a Finder replacement for photos.

I got Adobe Bridge for free with Photoshop Elements, but I gather it’s pretty much the full deal as bundled with Photoshop CS3. It looks like it’s very powerful, with some kind of metadata templating system. However, it has a horrible interface for browsing large numbers of photos, and a horrible interface for entering metadata.

iPhoto was pretty ropey too. In particular, it insisted on moving all your photos into a set of folders named 2004/01/01, 2004/01/02, and so on. It also had no support for any of the industry standard metadata formats, such as ITPC and XMP. It’s as if iTunes had been built with no ID3 tag support and made to store all your music in folders according to how many minutes and seconds long each song is.

However, with iPhoto 08, Apple finally delivered something usable; and with iPhoto 09, I’m actually feeling enthusiastic about the program. I’ve now got everything in iPhoto, and I’m happy with it.

The new face recognition is far from perfect, but it’s good enough to be a time saver. It can also be a source of entertainment–I laughed when it got confused by some shadows, picked out a horse’s ass, and asked whose face it was.

The geotagging isn’t too useful as yet, but it’s a nice feature to have supported. I’ve discovered that if you’re using the dialog to manually assign geotags, it will use any existing metadata to help narrow down the options it presents to you. This means that if you start off by tagging a bunch of photos with an approximate location (e.g. London), and give the event a sensible title (e.g. England Trip 2001), searches for specific locations will apparently start from London, England and work outwards.

Browsing the tagged photos is less impressive. For now, there’s just a zoomable Google map with push pins on it. However, I’m sure people will start coming up with cool add-on visualizations.

Another nice feature of iPhoto is the built-in Flickr and Facebook support. Both systems work like add-on photo libraries; you can edit a Flickr-published photo album, and the changes automatically sync up in the background. Also, any faces tagged in iPhoto result in the appropriate person being tagged in Facebook.

Internally, the iPhoto Library now organizes your files by event. As in previous versions, the original files are kept untouched, and any changes you make result in new files. All of this is invisible to you, and you don’t need to care, but it does mean that you never lose quality by applying repeated edits to a JPEG, and you can revert to the original file at any point. The program manages to stay pretty snappy, even while juggling thousands of files.

iPhoto now supports the raw CR2 files from my Canon SLR, as well as JPEGs. It also has an option to reveal the original file in the Finder, or to fire up an external program (such as Photoshop or Canon Digital Photo Professional) to edit the raw file.

So overall, I now recommend iPhoto, even for fairly advanced photography enthusiasts. It won’t be enough for a pro studio photographer, but if your camera isn’t your career, it’s probably most of what you need.