MacMost Now 929: Taming Large iPhoto Libraries

Learn several ways to deal with troublesome large iPhoto libraries. Make sure when you delete photos that they still aren't taking up space in your library. Learn how to rebuild your iPhoto library. See how you can split up your library into multiple parts. Also find out how to remove videos from your library to make it smaller.

Video Transcript
Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode let's look at ways of dealing with large iPhoto libraries.

I occasionally get emails from people having trouble with their iPhoto library. They usually come to the conclusion, very quickly, that their iPhoto library is too big. But, iPhoto can hold a ton of photos. Some say it can hold as many as a quarter of a million photos. So if you've got less than that then chances are there are some other steps you can take to speed things up and make things run a little smoother.

One thing is people don't realize that iPhoto has a separate trash from the rest of your system. If you go and select an image and then trash it, hit the delete key, it seems to be gone but it is actually still stored in your iPhoto library. You can find it by going to Trash here. It will show you the photos you have recently thrown in the trash. So it is still stored there. You are not going to get any space back by just doing that.

This is kind of a safety measure, just like the regular trash, so if you accidentally throw something away you can come back to it and recover it.

If you want to really empty the trash and clear out space from your library you go to iPhoto and Empty iPhoto Trash. That will get rid of these. Of course you want to make sure, absolutely sure, that you really want to delete them because there is really no way to get them back after doing that.

Another thing you may want to do is to try to rebuild the iPhoto library. Your iPhoto library may be very old going back years, several version of iPhoto. All sorts of things could have happened during that time to create a little more bulk in there than there should be. Things in there that hasn't been cleaned up. Rebuilding it solves a lot of problems.

So the way to do that is first you quit iPhoto. Then you launch iPhoto again but when launching hold down the Command and the Option key. Keep them held down. Then when it launches you will see that you get this dialogue box here that gives you options for rebuilding your library.

There is all sorts of things you can do. If you know you are having a problem with your thumbnails or somethings like that then you can go to one of these. But the ultimate one is to rebuild the database. Before doing this, one of the things that I would do is to make sure you are backed up using Time Machine backup of course. So you want to make sure that that has recently run in the last few minutes.

Also you can go to your iPhoto library here. It is usually in your Pictures folder, unless you have put it somewhere else. You can make a copy of it. You can put it on an external drive, put it somewhere else on your drive if you have plenty of space. Just make a duplicate of this so that if something goes wrong that you've got your photos. Nothing is really going to go wrong. It is very rare. But your photos are too valuable to take that chance.

So returning to iPhoto select Rebuild Database and hit rebuild. The process may take some time so maybe do that just before lunch or when you are done using your computer for the evening.

Now another thing people try to do sometimes is to split their iPhoto library into multiple pieces. I don't recommend this because the whole point of having all your photos in one place is to be able to find them. If I want to find pictures of my daughter's third birthday I don't have to search my iPhoto library before I realize that was before a certain year, that means I have to open a different iPhoto library. So I don't like the idea of doing that.

But say if you use iPhoto for work and you do projects, you know say you do photo shoots and things like that, stuff you don't want to be in the same place as everything else then you could start new libraries.

The way to deal with new libraries is to quit iPhoto. You launch iPhoto again but this time just holding down the Option key. This time you will get this dialogue box here where you can actually go in and create a new iPhoto library. Once you have multiple iPhoto libraries you can choose which library you want to open up.

So say you do want to split up your iPhoto library. Well, how would you do that? You go to where your iPhoto Library is located and you can simply duplicate it, make a copy of it. Then you go into one and delete some photos from that one and you go into the second one and you delete some photos from that one. For instance if you have photos from 2011 and 2012 you can have one copy where you delete everything from 2012 and another copy where you delete everything from 2011. Now you've got two separate libraries, each with one year. You want to make sure you empty the trash in each one and also maybe rebuild the library when you are done since you are deleting so many photos from it. But it is one way to do it.

There is also some third party software you can search for. I've never tried it but it will divide up an iPhoto library. You can also use Aperture for this. I will look at handling this kind of thing in Aperture in a future episode.

Another thing you may want to do is to get the videos out of your iPhoto collection. A lot of time I hear about huge collections and it turns out most of it is video files which are much larger than photos. You take videos on your iPhone and digital camera, they come into iPhoto and they take up a lot of space. A lot of people would rather store them in a folder somewhere else and name them properly, things like that.

So you can do that using Image Capture taking videos off of your iPhone and digital camera first. Then sync with iPhoto to get the photos imported into there. But if you already have videos in iPhoto you can find them easily by creating a Smart Album and then setting it to be things like Filename contains and then putting all these extensions that are typically used for videos.

So I'm going to do just three here but you can do more if it turns out your camera is generating files with a different name. Just match any of the following conditions. Hit okay and you can see here it grabs two videos there. I can take these videos and I can drag and drop them to a folder here in the Finder to export them very easily. So I can export them all from there. Then I can delete them from my iPhoto collection.

If you want to trash these what you need to do is to select them all from there and then Move to Trash is greyed out but if you hold down the Option key then you can actually move these to the trash and delete them.

So there are a few ways to speed up iPhoto if you are having trouble. A few things you should try and definitely try everything before deciding to split up your iPhoto library. Of course, another option is to move to Aperture which I will be looking at in a future episode.

I hope you found this useful. Until next time this is Gary with MacMost Now.

Comments: 27 Responses to “MacMost Now 929: Taming Large iPhoto Libraries”

    10/11/13 @ 2:04 pm

    I have maybe 30, 40 or more albums in my iPhoto app. These are mostly albums posted to FB. I no longer use them but tend to keep them anyway. Will these albums slow my iPhoto? I’ve noticed a slow-down in iPhoto in the last year or so. It tends to take a few seconds for the photos to come into focus now.

      10/11/13 @ 2:57 pm

      No, those shouldn’t slow down iPhoto. I’d check the usual things that slow down a computer: hard drive space (20%+ should be free), apps running in the background you don’t need, Dashboard widgets, etc.

    10/13/13 @ 5:53 am

    Yes, I would love to see the Aperture video.

    Thanks again for all your videos!


      10/17/13 @ 11:01 am

      I absolutely agree. I have been so far unable to truly figure out what “projects” should be, and the relationship between project boxes and folders! I have too many boxes. And sometimes when I move photos between albums, they don’t show up anymore. I have albums with 50 pictures, but none of them show!

    10/17/13 @ 10:48 am

    What are all the typical video file types? (E.g. .mp4, .mov)

      10/17/13 @ 11:23 am

      It depends on your camera. If you know you have a camera that produces old .avi files, then add that to the search, otherwise, no need. I would look for mp4, mov, avi, wmv.

    10/17/13 @ 10:50 am


    I use to be able to tag multiple photos at once in the previous version of iPhoto. I can not find this in the lastest version. Do you know where the function is located?


      10/17/13 @ 11:26 am

      There’s no trick to it. It is pretty straight-forward. Maybe you at looking too close? Just select one or more photos and assign keywords. You can do this with the Keywords window (Command+K) or directly into the Keywords field if you are viewing info (Command+I).

    Wendy Evenden
    10/17/13 @ 10:55 am

    This video answered a question that has puzzled me for a long time. I couldn’t figure out why when I deleted tons of pictures from iPhoto and emptied the trash. Is ther some way that I can look at the contents of the iPhoto trash? When I saw 4008 items I got nervous about emptying it.

    I’m not a tekkie so I fumble my way around my MacBook. Your videos are so helpful!

    Thanks, Wendy

      10/17/13 @ 11:22 am

      You can always see the items in iPhoto trash by simply selecting the Trash from the left sidebar inside of iPhoto.

    10/17/13 @ 12:24 pm

    I had previously split my iphoto libraries and wish I hadn’t. Is there a way to combine them again easily? Thanks.

      10/17/13 @ 12:45 pm

      I think 3rd-party software can do it. But I’ve never tried.

      10/18/13 @ 3:22 pm

      You could do it manually, by dragging the events to your desktop then into the library you want them in. That’s what I do when I want to move some events into a different library. I need a couple of different libraries to keep photos separate for a large project I’m working on.

    Carol Harness
    10/17/13 @ 1:28 pm

    I learned several things that I didn’t know before about I Photo. Gary is always so informative and helpful. Thanks much!

    10/17/13 @ 7:37 pm

    Gary When I used the command/option key I came up with a different set of options than you showed. I have 6 options and the bottom one is to reclaim unused disk space from database, not sure how I can give you a screen shot of what Im seeing.=

      10/17/13 @ 7:51 pm

      Sounds like you are simply using an older version of iPhoto. Those options are pretty self-explanatory, though.

    Tom Lang
    10/19/13 @ 6:45 am

    Great video as always! I am confused though. When I look at my iPhoto library it is 10m. But the folder I keep my photo files in is closer to 50m. Am I backing up everything when I backup the iPhoto library?

      10/19/13 @ 7:38 am

      Depends what you are comparing. You say your iPhoto library is 10MB, OK. But what is this “folder I keep my photo files in” that is 50MB? What is that, where is it, how did those photos get there, etc?

    10/20/13 @ 9:46 am

    macbookair 2011 top of the line .. 1900 photos only .. rebuilt everything … spinning beachball constantly, just trying to scroll through an event by swiping across the trackpad .. iphoto and i don’t get along at all

      10/20/13 @ 10:42 am

      Did you try rebuilding the library? If you did, and that doesn’t work, then simply go to the Genius Bar and get some first-hand help.

    10/21/13 @ 7:04 pm

    Would like to rebuild database, but don’t get that option. Have 6 choices: Repair iPhoto DB, Rebuild from automatic backup, Rebuild the iPhoto small thumbnails, Rebuild all photo’s thumbnails, Recover orphaned photos, and Examine & Repair iPhoto library file permissions. Which one do I want to use to do what you talked about as “Rebuild Database”? I am using iPhoto ’11 9.2.1 (628).

      10/21/13 @ 9:38 pm

      You are using an old version of iPhoto. You should update first. iPhoto 11 is the current app, but 9.2.1 is old. Run Software Update.

        10/23/13 @ 11:53 pm

        Compared to the previous poster that you replied to, my iPhoto must be stone age. In the About, it says it’s 7.1.5 (378). My MacBook Pro was upgraded to 10.6.8 (leopard to snow leopard) a couple of months ago. I’m way behind. I assume that it’s not possible to update iPhoto without going farther with more system update ? Is that a good idea?

          10/24/13 @ 5:21 am

          You’l definitely need Mavericks to get the new iPhoto that was released this week. But you should be able to update to iPhoto ’11 — technically. Where to find iPhoto 11 is another issue.

    Jack Knott
    10/26/13 @ 8:24 am

    In using one of the new MacBook Air devises, with small flash drives, the iPhoto library can take most of the drive. We have put our iTunes media on a separate hard drive. You do not suggest this with iPhoto. Any recommendations on how to handle large iPhoto libraries using the new small flash drives?

      10/26/13 @ 9:26 am

      If you have a small internal drive, it looks like you don’t have much choice. You’ll need to either keep your iPhoto library small, or store it externally. Maybe go to Aperture and store your photos external to the Aperture library. But you can’t have both a small drive and expect to be able to store a lot of data.

    11/6/13 @ 5:48 am

    Thanks very helpful and well explained

Comments Closed.