MacMost Now 237: Time Machine For Photos, Email and Contacts

Did you know that you can use Time Machine with iPhoto, Mail and Address Book to recover lost photos, messages and contacts? Time Machine works with these programs in the same way it works with files in the Finder to allow you to recover lost data.

Video Transcript
Hi this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode let's take a closer look at Time Machine and how it can help you recover emails, photos, and contacts.
So, at its heart, Time Machine is like any other back-up solution. It will back up your machine on a regular schedule, and will help you find files whether they are a few hours old or a few months old. Now it has got a really cool interface that allows you to go in and easily find files in the finder by moving around both in time and space, the space being the Finder, and time being your previous back-ups. But, did you know you can do the same thing with iPhoto, Mail, and Address Book? So, here we are in the Finder and we can see that we are going to go activate Time Machine, and it will use that Finder window we had open and then show us that Finder window back in time. And we can now go back in time and look at our previous version of that Finder window, find files we want, select them, restore them, or just preview them right there. Okay, but now here we are inside of Mail. Now, if we activate Time Machine while Mail is running, we'll get the same kind of functionality but check this out, we actually get the Mail window going back through time. We can go back in time and look at what our inbox or any of the mailboxes look like hours or months ago. We can also even select the mail messages and see the preview below just like when you're using Mail in your current mailbox. You can also select a message of course and select restore and it will restore it to a new Time Machine folder in Mail, or it might just be enough just to actually look at the mail back in time and get the information you want from it. Now here's iPhoto. Now, if we have some missing photos in iPhoto but we knew we had them in the past, we can run Time Machine with iPhoto running, and there we get the same thing. We get iPhoto going back through time. We can go to a previous version of our iPhoto library, look at photos there, and select them, and press the restore button to get them back into our current library as well. So last but not least we have Address Book. Run Address Book, then activate Time Machine, and now we can go back and look at previous versions of our Address Book to find contacts that may not exist in our current version of the Address Book. We can simply get the information from there or select them and hit the restore button to add them back to our current Address Book. So this is really where time machine sets itself apart from any other backup solution. I mean photos and mail are two of the most critical things you may have on your Mac and knowing that your back-up solution works specifically with those applications is a great feeling. I mean, can you imagine trying to recover an old email using a back-up solution that just saves the entire mailbox?
We can hope that in the future Apple also includes other things like perhaps iTunes and iCal in Time Machine. But until then, this is good enough reason to use Time Machine over any other back-up solution. So if you're not using Time Machine, this is the best reason ever to start right now. 'Till next time, this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: 41 Responses to “MacMost Now 237: Time Machine For Photos, Email and Contacts”

    5/6/09 @ 7:17 pm

    Great info on Time Machine!
    Can you restore your keychains too?

      5/9/09 @ 10:02 am

      There isn’t a keychain-specific interface like with iPhoto and Mail, but the Keychain is backed up so there is probably a way to do it in an emergency.

    Liew Cheon Fong
    7/16/09 @ 2:30 am

    thanks for the tips. Just wipe off my address book and time machine is the life saver!

    Raymond WILLEMS
    8/26/09 @ 1:38 am

    Great Job!

    I love time machine! I love macmost aswell! Thanks a lot!!

    10/30/09 @ 11:04 am

    For some reason I could only see and access old files from the finder view into the Time Machine but not from the actual application such as IPhoto, Ical or Mail as shown in your PCvideo #237. When I open Time Machine with these applications opened, the system shows no history (the background layers are dark). There are no excluded applications of files or aps from the preferences except for the actual Time Machine Disk.
    This is happening on my MacBook (1 year old) recently upgrade to Snow Leopard.Any reason why this is happening?


      10/30/09 @ 11:30 am

      Are you using an old version of iPhoto? What happens when you go into iPhoto and choose File, Browse Backups?
      Another issue might be the size of your Time Machine drive? Is it significantly bigger than the data it is trying to backup?

        10/31/09 @ 1:30 pm

        I’m using the last version (iLife09). It opens the Time Machine but the history (back pages) are all dark, like when there is no previous history for it. The MacBook HD is 250 GB and the Backup was 500 GB. Yesterday, I updated the Backup Disk to a 1.0 TB and still happening.

          10/31/09 @ 1:38 pm

          Hard to tell what is happening from here. Try taking it in to the Genius Bar and see what they can figure out. Then let us know what they find.

    5/2/10 @ 11:46 pm

    Thanks! You saved my bum. I deleted a friend’s photo shoot and the only belly shots they did before their baby was born. Can’t really go back and do a re-shoot…I’ve spent the past few weeks knowing there must be some way to get them but feeling like a butt until I was able to recover them thanks to your video.

    1/17/11 @ 11:53 am

    Hey Gary!

    Love your videos. Short and sweet and to the point.

    My question is, how would you use time machine with multiple external hard drives?

    I have a home library and work library of iphotos on external hardrives. How can I back those up too on my time time machine harddrive?

      1/17/11 @ 11:56 am

      You can back up those drives to TM just like the internal one. It may already be happening. If not, check the list of exclusions in the TM preferences.

    6/3/11 @ 1:27 pm

    Hi Gary – this is a helpful video. I tried to restore my entire iPhoto library but several “Events” are missing. They should have been backed up because the photos were uploaded within the past couple of weeks and the Time Machine backup was done less than 24 hours before I wiped out the whole library (through some weird iPhoto empty trash glitch). Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide.

      6/3/11 @ 1:46 pm

      Hard to know what might have caused that glitch. Did you try to look for those events specifically in Time Machine? Give a look now, in fact.

        6/3/11 @ 5:49 pm

        Hi Gary, I did look in the Time Machine through iPhoto but they are not there. In Finder, I am able to see the images – the jpegs show up in 2 places in the iPhoto Library – Previews folder and Thumbnails folder. I also have RAW files of all and those seem to be in the Master folder but I don’t know how to import them all back into iPhoto. What I am doing now is the tedious process of copying them from Finder into a desktop folder which I will then import back into iPhoto – seems I can only copy 10 images at a time though. Is there a faster way?
        And I think I have to give up on the jpegs because there are at least 3 versions of each and unless there is a faster way, it would take forever to copy in this manner.
        I still don’t understand why Time Machine didn’t back these up when they should be stored in the same location within the library.

          6/3/11 @ 6:23 pm

          You should be able to copy as many files as you want at a time.

    6/3/11 @ 6:25 pm

    It appears that the photos that were not backed up are ones that were uploaded AFTER the upgrade that Apple released in early May. Any word on a glitch?

      6/3/11 @ 6:26 pm

      I haven’t heard of any problems. But something to look out for. Personally, I try to back up my entire iPhoto library every once in a while.

    6/11/11 @ 7:21 am


    Thanks for your video! I wanted to find an old email, but when I entered timemachine with mail open, the only backup date that had anything in it was today’s – my backup dates all appeared on left, but when trying to select one nothing happened, and all the mail windows lined up behind today’s were just black, had no content and were not selectable. Any advice?


      6/11/11 @ 8:15 am

      Hard to tell what may be happening. Check your TM settings and make sure the backups are working.

        6/11/11 @ 9:05 am

        Thanks for your reply. The backups work for everything else – just the mail that’s blank except for today.

    6/11/11 @ 9:06 am

    I’d looked at settings but saw nothing excluding mail…oh well.

      6/11/11 @ 11:27 am

      So, I’m assuming you delete your email after you read it, and that is why you need to use TM to find an old one. (As opposed to many people who save every email, like myself). If that is the case, then it could simply be that you delete your messages before they are backed up.
      For instance, if you got an email at 9:34 am on Jan 12, 2010. Read it at 10:56. Deleted it at 10:58. But the backups you have are from Jan 11 at 5 pm and Jan 12 at 5 pm, then the email wouldn’t have been on your computer at the time of either of those backups, so you wouldn’t be able to find it now.

        1/28/12 @ 10:11 pm

        My iMac dumped some of my Mail Inbox into the trash last night and simply lost more than 6 months of messages. Similar thing has happened to me twice in the past and I could not recover from Time Machine. Right now in TM I see the missing messages, click Restore, then couldn’t figure out how to exit TM until I tried Escape. That worked, but the messages were not back in my Inbox. So glad to hear I’m not the only person who saves so much email. Does this tend to cause problems. Last time it happened and I talked to the folks at Apple they just said, “Wow, that’s a lot of messages to save” and they really couldn’t help me. Got any suggestions?

    sami elias
    6/26/11 @ 10:30 am

    Hi Gary
    I am using MAC office 2011 , I noticed that time machine are ignoring outloock and just work with apple mail , is there a way?

      6/26/11 @ 12:04 pm

      The files are getting backed up, but there is no way to get TM inside of Outlook — they would have to be tightly integrated to do that, and they are made by two different companies.

    Sami Elias
    8/26/11 @ 7:05 pm

    hi Gary
    after a hardware problem I had to change my hard disk , I was using 250 gb and replaced it by 500
    tried to restore my photos , mail from the time machine , I see the dates but Restore is shaded
    I tried manually to import library but lots of events are missed or not organized the way it was , do you have a solution , by the way I am not able to retrieve my mail
    I made a clean install to all the software but I still having problems in getting my data , I have heard about merging but don’t know how to do that from my time machine, thanks your help in advance

      8/26/11 @ 7:06 pm

      I would have an expert take a look. Maybe the Genius Bar or a local Mac shop.

    Sami Elias
    8/28/11 @ 11:30 am

    Hi Gary
    This is so disappointing , the use of the time machine is only if all hardware working well , once you change something like the hard disk time machine is just useless , I am in deep loss for my contacts , e-mails , …..
    I managed to get the old hard disk back to life with all of its contents on a USB connection now , is there a away i can pick up my lost staff like contacts from the address book ?
    Can i do the same for apple mail or MS Outlook ?
    Is there a directory I can just copy and past on my new hard disk?
    I really need your help

      8/28/11 @ 1:38 pm

      It sounds like you may not be approaching this right. You should be able to restore your entire user account if need be. I would seek first-hand help from someone so they can look at what you are doing.

    9/23/11 @ 7:48 pm

    Okay, I started viewing regular, then hit Lion’s full-screen and everything was okay (but the actual video wasn’t full-screen, only the Safari window). Then I hit the video’s full-screen icon at bottom right, and at 02:30 the jerks came back.

    If I escape (esc) from full-screen while the video is running, which takes me back to regular view, the jerks are still there. There seems to be something about full-screen that triggers the jerks.

    10/31/11 @ 4:56 am

    Hi Gary,

    My HD just totally failed, I have it in an Apple store now being fixed. I am worried about my pics, I have used time machine to an external HD. Will my pictures be on there? I tried to see if I could see the files on my PC and they are not there – I assume because it is apple software and I am trying to see them on a PC?

    Should I have them save my old HD just in case?

      10/31/11 @ 7:49 am

      You won’t be able to see your Time Machine hard drive with a PC because it can’t read Mac-formatted disks. Don’t try as you don’t want to damage the disk by accidentally pressing the “yes, reformat it for me” button.
      If you are using TIme Machine normally then EVERYTHING will be on there. You just need to restore your entire drive contents when you get the Mac back.
      See: for details.
      If your old drive failed, then there is probably nothing to recover from it.

    1/9/12 @ 12:28 am

    Shoot! I’ve done this before and now I can’t remember how I did it. I have mail opened (running, as you say), then go to the Finder to open Time Machine (which is listed in the Applications). When Time Machine opens, it opens up my Applications window in the Time Machine instead of Mail. How do I get Time Machine to open Mail? Thank you!

      1/9/12 @ 7:49 am

      By switching to your Applications folder you are then running Time Machine with that folder as the frontmost thing, so it thinks you want to recover something from there. Stay in Mail and use the menubar icon for Time Machine to launch it.

    1/9/12 @ 11:04 am

    It DID work after I put Time Machine on the dock with Mail opened. Thanks so much … you always come through!

      1/9/12 @ 11:14 am

      The Dock is another way to do it. The key is to not switch to another application (Mail to Finder). Either the menubar icon or the Dock let you launch Time Machine without switching away from Mail.

    Robin Stefan
    1/25/12 @ 12:22 am

    Your video is great and that is just how I thought TM should work. For mail and videos, etc, works fine, but I can’t get to individual photos or even albums in TM. When I open iPhoto and then “enter TM” by the menubar icon for TM, the Desktop window opens in TM, not iPhoto. So while still in TM, I select home folder, then picture folder, then iPhoto library and what come up is a window that says “iPhoto Library” with a small box in the upper left hand corner that says “open with iPhoto” Nothing happens if I click on that. Any suggestions? An Apple Care guys couldn’t help me with this. Would love your advise!!!! Robin

    4/30/12 @ 8:45 pm

    I came across this Q&A about Time Machine to discover how I can retrieve old draft mail I mistakenly trashed the other day. I am running Mac OS 10.6.8. When I have my mail app (MS Entourage from MS Office 2008) running, I then launch Time Machine but it doesn’t show multiple versions of the mail window, it goes back to the finder window. I must be doing something wrong? Can you help. Thanks cheers Alan

      4/30/12 @ 10:05 pm

      Time Machine works well with the “Mail” app on your Mac, but it does not integrate wit Entourage, which is not made by Apple. Not sure what Entourage has that could help you get the email back. Haven’t used it in years.

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