How to Get iPhoto to Store Your Photos Inside or Outside of the iPhoto Library (Managed vs. Referenced)

by | Last updated May 29, 2017 | Organizing Digitals | 78 comments

iphoto application iconIf you're an iPhoto user, have you ever wondered to yourself where your original photo files are actually stored on your computer?

I mean, you know they're stuffed in there somewhere. You just honestly haven't really seen them with your own eyes in a long time.

I can't think of anything that should be more important to an iPhoto user than knowing where they are really saved.

In fact, it's so important that I decided to put together a nice little tutorial video explaining these basics.

This is the foundation of how iPhoto works.

Managed vs. Referenced Photos

I also included a little bit of “advanced” information that many of you long-time iPhoto users may not even know.

Like its big brother Aperture, iPhoto has a rarely talked about feature. When activated, it will enable you to keep your photos stored on your hard drive or Solid State Drive in any place you would like.

Yes! It's true. You aren't forced to keep all your photos inside of iPhoto if you don't want to.

So if you use iPhoto, please check out this short 6-minute video.

(If for no other reason than it took me a long time to edit it! wink )


(Problems playing video? Click here)

Transcription of Video::

I believe that the most important thing that everyone who uses iPhoto should know is where and how iPhoto stores all of your images and this is all controlled by one tiny little setting right here in the iPhoto preferences called “Copy items to the iPhoto Library”.

Hi. I’m Curtis Bisel from Scan Your Entire Life and the reason why this is the most important thing is because iPhoto is a non-destructive photo manager. It was built to hold and protect all of your important images.

I like to think of a photo manager like a house. You go through life acquiring things. And where do you keep these things? You keep them in your house. And iPhoto works the same way.

Now iPhoto is made up of two separate things. The first thing is the application itself.

If I go into my application folder, and my user settings and scroll down, you will see the application right here. And then the second thing is the iPhoto Library file, and this is the house that I spoke of. And typically this is stored in your pictures folder in your user settings.

Click right here in the Finder application. You will see the iPhoto Library.

Now this just happens to be a brand new iPhoto Library that I just created. And you can see it’s a really small 7.5 megabytes in size. In fact if I close this out, you will see how new this is because I have zero events and zero photos in this library. And because this is a new library, iPhoto gives you some help right here on how to bring in your first set of photos. So let’s do that.

I have two photos right here on my desktop that I’m going to bring in and the first way to bring them in is to highlight them and then click and drag them into the library. You could see it says “importing” and there they are. We have two photos inside of the library and for simplicity’s sake, I labeled them photo 1 and photo 2.

So here’s what I want you to understand. If we go back to the Finder application here on my main hard drive and click on the pictures folder that we were in before, you can see that the iPhoto Library is now larger. It’s now 16.6 megabytes and the reason for this is because these two photos were originally stored on my desktop and when we drug them into the iPhoto library, it copied them into the library. It duplicated them.

So now we have two copies of each photo. And the reason why that happened was because of that very important setting that we talked about earlier. If we go back in the iPhoto and the preferences under the Advanced tab, you will see that under Importing, there’s a check mark next to “Copy items to the iPhoto Library.”

And the reason why this is the default import settings in iPhoto is because Apple wants to protect all of your images. It knows that the average user doesn’t want to be responsible for the storage of all their photos. So inside of this iPhoto Library, it’s protecting your images for you. OK.

So then what would happen if we uncheck this little box? Think of it like storing some of your books or your furnishings or your jewelry outside on your front lawn. It’s still on your property but they’re not being protected inside of your locked house.

So let me show you how the second way of importing would work. I’m going to close this out and then go to these two images I have in a USB thumb drive I have connected to my computer. I’m going to drag these two files, images labeled “3” and “4” into iPhoto.

And now you can see these two photos were added to a separate event. So I have two events. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to merge these two together so I have just one event. Do you want to merge these events? Merge.

Now I’m going to go into the event and you will see all four photos. One, four, two, three, out of order. (Laughs) So I’m going to go to View, Sort Photos, By Title. And now they’re in order. And if we click on each of these photos, you will see that they seem to be working fine.

And here’s how life happens. I’m going to close that iPhoto and let’s say that you un-mount your USB thumb drive. Days go by. Weeks go by, and let’s just say you’ve lost that USB thumb drive. You can’t find it anywhere!

Then you load up iPhoto again. We will sort these photos again. This one seems fine. This one seems fine. Uh-oh! So here lies the potential problem for deselecting that default setting. You are now responsible for protecting all of your photos that you import when that setting is deselected.

iPhoto is no longer responsible for managing and protecting these photos. If you turn that setting off, it’s completely your responsibility to make sure that nothing happens to those photos that you import that way. You don’t want to accidentally move them or delete them, or iPhoto will no longer be able to find them.

You will get this message right here, the volume for such and such a photo cannot be found, and then you’re going to be asked to click on certain buttons here and locate these photos for it.

But I want you to understand that this is actually a really good thing. This gives people the option if they want using iPhoto, to store their photos wherever they like to.

You could have all of your photos spread across multiple external hard drives if you wanted, or you could just have them in multiple folders of your choice on your system hard drive. By deselecting this import option, that gives you a choice.

If you found this information helpful, and you’re serious about your digital photo collection, I would encourage you to come to my website and sign up for my mailing list. You will start to receive my free informational email series on the best ways to organize and share your digital as well as your scanned, print and slide collections.

Remember, I’m here to help. In fact, if you have any questions about the video you just watched, come to my webpage about this video at www.ScanYourEntireLife.com/YT4. That’s YouTube video four, or click on the link I listed in the information below if you’re watching this video on YouTube.com.

All right. Take care. Cheers!

 

So what did you think? Did you learn something new? smile

Let me know in the comments below.

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Stefano
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Stefano

Hi, thanks for clarifying.
I dunno if you already discussed it: what about pictures modified with Iphoto?
I mean, which is the process / route, either in the “checked” than “unchecked” box scenario?
And what would u suggest, of course!

Thx

P
Guest
P

Curtis- I have been manually getting pics off my phone thru “Image capture”, labeling them and filing them in my own folder system in Finder. However I still have and iPhoto's library that says “migrated photo library” with 11.24 GB in it AND a Photos library with 15.08 GB in it. With the way I currently organize my pics I do not use either program and is obviously taking up a lot of space. Is it safe to delete those libraries? In the very least iPhoto library, since it's an outdated program? Any argument or defense to use Photos instead of my image capture system?

Thank you in advance!!

Maria Nic
Guest
Maria Nic

Hi Curtis,
Your video is really helpful. After a trip in the Bahamas, I had 7000 photos in I photo, I found the folder stored in I photo library, copied them on an external hard drive and deleted them from the computer. But the photos stored in I photo library are stored in many folders, for each year, month, day, etc. Do you know if I can change that setting and have all the photos stored in just one or two folders? And one other question:) If I am having trouble with space on my computer, is it ok to do this once in a while? To copy the I photo library and then delete it? Thank you so muuuch

Kimberly
Guest
Kimberly

I would love to hear your answer to this question, too! I transferred my whole iPhoto library to an external hard drive, and need to free up space on my Mac. Can I simply delete the current iPhoto library from my desktop computer, or must I go into iPhoto and delete all the images? About 8 years' worth of images…so I'm nervous to delete!

Bert
Guest
Bert

Hi,

I understand a little more than I did from reading your article, very helpful I must say, but I use elements 13 for editing some photos and then save them in a folder called adobe>organiser>iPhoto Library.photolibrary Media>Masters>other photos and the name of the photo that I saved called Cloudy, the above folders were formed upon downloading element ‘ I think'. Is the above reference or managed? Why does elements save photos here, can I not save them else where. Yes I'm another windows to mac guy.

Any help appreciated.

Gighen
Guest
Gighen

Hi Curtis,

hopefully I won't be OT with this.
I have all of my pictures carefully divided into different folders on my NAS. I have a Macbook Air, which of course cannot hold all of my pictures, but I want to use Photos to eventually look at my pictures and/or editing them.
I unchecked the option to not import/copy the pictures, but looks like Photos doesn't care… the library on my Macbook Air still increases if I open the pictures folder on the NAS… I checked the size of the Photos library and it's more or less the same size as the whole pictures folder on the NAS. Is there a way to use Photos just as a viewer without having it to import the pictures? Also the thumbnails it does are huge, eating my little Macbook Air SSD…
Any help?

Sam
Guest
Sam

Hi, I have over 40,000 photos in iPhoto and have always had the box checked. If I uncheck the box, can I then pull out whatever photos I want and copy them to to my desired location(s)? Probably to several different large thumb drives. Is this possible to do since the box was checked when the photos originally went into iPhoto.

Maya
Guest
Maya

Hi, I have my photos on an external hard drive, I want them there and not in iPhoto because I don't want my computer to slow down with so many photos.
So I am understanding here, I should uncheck the bow on iPhoto, right?
And how do I transfer this files/photos from my external hard drive to my iPhoto?

Tim Crowninshield
Guest
Tim Crowninshield

Hi Curtis,
I have a question about Lightroom five and moving my iPhoto library to an external drive, but first I want to tell you how thoroughly impressed I am at the way you answer questions, both in the content of your answers and in the extra effort you obviously make whether the question is complex or routine. While searching for an answer to my question, I came upon your site completely by chance, and even though it didn't directly address my issue, the headline was close enough that I found myself reading the text, watching the video and then reading the entire list of comments. It's pretty rare to see such attention to detail and a willingness to help combined with speedy replies on an information site such as this, or least it has been to my experience.
In light of all that, although I didn't see anything that specifically addressed Lightroom five issues, I'm going to take a chance:
I have a 2013 Mac and the RAM has just about filled up (8GB) and I'd like to make some room by moving the photos in my iPhoto app to an external drive. I know that's supposed to be simple, but here is where I come into a problem. I just bought Photoshop CC bundled with light room five about a month ago and I jumped right in the light room without knowing what I was doing. I have about 30,000 pictures in iPhoto including about 1000 in Pictures. Several hundred of those, almost all of them in Pictures, have been imported into Lightroom five. I understand that LightRoom makes a preview that you work on and only applies the edits to the original photo when you tell it to. However, if I'm reading correctly, once a photo is imported into Lightroom, the original can't be moved or Lightroom will lose it. (I should mention that my 30,000 photos are not well organized.) So should I move my iPhoto pictures to the external drive and then import them into light room as needed, or should I import them into Lightroom and direct them to a new folder in the external drive? I assume that Lightroom will recognize the new location once I import a photo from that location, but that still leaves me with “lost” photos. If I then add those lost photos to the new folder, (or if they go at the same time as the iPhoto contents) will I be able to tell Lightroom to search for them there? And if I do move the whole iPhoto catalog, can I just drag the whole thing INTO lightroom and let it go through all 30,000 pictures… or is that completely insane?
Another question – if I move all these photos, dragging-and-dropping will cause them to copy, correct? Is it possible to copy and paste such a huge file, effectively moving everything in a single step rather than copying each file and then deleting them later from the internal drive after confirmation? Or is that too risky?
Wow, I asked a lot more questions than I had intended to. Sorry about that, I'm just not very computer savvy about all this stuff and I get gun shy about making big moves. Also, I'm not sure I'm in the right place to be Eskimo Lightroom five, but judging by the answers you give other people, I thought that even if Lightroom is not your specialty, you might be able to direct me to where I can find the information on looking for.
Thank you so much for your patience in reading all of this, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Tim Crowninshield

Tim Crowninshield
Guest
Tim Crowninshield

Then again, I could be completely wrong about that speedy reply part, I guess.

Rose
Guest
Rose

Hello! your video was very helpful. so first of all thanks for that!
I have a similar question about iphoto. I have problems with space on my macbook so i want to store my iphoto library to an external harddrive. Well all the information about that i understand, but i cannot find how to use it in the future when i'm going to export new photos from my iPhone to my iphoto library. What do i need to do. I understand i have to plug in my external harddrive. do i need to do more or is my macbook so smart he will understand that he has to move it to my external harddrive?

I hope my question is clear enough. english is my second language. so sorry for my grammer.

Thanks for helping!