How to Locate Your Missing Original iPhoto Library File On Your Computer
When photos go missing from your iPhoto collection, it usually falls under two specific situations. You will need to work your way through both and figure out which one you are dealing with.
POSSIBLE ISSUE — When you launch the iPhoto application, it seems to load your photo collection just fine. But, the problem is a few or maybe even many of your individual photos don't seem to be there anymore. Click the button below to take you to the solution for this problem.
If this sounds like your situation, the article you are reading will hopefully help you to find your missing collection, so just continue reading on.
My Entire iPhoto Photo Collection Is Missing!
What's Causing This Problem:
iPhoto Application — the program developed by Apple that does the magic.
Photo Library File — a self-contained folder that looks like a single file in the Finder application. This contains all of your master images, preview and thumbnail versions of your images, and all of the database files that the iPhoto application reads and writes to to know all of the information about each one of your images and how you have them organized.
The iPhoto application loads your Photo Library file after the application itself loads. You can have as many Photo Library files as you wish. By default, when you launch iPhoto, it loads whichever library file you had opened the last time you used iPhoto.
So the problem is, for whatever reason, your original library file with all of your master photos is missing — or iPhoto can no longer find it to load it up for you. Instead, it's loading either another library file you created at one time, or worse, it's created a new and therefore empty library file so you are seeing no photos or events at all.
My Background Finding Missing Library Files:
So, like I tell everyone that I help, I still can't give you first-hand knowledge of how to deal with your problem, since I've never even been able to reproduce the situation. And often, I never hear back from them, so I never find out exactly what fixed their particular problem.
But, what I can tell you from everything that I've heard from people with these problems, and from those that I have helped, is that in a few rare cases, iPhoto libraries seem to go missing during upgrades of iPhoto library files when a major version of iPhoto was just installed, and when their iPhone is connected to their computers and is doing various kinds of syncs and imports.
It's very strange. Coming from their stories, it's as if in these situations when there is a problem, the software makes a decision to move the Library file somewhere else — possibly to the OSX trash bin!? And then iPhoto creates a whole new (and empty) library file. I of course easier not to believe all of this, but I've heard this story many times now, over and over, so I've had to accept that something strange is in fact going on.
How We Can Fix This:
There isn't one single process I can tell you that is a for sure way to find it. So, instead, I am going to list off the instructions for how to do all of the ones I know and recommend.
If it's at all possible you moved your missing library file to an external drive, be sure to attach it to your computer and turn it on so this drive can be part of the search routines we are going to try below.
These search methods are listed in order of the way I would like you to try them. You are welcome to skip one if you would like, to opt for a better one down the list. Just know, the further down the list you go, the more difficult or time consuming they become.
Search Methods to Try
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!! Your advice helped me find my iPhoto file!!!! It was in the trash!!!! UGHHHH!!! So happy to get it back and I am going to back it up on an external drive ASAP!!
I turned up my computer one day to find out my iphoto library had disappeared. It would tell me to ‘choose a library', but there was none anymore. I did everything you described here, included getting Apple support to remotely access my computer and search everywhere for it. We found nothing.
Then I booked a visit to genius bar at an Apple store, as a last resource. The guy searched my computer beside me, found nothing. Then he asked permission to take the computer inside the store, spent 15 min in there, and came back with all my libraries perfectly back into place. He said it was in the trash, and could not explain how neither I, nor the apple support, nor the searching tools could see it there before.
I am very happy to have my files back, but I would love to know how he found them. It was not visible on Trash, not even as an invisible file, since we tried that as well. If anyone looses their library, and can’t find it at all, I would suggest do not empty the trash and go to a store. Thank you for all your advice as well!
Dear Curtis, I can't thank you enough for your kindness in sharing the secrets of finding lost iPhoto libraries. I recently made an upgrade to El Capitan and I was horrified to see that my entire photo library had disappeared!
I'm an illustrator and author and my photos are hugely important for my work – not to mention all the treasured, irreplaceable personal photos I had lost. So to find your website and finally find a solution (yep, there was my iPhoto, sitting in the trash) was such a relief to me.
I can't tell you how happy I am. Thank you, Kind Sir! Thank you so much! All my best wishes to you, I think your site is bloody marvellous! You are bloody marvellous!
Jan Fearnley – Limoges, France
Thank you for finally giving such a straightforward guide to follow. I felt so absolutely helpless and found my photo library in the trash!
As someone has said here before, thank you, thank you, thank you! With your very first suggestion I located it in the trash and how it got there I have no idea I certainly didn’t delete it. When I dragged it out and put it on the desktop it said “there’s another iPhoto file elsewhere do you want to replace it with this older one or keep both”.
Out of indecision I checked “keep both” which I hope won’t haunt me in the future. I was just about to embark on what a previous viewer had done, visit my nearest Apple’s Genius Bar (50 miles away) but you saved me that trip so my 85,000 photos dating back to 2001 are now intact.
I had tried using Time Machine which should’ve worked but it didn’t. I also have Carbonite backup which I guess is nice but forget it trying to get that many photos back. I do have a 2 TB Western Digital external drive with the photos independent of everything else,but that would be my last resort and this worked out much easier thanks to you. (even the usual reliable Apple Community could not solve it like you did).”
THANK YOU SO SO SO MUCH! I found it searching on the SPOTLIGHT!
“Find” In Finder:
“Deeper” Software Scanning:
These two programs, and ones like them, scan any and all of your hard drives (externals to if they’ve been hooked up recently) to analyze the types of data that is taking up space on your hard drive. If it sees a large amount of space taken up with photo files, it will show you that area, like a colored “piece” on a map. You just have to hover your mouse over the area (if memory serves correct) and it will tell you where these photos are stored.
Both applications have a well thought out and beautiful interface, and I've used both of them and recommend them equally. Each offers a free trial if you download it directly from their company website: Nektony and Software Ambience Corp.
I just had a guy write me to tell me he found his library file using “Disk Inspector.” He found it on an external drive. He remembered moving it to this location, but he probably didn’t double click on the library to load this library file into iPhoto. So when he launched iPhoto, it couldn’t find his original library file (or any library file for that matter) so it created a new one.
I’m including a few screenshots that will show you how I was able to find one of my huge library files with it. I wrote out instructions on each step for you to follow.
Thank you Curtis!
I had to go all the way to the Disk Inspector stage before I found my missing libraries and then, even though the Photos library was “revealed” in finder, it would not load? Fortunately the recovery of the iPhoto library went smoothly and I now have my 30,000 pictures back in place and accessible.
I’m not sure how I got into this mess. When it happened I had photos in both programs and decided to migrate all of my iPhoto content to Photos. Obviously that’s what I will eventually have to do but I’ll be very careful the next time I try this exercise.
Your guidance was clear, concise and easily understandable even for a senior like myself. My cardiologist will also appreciate that you got me out of what was a very stressful situation.
Gary Parker — Burlington, Ontario
Data Recovery Software:
If you have exhausted ALL of the methods above, the next option I would suggest is a data recovery application you could operate yourself.
The program I would recommend is the only data recovery program that Apple currently sells on their website and in their stores. It's called “Data Rescue” by Prosoft Engineering.
Here's a direct link through my website that will take you to the company's information and download page: https://www.scanyourentirelife.com/prosoft_data-rescue
After clicking one of the above links, scroll down on the sales page you arrived on, and you will see a “Try before you buy” download link to download a demo version of their software for free (you will just need to provide your email address). You won't be able to recover your files for free, but you will at least be able to see if Data Rescue finds and believes it can recover the missing files, before you make your purchase.
You might find less expensive data recovery software if you scour the internet for deals. But, I think in this case, you really will get what you pay for like the saying goes. And this is still way cheaper than hiring someone for their time and expertise to attempt a data recovery for you. The great thing is you will also receive email, chat and phone technical support from Prosoft if you have any questions during your recovery process.
Keep in mind, data recovery software will usually only help if your iPhoto library file was “deleted” from your system — as in your computer's operating system was told it was okay to write over that information with something else. This happens when you empty the trash. If something was in the trash and you empty it, macOS now knows it's okay to write over this data on your hard drive. So, recovery software can find that information and bring it back.
If however, enough time has passed and macOS has now written new data on top of these old files “marked” for to be possibly written over, then the software is much less likely to be effective. Only what hasn't been written over can possibly be restored.
So, if you are thinking about using any kind of recovery software, try not to wait very long while making up your mind. It's very important that you do this as soon as you can to insure recovery of as many files as possible.