Tutorial: iPhoto


A good photo workflow can save you time and help you be more efficient. If you work at a large organization, chances are you use a combination of Photoshop and an archive system. But for those of you who don’t, Apple’s iPhoto may be a solution.

File photos are extremely valuable. Bill Gates founded image giant Corbis in 1989 to buy up some of the world’s greatest photo archives including the Bettmann Archive, the Sygma collection in France and the German company Zefa. Corbis also has the rights to digital reproduction for art from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery in London. And it adds hundreds of thousands of new images every year. A subsidiary, Veer, licenses low-cost images that are crowd-sourced from photographers around the world.

As a photo library grows, it becomes harder and harder to quickly find file photos. That sucks because they are an important source of quick slideshows for your site. And users LOVE photos. Plus, you never know when that photo you took of a soldier at a rally turns out to be John Kerry and you can sell it for thousands of dollars.

This hands-on tutorial will give you tools to improve the quality of your photos and manage your collection as it grows.

The interface

Before we jump into workflow, download the training files and then lets get to know iPhoto a little better.

Hold down the option key as you launch iPhoto ’11 (older versions have the same tools but are slightly different). A dialog box will appear that will let you choose an existing library or create a new one. Create a new library and call it iPhoto Test Library and hit Continue. Now lets take a look at the four major sections of the interface:

iphoto interface

The source list

A panel on the left where all your photos can be organized.

  • Library: It organizes your photos into four categories.
  • Events: Groups of photos imported together. These are usually labeled by date, device or an uploaded folder can be renamed.
  • Photos: Contains all of your photos organized by events.
  • Faces: iPhoto can scan your photos on import and look for faces that match those you have already identified and labeled.
  • Places: If your photo contains GPS data, iPhoto will read it and organize your photos by location
  • Recent: Tracks all the photos you recently worked with, including events, imports and flagged items. It also houses your trash bin. When you delete an item it is transferred here. The trash has to be emptied for the photos to be deleted permanently.
  • Albums: Add folders and smart folder to organize and manage your collection.
  • Web: Syncs your albums to Mobile Me or your Facebook account (but not a page).

Main viewing area

The center area lets you interact with your photos in multiple ways.


Groups of buttons at the bottom of the window provide shortcuts to various tools. The group on the left helps you find and focus on the photos you want. The group on the right gives you tools to manage and edit your photos.

Tools panel

When you double-click on a photo in the main viewing area or click on an editing tool in the tool bar, a panel appears on the right so you can make changes.

Import photos

Importing photos is a snap in iPhoto because the functionality is built into the OSX operating system.

Import from a camera or iPhone

By default, iPhoto should open automatically when you connect a camera. If it doesn’t, select Preferences from the iPhoto menu. In the General settings, make sure that “Connecting Camera opens:” is set to iPhoto.

When a camera is connected, all the photos will be viewable in iPhoto. You can change the size of the thumbnail images to get a better look.

Phone import

It helps to start with a rough edit to select which photos you want to import to iPhoto. The purpose here is to grab only the photos you might want to use and give your event a name. This will save you time and disk space. Control-click the photos you want to import and click the Import Selected button at the top right.

If you look in Events, your new event houses the new photos. If you want to combine photos into a single event, simply drag and drop photos onto the event you want to keep.

Import from email

If you are using the Mac’s Mail app, click on the Save button in the header of an e-mail and select Save to iPhoto.

mail import
If you are using Web mail in the Safari browser, you can right-click or control-click on a photo in an email and select Add image to iPhoto Library.

gmail to iPhoto

Import from the desktop

You can upload individual photos or an entire folder by going to the File menu and selecting Import to Library. If you import an entire folder, your event will assume the name of the folder.

Editing photos

iPhoto makes editing fast and easy. But more importantly, it’s non-destructive. iPhoto keeps track of edits done in a folder or smart folder and applies them on export while keeping the original photo untouched. This means you can make adjustments without having to save multiple copies.

We’ll examine the major tools that you need. Start by importing the images in the Editing folder. When you’re done click Last Import in the Source List.


Sometimes things get a little out of whack. If you lean to the side when you take a photo, a horizon line or building column may tilt to the right or left. Double-click on the image named Straighten.jpg and click on the Edit button in the bottom toolbar.  By default, the Quick Fixes tab is showing. Click on the Straighten button to activate the tool.

edit navigation

A yellow grid will appear over your photo as the tool appears. Drag the slider to adjust the horizon to match the grid (about three degrees). Notice that you have the option to revert to original. When you’re finished click Done.

edit straighten

The Rotate button is a little different. Clicking it will rotate an image 90 degrees.

Adjusting color

There are two ways to adjust color in iPhoto. The first is to use the Enhance feature. It automatically adjusts the photo based on color, exposure and several other settings. Click Last Import in the Source List and double-click AdjustColor1.jpg. Make sure the Edit panel is open and click the Enhance button. You should see something that looks like this.

edit enhance

Not bad for an auto-adjustment.

But there are many cases where this works poorly or not at all.  Click on Last Import and then double-click on Color-Adjustment2.jpg. This time when you click Enhance, the photo doesn’t get much better. When this is the case, click Revert to Original at the bottom of the Edit panel and click the Adjust tab at the top of the panel.


Generally, when adjusting a photo you want the colors (represented by the graph) to be distributed across the entire range. That’s not the case in this photo. You can fix it by dragging the white and black sliders to the edge of the graph and move the midtones slider to the left until it looks like this.

levels adjust

adjusted levels

If you do nothing else, this will help you improve the quality of your photos. Play with the other settings but be careful. It’s easy to go too far.


Click on the Quick Fixes tab and click the Crop button.



Unlike a lot of free photo editing software, iPhoto lets you set a custom size and crop to fit. Select Custom... from the dropdown menu.


Change the size to 620 x 450 and check the constrain box. Notice that the bounding box (crop area) on the top of the photo changes size.

set crop size

Now when you click and drag the the corner of the bound box it will change to meet that shape. It also gives you a grid to check your composition.

Adjust bounding box

Click Done to make the crop take effect and resize the photo at the same time.


It’s important to build a consistent method to classify your photos from the beginning. It will help you organize photos faster, work more efficiently and create saved searches.

To do this, you add information that identifies the contents of your photos. This information is called metadata. Metadata travels inside the files wherever they go. Think of it like that car manual in your glove box. You don’t always look at it but when you need it, it’s invaluable.

And because it’s use is standardized, metadata is portable. If a photo is opened in a similar photo editing program like Photoshop the metadata will still be there.

Click on the Info button on the bottom Toolbar. A new panel should appear on the right. Let’s break it down.


  1. The settings used to take a photo. Most cameras record this by default.
  2. Title and description (cutline) can be entered here. Click to edit.
  3. Faces is a feature that automatically recognizes people in photos. We’ll explore this feature on the next page.
  4. Keywords are simple words or phrases that describe your photo’s content. If you import a photo that already has keywords they will show up here.
  5. Some cameras and most smart phones record where a photo was taken using latitude and longitude.


Decide on a set of keywords that correspond to your coverage categories. For example, Arts, Business and Government might be three categories on your site. Next let’s add them to iPhoto:

Click on Photos in your source list. Then go to the Window menu and select Manage my keywords (Command-k). You should get a window similar to this but it should be blank:

keywords menu

Keywords in the Quick Group can have keyboard shortcuts assigned to them.

Click the Edit Keywords button. This will give you a menu of default keywords (below). To edit an existing keyword, double-click on it. To add a new keyword click on the “+” button.

After you have your main keywords, click the fields on the right to assign a shortcut. I’m going to make the shortcut for Arts “a”, Business “b” and Government “g.”

manage keywords

When you’re done, click OK to go back to the keywords list. Drag your primary keywords to the Quick Group on top. Move everything else to the keywords selection below.

To add a keyword to a photo, select an image and simply click a keyword or use the keyboard shortcut.

Batch changes

iPhoto allows you to edit or add metadata in multiple photos simultaneously. This can really make your managing metadata much, much easier.

Click on Last Import in the Source List. Then go to the Edit menu and choose Select All. All your photos should be highlighted with a yellow border.

Go to the Window menu and select Manage my keywords (Command-k). Click on a keyword to add it to all the photos.

Next, go the the Photos menu and choose Batch Change. This opens a window with a pulldown menu so that you can choose to edit the Titles, Dates or Descriptions. Select the one you want and the add your text.

batch change

There’s a checkbox at the bottom of the window that will let you add text to the beginning of a field. This is handy if you want to append a photo and publication credit like Jane Photographer/supercool.com above all your descriptions.


If you cover the same people on a regular basis (city council, mayor, etc.) it’s worth using the Faces feature. Faces lets you tag a face or multiple faces in a photo. Once you tag a face several times, iPhoto learns to recognize the face when you import new photos. This can be a great time saver, ensure that the correct spelling is applied to a person and will occasionally identify people in crowds that you miss.

First, select all the existing photos and drag them to the Trash in the Source list. Then hold down the Control Key and click on the Trash (or right click with a two-button mouse) and choose Empty Trash.

Import the Obama photos included in the sample files. Click on the Faces icon in the Source list and iPhoto will ask you if you want to assign identities to the images.

obama faces

Edit the first one to read Barack Obama. As you begin to type in the second photo, iPhoto will suggest a match. Select Barack Obama on the first three photos then click the Continue to Faces button in the lower right corner.

This will take you to the main Faces section. Double-click on the photo of Barack Obama to look at the faces you identified.

Obama faces category

At the bottom of the screen, you should see a message that states that Barack Obama may be in additional photos. Click on Confirm Additional Faces.

more obama facecs

You now see a section of photos with unconfirmed faces.

confirm faces

Click to confirm the photos. You can also hold down the Option key to Reject a photo from a Faces group. Then click Done.

Click on the Photos in the Source List. Notice that a photo of Obama saluting is missing. Profile photos and obstructions like a hand or sunglasses make it harder for iPhoto to identify faces.

obama salutes

Double-click on the photo to edit it. Click the Info button on the bottom menu to open the tools panel.

add face

When iPhoto can’t attach a name to a Face, it will do one of two things: Place an unnamed face on the photo or leave the photo blank. If it adds an unnamed face, you can edit it like we did earlier. If it’s blank, you can click Add a face and iPhoto will drop a box on the photo that you can move and adjust

resize face


Exporting your photos out of iPhoto is easy. To keep things organized, I like to create a Photo Export folder on my desktop so that everything ends up in the same place.

Click on Last Import in the Source List. Then go to the Edit menu and choose Select All. All your photos should be highlighted with a yellow border.

Go to the File menu and select Export…  For photos, you want to mirror these settings. Be sure the Include options are checked. They ensure that your metadata is included in your photos.

export jpg

You can also export groups of photos as a QuickTime movie. Check include music if you want the default music to be included. Generally it’s best to leave it unchecked.

export quicktime: iPhoto

iPhoto on steroids

Ready to kick some butt? Excellent. We’re going to transform your simple iPhoto library into an archive system.

All the tools that you’ve just learned will help you transform iPhoto into a tool that saves time. We’re going to use Folders and Smart Albums to create saved searches that update automatically as your library grows.

Click on Photos in the Source list. Then go to the File menu and select New… and then select Folder. A new folder will appear in the Source List. Rename it News.

new folder: iPhoto

Go to the File menu and select New… and then select Folder. Rename this folder Government. Click on the folder icon and drag it into the News folder. You should end up with something that looks like this:

nested folder: iPhoto

Go to the File menu and select New… and then select Smart Album. This will open a new window with pull down lists. Change them to match the image below. If you have not made any keywords yet, add them now.

make smart album: iPhoto

This will create a Smart album in the Source list. Drag it into the Government folder. This Smart album will now look for photos with the keyword Government and add it to the Album.

Click on Photos in the Source List and select all the photos (Edit->Select All or Command-a).

Under the Window menu, select Manage my Keywords then click on Government to apply the the keyword to all the photos. Then click on the Government Smart Album and voila, all the photos appear there.

And if you click the search button in the bottom toolbar, you can search within the smart album. Neat!

Imagine how powerful this becomes when you really build it out. If you want to see an example, quit iPhoto when you’re done with this tutorial and double-click the iPhoto Library that’s in the downloaded files. Here’s a screenshot:

iphoto structure

Take advantage of Faces

Click on Faces in the Source list. Now drag the Barack Obama stack to the Source list. This automatically creates a Smart Album that you can drag into the Government folder. How is this useful?

Imagine that you had a Faces stack for everyone on your local city council. You could drag multiple stacks onto one Smart Album and rename it to City Council. That’s handy. I’ve done something similar here with a Federal Leaders smart album. It includes Barack Obama, Harry Reid and John Boehner.

federal leaders: iPhoto

Now say there’s a big election next year and you make Faces stacks of the candidates as they campaign. After the election, you simply edit the Smart Album to update it.

For example, let’s say that the Republicans take the Senate in 2012 and Mitch McConnell replaces Harry Reid as the Speaker. Simply right-click or Control-click on the Federal Leaders album and choose Edit Smart Album to see the following.

edit leaders: iPhoto

Click on Harry Reid and change it to Mitch McConnell. Hit OK and you’re done. Easy peasy.

edit leaders: iPhoto

And this is just the start of what you can accomplish. You can also:

  • Create a quick retrospective slideshow on the loser in minutes.
  • Create a slideshow of quotes from an important public meeting
  • Quickly find photos of a crooked politician at a public event with the person that bribed him. (Don’t laugh. I experienced this at least three times in my career. )

The value of file photos cannot be overstated. Taking just a few minutes to organize them as you add them to your library can make you more productive and better engage your readers.

About this Tutorial

This tutorial was originally produced as a presentation for the Knight Digital Media Center’s custom training for Patch newsrooms.

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