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iPhoto and multiple image libraries

iPhoto doesn't come right out and tell you that you can use multiple image libraries, but you can and quite easily too. Switching between libraries is as simple as holding down the option key while starting the iPhoto program. You can even store your iPhoto image library on an external drive if you'd like. Along with this option comes a few quirks and issues you might not be aware of.

1. Libraries can sometimes become embedded inside libraries. This can make it difficult to find images and quite frustrating to organize. To see what your library contains, right click on a library in your finder file browser and select “show package contents”. You can then easily copy the photos elsewhere to properly import into a new library.

2. External drives and force create new libraries. If you store your iPhoto library on an external drive and the external becomes disconnected while you have iPhoto running, or when starting up iPhoto, the program may automatically create a new library. Sometimes this new library is difficult to find in your files… where iPhoto thinks it's saving things, I don't think anyone knows.

3. Recovering missing photos can be a bear. If new libraries are created and you have no idea where they are in your file structure, finding the contained photos can become a nightmare. The last thing you need is multiple libraries with precious photos you can't even find when you need them.

choose iphoto library

Some solutions:

If you find yourself in the situation missing photos or unknown locations of libraries and can't seem to find the location of newly imported photos, there is a relatively simple fix. Open up iPhoto referencing the new library. While viewing photos (not events) select all photos and then choose “export” from the file menu. Make sure to export to a location you can find later. Then close and reopen iPhoto now referencing the library you want your photos contained in. Import the recently exported photos by selecting the entire directory.

Whatever you do, don't overwrite anything or reinstall anything. Your photos are there on your computer somewhere.. they just aren't playing nice.

Remember, if you merely select a library from your file browser and choose to open it with iPhoto, you're going to view the same set of images no matter with library you've picked. You need to, instead, choose the library you want to view by opening iPhoto while holding down the option key.


Today I found myself struggling to access an image library that was created inside an image library. I couldn't access the embedded library so the images it contained were completely offlimits… since I had just deleted all the images from the camera I was looking at a loss and not too happy about it.

Thanks to the help of Terence Devlin on the Apple forums, I was able to not only find the library but access all the photos it comtained and import them into my regular library.

Here's how:

  • In the Finder:
  • Use the Go Menu and select ‘Go To Folder'
  • In the resulting window type
  • /Volumes
  • And hit return. A Finder window will open at that location. Can you see another iPhoto Library there? If so, drag it to the desktop

— I ended up just dragging the photos I had exported prior to shutting down iphoto and them importing them to my original library.

Happy photo hunting!

Jen is Passionate about Creativity. She is the owner and "doodle in charge" of JGoode Designs, a Denver based design studio. She is an illustrator, mixed media artist and creative lifestyle blogger. Jen has been a creative professional since 1998 but says she's been an artist since she was old enough to eat glue.

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