· 840 words · 4 minute read

Moving to Apple Photos

In my recent post I explained the why of moving to Apple Photos. Here’s the how.

First steps… #

I have an immense photo library with 87.000 photo- and video-files, spanning over 20 years. My first step was to extract around a 100 of these and import them into Apple Photos to see if it could handle all the different filetypes.

The good news is that nearly anything I threw at it would work: even photos and video from ancient cameras. The bad news is that RAW imported from my particular camera/lens combo (Sony NEX 5R with 18-55 lens) does not get processed properly: there’s no lens-correction. Not a problem for most of my files (they are actually JPEG) but the last 3 years I’ve been shooting RAW more-and-more. There are plugins that support extensive RAW-editing in Apple Photos, but they all use Apple’s RAW-engine (so same problem) or they have their own engine but you cannot do batch-editing.

Metadata is imported from XMP (metadata in side-car files) so I could keep some of the data I applied in Capture One (my previous photo-management solution). The problem is I organized my photos in albums and not by tags, and only tags are stored in the metadata-files.

Apple Photos has two ways of organizing files: referencing or importing. The difference being that in the first method files stay in their current location and are only referenced in the database, and with the second option files are actually copied to the Photos-database. At first glance option 1 seemed excellent, but that doesn’t sync with iCloud. So I had to go all-in and import photos. As I want to keep my ‘old structure’ intact (in case Apple Photos doesn’t work out in the long run) that I will use double the disk-space with the ‘import’ option. Luckily storage space is cheap!

Preparing the Import #

Knowing that RAW is not imported properly and albums are not exported in metadata complicated the import-process.

I decided to enable ‘sync metadata with sidecar files’ in Capture One and apply tags to all the photos in my albums (so all photos the album ‘cool photos’ would get a tag cool-photos). That solved problem 1.

I exported all my RAW-photos with Capture One as high-resolution JPEG-photos, profiting from C1’s excellent RAW-engine for the lens-corrections and sharpening. I set Capture One to mimic the existing folder-structure on export, so I had an exact replica of my old structure of photos with JPEGs instead of RAW-files. I named this my import-this-into-apple-photos-folder.

I could also export the JPEG-photos I kept in Capture One, but I decided against this as I never imported all photos in Capture One and figuring out which ones were there and which ones weren’t was not something I looked forward too! This meant losing any edits I did to the JPEGs in Capture One, but I can live with that.

Lastly, I used rsync to copy anything that wasn’t a RAW-file into the import-this-into-apple-photos-folder.

I was now ready to start.

Importing the photos! #

I dumped the entire import-this-into-apple-photos-folder into the app, and… It Crashed.

I sighed and started to import my photos in batches. First the oldest photos (I expected Apple Photos to be crashing on those). I had 11 batches and only in batch 10 I found the ‘offending’ file.

Each batch took hours to import, and even longer to upload. Apparently Apple’s upload-speed is much lower than that of Dropbox. It took me four weeks to completely import and upload everything.

Results #

In the end, only a handful of items could not be imported: a couple of MOV-files, several corrupted JPEGs, PDFs, THM (old movie format), ZIPs, AVIs and GIFs. All in all, 460 files. Not a big deal.

A bigger deal was that after using Apple Photos for a while I noticed some files were duplicated. Apparently I didn’t filter out the Sent folders of WhatsApp before importing (check this article for more details). Now I still have a messy database…

I also forgot to tag a couple of albums in Capture One, and I now have to recreate those albums from scratch 😔

Future imports #

Because I want to keep my ‘old structure’ intact, I’m not going to import photos into Apple Photos directly.

RAW-photos first go through Capture One. I organize them into the ‘big structure’ and develop these into JPEG before importing into Apple Photos.

JPEG-photos I want to import (from my secondary camera, my old Android-phone or photos I get from other people) will not be organized and just dumped in an ‘unsorted’ folder before going into Apple Photos.

The above process costs a tiny fraction of the amount of work my previous process took, so I’m very happy with the results.

Learnings #

Mostly, everything went as smooth as I expected. I hope to never do this again (obviously), but when I do, I’ll make sure I’ve done the tagging properly and removed the duplicates!!

In my next article I’ll review the experience of actually using Apple Photos. See you next time.