How NOT to Use iPhoto to Import from Cameras & iOS Devices

Image Capture.

It's an application that lives on your Mac. It's been there forever. Apple doesn't promote it. Most typical Mac users I know, support, and teach have never heard of it. Yet, it's incredibly useful.

Image Capture is a simple but powerful application that lets you transfer images, video clips and MP3 sounds to your Mac from digital cameras and camera-enabled iOS devices. It's home is the Mac's Applications folder.

For this article, I use the word "device" to mean any memory card reader, USB-connected digital camera, and USB-connected iOS device. Image Capture recognizes all of these.

Why would you use Image Capture over iPhoto for transferring image files from your devices? First of all, not everyone uses iPhoto. Hard to believe, but true. Many advanced amateur and professional photographers (for example, RAW format shooters) prefer the power of more flexible and feature-rich photo-management and editing applications like Aperture, Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Pixelmator and others.

Whether you fall into either the casual or the more advanced camera-toting Mac user camp, Image Capture is an Application you should become familiar with. There are those times when you want to do a quick-and-easy import of photos from your device, completely bypassing the automatic import features of iPhoto and other applications.

Here's a typical situation that may apply to you. Setting aside the whole iCloud Photo Stream thing, I don't always want every photo I've taken on my device to be imported into iPhoto when I connect it to my Mac via USB. I often just want a quick way to import some or all image files from the device, and into a folder on my Mac. Then, when I'm good and ready, I can peruse that folder, cull out the rejects, import into iPhoto or Lightroom, edit them in Photoshop, back them up separately…whatever.

OK, it's time. Let's connect up our device and go into Image Capture.

It's important to pause and note here that by default, iPhoto automatically launches when you connect a camera, card reader or iOS device to a Mac. You might consider disabling this behavior to give yourself full freedom to choose the destiny of your images.

Here's how: With your device selected in Image Capture's "Devices" section, use the pop-up menu at the bottom of the Sources column, where it says "Connecting this <device name> opens:" I suggest selecting No application. This setting is system-wide; you may not want either Image Capture, iPhoto or any other application to open when you connect your devices.

Ultimately, of course, it's your choice, but this is my favorite configuration because I want to decide the disposition of my image files. A computer is great for automating a workflow, but I'd like some control, thank you very much.

Pop-up menu lets you choose which applications opens when the selected device is connected.

You can select which application (or none) launches when the selected device is connected.

OK, back to our little tutorial...Notice the "Devices" section at the top of the Sources column on the left. When the attached device is recognized and selected, Image Capture shows you all the photos in its browser window. Additionally, the photo's technical information – EXIF metadata – is clearly shown.

If you can only see thumbnails of your photos, you should change the browser view to list view via the buttons at the bottom-left of the browser. You can see all the metadata listed in columns for each image. Be sure to scroll horizontally so you can see what information is available. You can re-order the columns by grabbing the header of the column and dragging it left or right. You can also sort ascending or descending as you can in many applications by clicking on the header for the attribute you wish to sort by.

The Image Capture Browser.

From the Image Capture Browser you can view EXIF metadata and drag images to the Desktop.

Here's a really neat feature: Image Capture recognizes multiple attached devices so that you can choose images among them.

From within Image Capture, use the Import To pop-up menu to import selected or all images to a preset or custom folder of your choice, or directly into iPhoto or other photo applications, as well as into Preview, and Mail. If you choose an Automator action in the pop-up menu, that action is performed on the imported images.

To import only some of the photos, select those photos and click Import. To import all the photos, click Import All. Used in this manner, Image Capture becomes a great tool for staging your images for import into your favorite locations and applications. Kind of like what Adobe Bridge does for Photoshop.

Pop-up menu in Image Capture allows you to select an import destination.

With one or more photos selected, you can choose where to import. (That's me at the dentist).

Like any good Mac app, you can drag-and-drop images from the Image Capture browser to the desktop or into a folder on your Mac. An image editing application that supports drag-and-drop will allow you to drag an image directly onto its dock icon. This launches the application and loads the image. Alternatively, you can drag a photo thumbnail from Image Capture onto an open application window to import and/or open it for editing.

Because Image Capture treats each device individually, you can configure the application to behave differently when as each device is connected.

While viewing photos in Image Capture's browser, you can also manually delete selected images from your device. While this feature can be quite useful, I don't recommend this action until the imported images are backed up. As with other applications that import images, you can also select "Delete after import" but with the same caveat mentioned above.

What else can you do in Image Capture? There are buttons that will let you view the image thumbnails as a list or as icons, a slider to change the size of the thumbnails, and you can rotate images. You can even share images with others on your network.

With the "connections" to Preview and Mail, you can easily and quickly create contact sheets and email photos. Using the hooks into Automator, you can do such things as create web pages and PDFs from selected images. Finally, Image Capture can control a camera's shutter, and it can capture images from scanners. All of these are possible topics for future how-to articles.

The bar at the bottom of the Image Capture browser contains other controls for selected images.

The bar at bottom of the browser lets you perform other actions on your images.

We keep finding little-known wonders on our Macs, patiently sitting and waiting for you. Image Capture is no exception, and it's a very nice free tool for all photo enthusiasts.