How to Quickly & Safely Import Image Folders into iPhoto

While iPhoto has nowhere near the power and features of Aperture and Photoshop, it does a fairly decent job of image processing, quite sufficient for typical camera-wielding Mac enthusiasts. For those who do use iPhoto regularly, most will import their images directly from their camera via a USB-cable or from a memory card reader.

However, I find that most people new to iPhoto, and even many long-time iPhoto users, have stored and organized a substantial number of image files outside of iPhoto into folders on their drives. Typically, the files have resided there for quite some time. iPhoto users recognize that it has it’s own painless method of image organization. Inevitably, the time approaches when they want to import those “orphan” images and include them in their iPhoto Library.

Let me show you how you can quickly perform the image folder import. You’ll see that, as with many Mac operations, it’s a simple matter of drag-and-drop. As an illustrated example, I have a folder with images from a photo shoot I did in Historic New Castle, Delaware.

For screenshot convenience, I have placed this folder on my Mac desktop. As with most Macs, mine is set up with the iPhoto icon in the dock. The import begins when I simply click on the folder and drag it to the iPhoto icon in the dock.

Drag-and-drop the folder to the iPhoto icon in the dock

Drag-and-drop a folder of images to import them into iPhoto.

This launches iPhoto and imports that folder of images, all in one easy step. By the way, I could have chosen to drag-and-drop the folder onto an open iPhoto window to get the same results.

Once the import is complete, and with iPhoto already open, I am now ready to inspect my newly imported images. iPhoto shows me the Last Import window, where as expected, my imported images are displayed. Images can be managed from here if I wish. 

Imported images are visible in "Last Import"

Imported images are see in the “Last Import” section of iPhoto’s Source view.

From this Last Import area I can also manage and organize my images as well as edit them, name them, assign them to albums, share them, display them, print them, and create photo-gifts out of them.

Included in iPhoto’s feature set is an organizational container known as the Event. Events are groups of images iPhoto will import and organize into individual “events” based on date and ranges of time the groups of images were taken. Images can also be organized manually into custom events.

What’s more pertinent to this tutorial is that iPhoto will also create an event for the folder of images you import. In my example, all the Historic New Castle images in my original folder can now be seen inside the “Historic New Castle” event in iPhoto after the import. The event inherited the same name as the original folder, after which I shortened the name a bit.

Events can easily be renamed

An imported folder creates a new event. The event name can be renamed easily.

When trying all this out for yourself, remember to double-click on an event while in iPhoto in order to view and process the images. Oh, and if you have many events in iPhoto, you can sort them via VIEW > SORT EVENTS. You can also merge events by dropping one on top of another and renaming as needed.

Remember that iPhoto is “non-destructive”—one big reason iPhoto is such a great photo management and editing tool for the typical shutterbug. What this means, is that no matter how much you process and edit your images from within iPhoto’s editor, it always maintains the original version intact for you along with an edited version. This means you can always revert back to the original image any time you want! 

To carry this safety net a couple of steps further, even if you accidentally delete an image from within iPhoto, you can still recover it from iPhoto’s Trash (visible in the views panel on the left side of an iPhoto window), unless you specifically select iPHOTO > EMPTY iPHOTO TRASH.

Empty iPhoto Trash in the iPhoto menu

The iPhoto Trash is the first stop before complete oblivion.

Even after telling iPhoto to empty it’s own trash, all iPhoto is doing is moving the doomed images to the Mac’s system trash. This means that if you mistakenly delete images from your iPhoto Library and empty iPhoto’s Trash, as a last resort, you can pull them out of the system trash and breathe a huge sigh of relief. How’s that for super paranoia on Apple’s part?

By the way, you are keeping those backups up-to-date, right?

Finally, it should be noted that in my example, the original folder of images I started with on my Mac is still there on the desktop. So, whichever method is used to import images, iPhoto imports copies of those images into it’s iPhoto Library. Leaving the original image files behind is yet another safety feature that iPhoto gives us.

With your images safely imported into iPhoto, you are free to go about the business of organizing, renaming, tagging, editing, and sharing your new images. This added efficiency in your workflow gives you more time to spend taking pictures rather than fumbling with image files on your Mac.