Best backup solution for iPhoto when doing a full reinstall.

  • Posted: 19 December 2009 05:11 PM

    Hi All,

    I’m planning on doing a fresh install of Snow Leopard and all my apps on my MacBook Pro but I first wanted to back up all of my photos in iPhoto before doing the erase and install.  What concerns me is that iPhoto stores the photos in a package file (or that’s what I’ve read) and want to make sure that the photos are backed up properly before I proceed.  Apple’s support documents are sort of sparse on details and really don’t explain about the whole package file thing.  Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks, Roger

  • Posted: 31 December 2009 07:24 PM #1

    I stopped at the Apple store yesterday and asked this same question as was told 2 different things, first that I could use MobileMe to back up my photos, or I could just copy the iPhoto package file to a external drive.  I’m not interested in MobileMe but I was wondering if just dragging the file to an external would be a safe and acceptable way to back up the files.

    Thanks, Roger

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    Posted: 13 January 2010 06:13 AM #2

    It will certainly be adequate for backing up, and I just discovered something that I didn’t realise was there, but it makes sense that it does. If you have Mail selected and you click on Time Machine, you can go back in time and pick up old emails. The same thing, delightfully, works with iPhoto. But that’s not what you want, but it’s useful to know.

    If you’re doing a wipe and reinstall, backup up your iPhoto package, re-install, copy the package back into your Pictures directory, and away you go.

    If you’re doing a standard installation of Snow Leopard, you shouldn’t have any issues - everything will be where you left it.

    But why do you want to do an erase? Are you having problems with your current setup?


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  • Posted: 18 January 2010 12:49 AM #3

    I want to do a fresh install of Snow Leopard I have some programs I’m no longer using and would like to just do an erase and install with Snow Leopard.  I’m also thinking about installing a ssd drive and would want to do a fresh install if I was going to upgrade the hard drive.

    Thanks, Roger

  • Posted: 07 February 2010 12:29 PM #4

    One other piece of advice because I just did this the other day. After you copy the library back to the directory run a software update, chances are the disk version of iPhoto is older then the version your library was last opened with. This means if you try to open up iPhoto before updating the software it will say you can’t open the library which is never a fun message to see.


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  • Posted: 09 February 2010 01:35 PM #5

    Can’t you just use Time Machine to restore your iPhoto files?

  • Posted: 09 February 2010 03:39 PM #6

    Last summer, i managed to corrupt my iPhoto database. With about 15k images in it, the restore was tedious, but worked well. The iPhoto library is a “package” as discussed, so a single restore of that file worked, and since (in my case) it was backed up once a day, it was an easy fix. It did take a long time to restore, as that package was over 20GB.

    What I am getting at, is that you can just backup the iPhoto package, and then restore it on your new system over the empty library that’s already there. And yes, I would heed the warning about performing all s/w updates first to match the version of iPhoto.

    If you want to do fancy stuff with multiple libraries, you can try “iPhoto Library Manager” which lets you merge, split, move, etc iPhoto libraries. This has been helpful for me, as my ever growing library was just too big a file to keep in a single “package”. Breaking it up into several smaller libraries was much easier (read: faster to manage).

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    Posted: 13 February 2010 10:10 PM #7

    How you backup your iPhoto library depends a lot upon how large it is. Mobile Me might work for a small library, but it could be too slow for a large one. Mine is nearly 31 GB and I have another 18GB of JPEGs that have not been imported into iPhoto, so the total would be about 50GB.  You can easily drag and drop the iPhoto folder (or the entire Pictures folder) to an external hard drive. Even if you update iPhoto, you can still get the individual image files from that folder.

    Once you have backed up the iPhoto folder, you can use Time Machine to keep any changes or additions and/or you can use a file/folder sync application like the aptly-titled File Synchronization to keep the backup current.

    Here’s what I do: I use a card reader (not the camera—way too slow) to download the image files onto a 1TB OWC external FW400/800/USB2/eSATA HD. (I usually shoot JPEG + RAW and put the RAW files in a separate folder.) I go through the images (often with Image Browser from Canon or Graphic Converter’s Slide Show option) and pick the ones I want to import into iPhoto. Those get imported, so I automatically have two copies of any photo I thought worth keeping. Periodically, I archive all new image files on the external HD to DVDs, which gives me 3 copies of the ones in iPhoto, 2 copies of the others. So far, there’s been no need to clean up the OWC HD. It has over 118 GB of photos, going back about 2 years. It’s much larger than the iPhoto library because it has the RAW files (about 6.6 MB each) as well as the JPEGs that are in iPhoto.

    A while back, I bought a LaCie Little DIsk Design by Sam Hecht 500GB FW/USB2 portable HD. It’s bus-powered* and quite compact (5” x 3-3/8” x 11/16”)—and not very expensive ($130-140). I synch the iPhoto LIbrary, iTunes Library, Documents folder, the photos folder from the OWC HD, and some others onto it. That way, I can get access to all my photos, music, etc from my 13” PowerBook G4, which has only a 60GB HD.

    * It works very nicely on FW 400. Like many USB drives, it may need to use two USB ports for power, especially on a laptop. That’s one reason that I always connect it via FW—plus, FW400 is faster than USB 2.