In case you haven’t heard, the digital camera market is exploding. In 2004, sales of digital cameras—close to 53 million of them—easily outnumbered the sales of traditional film cameras. It’s taken a few decades; the underlying technology used in most digital cameras was invented in 1969. But film is finally on the decline.
And why not? The appeal of digital photography is huge. When you shoot digitally, you never have to pay a cent for film or photo processing. You get instant results, viewing your photos just moments after shooting them, making even Polaroids seem painfully slow by comparison. As a digital photographer, you can even be your own darkroom technician—without the darkroom. You can retouch and enhance photos, make enlargements, and print out greeting cards using your home computer. Sharing your pictures with others is far easier, too, since you can burn them to CD, email them to friends, or post them on the Web. As one fan puts it: “There are no ‘negatives’ in digital photography.”
But there is one problem: When most people try to do all this cool stuff, they find themselves drowning in a sea of technical details: JPEG compression, EXIF tags, file format compatibility, image resolutions, FTP clients, and so on. It isn’t pretty.
The cold reality is that while digital photography is full of promise, it’s also been full of headaches. During the early years of digital cameras, just making the camera-to-computer connection was a nightmare. You had to mess with serial or USB cables; install device drivers; and use proprietary software to transfer, open, and convert camera images into a standard file format. If you handled all these tasks perfectly—and sacrificed a young male goat during the spring equinox—you ended up with good digital pictures.
Apple recognized this mess and finally decided to do something about it. When Steve Jobs gave his keynote address at Macworld Expo in January 2002, he referred to the “chain of pain” ordinary people experienced when attempting to download, store, edit, and share their digital photos.
He also focused on another growing problem among digital camera users: once you start shooting free, filmless photos, they pile up quickly. Before you know it, you have 6,000 pictures of your kid playing soccer. Just organizing and keeping track of all these photos is enough to drive you insane.
Apple’s answer to all these problems was iPhoto, a simple and uncluttered program designed to organize, edit, and distribute digital photos without the nightmarish hassles. iPhoto 2 (released in January 2003), iPhoto 4 (January 2004), and iPhoto 5 (January 2005) carried on the tradition with added features and better speed. (There was no iPhoto 3. Keep that in mind if someone tries to sell you a copy on eBay.)
To be sure, iPhoto isn’t the most powerful image management software in the world. Like Apple’s other iProducts (iMovie, iTunes, iDVD, and so on), its design subscribes to its own little 80/20 rule: 80 percent of us really don’t need more than about 20 percent of the features you’d find in a full-blown, $650 digital-asset management program.
Today, millions of Mac fans use iPhoto. Evidently, there were a lot of digital camera fans out there, feeling the pain and hoping that iPhoto would provide some much-needed relief.
The real question is, what hasn’t changed in iPhoto 5? With this version, Apple performed far more surgery than a few nips and tucks. The programmers rebuilt substantial chunks of the program from scratch.
Rewritten Import mode. You’ll notice this change the moment you try to download your first batch of photos into iPhoto 5: the new importing process is much more fun, thanks to the previews that flash by as each photo crosses the wire into your Mac. To make matters even simpler, you can also type a name and description for each batch of photos as you import it.
Modelessness. In many programs (including previous versions of iPhoto), you need to switch from one mode to another as you perform various tasks. Good programmers consider that kind of design, well, tacky. Finally, in iPhoto 5, elegance has arrived: The mode buttons—Organize, Import, Edit, and Book—are gone, and the modes themselves are far more fluid and invisible.
Speed. Apple has goosed the speed of just about everything. Even on an average speed Mac, keeping 25,000 photos in a single iPhoto library is no big deal. iPhoto 5 opens faster and responds more quickly as you switch between tasks, change slideshows, zoom out and back, and so on.
Certain parts of iPhoto may still feel sluggish, especially if you work with high-resolution photos (seven and eight megapixels, say). You’ll find tips for better speed throughout this book.
Improved book design. One irresistible iPhoto feature has always been the amazing glossy, hardback, coffee-table photo books that you could design right in iPhoto and order for $30. One not-so-irresistible feature, though, was the trickiness of the layout mode where you were supposed to design your book. (Remember that business about photos sliding unbidden from left to right through the all the pages of the book?)
Apple rewrote the layout module from scratch. In the new version, no photos slide off their pages by themselves—ever. To make matters even more delicious, books now come in three sizes, including paperback editions, and (for hardback books) with single- or double-sided pages. As a bonus, book designs are no longer tied to albums. Books are represented by their own, independently edited icons in the Source list. Overall, it’s safe to say that very little about what you used to know about iPhoto books is still useful information. Chapter 10 covers bookmaking in detail.
Speed renaming. Apple doesn’t even mention this feature, but it’s a beauty: In the Information pane, you can now type a new name for a photo, press ⌘-right bracket to highlight the next photo, type its new name, and so on. That’s right: You can rattle through a bunch of pictures, giving each a descriptive name, without ever taking your hands off the keyboard.
Saved slideshows. In the olden days of iPhoto 4, you could build one slideshow per album of photos. That is, each album stored its own slideshow settings (like speed, transition effects, and music).
In version 5, you can instead save a slideshow as an independent icon, unrelated to the album from which it springs. You have far more control over the presentation of the photos, as well. For example, you can now independently specify each slide’s time on the screen and its transition into the next slide. And the Ken Burns photo-documentary effect (gorgeous, slo-mo panning and zooming to “animate” a photo show) has now come from iMovie to iPhoto. Chapter 7 has the details.
Folders. Oh, hallelujah! For the first time, you can now organize your albums (and slideshows, and book designs) into containers called folders. And you can put folders into other folders. As a result, you can now clump related trips, projects, or time periods together, without having to build a Source list that stretches from here to China.
Movies. Every self-respecting digital camera these days can also capture digital movies—and now, for the first time, so can iPhoto. Whenever you download photos from your camera, your digital movies automatically transfer themselves into iPhoto. They appear on the screen exactly as though they’re photos—except that each bears a tiny camcorder icon, and if you double-click one, it opens up in QuickTime Player, ready for playing.
The Adjust panel. If your Mac has a G4 processor or faster, you can use the new Adjust panel—a darkly translucent floating panel filled with such advanced sliders as Exposure, Color Adjustment, Straightening (for slightly off-level photos), and Saturation. These sliders greatly reduce the number of times power users will feel the urge to switch into Photoshop for advanced editing.
RAW compatibility. In fancier cameras, you’ll find a menu option to take photos in so-called RAW format instead of the usual JPEG format. RAW files are enormous, memory-wise, but offer an amazing advantage: Once you have them on your Mac, you can edit these photos in spectacular ways. You can actually “reshoot” the shot with different exposure, white balance, and other settings, without losing a single speck of quality.
iPhoto 5 can import, display, and edit RAW photos just as it would any others. (You need Mac OS X version 10.3.6 or later.)
Calendar. You can now search all of the text associated with your photos—key-words, comments, titles, and so on—all at once. But in many situations, the fastest way to find a photo in a haystack is to use the new Calendar pane, which lets you click a day, week, month, or year to view all the pictures taken during that span of time.
Thumbnail browsers. In Edit mode, you no longer get the claustrophobic feeling that you’re locked in a broom closet with the one photo you’re editing, while the party goes on without you. A new strip of photo thumbnails at the top of the window shows you where you are among your photos and lets you jump directly to another photo for editing without having to stop over first in what used to be called Organize mode. (A similar strip of thumbnails appears when you’re editing a book layout.)
One of the broadest changes in iPhoto 5, though, is general housekeeping; Apple did a huge amount of rejiggering of iPhoto’s tool icons, menu commands, and photo techniques. If you’re used to previous versions, the new names and locations of things might throw you at first. A few examples:
File → Import has become File → Add to Library.
Empty Trash has moved to the iPhoto menu.
File → Export has become Share → Export.
You can no longer choose which tool icons you want to appear in Edit mode. You can, however, now choose which tools you want at the bottom of the main iPhoto window, using the Share → Show in Toolbar submenu. (That explains why several familiar toolbar icons, including iDVD, Burn Disc, and .Mac Slides, no longer appear in the iPhoto window. They have moved to the new Share menu, although you can reinstate their icons if you miss them.)
You now edit your list of keywords in the Preferences dialog box.
You use the Redeye tool by clicking inside each affected eye, rather than drawing a rectangle around it.
In the long run, though, you’ll probably appreciate the superior logic of the new arrangements and terminology.
This book covers iPhoto version 5.0.1. If you’re stuck with the original 5.0, go get the free 5.0.1 update immediately (or whatever even later version is current as you read this). In typical fashion, Apple released the 5.0 version with much fanfare, was inundated with unhappy feedback about bugs and problems, and then cleaned up its act with the revision.