Saturday, October 24, 2009

How to Manage Photos on an iPhone

An hour or two looking at posts on this topic suggests that lots of people are puzzled by several aspects of managing photos on an iPhone. And many of the online answers are brief, for example, "Use iTunes" or "You do it with iPhoto." Here's what's working for me. By the way, these are Mac solutions with iPhoto 9, iTunes 9, and an iPhone 3GS. Some may work on Windows, too, but some may not. The questions tend to fall under these headings:
  1. How do I delete photos from the Camera Roll on my iPhone?
  2. Can I delete photos from the Photo Library on my iPhone?
  3. How do I get photos off the iPhone?
  4. How do I put photos on the iPhone?
  5. What if my iPhone Photo Album thumbnails are wrong?
Can I delete photos from the Photo Library on my iPhone? In brief, no. The Photo Library just collects all the photos that live on the phone in one place; think of it as a View All bin.

How do I delete photos from the Camera Roll on my iPhone? This, on the other hand, is a good idea. Apple Support points out in this article that you will speed up your syncs if you keep the Camera Roll empty after uploading photos to your computer. Think of the Camera Roll as just that, a roll of film. Once you upload your recent photos to the computer and sort them into organized folders or albums that sync back to your phone, you don't need them in the Camera Roll.
But how do you do it? If you use iPhoto (Mac) to manage your photos — see the next section about using iPhoto — when you select the phone in iPhoto (by the way, I click on "Hide photos already imported" and click off "Autosplit events after importing") and click on Import All or Import Selected, you'll get a "Delete originals" or "Keep Originals" option that comes up afterwards. The Delete option will clear out the Camera Roll. Don't hit it the first time or two you do this if you want to make sure your images are safe in iPhoto.

If you don't use iPhoto, you can do a very similar step after importing using Apple's Image Capture application (in the Applications folder). Finally, note that individual photos can be deleted from the Camera Roll right on the iPhone (if you don't want to save them). When you click on a thumbnail, the full-screen photo toolbar has a little trash can in the right lower corner.

Getting photos off the iPhone: Unlike some phones, the iPhone can't do this by Bluetooth connection or wired drag-and-drop. If you've Googled this, you find you can use iTunes (Windows and Mac). You plug your phone into your computer, run iTunes, select your phone in the sidebar, and set Sync settings under the Photos tab.
But here's the part that is less obvious. Under the Photos tab, when you click the checkbox to turn on the Sync option, you can choose from a popup menu that says either "Choose folder" or "iTunes."

If you want to sync to a folder, create a folder on your computer (maybe under Pictures) called something like "iPhone photos." Then choose it under Photos in iTunes, run a sync, and the photos from your phone should show up in that folder. Dave Taylor has some great hints, with pictures, about using folders for iPhone management on his blog. It should be possible to create subfolders (on your computer), sort the photos into them (on your computer), and sync again. At that point, the subfolders and their sorted photos should show up as photo albums on your phone.

If you want to sync to iPhoto (Mac), think for a minute about the settings. If you use iPhoto with a camera, the many events and albums you've already created will all sync to your iPhone if you select "All photos and albums." Although the iPhone stores photos pretty effectively, you may want to think twice about a phone with thousands of photos or dozens of albums and events. Instead, I clicked the All option off, and selected a few individual iPhoto albums (see below for info about using iPhoto to organize albums for your phone). In my case, I didn't sync with any events, because I use events as large-capacity but crude organizers. If you live by Events rather than albums, you'll proceed accordingly.
At this point, you can manually create some iPhone albums (or events) in iPhoto, then drag your imported photos (from Last Import, for example) into these to organize them, then choose these iPhoto albums or events in the iTunes sync options. The albums or events show up on your phone after a sync. It's almost easier to do it than to describe it, but it isn't as simple as most things Mac or iPhone.

Getting photos onto the iPhone: After you've worked through the Folder or iPhoto method of getting photos off your phone, above, the answer may seem obvious. If you use the Folders method, drag photos you want to load or organize onto your phone into the appropriate folders on your computer. If you use iPhoto, import the photos into iPhoto (if you haven't already) and drag them to the iPhoto albums or events you sync with your phone. In either case, run a sync (in iTunes) afterwards.

What if my iPhone Photo Album thumbnails are wrong? Personally, I ended up switching from the folder method to the iPhoto method so I could use iPhoto to organize my phone photos. If you use Folders, you'll use the Finder (Windows directories) to organize them. But after a massive re-sync, the little thumbnails were mismatched, or even blank, next to the albums on the phone that show up below Camera Roll and Photo Library. The solution here was the old reliable: Reboot the iPhone.

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My first Mac was an original 1984 128K, my favorite Mac was the IIci, but the best Macs are the ones I use now.