I have a "MyPictures" folder in which I keep my photos. I do not want iPhoto to manage my photos for me by copying them into its "Library", I just want to use the program "pointing" to the "MyPictures" folder. As I take photographs, I add them to the "MyPictures" folder; every now and then I'd like to update my iPhoto library "adding" the new photos just by "reimporting" the "MyPictures" folder.

Whenever I do that, iPhoto re-imports the whole set of photographs, unable to detect obvious duplicates.

Could you kindly help me fix this, please?

My settings:

  • Operating system: Snow Leopard (10.6.8)
  • Application version: iPhoto '11
  • iPhoto library location: $USER/My/Application_Data/iPhoto, same problem when using defaults
  • Home folder: uses FileVault, same problem when switching it off

iPhoto preferences:

  • Importing (Copy items to iPhoto library): No, but also tried saying yes to that
  • Look up Places: Automatically, but tried many times to switch this off to no avail

Failed attempts:

  • Repairing library database
  • Rebuilding small thumbnails
  • Rebuilding all thumbnails
  • Recovering orphaned photos
  • Repairing library permissions

I am at a loss as to what to try next.

It seems like iPhoto itself "adds some data" to the photographs so that it does not recognise the original as such anymore. Whatever the cause, it is very frustrating for the app not to know it has already "seen" that photo and to re-import it every time.

  • This post may be useful for you: filesthatlast.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/iphoto (iPhoto vs. Preservation). It explains where iPhoto sticks all the photos that you import into it. Not sure myself however what a decent solution may be, besides abandoning iPhoto for your image management.
    – wxs
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 22:09
  • Pity that guy has closed comments on his article because there is a huge - and I mean Huge - factual inaccuracy in it, and it could lead to massive data loss. The screenshot is not of an active iPhoto Library - it has no Masters and No Preview folders - and the Data folders do not contain your photos - they contain only the thumbnails of the images used for display in the iPhoto Window
    – terrydev
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 6:35
  • Hm, the screenshot does look inaccurate. On my machine, the original photos are in Originals and edited ones in Modified. Data contains thumbs as you say. Not sure if the arrangment changes between versions - mine is '08.
    – wxs
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 12:16
  • 1
    in iPhoto 1 to iPhoto 09 the Originals and Modified are as you say. In iPhoto 11 - which really is Aperture lite - there is a Masters folder and Previews and it uses the same structure and even database as an Aperture installation. The Originals / Masters are the files exactly as imported to iPhoto. In earlier versions, a Modified version was also created, stored in Modifieds. In iPhoto 11 there is no modified versions, just the Preview, which is used by media browsers - just like Aperture. Edits are tracked losslessly in the Database.
    – terrydev
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 20:37

2 Answers 2


After waiting for quite a bit of time, I have to answer my own question and do so "negatively": doing what I want to do just seems impossible for the time being. Working with pictures one allows iPhoto to "duplicate on import" works fine, it just means that iPhoto will more than double the storage requirements for the photo library, essentially duplicating it and adding its own thumbnails, Places/Faces metadata, etc. How disappointing. :(


Trash the Preferences File and try again.

I'm curious, why do you want to run iPhoto in this mode? It offers no extra functionality, extra work for you and creates the possibility of problems later on - especially when migrating to other disks or moving to a new machine.

  • Having the program recreate the Preferences file has not helped one bit. I did not find the rest of the answer helpful. Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 0:49

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