Sync Photo Libraries across Devices - Digital Sharing for Apple Users: A Take Control Crash Course (2014)

Digital Sharing for Apple Users: A Take Control Crash Course (2014)

Sync Photo Libraries across Devices

If you have more than one Mac, you may want your iPhoto or Aperture library to appear on all of them. Unfortunately, Apple currently offers no good way to keep photo libraries in sync across Macs, or even for two Macs to share the same library. Third-party tools can partially address this problem, but with numerous qualifications.

The situation is better for iOS users, thanks to iCloud Photo Library and the revamped Photos app in iOS 8.1. With iCloud Photo Library, you have just one photo library, which is stored in the cloud; your individual iOS devices can store copies of all those photos (space permitting), optionally optimized for smaller screens—with full-resolution originals available for download on demand. The only catch is that depending on the size of your library, you may have to pay Apple for additional iCloud storage.

Apple says that in early 2015, a Mac version of Photos will be released; it will replace both iPhoto and Aperture, and will, at long last, let multiple Macs and iOS devices share a single photo library. Originals will be stored in iCloud, and any edits or organizational changes will sync across all your devices.

That sounds great, and I hope Photos on the Mac lives up to its expectations. In the meantime, I can offer some admittedly limited workarounds for keeping your photo library in sync across your own Macs and, to a lesser extent, other people’s Macs.

Sync Your iOS Photo Library

1. On your iOS device, tap Settings > iCloud > Photos and make sure iCloud Photo Library is on.

①  Turn on iCloud Photo Library here.

① Turn on iCloud Photo Library here.

2. If you want to keep all your originals on the device (space permitting), leave Download and Keep Originals selected.

Alternatively, tap Optimize Device Storage to keep smaller versions of the photos on your device to save space—you can always download larger versions if needed.

Once you’ve done this on each device, photo libraries will begin syncing with each other. You can also view or download (but not upload) photos from your iCloud Photo Library in the Photos Web app on the iCloud Web site.

Note: With iCloud Photo Library enabled, you can sync albums from iPhoto on a Mac to an iOS device only with iCloud Photo Sharing (see Broadcast and Share Photo Albums). The Mac version of Photos, when available, should eliminate the need for this extra step.

(Sorta) Sync iPhoto Libraries

Your two Macs have differing iPhoto libraries. Can you get them in sync? That depends on what you mean by “in sync” and how badly you want them to stay in sync. Unfortunately, merely syncing the individual files in the iPhoto Library is a recipe for disaster, because that can lead to database corruption. Here are your options:

· Sync photos without metadata: If you want a fast, reliable way to make sure all photos in iPhoto on one Mac also appear on another, SyncPhotos does the trick. But it syncs only photos, not metadata such as albums, events, faces, places, or titles. Nor does it sync edits or deletions. So although synced libraries hold the same photos, they may still differ.

· Sync user-created albums: SyncMate can sync various kinds of data between Macs, including iPhoto albums. But it can sync only individual, user-created albums—not smart albums or entire libraries.

· Merge libraries: iPhoto Library Manager lets you merge two iPhoto libraries into a new library, maintaining albums and metadata while eliminating duplicates. Alas, this is a one-shot, manual process. It won’t keep two libraries in sync; if they diverge, you must manually merge them again. (I explain how in my Macworld article Sync your iPhoto libraries.)

Note: Unfortunately, none of the apps mentioned in this topic claim to work with Aperture—only with iPhoto.

Sync Libraries with Others

The apps I’ve mentioned don’t truly enable you to keep libraries in sync, even across your own Macs—let alone with other people. However, as long as you have access to another Mac across a local network, you can use either SyncPhotos (to automatically sync individual photos, but without meta­data) or iPhoto Library Manager (to manually merge libraries) between users.

Share Libraries with Others

I said Apple currently offers no good way for two Macs to share the same iPhoto or Aperture library, but there is a way to sort of do it, as described on this Apple support page. The workaround involves working from an external drive that other users can also access.

This method has two key limitations:

· Apple recommends against using network storage, because it can lead to (among other problems) corruption and data loss. Putting it on an external drive—and, presumably, shuttling the drive between users—should work.

· Only one user can have a given library open at a time. If you try to open a library someone else is using, you’ll get an error message.

In other words, this technique works reasonably well for sharing a library across user accounts on a single Mac, but poorly for any other scenario.

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