Create and use libraries with Photos on the Apple Mac

Photos app in OS X

The Photos app replaced the old iPhoto app a long time ago in OS X, but even though you may be using it quite often, there are still new features to discover. Here we take a look at libraries, the place where your photos are stored.

The Photos app stores your photos in a library, which is a special folder that contains the image files and Photos database. It is possible to have two or more libraries and people with very large collections of digital photographs might find it convenient to organise them into libraries.

You do need a to have a clear idea of why you would want this because splitting a library into two arbitrary libraries could simply make them confusing. For example, it might make it difficult to find photos if you ddn't know which library they were in.

Suppose you take photographs for work purposes. You might also have personal photos as well and you don’t want to mix the two. It would therefore be useful to keep work and personal photos separate by storing them in different libraries.

If you take a lot of photos, and some people have tens of thousands, it might be worth storing them in separate decades, such as 2000-2009 and 2010-2019, perhaps five year libraries.

Think about how separating your photos might be useful. If it is not, then stick with one library, but here's how to do it if you do want to create separate libraries for photographs.

Create a new library

To get the Photos app to load a different library, hold down the Option key and click the Photos icon in the Dock. Keep the Option key held down until you see this window.

Photos libraries in OS X

The Photos library is displayed and there are three buttons at the bottom. Create New enables you to create a new empty library. You can then select it, load it and add photos to it, such as by transferring them from a digital camera.

Create a Photos library

If the library you want to use is listed, select it and click Choose Library to open it. If you cannot see the library, perhaps because it is on another disk drive, click Other Library to show a file selector so you can find it.

Set the System Photo Library

When applications access your photo library, such as iMovie for importing photos into a movie you are editing, Keynote, iCloud syncing and so on, the System Photo Library is accessed.

If you have only one photo library then it must be the System Photo Library because there is no other, but if you have two or more libraries you can choose to make one of them the System Photo Library.

After opening a photo library, go to Photos, Preferences and select the General tab. The library location is displayed and there is a button to set Use as System Photo Library. This library that is currently open is now the one that is used by default by apps, by iCloud, by everything.

Set System Photo Library in the Photos app

If you open a library that is not the System Photo Library, it is not synced using iCloud and it is not accessible by other apps, such as for importing photos into documents, movies, and projects.

This could be used to keep a collection of photos private. It wouldn't be very private because the photos are stored unhidden and unencrypted on the disk drive, but they wouldn't show up when you or other people browse photos to insert them into projects, share them, upload them and so on.

Only the System Photo Library is synced through iCloud and My Photo Stream. Now if you set another library as the System Photo Library, iCloud will sync it and merge the photos with those that are already in iCloud. They would then not be private. If you set another library as the System Photo Library then it will sync that instead.

Make sure this is what you want to sync the library contents before setting a new library as the System Photo Library.

One last point. Photos remembers the last library that it opened. If you created a new library and selected it, Photos will continue to use it. To return to the original library you must Option+click the Photos icon in the Dock to get the library selector window up again.

Speed up the Photos app

One last tip: You can speed up the Photos app a little by turning off animations.

Speed up Photos app in OS X

Go to Photos, Preferences, General and down near the bottom of the window is Motion: Reduce motion. When double clicking a photo to view it, it grows to fill the window. Clear the Motion tick box and the photo just appears. It saves just millisends, but it makes the interface appears snappier and more responsive.



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