Apple Photos – good, bad, and ugly.

I recently upgraded my OS on my desktop and iDevices, largely to enable me to shift from iPhoto to Photos.

I have had a distinctly mixed experience.

There’s enough about Photos that I really like to make me want to stick with it, but there have also been some pretty worrying problems and frustrations. I have seen some of these mentioned in user forums and reviews, but not all in one place; so I thought that for what it was worth, I would jot down my thoughts.

I have already sent as much of this to Apple as I could fit into their feedback form. I should probably state that the views here are my personal opinions, not those of my University; this is mostly a blog for my research work but since I use this photo library all the time for those purposes it seemed like a reasonable place to put it.


My iPhoto library has about 22,000 photos, all labelled with titles.

  • There is a mix of personal pictures and work images (for my work as an historian of ancient Rome – mostly archaeological site photos).
  • I used the search box as the main tool for navigating this collection, and grouped photos into Events to organise them at a sort of folder level, mostly in date order but sometimes by theme (all photos of my daughter’s first year, for instance).
  • I wouldn’t set out to organise things this way if starting from scratch, but it’s how my collection evolved over several iterations of iPhoto, and it’s always worked well enough for me.


The ability to have access to all my pictures everywhere via iCloud was the main reason for changing.

  • The good news is that this feature works superbly – it’s brilliant. After a couple of days uploading the pictures to the Cloud (and after signing on the dotted line to pay Apple £2.99 a month, for ever), this works just as it should. It’s fast – instant thumbnails, a second or two for full-res – and really attractive to use. The search tool seems to work well across all devices, though weirdly you can’t actually see titles on iDevices (see below).
  • No more confusing Photostream, either; anything shot on iDevices shows up straightaway everywhere and can be sorted away into albums, etc., at least on my desktop Mac.
  • The edit tools are good; they do all that I need, anyway, and for anything more there’s Photoshop.
  • Familiar pinch/swipe gestures works nicely on my Magic TouchPad or whatever it’s called – nice to have this sort of continuity between devices, as these days I find myself regularly swiping at my laptop screen…


The bad news is that I have had really profound problems with photo titling and the import process, which are making me wonder about giving up on Photos until it’s a more solid and versatile application.

I don’t want to do that – I already love having all my pictures instantly everywhere. But at the moment I am nervous that Photos has chewed holes in my precious photo library that I might not discover until I want a particular picture a few months or years from now, and find it’s gone or untraceable.

There are also half a dozen things about the interface across different devices that I find really frustrating – not least because all the data needed to do a better job is already there inside the programme.

Photos just doesn’t want to give me enough control over how I view and organise my pictures – it wants me to views things in the latest Apple combination of ‘moments’ linked to places, which might work for friends and family snaps but is no good for my needs. I doubt I am alone in this.


Import problems


Events have disappeared, but this didn’t matter as much as I had feared: all events appear as albums in a special folder, from which they can be dragged and rearranged. So this was fine.

However, titles have also mostly disappeared, and this is a disaster.

  • Some are still there, apparently more or less at random (I am starting to suspect that this might have something to do with whether I originally used iPhoto’s batch edit command to title the photos, but that is just a hunch).
  • Sometimes what was the title in iPhoto has become a filename with a .jpg suffix
  • Sometimes both the title and the filename field are blank in the Info window, but the missing title must still be somewhere in the metadata because the picture shows up in a search for a word I know to be in the title. What’s going on there?
Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 13.59.42

No title or meaningful file name, but the picture still shows up in a search for ‘Granny’…


At the moment I am manually cutting and pasting filenames into the title field for hundreds of pictures – and then manually deleting the filename extension.

And even this manual labelling is harder than it should be, as there is no easy way to advance to the next picture: I have to copy and paste in the new name in the Info pane, then click back into the photos and then click again on the next photo for labelling … that’s two clicks, and if I do them too quickly the programme reads it as a double click and zooms up the photo to full size … then back across the screen to the Info pane to do the next title … and there’s no batch edit … and sometimes all the titles disappear again in Album view, until I click out of the album and then back in again … gah!

If this can’t be sorted out properly, then as a workaround why can’t Photos default to (or have an option to) replace a blank title with the filename?

  • Leonie has posted a nice Automator script for making the filename into the title, but it only works (for me) in the All Photos level, and I can’t use it there because…


… the top levels of viewing pictures seem to be just hopelessly tangled up, as far as I can tell.

  • Albums –> All photos seems to be stuck in ‘View by date of import’, not by date of photo – there seems to be no option to organise by date of picture or some other criterion.
  • The main problem is that while albums of pictures (the old iPhoto events) look fine, apart from missing titles as above, in any other view (Albums –> All photos, or just Photos) the pictures appear out of order, duplicated, displaying or not displaying their title at random, and so on. And…
  • … pictures I deleted ages ago in iPhoto have reappeared in Photos! This is part of the problem in the All Photos level of view, but also crops up in really old albums where the deleted photos now appear without captions. This gives me a quick method of identifying and deleting them, but of course I am worried about deleting pictures that I just forgot to caption first time round,or where the titles have been lost in the upgrade (as above).
  • Organisation by date added rather than date shot is particularly useless when shooting, as I often do, with a mix of iOS devices which upload constantly, and ‘proper’ cameras which I might only upload at the end of a trip.
  • On my most recent trip, for example, I really confused things by periodically downloading batches of photos from my camera onto my laptop, titling them in iPhoto there, then re-exporting the whole collection (about 600 images in total) at the end of the trip to my main desktop iPhotos library via a portable hard drive. Sure, that’s a complex chain of transmission, but the bottom line is, it all looked fine on my main desktop iPhoto library, and it is now a complete mess in Photos.

With a library of 22,000 pictures I can’t go through and check every picture or album against its original counterpart in iPhoto.

This leaves me with an uneasy feeling: are there other problems that I haven’t spotted yet? If I stick with Photos, am I jeopardising several years’ work and a seriously important part of my professional resources? Even if I get the albums sorted out, is there a big bloated dead weight of deleted or untitled images hanging around in the All Photos view, swelling my iCloud drive?


And there are some annoying interface problems:

Perhaps I am missing something with these – I would love to find I am wrong, but:


Batch titling has disappeared.

This was really useful in iPhoto. Now I have to copy and paste titles for each individual photo!


Map view:

This full screen map, with Standard/Hybrid/Satellite options, is accessible from Photos level for a given group of pictures, bunched together by date/location, by clicking on the name that Apple has assigned to that location.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 15.05.44

Map view – of limited use, pretty as it is

This is a lovely feature, visually. It locates your pictures beautifully as you zoom in or out.

  • Sadly, though, it is virtually useless as a tool for navigating my photos in any way that I would find helpful because you can only access it – as far as I can tell – from the Photos level of organisation.
  • It would be far more useful to be able to have this map view accessible at any level of organisation, from All Photos to individual Albums – or simply a map view big picture of the world to fly round looking for pictures.
  • Then I could make proper use of the geotags on my pictures to go and find all the pictures I have ever taken in, say, Rome: I have several thousand of these and would like to be able to go and find the best shots of a particular monument from the map, no matter when they were shot or what album they are now in.
  • Failing that, why can’t we access the full screen map view for albums or other groupings of pictures? For that there seems to be only the little map in the Info window, which can’t be enlarged and doesn’t seem to show satellite imagery.
  • Essentially, then, the geotag metadata in my photo library is now useless to me – it can’t really be used for searching for pictures. I can’t view all the photos I have taken in a particular place, or navigate from a map view, except in the tiny, unenlargeable Info pane at the Photos level – where clicking on the photo pins doesn’t seem to do anything at all.
  • Overall, I can only select a batch of photos already organised (by Photos, without my control) by place, albeit displayed in a chronologically-ordered list, and then look at this small subset on a map.

So near and yet so far – the data’s there, the visual implementation is there and works beautifully for the particular, limited, not very useful part of Photos it’s attached to. I just can’t use it the way I want to.


iOS devices don’t show filenames! Or map views!

It’s baffling that there isn’t an option to do this. I can search for photos by title on my iPhone; why not give me the option to display that title?

  • All this metadata is already in Photos! Why can’t we (choose to) see it?


I can’t make any changes to the structure of my Photos library on my iDevices.

I have to wait until I am at my desktop to add pictures to Albums. I can’t do that on my iPhone or iPad, or change/add photo titles (because I can’t even see them!).

  • So if I am scrolling around through my photo collections at the weekend on my iPad and want to caption some pictures, or add them to an album – I can’t. I have to remember to do it when I get to work on Monday morning. Bizarre.


The Info window can’t be resized – so photo titles longer than 37 characters can’t be displayed. Given the need to cut and paste hundreds of filenames into titles, above, this is a bore.


I would like to love Photos. It’s nearly wonderful. If I’m using it wrong – I’ve only had it for a few days – I would love someone to tell me what I’ve missed.

It’s only just out of beta, I know – but the problems are so obvious, and so frustrating, that I think a company with a $178bn cash pile could have done better. I do hope some upgrades are in the pipeline. You might well say that Photos is a simple consumer app, and that users with any more ambitious photo needs should use something else. Well, maybe, but the potential for seamless integration across all my devices is too attractive at the moment to tempt me away to other apps – and as Apple are selling terabyte storage plans, and have killed Aperture, they are obviously aiming at users with more than a collection of family snapshots to organise.

At the moment, even leaving aside the deeply problematical bugs with the import function, it limits user choice in favour of a standard route into the photo library, badly undermining its potential usefulness. A pity.

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