Vincent Danen explains how to clean up your iPhoto library to make it faster. Depending on the size of your photo library, speeds can be improved moderately or significantly with a just a few tweaks.


iPhoto is the most widely used photo-organization application on the Mac. Every new Mac comes with iLife installed and upgrades are a reasonable price. If you’ve been using iPhoto for a while and have a lot of pictures, you may find that it can take quite some time to launch. There are a few easy steps you can take to make sure that iPhoto is as fast as it can be.

My iPhoto library is over 20GB in size, with almost 7000 pictures. For some, this might be large; for others, this is quite small. If your iPhoto library is displaying photo counts in folders, you could be adversely impacting its speed. In the iPhoto preferences, turn off the Show Item Counts option in the General section. On smaller libraries this won’t make much of a difference, but on large libraries it most definitely will. With the counts on, starting iPhoto took 12 seconds, with the counts off, it took seven seconds. A modest gain at launch, but it demonstrates that the counts do impact the overall speed of the application as you use it.

Another quick usability tip is for scrolling through thumbnails. If the pictures are large, and there are a number of pictures, iPhoto may become jerky as you scroll through it. You can adjust the size with the slider at the bottom right-hand corner of the interface, or use simple keyboard shortcuts to adjust thumbnail sizes. For instance, pressing “1” will set the thumbnail size to the maximum (slider all the way to the right). Pressing “0” will make them as small as they can be. To get to the middle size, press “3.”

The biggest speed gains, however, will come from rebuilding the database. Before taking the step of rebuilding the iPhoto library, please be sure to have an up-to-date backup, just in case something does go sideways. This is common sense, but it does bear mentioning.

With iPhoto closed, find and open /Applications/iPhoto by double-clicking it in Finder with the Option and Command keys pressed. Ensure that all of these options are enabled and then click the Rebuild button:

  • Rebuild All Of The Photos’ Thumbnails
  • Examine And Repair iPhoto Library Permissions
  • Reclaim Unused Disk Space From Databases

Depending on the number of pictures in your iPhoto library, this can be a long process. On mine, it took about five minutes. Upon relaunching iPhoto after the rebuild, it took four seconds to launch. Note that I rebooted my MacBook Pro between each restart of these tests to ensure there was nothing lingering in memory that would speed up load times.

These tips won’t result in huge speed gains for users with a light number of photos, and even for my library with almost 7000 pictures, the real-world speed gains were light (four seconds vs seven seconds to launch with the rebuild; a three second difference isn’t much, although it does make it almost twice as fast). For users with very large iPhoto libraries, the speed gains will be noticeable. Other than rebuilding the database, which likely doesn’t need to be done very often, the other tips are very straightforward and anyone can take advantage of them without worrying about damaging the iPhoto library.

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