Migrating iPhoto to A New Computer

October 26, 2009

One of the largest sets of data I had to transfer from my PowerBook to my MacBook Pro was my picture library. It took two tries and some fiddling around to get everything setup properly, so hopefully my posting here will save someone else the time and frustration I had.

You could use Apple's Migration Assistant if you were willing to create a new account on the new machine. As near as I can tell Migration Assistant refuses to work unless it targets a new account. I decided before getting my new computer that I want to start fresh and not just blindly copy data from old machine to new, therefore using the Apple too was out.

For my initial attempt I booted the PowerBook into "target disk mode" by restarting it and holding the "T" key down until the FireWire symbol appeared on the screen. I then plugged it into the MacBook using a FireWire cable and it appeared as a new, mounted drive. I opened up iPhoto and chose the "File | Import to Library..." option. In the resulting dialog box I selected the iPhoto library on the FireWire connected drive and sat back to watch. Within a few minutes my entire photo library had been imported.

Unfortunately none of the albums were imported and therefore the collection was highly disorganized. I didn't realize this at the time and started adding new pictures to the new iPhoto library from my camera right away. When I did realize that the pictures had lost their organization I wanted to re-import the library but not lose the newly added photos. Were I to do this again I would follow these steps and then start adding new pictures:

  1. Connect the two machines using target disk mode and a FireWire cable.
  2. Copy the iPhoto Library directory from the old machine to the new, replacing the brand new, empty, iPhoto Library directory there.
  3. Start iPhoto. Depending on the version of your old library it may want to upgrade the files. Allow this to happen.
  4. Start enjoying your pictures on your new machine.
In my case since I had already added new pictures to the new iPhoto Library, I had to copy it to a back up location, then execute steps 1 - 3 above, and then import the pictures from the backup location to the library.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.