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Pretty Good Hat

Syncing iPhoto Photostream with Lightroom

My flickr tag neighborhood

I’m a long-time Lightroom user. Since its beta release it has been the place where my photos go. I have a slew of export actions and have hacked together methods of varying sophistication (such as the export script that produces a tiny gallery) to accomplish what I want to do. I dug into the data that Lightroom gives me about my photos, too: See, the Lightroom database is sqlite, and one can pull all kinds of things from it, such as this network map of my keyword relationships, or my then-annual exploration into My Year In Metadata.

2009 photo data!

Way back when I was running an Android phone, I had scripts and smart galleries to help sync photos from that phone into my Lightroom library and later populate galleries to sync to my iPad. It was pretty high-tech, you guys.

This is all a way of noting that I’m very much at home working on my photos in Lightroom, so that even when I got myself my first iPhone a couple of years ago and could get photos from the device onto my MacBook Pro, I didn’t have much use for iPhoto. Photostream wasn’t muh of a solution for me, because, until I recently got a shiny new Mac, I had a version of iPhoto that predated it; my cloud photos couldn’t magically sync to my laptop unless I invested in iPhoto, and I didn’t really want to do that. So I put up with periodically plugging in the phone to the Mac (horrors) or, later, using Dropbox’s photo upload capability, to get pictures out of my phone and into Lightroom.

Point is, there was still friction. But I think now I have a solution, thanks to the good photostream syncing that I now have on the new MacBook Pro with a current version of iPhoto, plus this great and now indispensable tool: PhotoStream2Folder. PhotoStream2Folder basically does what it says on the tin, and does it well: Identifies photos in your photostream (optionally within a specified range) and moves them into a usable location on your file system1.

The Lightroom trick? Lightroom can monitor a directory and automatically import anything that lands in it. So with PhotoStream2Folder I just set up its output folder as the directory that I already have monitored from Lightroom. The next part is pretty close to magic: Within moments of landing in my photostream, new images are automatically in Lightroom. The mental overhead is just gone. I tried this in my kitchen: Took a photo of a cup of coffee (because I do), then wandered over to the MacBook Pro on the counter; the photo was already in my Lightroom library. I went to the Sunday farmers market, shot a bunch of photos with the very impressive iPhone 6 camera, and when I opened up the computer upon arriving home, all the photos were in my library, ready for me to edit, share via my extensive and baroque variety of Lightroom export/publish presets, no iPhoto interaction, copying, or re-importing required.

It’s brilliant.

One more thing: If iPhoto is importing my photostream images, too, won’t I end up with a bunch of duplicates? Very good question. Fire up iPhoto preferences > iCloud, and turn off “automatic import.” Then iPhoto will display photos from your photostream, but not import them into your catalog, and they’ll “age out” over time. Meanwhile, all those images will be seamlessly added to Lightroom, where you really want them.

The author of PhotoStream2Folder, Laurent Crivello, asks a small donation via paypal if you find the tool useful. I think it’s awesome, and want to stress that it can be used for anything, not just Lightroom; if you simply want to get photos out of your photostream, without relying on iPhoto as your photo management application, this is your go-to. With one quick solution it has taken all of the mental overhead and friction out of managing the photos I shoot on my phone.2

Apr 11, 2015 – Yosemite + Photos update: I am happy to add that with OS X 10.10.3 and the Photos update continue to work. I have yet to really try out Photos, but it apparently doesn’t come with any under-the-hood changes that interrupt the way PhotoStream2Folder picks up images from your photo stream. Sweet!

  1. Photostream images can be found in a series of numbered folders deep within your Application Support folder; Adam Portilla has a very good writeup of using an Automator action — knowing the file location one could script up just about anything, I suppose — to copy files from this location. I have found I prefer the configurability and just-works nature of PhotoStream2Folder, myself. ↩︎

  2. I previously had a small invocation here asking that this solution would continue to work with OS X Yosemite; happily, it still works great! ↩︎