Use iPhoto and Adobe Lightroom together – Mac OSX

Lightroom_iPhotoOk so here is my workflow that I recently developed in order to use both iPhoto and Lightroom together with the same original image files. Before I begin, you might be asking why you would want to do this? In my case, I now travel a lot and sometimes take hundreds of photos per day. iPhoto is a great image organiser and simple editor that allows you to easily and automatically split photos into events and albums. This is perfect for day-to-day photos that you want to keep for memories and maybe tweak slightly. Lightroom on the other hand, is aimed at the more advanced user for image editing and organisation. Whilst this method isn’t perfect, it helps minimise the amount of disk space used. My workflow consists of importing all my new photos into iPhoto where I sort through and delete those that I don’t want to keep at all.  From there I import the ‘keepers’ into Lightroom for further editing and tweaking. Furthermore, I can choose to remove any photos that I think aren’t ‘worthy’ from Lightroom’s catalogue (without deleting from disk) and sleep well knowing that those images are still backed up and available for viewing in iPhoto. Ok so now that’s out of the way, here’s how to do it:

Preparing iPhoto:

My iPhoto Library located on a separate partition.

When adding photos to iPhoto, it copies the files into its library. The iPhoto library by default exists in the ‘Pictures’ directory of your OSX’s Home Folder, however you can move it elsewhere and hold ‘Option’ when opening iPhoto to choose a different Library file/location. Right click on your iPhoto library and click ‘Show Package Contents’ to view the directory structure within.

iPhoto ‘Show Package Contents’

Within iPhoto’s library structure, is a link called ‘Originals’, this link opens the ‘Masters’ folder also contained in the Library. You may have already guessed that this folder contains all the original image files. Apple has made it nice and easy here by logically sorting all the files in a folder structure based on date. EDIT: It appears that iPhoto structures the images by the Date & Time they were imported. E.g. in the second image below, I imported the images at 16:42:23 (4.42pm) on the 4th August 2012. This is actually good in the case of using it with Lightroom, as it keeps each import separate in its own folder. Another image here.

iPhoto Library ‘Originals’ link and ‘Masters’ folder

iPhoto ‘Masters’ file structure

Preparing Lightroom:

Lightroom has a number of options when importing images into it’s library (catalogue). It has the ability to copy the images to your own defined directory structure, or you can simply add the photos to the catalog at their current location. The latter you may find more useful if you prefer to organise your photos manually, rather than on import. The ability to add photos at their current location allows us to add the files that reside within iPhoto’s ‘Masters’ folder. After importing and sorting in iPhoto, simply navigate to the iPhoto Masters folder that contains the images you have just imported and drag them into Lightroom.

Lightroom Import Dialogue

Lightroom will pop up its import dialogue. You should know the process from here, just make sure you have the ‘Add to Catalogue’ selected as opposed to ‘Copy’. The iPhoto ‘Masters’ folder or a subdirectory will show up in the ‘Folders’ panel in your Lightroom sidebar.


Whilst this workflow works well for me, there are of course a few limitations that I have noticed so far, and depending on your workflow, may be a deal-breaker for you.

  1. Raw Files: With this workflow you probably shouldn’t use Lightroom’s ‘Convert to DNG & Import’ feature. You could if you are happy to save your DNG’s in another location, however it kind of defeats the purpose of this workflow. If you would like to keep it clean in iPhoto’s directory structure, it’s best to leave your raw files in their native file formats. Lightroom will generate .xmp sidecar files that sit in the same folder with the RAW files. This allows both iPhoto and Lightroom to play nice with them.
  2. Future Compatibility: This method works now, but who knows what Apple will do in the future. The iPhoto directory structure may change and you’ll have a Lightroom catalog containing thousands of images that may need updated file locations. This is unlikely, but you never know…
  3. Accidental deletion in iPhoto: Again, Unlikely, but should you forget that iPhoto plays host to all your original unedited photos,  you could accidentally delete some from iPhoto. This would mess with your Lightroom catalogue. Not an issue for me however as I make sure I trash all my unwanted newly imported images in iPhoto first, before importing the keepers into Lightroom.

Maybe you have a similar workflow that works better, or thoughts and suggestions? Let me know in the comments below.

1 reply
  1. gavin says:

    heads up if you don’t want to deal with the file system, you can just go to IPhoto->Preferences -> Advanced and set the edit photos option to the lightroom program. Then just select all the photos you want to edit in lightroom after each import, right click and select Edit in External Editor option. This will automatically start Lightroom and open the import dialogue, just make sure to use the Add Photos to Catalog without moving them option.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply