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iPhone Photos – A Love/Hate Relationship

For those that know me, I have been a BlackBerry fan for the past several years.  My BB did everything that mattered — it made phone calls, allowed me to send/receive emails in an immediate fashion, it kept my passwords very securely, kept some small notes handy, and even allowed me to use some social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

And then my sweet wife pushed and prodded me to get an iPhone 4 for my birthday.

I’ve seen the dark-side — and I’m loving it!

But now that I’m just getting over the initial infatuation and slowly removing my love blinders, I’m getting a little frustrated with some of the things that Apple actually doesn’t do quite so well. Or perhaps, they do as they like to without providing users the options to use the phone in their own way.

My greatest frustration so far — photos.

Yes, the iPhone takes amazing pictures and video compared to my old BB.  And I can do things like zoom in and out on the photo with the two-finger “pinch” technique which is oh so cool for a newbie Apple guy like me. But what it doesn’t do so well is sort photos like I want it to. And figuring out what exactly Apple was basing their sorting algorithm on took more determination that I initially anticipated. And although some may see that it was obvious to start with, the process of determining it based on what others had found or not found, as well as my own testing, was a bit painful and time consuming. And once I did figure it out, finding a method to sort and order my photos “my way” has led to a multi-application, dual-pronged approach.


Here’s the story in a nut-shell.

I have a pretty significant digital photo collection.  Not quite like a few other friends, but a decent amount nonetheless.  As such I don’t simply want to sync all my photos to my little iPhone, but just a subset of them.  Things like a set of photos of my kids, the family, friends, faceshots for my contacts, etc.  Being a Windows/Linux guy, I happily use Picasa to organize, crop, rename, etc.  The first thing I found is that if export a subset of my pics into an organized directory structure, such as “iPhone\Family\” and “iPhone\Family\Kids” and maybe “iPhone\Family\Lisa”, and then sync the root iPhone directory — all those organized photos simply end up in a single iPhone “album” called Family.  I pretty quickly found that iPhone has no clue about nested directory structures.

Ummm…c’mon Apple, even my BB could handle nested directories and you can’t?

Okay, fine. Kinda dumb, but I can deal with that.  Using my same example, I move & rename the directories to “iPhone\Family”, “iPhone\Family-Kids” and “iPhone\Family-Lisa”.  Now they’re all at the root level and will at least be sorted at the Album level to make some sense for me.

But then I look in the folders on the iPhone and the pictures are all in some random order (“random” being my initial perception).  So I assume that it’s sorting by filename, which is simple enough to change in Picasa.  Using the “trick” of setting the base filename in the Picasa rename function to “name-1001″ to ensure the count increments properly (otherwise preceding zeroes won’t be used) the rename takes all of 5 seconds.  Sync the iPhone and…what?! Still all randomized, although now some of the pics have moved around.

It took me some time to figure out that Apple, in it’s infinite wisdom, uses the EXIF field of “Date Taken” to order the pics (there’s a LOT of confusion about this fact on the Interwebs). Oh, and in what I see as a reverse order too — meaning the oldest pics are at the top of the Album which is where you are placed when you open an Album.  Now why on earth would I be placed at the oldest photo rather the the newest one?

Another *sigh*

Now some may ask — “Why would you NOT want to sort by the Date Taken EXIF attribute?”  Well, let me tell you.  Some of my older pics don’t have that field.  Other pics have been cropped and copied with various applications that have also either removed the EXIF field or replaced it with the modifed date.  Even others were taken with cameras that had the date set wrong.  All of these and more would cause all sorts of strange sorting patterns. However, the problem has never really been a problem with my use of Picasa, or exporting and sorting by filename.

Okay, okay…I’ll make this work somehow.  And I have.  It just took me a lot of time and patience that I didn’t expect such as simple thing to require.

Here’s my current convuluted process:

  1. One-time – create a new directory structure to house photos that I want sync’d to my iPhone and set up iTunes to sync photos and videos using this directory.
  2. One-time (or as needed for more directories) – Create a new Collection for my iPhone folder and move all my iPhone folders into that collection.
  3. Within Picasa, locate the photos that I would like on my iPhone.  Export those photos into my various designated iPhone sync folders.  Sticking with my example, that would be “iPhone\Family”, “iPhone\Family-Kids” and “iPhone\Family-Lisa”.
  4. Go to my iPhone photo collection and within Picasa re-order the photos as desired.  A simple matter of sorting them by name or date first to see how close we can get, and then simply drag/drop photos around to manipulate the order.
  5. Once they are ordered as I want, select all the photos, hit [F2] and set a basename, such as “Family-Kids-1001″.  Rename the pics in the order I’ve set.
  6. Now I leave Picasa and open Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG).
  7. Open the iPhone directory in WLPG
  8. Select all the photos
  9. Click View > Tag and Caption Pane
  10. Set the “Date Taken” field to some date/time.
  11. Since all the pics are selected, they now all have the exact same EXIF Date Taken property set.
  12. Sync the photos to my iPhone
  13. Since all the pics have the exact same Date Taken info, I found that the iPhone will then perform a secondary sort based on the filename!  FTW!!

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the photos are in my mind sorted in reverse by showing the oldest pics first.  As such, you could reverse order the photos when renaming them, thereby establishing a reversed reverse order which will then cause iPhone to really sort by newest first.  I haven’t gone that route because that means it would be the opposite of the Camer Roll and perhaps lead to some confusion in the future depending on which folder you may be looking through.

Now, did it really have to be that difficult Apple?


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