These days, most of us own or use multiple screens. Whether the screens are on one or more computers, iPhones, iPods, iPads, other smart phones or tablets, or an AppleTV, at some point you’re going to want to view your best photos at any time, anywhere.
If you use a single Mac, a single Aperture library, and possibly a host of iDevices, this is simple. Ensure your Aperture preferences of Previews > Share previews with iLife are enabled, select your library or albums in iTunes, and everything magically works (well, it’s supposed to… sadly there are years of legacy issues here that haven’t all been fixed yet). The point is, it’s supposed to be easy.
However my point is, not everyone’s digital life is so streamlined.
The multiplicity challenge
As soon as you add multiple Aperture libraries, multiple computers with Aperture libraries (yours and your spouses, your desktop and laptop), a really big Aperture library where iLife sharing becomes no longer practical, or any kind of slightly more complex workflow, the gloriously simple syncing falls apart pretty quickly.
Back in late 2010 I wrote an article titled “Current Aperture/iLife Sharing Nightmares, and How to Avoid It Entirely” which explained in detail my method of getting around the syncing issues that were incredibly pervasive at that time (and which, again, haven’t been resolved for everyone). The premise is simple, and it’s a lesson to learn when facing any challenge in Aperture (or any software… life… etc.). Sometimes it’s easier to work around a problem than to fix the problem itself. It’s easy to get caught up in the “this is how it’s supposed to work and I’m going to make it work!” mentality, when frankly, it may be less of a headache to just look for a different solution.
That’s what I wrote in 2010, and I’m going to repeat that here, while bringing it up to date and adding modern devices.
This is what you’ll need to have an easy (and I do mean easy) way to ensure your favorite photos show up on all of your devices.
- Dropbox (Best. Service. Ever.) [affiliate link, and you can get 2GB for free]. This is only necessary if you have more than one Mac.
- um… that’s it
Here’s the basic recipe. If you know how to do all this, then you’re done. If not, keep reading for more details.
- Export favorite photos from any Aperture library, or iPhoto library, or photos your friends send you in email, or, well, any photos you like to a folder on Dropbox called something like “ photos” (⌥⇧K to get the character, by the way). I export into sensible and short-named folders so they read nicely on the iPhone or iPad. For example, I have folders called “Ashland beauty”, “Family”, “Creatures”, and the ever-important “Portfolio”.
- In iTunes, on each device, set the Photos tab to Sync Photos from your “ photos” folder. You can select individual folders to sync, but if you leave it set to All folders then your syncing will be completely automated even as you add more pictures.
- For Apple TV users, in iTunes set Advanced > Choose Photos to Share… to the same “ photos” folder—this will enable a second- or third-generation Apple TV device to see them. On the Apple TV, choose the “Photos” option on your computer as the Screensaver or under Computers. It looks like you have to select an individual folder from within your shared folder, but if you just choose the “Photos” option you’ll get all of them.
And that’s it. Whenever you export photos to that “ photos” folder, next time your iPhone, iPad, etc. syncs, they will pick up the new photos. If you have wireless syncing turned on, then that means whenever you plug in to charge, you’ll get the new photos. Fantastic.
If any of the above isn’t clear, here’s the nitty gritty.
Setting up a shared “ photos” folder
Once you have Dropbox configured on your computer (assuming you have multiple Macs; if not, then there’s no need for Dropbox here), create a folder that will be your master repository for photos you want to see on all devices. Name it something obvious like “ photos”, if using Dropbox be sure it’s in the Dropbox folder, and for good measure drag it into the sidebar in the finder. That will make it easy to get to whenever you’re exporting photos from anywhere.
Export photos as desired into sensible folders
You can see the collection of folders I have in the screenshot above. I keep the names short so they are easy to read and identify on my iDevice. I used to put a yymm number in front of them, but I ditched that. I don’t put hundreds of folders of photos on my iPad, and this just looks better.
NOTE: A nice point about this workflow is it’s really easy to add and remove photos. For example in the screenshots above, you see I have “Kenya Nature” and “Kenya People” folders. I don’t normally have those on the iPad, but I needed to load these photos to show a gallery owner. That means all I had to do was export from Aperture into the “ photos” folder and sync, and I was done. When I’m ready to remove them, I just need to delete those folders in the Finder, and *poof* they’ll be gone on the next sync.
There is the question of size on how you big you should export, especially when the new iPad (aka iPad 3) is in the equation. You can read my little journey down that rabbit hole in this post “Displaying Your Photography On The New iPad”, but the short version is: If you don’t care about pinching in, export at 2048 (the largest dimension of the iPad). If you want to pinch in, then export at full size. iTunes will handle the rest.
Load photos from… anywhere
Remember, it doesn’t matter where the photos come from. If you want to sync your 5-star images from Aperture, select them and export to the “ photos” folder. If you want to sync a pile of photos from a recent holiday, select and export. If your spouse wants to sync photos from iPhoto or Picasa or (*gasp*) Lightroom to your shared iPad, they can export to the same Dropbox-synced folder on their computer — even from a PC! If you want to have a selection of saved web images of furniture options for the living room redecoration project, just drag them into the “ photos” folder. If you want those hysterical photos your brother-in-law emailed available to show your buddies at work, just save into the… well you get it. Whatever photos you want on the iPad, no matter where they came from, just add them to a folder in “ photos”.
Viewing photos on another Mac
Since you’re using Dropbox to sync, that means no matter which of your Macs you are using, you will have all those favorite photos. This can be handy if you want to email a shot to someone from a computer other than where your Aperture library lives, or for any other reason you may want access to them. Personally, I use an older Mac Mini as a home media server, and that’s what my iDevices sync to — so that’s the computer I go to to configure the following settings in iTunes.
Set up iTunes for iPhone, iPad, etc.
In iTunes, select the device you want to sync to in the Devices list. If you have wireless syncing enabled, they will just be there. If not, then you’ll need to plug in your iDevice to configure this part.
Under the Photos tab, select Sync photos from: photos (or whatever you’ve named yours, of course). I recommend setting the sync to All photos, although you can choose to sync specific folders within that if space is a premium. The advantage of selecting All photos is whenever you add a new folder to the “ photos” folder, it will get synced automatically. If you choose to select individual folders, newly added folders will not be automatically selected, so you’ll have to go back to iTunes and turn them on.
Once that’s set up, any time you add new photos to the shared folder, they will show up on the iDevice the next time you sync. If you sync wirelessly, that means next time you plug in to charge, the photos will appear.
Syncing to non-Apple devices
I really can’t help you much here, but something tells me that having an automatically updated folder to sync photos to an Android phone or tablet can only be a Good Thing™. Go forth and sync freely.
Set up iTunes for Apple TV
If you have a first-generation Apple TV, then the syncing process will be the same as it is for an iPhone or iPad. If you have a second- or third-generation Apple TV however (those are the tiny black box 720p and 1080p models), then there are no sync controls. Without a hard drive, it can’t sync to anything. But you can still share photos from your computer, and the Apple TV will pull from that to view or for a screensaver.
NOTE: You will need to ensure that Home Sharing is enabled on both iTunes and the Apple TV. You can enable that in iTunes under the Advanced menu, but for more details on that check out this article on apple.com.
In iTunes, go to the menu Advanced > Choose Photos to Share… and you’ll see a window nearly identical to the standard Photos sharing tab. Choose your “ photos” folder, set it to All folders and apply the changes.
Set up Apple TV screensaver to use the “ photos” folder
To set up your Apple TV to use your photos as a screensaver, navigate to Settings > Screensavers > Photos then under Computers select your computer. You’ll be looking at a list of the shared photo folders inside the “ photos” folder, but you won’t see your “ photos” folder itself (or whatever you’ve called it). However you will see a simple Photos option at the top of the list. Even though this looks kind of like an iPhoto icon, that’s the one you want to select. This will let the Apple TV use all the photos in your shared folder for the screensaver. Neat! (Obviously you can choose a single folder here if you prefer).
Viewing your photos on the Apple TV
If you just want to browse the photos on your Apple TV, navigate to the Computers icon, select your computer and choose Photos. You’ll have browsing access to all the pictures in the shared “ photos” folder.
It’s really nice this way…
It’s hard to beat the simplicity of this. No more iLife sharing issues with Aperture. No more ensuring that previews are being generated or that iLife sharing is updating. No more launching the correct Aperture library to sync to iTunes before syncing your iDevice.
It’s a simple solution, really. Export, and you’re done.
Many of you know I’m an avid “Instagrammer” (@travel_junkie on Instagram) and for a while I’ve been using a free service called Instadrop to automatically pull photos I publish to Instagram to my Mac via Dropbox. It’s not really necessary anymore since we have Photo Stream now and so all my Instagram photos, saved to my Camera Roll, show up in Aperture automatically, but I’ve had it running for ages and just never turned it off.
It occurred to me today however that I could use this to easily maintain an album of Instagram photos on my iPad, along with the other photos as outlined above.
Instadrop is super easy to set up. It does require a Dropbox account, which again is free for the first 2GB. All you need to do is go to instadrop.appspot.com and connect Instagram and Dropbox, and that’s it. A new “Instagram Photos” folder will automatically be created at the root level of your “Dropbox” folder next time you push a photo to Instagram, and that Instagram photo will show up in the folder (it won’t go back and grab old photos).
So now you have a folder in Dropbox that automatically gets all your Instagram photos. Problem is, it’s not in your “ photos” folder, and you can’t move it from where it is. So, Automator (Applescript) to the rescue. All you need is a super simple script that moves files from one folder to another, set as a Folder Action.
Use a Folder Action to move photos
Launch Automator and choose Folder Action from the new-workflow window that pops up. In the search field near the top of the window, type “move” and drag the Move Finder Items action into the empty space on the right. At the top of that window is a line that reads “Folder Action receives files and folders added to” — choose your “Instagram Photos” folder from the “Dropbox” folder. (If you haven’t pushed a photo to Instagram since setting this up, it won’t be there yet, but you can manually make the folder). This is the folder you are attaching the script to. Then set the Move Finder Items to a new folder in your “ photos” folder that will get synced to your iDevices. I just called mine “Instagram”.
That’s all there is to it. Save this and you’re done. Now whenever you publish to Instagram, Instadrop will automatically copy the photo to Dropbox, Dropbox will automatically sync the photo to your Mac, Applescript will automatically move it to your collection of sync photos, and next time you sync, iTunes will automatically sync it to your iDevice.
(I’m not sure what happens if your Mac is asleep when you publish a new photo… my Mac is always running so I don’t know if it’ll catch up when you come back online, or if those photos will just be skipped).