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OS X Lion, Time Machine, and the death of the iPhoto interface

Reader Ian Martin is perplexed by one of Lion’s “features.” He writes:

I recently installed Lion and dutifully backed up my hard drive with Time Machine. Yesterday I opened iPhoto and, using the Time Machine interface, attempted to restore a picture I’d deleted. Time Machine didn’t behave the way I expected. Instead of the iPhoto interface remaining, I’m shown a Finder window. Assuming this is the way Time Machine and iPhoto now work, how am I supposed to restore individual iPhoto images?

Regrettably, what you’re seeing is The New Way under Lion. You can no longer enter the iPhoto interface with iPhoto. Instead,Apple tells us that you must restore your entire iPhoto library. Like you, I consider this a huge step backwards, but Apple doesn’t do this kind of thing for the fun of it. If there weren’t a problem with The Old Way in regard to Lion and Time Machine, I’m certain Apple wouldn’t have abandoned it.

So, you can do it Apple’s Way, navigate to your user folder and then to your Pictures folder (the iPhoto Library directory’s default location), fire up Time Machine, and restore your iPhoto Library. Or you might consider the Sneaky Way.

Before we don our sneakers, I suggest that you first launch iPhoto and select its Trash folder. Unless you’ve explicitly emptied that Trash, your image is still there. If you have emptied iPhoto’s trash and the image is truly gone, follow along.

The Sneaky Way is to Control (right) click on the iPhoto Library, choose Show Package Contents from the resulting contextual menu, locate the Masters folder, and navigate down through the nested folders (they’re nested by Year, Month, Day, Some Oddly Named Folder, and then the images for that day). Now fire up Time Machine and go back to a point before you tossed the images. Locate the images you want (you can use Quick Look within Time Machine to find just the images you desire) and restore them.

When you return to iPhoto, your images won’t be there. You’ll have to dig into the newly updated Masters folder and locate the images you’ve restored. Pull them out of the folder they’ve been moved to and then add them back to iPhoto by dragging them in.

“But wait!” the sneakiest of you suggest. “Why not also restore all the files within the iPhoto package that have been updated. That way your iPhoto library will return to the state it was in when you first tossed the images!”

Nicely stated, and this could be a workable solution if you haven’t added any images to iPhoto since you deleted those now longed-for photographs. But if you have added images I can’t help but think that Bad Things could ensue if you’re working with an iPhoto library that has new images and an old database.

No, best to just leave it at recovering your deleted images and flinging them back into iPhoto as if you were adding new images.


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