Get familiar with OS X’s new Photos App

When you update your Mac from OS X 10.10.2 to 10.10.3, something fairly substantial is going to happen, especially if you’re an iPhoto user: you’re no longer an iPhoto user.

Apple’s all-new photo-management application, entitled “Photos” and with an icon to match its iOS namesake, has taken over in a mandatory sort of way.

That’s not an entirely bad thing — Photos has some real advantages over iPhoto — but more than a few Mac users are a touch peeved at the whole “not having a choice” aspect, and the fact that the new program looks so different and seems, at first blush, to be missing a lot of features.

First, the sidebar

SidebarOne of the most confronting aspects of the Photos interface is how very iOS-like it is — everything in one window, and the sidebar gone.

If you’re used to navigating around your albums and projects and different views in iPhoto using the sidebar (and who isn’t) this can prompt a moment of mourning for the years of work you have apparently lost.

In fact, getting it back is as easy as going to the View menu and selecting “Show Sidebar”. It’s pretty much the same sidebar you used to have in iPhoto, so you’ll be instantly reunited with all the projects and albums you so painstakingly created.

Of course, if you’re one of the many iPhoto users who regarded the sidebar with its permanent reminders of every single album, book, et cetera you ever created constantly cluttering your view, you can send it away just as easily.

Next, the titles

MetadataBy default, Photos displays your pictures with no identifying information around them, unlike iPhoto which showed the file name or any title you had manually applied. Again, this information has not been discarded, it’s merely not being displayed.

Under the view menu, click on Metadata, and from the submenu select Titles. Whether you had given your photos names or whether they were simply displayed with their file names, this information will magically appear in the viewing window.

What about my Events?

EventsiPhoto originally sorted your photos into “Rolls” — basically whatever was imported at the same time, that’s a Roll — and then switched to “Events” whereby photos taken at the same time were grouped together, even if they were imported separately. You also had the option to create your own Events by splitting off some photos and grouping others together.

Photos switches to grouping your shots by “Moments” — broadly, this is photos taken at the same time and in the same place, regardless of when they were imported to Photos. (Now that most people are using their iPhones and syncing automatically, the moment when something was imported is less relevant.)

Again, if you’ve painstakingly created Events and sorted your photos over so many years, you may feel a sense of loss with this change. You may also find that most of the Moments that Photos has sorted for you are identical to the Events that you manually created — it’s kind of clever that way.

Of course if some of your photos were taken with cameras that lacked geotagging, that won’t be the case. There are all sorts of reasons why Moments and Events might not match up.

But fear not, your Events are not lost either. You just can’t create new ones.

Across the top of the main Photos window are your four view options: Photos, Shared, Albums, Projects. Click on Albums.

At the top of the window will be the Albums Photos automatically creates, which are roughly analogous to the groupings iPhoto used to create. At the bottom will be “My Albums” — Albums you created in iPhoto, plus a couple of extras.

The first is one called “Flagged” which automatically groups together photos you’ve marked for whatever reason. The second — and the point of this little diversion — is called “iPhoto Events”. Click on it and lo and behold, your old Events are right where you left them.

You’ll notice, of course, that this album ends at the date you upgraded to 10.10.3 and Photos — Apple wants you to get used to working in Moments, not Events — but at least the time spent curating your old photos is not lost.

About editing…

Add toolsOK, this is where things get a little awkward. Remember how in iPhoto you had the option to “Edit in External Editor” which would allow you to open your photos in a more powerful image-editing application and save them straight back to iPhoto? Yeah, that was great.

Can’t do it anymore. Apple clearly intends to switch to a more iOS-like workflow with Photos, whereby you can access various features of other applications which plug in to Photos. Right now there aren’t any external applications that plug into Photos on OS X.

This would be OK if Photos had a more rounded set of editing tools. But on the face of it, it’s a huge step backwards — there isn’t even a histogram!

Ah, but there is. Double-click on an image you’d like to edit, then click the Edit button in the upper-right corner. Click on Adjust to open up the very limited default set of Adjustment tools.

You may notice the word “Add” appears next to “Adjustments”. Click on it, and a group of additional tools becomes available, including the familiar histogram (unfortunately it’s an indicative histogram rather than an editable one — you can use it to see the effect that other tools have). Click on whichever tools you wish to add, and they appear in your toolbox. If you want that set of tools to be available every time, click on Add and select “Save As Default”.

Hopefully that’s enough to get you started on being less intimidated by the unfamiliarity of Photos. Hopefully, also, the functionality of the program will improve with future versions — right now it needs work.