If you’ve always managed photos in folders on your computer desktop, you may feel a bit disoriented when working in applications such as Lightroom, Aperture, or iPhoto that seem to impose their own organization on your images. In this article, I’ll first talk about how to find your photos on your computer even when they’re organized differently in a photo application, and I’ll also talk about why spending your time on the desktop may not be the best or fastest way for a photographer to find images.
[Note: If you’re using Apple Photos, I’ve added an update at the end of this article since this was originally written before Photos was released.]
Reveal the location of your photo files in many applications
Some people are wary of photo managers such as Lightroom, Aperture, and iPhoto because those programs have a reputation for taking the photos you’ve stored in folders and re-organizing them, sometimes in some “hidden” location on your hard drive. First off, that behavior is optional in Lightroom and Aperture, so you do have the option of having the software leave your photos where you’ve already stored them. And even if you do let the software reorganize your photos, you have ways of finding out exactly where a photo is stored.
The Show/Reveal command
In Mac OS X and Windows, many applications have a Show… or Reveal… command, which is extremely useful for photographers and creatives. It takes you to the folder where the selected item’s file is actually stored in the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer desktop—even if it’s in a hidden folder. The command is worded differently in various programs, but once you know the most common ways it’s worded you can usually find the command in whatever program you’re using. For example, in iPhoto and Adobe Bridge (Mac) the command is Reveal in Finder, and in Lightroom (Mac) and Aperture it’s called Show in Finder. In Windows, look for “Show/Reveal in Explorer” (the Windows Explorer desktop).
Let’s walk through an example. Suppose you’re looking at an image in Lightroom and you want to use it in another program, like attaching it to an email. You need to get to the actual photo file. But where is it? Simply choose Photo > Show in Finder, and Lightroom instantly pops open the Mac folder where the photo file lives. Now you can import that photo file into your email message.
Lightroom actually gives you three ways to reveal the disk location of a file:
- Choose Photo > Show in Finder (Mac) or Photo > Show in Explorer (Windows)
- Right-click the image and choose Show in Finder (Mac) or Show in Explorer (Windows)
- Press Command+R (Mac) or Ctrl+R (Windows), which are the keyboard shortcuts listed next to the command in the main menu
Right-clicking a photo in Lightroom and choosing Show in Finder…
…goes straight to the actual photo file in its folder on the desktop.
How does this help you get the file to the other program? It turns out, on the Mac at least, that when you’ve got an Open/Save/Import/Export file browser dialog box open (such as when attaching an email or uploading to a web site), you can drop file or folder icons on it and that will instantly take the dialog box to the folder containing the icon you dropped. So just drop a file from the desktop onto a program’s file browser dialog box and you’re there, no folder-digging required.
Here are a few examples of where to find Show/Reveal commands in various applications.
|Lightroom||Photo > Show in Finder|
|Aperture||File > Show in Finder (apparently won’t work with managed masters)|
|iPhoto||File > Reveal in Finder > Modified File, Original File|
|InDesign||Links panel menu > Reveal in Finder, Reveal in Bridge, Reveal in MiniBridge|
|Picasa||File > Show in Finder|
Windows: If you’re looking for the commands in Windows, in the table simply replace “Finder” with “Explorer”.
Do it faster: In all of those examples except iPhoto, you can right-click an image to get the same command. This is faster and more direct than going to the menu bar. And as in the Lightroom example, keep an eye out for keyboard shortcuts if you work faster with the keyboard than the mouse.
Direct drag and drop: Skip the desktop step too
In the Lightroom example above, it’s not even necessary to go through the desktop. Many applications, especially on the Mac, support direct drag-and-drop of photo files between applications. For example, you can drag a file directly from the Library view in Lightroom or iPhoto to that email message in the example earlier, or to an Adobe InDesign layout or Microsoft Word document. This saves you a lot of export/import steps.
Of course, the image must be in a format the receiving application can take. For example, InDesign and web site programs don’t take camera raw files. When you export a JPEG or TIFF version of a raw file for other software, turn on the Add To This Catalog option in the Export dialog box in Lightroom, so you can drag the finished export from Lightroom straight to the other application, never having to see your desktop.
In professional workflows, this only works well when you’re dragging an icon that represents an entire file. Don’t drag just one layer or a selection of pixels from Photoshop to InDesign. The reason is that you want to preserve the link to the file on disk, which you won’t get if you drag just a piece of a file. (Mac tip: In a document window, dragging the title bar’s document icon drags the entire file.)
Obi-Wan waves his hand and says, “You don’t need to see file paths.”
Experienced computer users often expect to get the location of a file by looking for a file path—a URL-like string of text that lists the folders containing a file—and they sometimes dislike a program for not having a quick way to show a path. What I hope I’ve shown above is that by using modern file reveal and drag-and-drop techniques, you can instantly locate source files and transfer them to other programs without needing to know the entire path, and without having to waste time digging down through folders. Instead, you jump directly to the file, which is often all you really wanted in the first place.
At times, you might really need to see the exact path to a file in Lightroom. Hover the pointer over a folder in the Folder panel in the Library module and the path appears in a yellow pop-up window. If you’re on the Mac and you need that path written out in text, just drop the photo into a window in the Terminal utility, or use a utility like FinderPath.
Why do applications like Lightroom and Aperture emphasize their own interface over the traditional folder hierarchy? Because looking for photos by folder limits you to file names, folder names, and file dates. A major reason to use 21st century photo managers is that you can search more precisely and quickly using the metadata embedded inside photos, such as the keyword, location, camera body, lens type, focal length, and more. Combined with sophisticated smart filters and collections that transcend the folder hierarchy, you can work with large photo libraries much more efficiently than if you were limited to folders. By the way, this is also the point of using metadata-driven media applications such as iTunes. It drives the old guard crazy to not see folders, but once you understand the concept of metadata-driven organization, you find yourself in a much better world. Take advantage of the visually-oriented file management shortcuts in today’s advanced graphics software, and you can save tons of time.
A couple of iPhoto file-finding tips
You might have noticed that iPhoto has two reveal commands: a command to reveal the original, and a command to reveal the edited version. That’s because iPhoto always makes a copy of a photo you edit, leaving the original unchanged.
The reason there are separate commands for the original and edited versions is that they might be stored in different folders. There’s an iPhoto preference called “Copy items to the iPhoto Library” (iPhoto preferences, Advanced tab), and if you turn it off, files are no longer copied deep into the iPhoto Library, but are left where you put them. iPhoto then links to that file.
Turning off that preference is how you can keep your original photos exactly where you want and use them in iPhoto, but turning it off still won’t stop iPhoto from storing all edited versions in the iPhoto Library. There’s no way to prevent that, and it makes the Reveal…Original File command necessary and useful.
[Update for Apple Photos] In OS X Yosemite and later, Apple has replaced iPhoto with the new Photos application. In Photos, there is no longer a Reveal in Finder command. This might be because Apple wants to discourage directly altering files in the Photos Library or iPhoto Library, since that can really screw up the Photos or iPhoto database. What Photos does have is a File > Reveal Referenced File in Finder command, but that command is available only for photos imported as referenced (imported but allowed to stay where they are stored outside the Photos library). Photos are imported as referenced only when the “Copy Items to the Photos Library” preference is turned off. Because that preference is on by default, the Reveal Referenced File in Finder command will probably be unavailable for most users.