Ask the MACist

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Welcome to the latest edition of “Ask the MACist", the column where I answer your Mac and Mac-related questions with hopefully more clarity and insight than you could ever need. As always, I want to thank those of you who sent in questions this week. They are much appreciated. Keep it up!

And remember, if you have a question about anything Mac, Mac-related, or even something about another technology like TiVo or anything, send it to me, The MACist, at: themacist at gmail dot com. Ok, let's get to the question. Yes, only one this week as the MACist was busy working on his Macintosh costume for Halloween.

Our question for today comes from Vicki in Santa Monica. She asks: "I have a digital camera and take quite a few pictures. What's the best way to get them on my Mac, organize them and work with them?"

Good one. I've worked with quite a few photographers in the past and I have also taken some pictures myself. So, over the years, I have developed a simple workflow that seems to do the trick. On the software front, I think most people would agree that the top photo program for the Mac is Adobe Photoshop.

Photoshop is the king of photo manipulation programs for the Mac and is also very, very complicated so we won't go into it here (at least today). However, for most people, Apple's own program called iPhoto, which ships with new Macs and is also available separately as part of the iLife Suite, does the job well enough to satisfy all but the most demanding user.

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When you take pictures with your digital camera they are stored on some sort of media card -- such as compact flash or secure digital. Those images are there on the card but in order to get them into iPhoto so you can print them out, email them to friends or otherwise enjoy them, you need to first get them on your computer. How do you do that?

My preferred way to get images from the card to the computer is by using a card reader. A card reader is a simple device that you connect you your computer via a USB cable (preferably USB 2.0). Several companies make card readers, but the one I personally use and recommend is from SanDisk.

Once you have your card reader and have it connected to your Mac via the USB cable, you then take the media card out of your camera and insert it into the slot on the card reader. After you do this, an icon will appear on your desktop. That icon is the media card you have inserted into the card reader. It mounts to the desktop so it can be used just like any other drive (such as your iPod).

Double click on the icon to show you the folders inside. What you are looking for are individual files that are your pictures. Most cameras take pictures as JPEG, files so you are looking for files with the extension ".jpg". After you find them, hold on for a second. To follow our workflow we need to have a place to put the photos once we take them from the card. So, go to your hard drive and create a folder called "Photos" or something similar. Then, open that folder and create a folder inside of it with the date on which you are transferring the photos.

Once you have that folder with the date, you can go back to your media card icon where the .jpg photos are. Select all the .jpg photos and drag them to the folder you just created with the date on it. You will see a progress bar that will tell you your photos are now being copied to your Mac's hard drive. Depending on the number and size of the photos (the more mega-pixels your camera the bigger the photo file size), you will be waiting a few seconds or a few minutes for all the files to copy over.

Once they are done, congratulate yourself because you just transferred your photos from your camera to your Mac. Good job. Also keep in mind that even though the photos are now on your Mac, they are not erased from your media card. They are still there but you now have them in two places. This also means that should you wish to, you could reformat your media card that you use in your camera.

Actually, its a good idea to do just that after each transfer of photos because in rare cases, mounting the media card on your Mac's desktop can cause problems for the card if you keep using it afterward without reformatting. As reformatting the card only takes a few seconds, it is a small price to pay to ensure things go smoothly. Consult your camera's manual to learn how to reformat your card.

Now that we have the photos on your hard drive the next step is to get them into iPhoto. First, drag the image of the media card on your desktop to the trash to eject it. Once its gone, navigate to the folder that contains the photos you want to get into iPhoto and leave that window with the photos open on your desktop. Next, click on iPhoto to launch it.

Once its open and you are looking at the iPhoto window, here's a little secret. To get the photos from your photos folder into iPhoto all you have to do is go to the dock and click on the smiling face to the far left. This will bring the window you have your photos in to the front so you can see them. Once you do that, select all your photos in the window and drag and drop them into the iPhoto window, which should be right behind the window where your photos are.

Once you drop them in the iPhoto window the program will start importing them into iPhoto. Like the card reader before, this will take a little or a lot of time depending on the size and quantity of photos. Once that process is finished you should have them all in iPhoto, ready to work with.

To learn more about iPhoto, Apple has provided a great set of video tutorials that cover far more ground than I could cover here. Check them out. For our purposes here, I can't go into too much detail as iPhoto, like Photoshop, also had a great number of features. The most basic ones are as follows:

Once you have the photos in the main window you can double click on one of them to get it into the edit window. Once there, you can perform basic and not so basic manipulation of the image. For many photographs, simply clicking on the "Enhance" button will be all that's required to improve the photo. After you enhance it, you can then decide to print it out, email it or post it to your .mac site (if you have one) by choosing one or more of the options in the tool bar at the bottom of the iPhoto main window.

I will get more in depth about iPhoto in a later Ask The MACist but until then, be sure to take a look at the Apple tutorials or the large number of books on the subject. For books, I'm particularly a fan of the "Missing Manual" series by David Pogue and Derrick Story. Check the iPhoto one out. It's very good.

About Chris Ullrich: Chris is a frequent contributor to LAist as well as other sites like Comic Book Resources and Cinematical. He also used to tweak Macs (and PCs) for clients in the Entertainment Industry.

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photo from the apple iPhoto website