The Answer to iPhoto Startup Woes and Crashes

by Matt

Darius wrote in to ask how he could solve his Apple iPhoto woes. As it turns out, Darius has 13,000 photos in his iPhoto library, and now, when he tries to open iPhoto, the spinning beach ball appears for five minutes, and he is never able to get to his library. In Mac OS X, iPhoto is a great tool for most of us, but sometimes it can give us fits. Luckily, there are a couple of ways to solve this problem, so if you, too, cannot open iPhoto (or if it crashes when you do), read on.

Automatically Fixing Your iPhoto Library

The first step we’ll take is to have iPhoto fix itself. Luckily, this feature has been built-into iPhoto for several versions, and there are even more options available since iPhoto ’08. Here’s what to do:

Note: Rebuilding your iPhoto database could make things worse, and you could lose your data. If you don’t have a backup of your iPhoto database that you can restore, think twice before you continue.

  • Make sure iPhoto is closed.
  • Hold down the command and option keys, and while continuing to hold them down, open iPhoto.
  • Eventually, you’ll be able to let go of the keys because iPhoto will present you with a window that looks like this:Rebuild iPhoto Library
  • Notice that we have several options in this window, so let me just explain them. If iPhoto won’t even open, you probably don’t have to worry about the first two: they have to do with rebuilding thumbnails of your images. So unless the problem you’re having is that you don’t see thumbnails of your photos (but you can see the full-sized photos), you can uncheck the first two items. This will save time in rebuilding your library.
  • I would leave checked at least Rebuild the iPhoto Library database and  Examine and repair iPhoto Library file permissions (note that this last one only appears in iPhoto ’08 and later). These two options will do all of the work for us trying to fix our library. The fourth option, recovering orphaned photos, can be selected if you think iPhoto is not showing you some of the photos that were previously shown (as though they’ve gone missing). This option will look for those photos.
  • Click Rebuild, and give iPhoto some time. A minute or two, or even an hour or two. It needs its time. If everything goes well, iPhoto will open to your library, and all photos will be accounted for.
  • If iPhoto still doesn’t work, read on…

Manually Fixing Your iPhoto Library

To manually fix your library, we’re going to create a new, empty library, and try to import your old photos into the new library. While this is a safer option than method above (you’re less likely to lose data if the library is truly corrupt), you may find that only some photos import, and it will be a royal pain to try to manually find the missing photos if that occurs. This means that if everything goes smoothly, great — but if it doesn’t, this process can take a while.

  • Make sure iPhoto is closed.
  • This time, hold down only the option key while opening iPhoto. When you do this, you’ll (hopefully) end up with this window:Create New Library
  • Click Create New… to make a new iPhoto library. After the new, empty library appears on screen, hide your iPhoto application so we can see the Desktop.
  • From the Desktop, navigate into your Home folder (/Users/username), then into your Pictures folder. You should see your original iPhoto library and your new created iPhoto library (as they must have different names).
  • Right-click (or hold down the control key and click) on the original iPhoto library and select Show Package Contents. From here, you should get a window roughly like this:Originals and Modified 
  • The two folders I have circled are the ones we care about. Originals should contain the original photos you imported from your digital camera. Modified contains photos that you have changed within iPhoto. This means the two folders may contain the same photos, and if you import both folders, you may end up with duplicates.
  • Now you want to drag the Originals folder onto the iPhoto icon in the Dock. This will begin the process of adding your photos to the new iPhoto library. Once this is completed, feel free to drag the Modified folder onto the iPhoto icon in the Dock if you also want to import those photos. If you don’t care about specific modifications you’ve already made, I wouldn’t import the folder, as you’ll have to sort out many duplicates.
  • Hopefully, all of your original photos get imported into your new library. If so, congratulations! You’ve successfully rebuilt your iPhoto library, and you can delete the old one. Now, iPhoto will always open with the new library.
  • If, however, some of your photos are missing, your only option is to manually go through your Originals and Modified folders, one by one, to try to find the missing files. As you’ll see, those folders are organized by the date (first year, then month, then day) the photos were taken. 
  • If you find missing photos, you can try dragging those folders onto iPhoto to import them. If that does not work, you’ll need to open them in another application and re-save the files as different photos (you could try using Preview for this), then importing them back into iPhoto.

Did this troubleshooting tutorial work for you? Have you had similar experiences in iPhoto? Have you found a better way to fix iPhoto library problems? Let others know in the comments section.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gary LaPointe March 2, 2009 at 11:31 pm

I kid of want the opposite of this.

I keep getting “the photo could not be opened because the original item could not be found” or something close to this. I want to clean these up.

I’m set to NOT import photos when I drag an album, so I assume I moved the photos. I just want to pull those thumbnails (aliases?) out so it stops saying it wants to search for them…

Gary LaPointe’s last blog post..Upgrading to WordPress 2.71 – It’s easy!

2 Gary LaPointe March 2, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Of course I don’t want to lose all my current data in the other 4,000 photos (like descriptions, faces, places and GPS data).

iPhoto 09 of course….

Gary LaPointe’s last blog post..It’s time to Register for WordCamp Chicago – June 2009

3 Gavin September 13, 2009 at 2:17 am

Hiya. Even in my ‘originals’ file some of my photos have a safari shortcut icon rather than a picture..

4 dre downunder April 14, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Thanks for the concise info – exactly what I needed to get my iPhoto app up and running again. Cheers!

5 Kev September 27, 2010 at 3:33 am

Bloody brilliant mate. I had a separate google tab open with “iphoto alternatives” as I had just about given up. Then I stumbled upon you and your genius.

Excellent work. Thank you.

6 Astrid June 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm


I tried to do the manually fixing Iphoto library. But when I tried to copy the ‘originals’, it says that there’s not enough space. What should I do?
Pls help as I’m terrified to lose all the photos.
Thank you!

7 Jason September 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm

iPhoto was drove me nuts. It kept putting a second copy of every photo on my hard drive, one in my original location in the Pictures directory, and then another in Pictures/iPhoto Library/Masters. And then it started shutting itself down every couple minutes. The answer to my iPhoto woes turned out to be Picasa for Mac.

8 mark88 May 23, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I mistakenly deleted my photos last week. I got a photo recovery software to get back them. You can try it from here:

9 Silvia August 9, 2012 at 7:29 am

I’m happy that I got back all my photos. Thank You! The manual fixing worked as described.

Have you an idea how to get back the folders, books and albums?

10 Stefanie August 21, 2012 at 3:04 am

Jumping from article to advise to article I was just about to give up – thankfully I came across this great find, recovered my pics perfectly. Thank You.

11 Georg August 30, 2012 at 9:31 pm

When I import a folder into iPhoto 08 it doesn’t organize them by date. All it says is a name and a date range 2008-2010 and all the pictures are in there instead of split up by date taken. How can this be changed and how can I avoid it in the future?

12 Gina September 14, 2012 at 5:05 am

This exactly what I needed! All of that rebuilding, restoring, blah blah blah was getting me nowhere because I had something corrupted (probably living in my modified folder) that would not let iPhoto open. I have my precious photos back without reloading hundreds of photos from disks, cards, etc. Thanks!

13 Sally October 4, 2012 at 12:58 am

Thank you so much!!! I have been feeling so frustrated with trying to import my old photos after having a new hard drive installed and time machine restoring everything on my MacBook Pro, except my photos. I tried for hours to restore them without any success. I read heaps of forums that didn’t help, then I found this advice which worked instantly (as a manual fix). You are brilliant!!!! <3

14 susan October 15, 2012 at 3:15 am

Does anyone know of any other fixes. I tried both methods (command+option, option only) while restarting iPhoto and I can never get iphoto to even open.

15 Rebecca November 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

My iPhoto icon is crossed out and every time I want to to pen it it says: “You can’t open the application iPhoto because it may be damaged or incomplete.” My iMac is a 10.7.3 and just a couple of months old. Is there something I can do to recover iPhoto and not lose the photos already in my library? Thanks!

16 riddlywalker December 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Fantastic- the only sensible information on the web- all the rest involved drastic actions…..

17 Chloe July 27, 2013 at 10:06 am

fantastic. fix my Iphoto instantly. thank you.

18 Taryn August 29, 2013 at 6:16 pm

My iphoto completely freezes when I try to open it, and I’ve assumed it’s because of the size of the photos it needs to process :\
So I’ve tried creating a second library like the second option says, but all it does is create a second library with the iphoto application! I don’t know how to make the second library within finder without it being part of the application, and I’m very frustrated!

19 Mckinley July 3, 2014 at 2:24 am

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I will recommend this web site!

20 Lina July 11, 2014 at 12:38 am

What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness
of precious knowledge about unpredicted feelings.

21 Ingrid September 6, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Hey! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering
if you kknew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
I’m using the saame blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
Thqnks a lot!

22 Abraham September 14, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Greetings! I know this is kind of off topic but I wwas wondering if you knew wher I could get a captcha
plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m havving problems finding one?
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23 video games February 16, 2015 at 2:29 am

Having read this I thought it was really informative.
I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this
content together. I once again find myself personally
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But so what, it was still worth it!

24 silestone Countertops April 3, 2015 at 9:50 am

What’s up, the whole thing is going fine here and ofcourse every one is sharing data, that’s genuinely good, keep up writing.

25 Terri Steffes May 9, 2015 at 6:55 am

I want to thank you so much for posting this tutorial on saving your iPhotos. As I am typing this, my photos are getting imported. I had over 35,000 photos. I think I may need to do something different. :) Thank you so much.

26 Terri Steffes May 9, 2015 at 7:08 am

Ok, no surprise, the photos could not be imported because there was too many. Can I go by the folders that are inside the Originals file?

27 Terri Steffes May 9, 2015 at 7:11 am

There are 2,000 photos in my 2015 folder in my Originals file. It is telling me that there may not be enough room to import those 2000. I am at a loss at what to do if the new photo library cannot hold 2000 pictures? Do I need to save them all to a thumb drive?

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