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Please see our new The Complete Guide to Displaying Photos on iPod + iPhone (2007).
If you’re reading this, you either have a brand new iPod photo or are thinking about getting one. In either case, you’re probably excited about carrying your entire digital photo collection in your pocket, and want to make the most of the new hardware’s abilities.
While an impressive evolution of the music-only iPod, the iPod photo isn’t all things to all people. It’s best suited to people who want to carry around a whole bunch of pictures to view or show to family and friends, and has some shortcomings that may limit its appeal to serious photographers. We’ll consider its features and limitations below.
This tutorial will start with some of the basics of getting your photo collection onto your iPod photo, and then delve into some of the more advanced things that you can do once it’s on there.
iTunes? For pictures?
This first thing that may come as a bit of a surprise is that you actually use iTunes to get pictures onto your iPod photo. You’ll need at least version 4.7 of iTunes to accomplish this feat.
Just like music on the iPod, you can’t just copy photos directly onto the iPod hard drive and expect them to be usable on the device. Believe it or not, this can be seen as a good thing, since iTunes takes care of resizing and indexing your photos prior to transferring them to your iPod. In other words, it does the work so your iPod doesn’t have to.
Unfortunately, iTunes can’t manage your photo library. You’ll have to use other software, such as iPhoto (on Mac OS X) or Adobe Photoshop Album or PhotoShop Elements (on Windows 2000/XP), each of which integrate with iTunes. If you don’t have one of these applications, you can still synchronize the contents from any folder on your computer (i.e. the “My Pictures” folder on Windows).
iTunes takes any photo library that you’ve already collected (and preferably organized), and provides the mechanism for you to transfer those photos onto your iPod.
Setting it up in iTunes
We start in the main iTunes Preferences screen. If and only if you have an iPod photo connected, you’ll see this “Photos” button or tab in your iPod Preferences:
You’ll see that this setting is turned off by default. Unless you tell it to do so, iTunes will not synchronize any pictures to your iPod; you need to tell it where your pictures are.
Once you enable synchronization, you can choose the source of your photo collection(s) from the drop-down box. “My Pictures” refers to a Windows “My Pictures” folder, and should always be available on a PC. (A Macintosh with iPhoto installed will default to synchronizing with iPhoto’s entire imported collection, or let you pick between the last Roll and/or 12 months of imported photos. Without iPhoto, it will synchronize with the “Pictures” folder.) “Photoshop Album” or “Photoshop Elements” will only appear if you have those applications installed.
Note also that if you have your pictures stored somewhere else, you can select “Choose Folder” and select any directory.
Once you’ve selected the source of your photos, you will be shown a list of photo “albums” that iTunes has found in the specified source. For a “My Pictures” folder, this will be a list of sub-folders. For Adobe Photoshop Album/Elements or iPhoto, this will be a list of your named photo collections.
If you have more albums than will fit in the list, you can naturally scroll up and down to see them all. You’ll also note that iTunes conveniently gives you a count of how many pictures are in each album, as well as the total number of photos in your entire collection.
In much the same way that you would manage synchronization of music to your iPod, you are given the option to “Copy all photos and albums” or “Copy selected albums only.” If you choose to copy selected albums only, then you are presented with a checkbox beside each album, where you can select or deselect that album for synchronization.
iTunes keeps a running count at the bottom of the screen of the total number of photos that you have selected for synchronization – somewhat useful if you’ve put lots of music on your iPod and need to roughly estimate how many pictures you can fit in the space you have left. (A Megabyte or Gigabyte estimate would be even more handy here.)
Once you’ve made your selections, you can simply click OK and the albums will be transferred to your iPod.
Note that the albums will by default show up in the Photos list on your iPod in the order shown in the album list in iTunes. However, you can drag the albums in the list to different positions to manually re-order them as you prefer.
Another important thing to note here is that iTunes will only provide album names for the top level of photo folders or albums, so if you have sub-folders within an album, these will be included within the selected album, but they will not be separately categorized. Using the example above, if there were three sub-folders under “Christmas 2003”, pictures from all sub-folders would show up on the iPod under the main “Christmas 2003” category.
As noted above, iTunes resizes and indexes your photos during the transfer process. By default, it creates three versions of each photo: two for viewing on the iPod photo’s screen (one for thumbnail mode and one for full-screen mode), and one suitable for viewing on a TV screen (through composite or S-Video). This pre-processing creates photos that look very sharp on the iPod screen even in the smallest thumbnail view.
This also helps to save space on your iPod for other things, since if all you ever intend to do is view your pictures or show them on a TV, you don’t need a bunch of five- or eight-megapixel pictures taking up more space on your drive. Even without the full resolution photos, each photo requires approximately 776kb of storage.
But if you do want to carry around the original pictures – perhaps for transferring to other computers, or printing – you can do this by selecting the option to “Include full-resolution photos.”
This will tell iTunes to sync the original-sized photo as an extra file on the iPod that can later be retrieved through the iPod’s disk mode. More on this feature later.
Your First Photo Sync
Once you’ve selected photo albums to synchronize with your iPod, it’s time to actually do the sync. If your iPod is connected, this will happen as soon as you click OK after adjusting your Photo preferences in iTunes.
The photo synchronization occurs in two stages. First, iTunes will resize all of the photos for your iPod, storing the resized thumbnails in a cache on your hard drive.
Depending on how many photos you have selected, this process could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, so give yourself lots of time for this first sync. If you find it’s taking too long, you can always hit the “Skip” button, which will stop the process, leaving the untransferred photos queued for your next synchronization.
Once this has been done, iTunes then copies the images to the iPod, including the full resolution copies of the photos if you have that option selected.
On the iPod: Displaying your Photo Albums
Once synchronized, your pictures can be found on your iPod under the Photos option from the main menu. Simply select your album and you will be presented with a series of small thumbnails of your pictures which you can browse and select. Use the Click Wheel to highlight a thumbnail, and then press the center Action button to make the image appear on the full iPod screen.
When viewing an image on the full screen, the Click Wheel will browse through the other images in the current album. Even moreso than on the iPod’s other menus, the highlighting marker moves pretty quickly, and it can sometimes be hard to select a specific picture. The Previous and Next buttons also work in this screen to advance or reverse one image at a time.
Pressing the Action button while in full screen view will start a slideshow – a combination of a timed photo-by-photo display with musical accompaniment of your choice.
Back in the main photo screen, at the top of the list of photo albums, you’ll find a menu item for your slideshow settings.
Time Per Slide: You can set the amount of time each picture will remain on screen during a slideshow. There is also an option for manual advance.
Music: Select a playlist of music to play during your slideshow. If no playlist is selected, no music will be played during your slideshow. And if something is already playing, it will be stopped.
Repeat: Just as with music playback, Repeat allows you to select whether your slideshow will repeat at the end or play through only once. Note that if repeat is OFF, the slideshow will stop at the last picture and leave it displayed, as opposed to showing a blank screen.
Shuffle: Again, Shuffle works the same here as it does in music playback. By default, your images will be displayed during the slideshow in chronological order. Turning shuffle on will display your images from the current album/slideshow in random order.
Transitions: This option will transition between slides in a simple and clean Star Wars-style wipe.
TV Out: This setting determines whether the slideshow will be shown on the iPod screen or whether the TV output will be used. There are three options for this. OFF, ON, and ASK.
TV Signal: Options here are NTSC and PAL. Generally, if you’re in North America or Japan you’ll select NTSC, and if you’re in Europe you’ll select PAL.
When starting a slideshow, if you have “TV Out” set to ASK, you’ll be prompted whether you want to use the TV output or not:
If you opt to have the TV output OFF, your slideshow will be shown on the iPod display in full screen mode, with transitions, if selected.
If you turn the TV output ON, you will instead see a slideshow preview and control screen similar to the following:
This will show you which slide you are on, the time before the next slide auto-displays (if not set to manual), as well as thumbnails of the previously displayed slide, and which slide is coming up next. The central slide will be displayed on your TV screen, using either the composite output (if you’re using the video cable), or the S-Video output (if you’re using the iPod photo Dock).
Organizing your Photo Albums
So you have some of your photos synced with your iPod, but now you decide that you want to change or re-order the existing content. Fortunately, like everything else with your iPod, this is fairly simple.
Adding and Removing Albums
If you simply want to add or remove whole photo albums from your iPod, a quick trip back to the iTunes > iPod > Photo Preferences dialog described above will allow you to select or unselect photo albums to be added or removed at the next sync. Reordering your photo albums is done in pretty much the same way – drag your album up and down the list to reorder it.
Synchronizing the removal and/or reordering of photo albums is pretty quick, but be forewarned that each addition of new photo content to your iPod will require an optimization process for that new content. Allow yourself some time for this process to complete, especially if you’re adding several hundred photos.
Adding or Removing Individual Photos
If you want to change the content of a specific album, such as to add or remove pictures from within that album, you’ll need to open the appropriate application (iPhoto, Photoshop, Windows Explorer if you’re using “My Pictures”, or the Mac OS X Finder if you’re using “Pictures”).
The process is pretty straightforward. Simply modify the content of your photo collections/folders as you normally would in those applications, and iTunes will pick up these changes on the next synchronization and update your iPod accordingly.
The Bad News: Sorting
Unfortunately, there is one big limitation to the way that iTunes handles your photo albums. You can manually reorder the albums, but you cannot sort the content within them – iTunes stores the photos within each album chronologically. Even though you can re-order your photos within, say, Photoshop Elements, iTunes ignores the order and simply sorts the photos chronologically.
Knowing this, however, if you really want your photos sorted in a different order, there are a number of applications out there that will allow you to modify the timestamps of these photos – in fact, Photoshop Elements allows you to do this. As expected, if you change the timestamps, you will change the sort order.
Under the Hood: How it’s all stored
As mentioned earlier, storing photos onto your iPod is much like storing music on your iPod. You can’t just drag-and-drop pictures to the iPod in hard drive mode and view them through the iPod photo, because iTunes does all of that pre-processing.
If you look at your iPod in hard drive mode, you’ll actually find a “Photos” folder right under the main folder. Immediately under this folder is the “Photo Database” that iTunes creates, and one or two subfolders, depending on your configuration:
THUMBS: This will always be present if you’ve synced any photo to your iPod. Within this directory are a series of thumbnail collections of the photos that are on your iPod. You don’t really need to worry too much about these files, as you can’t do anything with them.
FULL RESOLUTION: If you’ve selected “Include Full Resolution Photos” in your iTunes preferences, you will have this second folder, containing copies of all of the photos you have synced onto your iPod. These files are simply copies of the original photos, and are not modified in any way. In fact, you’ll find that even the timestamps are maintained from the original files.
However, although the original filenames and timestamps are maintained, the folder structure is not. Instead, iTunes organizes your full resolution photos in a folder structure based on year, month, and date. So a picture taken on December 4, 2004 would be in a folder called PhotosFull Resolution2004124. While this may make some sense if you know when the picture you’re looking for was taken, there is no direct correlation to the albums that are actually on your iPod, making it difficult to cross-reference these full resolution photos against the iPod photo/s browser.
The full resolution photos stored in this directory will only be retained as long as the appropriate photo or album is on your iPod. If you remove a photo, or deselect an album for synchronization, the corresponding full resolution photos are also removed.
It’s also important to note that if you turn off the option to “Include Full Resolution Photos” in iTunes, this folder will be emptied and removed from your iPod on your next sync.