Syncing iPhoto with Flickr to backup your photos

There are a number of ways to sync your iPhoto collection to your Flickr account, each with it’s own advantage disadvantage.

I started out by using iPhotos own Flickr uploader, but quickly found that if i deleted a photo or photos from within iPhoto they would disappear off the ‘net too.

The reason I wanted to sync with Flickr was for backup purposes, so the idea of my Flickr set disappearing if I deleted the photo/album/event from iPhoto wasn’t an ideal outcome.

What I wanted was a one way method of syncing onto Flickr. A one way sync that always retained the photo on Flickr where the only method of removal would be either through the admin area of the Flickr website, or through a specific Flickr app (iPad/iPhone app for example).

Ideally, I also wanted the iPhoto data associated with the images to be uploaded to Flickr too – so that’d include the geographic location of the photo, the tags I’d associated with it, the event it was part of and the Faces info that had been assigned.

Finally I wanted the uploads to default into a private setting – I didn’t want my pictures to show up for all on Flickr to see. If I did want that then I’d be happy to set it through the Flickr UI (or iPad app).

The solution I’ve been using for around 6 months now, and that fits the bill reasonably well is called FlickrFriend.

What you’ll need

Firstly, you’ll need either iPhoto ’09 or ’11 with some photos in it.

You’ll also need a copy of FlickrFriend, which at the time of writing this cost costs 15 euros (+25% tax if you are inside EU).

FlickrFriend (by Unpaq - http://unpaq.com/) allows you to Sync your iPhoto library (or a subset of your library) to Flickr. It retains the Faces info from iPhoto in the form of tags and retains any tags you’ve already applied to a photo. You get options to exclude albums from the upload, and you can set who can see your photos once they’re uploaded. It works with the last two versions of iPhoto, though theres an issue with the Faces data from iPhoto ’11 that’s currently unresolved – more about that at the end (or go take a look now if you’re inpatient).

FlickrFriend compares the photo capture time to uniquely identify each photo. Every time you take a picture with your digital camera it collects data about the camera settings along with the time and date the picture was taken. FlickrFriend uses this to identify each photo and to compare the photos on your Flickr account with those in your iPhoto collection.

And finally, you’ll need a Flickr account. You can do this perfectly well with the standard free account, but if you have a large amount of photos you really should opt for the Pro account. With the free account you can upload 2 videos and 300MB (max photo size 15mb) worth of photos each calendar month and you only have access to smaller versions of your images. The Pro account however allows you to upload unlimited numbers of photos (max photo size 20mb), unlimited videos and access to full size versions of your images.

To see more about the differences between free and Pro, take a look at the Flickr FAQ page - http://www.flickr.com/help/limits/#28

The Pro account costs US$24.95 a year – less if you buy it for more than a year.

Setting up iPhoto

The nice thing about using this method to sync photos onto Flickr (rather than the iPhoto inbuilt method) is that you won’t need to change anything at all in iPhoto itself. If you’re happy with your Events, Albums or Faces groups then you’re fine as you are.

One thing you do have to look out for is any TIFF or PSD files you might have in your collection. I had big problems with these when I first started using FlickrFriend – once it got to them the whole upload process would fail.

I’m not sure if it was a file size or file type issue, but either way once FlickrFriend got to them it would stall.

The best way round this is to move them all into a specific Album, then within the FlickrFriend app mark this Album to be ignored.

Setting up FlickrFriend

This is where the most effort is required, but even then it’s hardly difficult.

Firstly, register your copy of FlickrFriend with Flickr – without this you’ll be unable to upload your photos.

Click the Preferences icon in the top left corner to open up the Preferences window.

Now enter your Flickr user name into the box provided. At this point, you’d expect a button that would send you off to register this copy of FlickrFriend with Flickr, but there isn’t one. To finalise the registration process you have to start the Sync – so before we complete the registration we need to make sure we’ve got all the sync options set correctly.

The first step is to decide how you want the uploaded images to appear in Flickr – if, like me you want to be the only one to see the photos then leave it set to the default. If you have friends or family (or both) set up in Flickr and you’d like them to see the photos too, then tick the appropriate box. Or if you really don’t care who sees your images go for the ‘Anyone (Public)’ approach.

It would be nice to be able to change the viewing permissions through a tag, or by specific Albums or Events within iPhoto – if you do find the FlickrFriend viewing permissions to be a bit to restrictive you can change the settings for each image/set/album once it’s uploaded in the usual way through the Flickr UI.

To change how FlickrFriend uploads your images you need to go to the next panel of the preferences window – ‘Photos’.

Once here you can set wether FlickrFriend uploads Photos & Video, just photos or just video. Don’t forget if you’re on the free Flickr account you can only upload two videos a month.

You can also select an album to ignore – this is where you get to ignore the collection of TIFF, PSD and other monster image files that FlickrFriend would baulk at.

Flickr items

‘Update Flickr titles to match iPhoto’ – by default, when FlickrFriend uploads images to Flickr and uses the title from iPhoto. If you were to edit the title on Flickr, and this option was ticked in FlickrFriend, when you next synced your data you’d have your Flickr titles replaced with your iPhoto titles. So beware – even though your photos will not be replaced on Flickr, the metadata associated to them can be.

Flickr Sets

Flickr sets are like albums, or events in iPhoto – they are buckets for your photos. The first two options will tell FlickrFriend to create Flickr sets to match the way you’ve organised your photos in iPhoto.

The last option will remove photos until your Flickr sets match your iPhoto albums or events – use sparingly!

Flickr tags

These last two options are pretty obvious – if you’ve used the faces feature or if you’ve added keywords to any of your photos and you want this information to be included with the photos you upload to Flickr, keep these ticked.

Authorising FlickrFriend with Flickr

The last thing you need to do before starting to upload your images is to authorise FlickrFriend to have access to your Flickr account.

you’ve already entered your Flickr username into the first of the two preferences panes, and you’ve set all the other preferences for how you’d like your photos to be handled.

To finish the process, go to the main FlickrFriend window and click ‘Start Sync’.

You’ll then see a window pop up asking you to authorise your account. Click on ‘Authorize…’ and you’ll be taken to the Flickr website, to a special page that asks you to confirm you want to authorise FlickrFriend.

Click ‘Next’ against the option that says you were asked by FlickrFriend to connect to your Flickr account and follow the process through to the end.
Once you’re done you’ll be authorised – you only need to do this once.

At this point the sync process begins.


As mentioned earlier, there are a few issues with FlickrFriend.

The biggest one I’ve found is the incompatibility between iPhoto ’11 and the Faces data it applies to the photos.

When I used FlickrFriend with iPhoto ’09 it would upload the Faces data as a tag against the photo with no problem at all. With iPhoto ’11 it stalls the process if you include the Faces information.

If you disable the Faces info from being uploaded (you do this in the second preference pane, the very last option) then it all works perfectly.

I’m not too worried about missing this info. FlickrFriend will upload any new metadata added to a photo, so once the issue has been fixed by the developer and I turn this option back on again all the photos on Flickr that are missing Faces tags will be updated.

Unpaq don’t seem to have updated FlickrFriend in a while, which is usually a bad sign for independent software. However, they do have a reasonably activegetsatisfaction.com community, so hopefully the issue above will be resolved soon (fingers crossed).

A feature that isn’t available in FlickrFriend, but would be a big help, is the ability to automatically start the sync process. Ideally I’d like my sync to happen once a day in the middle of the night. This isn’t currently possible, neither with Applescript or with an iCal event. When you want to sync you have to manually start the process.

Finally, I’d also like geographical data (Places) added in iPhoto to make it into Flickr. Currently this data is not carried over in the Sync process.

On the whole, I’m pleased with the way FlickrFriend syncs my iPhoto ’11 collection to Flickr.

It’s not 100% perfect, what with the issues mentioned above, but it’s close enough for the time being. If the developer can fix the Faces bug and add in automated Sync it’d be about perfect.

There is a trial version of FlickrFriend on the Unpaq site if you’d like to give it a go.
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