Fat Cat Software

PowerPhotos Help

Incomplete/Missing Items

Each photo or video you take or import into your library can actually have multiple pieces of data associated with it in addition to the original photo/video. Some examples include:

  • Edited photos: When you edit a photo, Photos leaves the original photo unmodified, but internally stores both a list of the edits you’ve performed, along with a separate edited version of the photo.
  • Live Photos: When you take a Live Photo, there is a separate video that’s stored along with the photo.
  • RAW+JPEG: Photos taken with a digital camera can have a separate RAW and JPEG version of each photo shown as a single item.

Usually Photos keeps track of all this behind the scenes and you don’t have to worry about it, but there are some cases where you can end up with an incomplete item, where one or more of these pieces is missing from the library on disk, or a missing item, where there are no pieces at all available on disk.

When can incomplete items occur?

The most common example happens if you have your library syncing with iCloud Photos and are using the “Optimize Mac Storage” option. With this setup, Photos will only download a small thumbnail used while browsing. Photos will only download the full size original when it needs to, e.g. when you go to view or edit an individual photo.

Normally this is fine, because Photos will handle downloading photos and other pieces of data as needed behind the scenes. However, if you make a copy of your Photos library (e.g. by copying using the Finder, using the Duplicate Library command in PowerPhotos, or making a backup with Time Machine or other backup software) that copy of the library will not have its own copies of the full size original photos. Since that copy of the library is not syncing with iCloud Photos, those originals cannot be downloaded on demand, meaning that the library may have quite a number of incomplete items.

Another somewhat common example is if you have imported some of your photos as referenced photos, but then the original photos that are stored outside the library are deleted, moved, or otherwise inacessible, then those photos will be incomplete because their originals cannot be found.

The last common example is iPhoto/Photos bugs or disk corruption that have caused some of the pieces of a photo to go missing. It’s not uncommon for some edited photos in a migrated iPhoto/Aperture library to have the original photo intact, but be missing the edited version of the photo.

How does PowerPhotos handle incomplete items?

There are two main areas where PowerPhotos needs to do special handling for incomplete items.

  1. Merging/copying. When you setup a merge, you can choose for PowerPhotos to either completely skip copying any items that are incomplete, or have it do a partial import, i.e. make a best attempt to import all the pieces that it does have, even if the result doesn’t match what was originally there in the library before pieces went missing. For example, if the original for a given photo is missing but the edited version is still in the library, then PowerPhotos will copy the edited version of the photo alone. If you choose to skip incomplete items, then those items will not appear in the merge preview, and errors will be logged to the PowerPhotos log file indicating which items were incomplete. When copying photos or albums by drag and drop, there is a similar setting in the PowerPhotos settings window that lets you choose how incomplete items should be handled.

  2. Find duplicates. When performing a duplicate search, incomplete items will still be included in the search, but when it comes time to choose keepers, PowerPhotos will always prefer to keep a complete item over an incomplete one in the same group of duplicates.

Partial import details

Here is how PowerPhotos handles some common scenarios if you’ve selected the option to fall back to a partial import for incomplete items:

  • Missing original photos: if an edited version of the photo is still in the library, that photo will be imported by itself in place of the original photo.
  • Missing edited photos: if the original is intact but the edited version of the photo is missing, then the original will be copied by itself, i.e. the photo edits will be lost.
  • Missing videos in Live Photos: if the video component of a Live Photo is missing, then the photo will be treated as a normal still photo with no paired video.
  • Unsupported edits: sometimes a photo will have been edited by an old version of iPhoto/Aperture or a third party app where the lossless edits that have been performed can no longer be reapplied to the photo. In these cases, PowerPhotos will import the original and edited version of the photo as a single item, so you can still use the “Revert to Original” command in Photos, but you won’t be able to adjust individual editing sliders and controls.

Missing items

Lastly, there can be cases where a photo/video in the library is completely missing on disk and there are no pieces that can even be used for a partial import. PowerPhotos detects these before the merge or duplicate search starts and will simply skip over them, logging errors saying which photos/videos were missing.

Is there any way to “fix” incomplete items?

The short answer is no - your library has whatever photos/videos it has, and there isn’t a simple way to make the existing library whole again (with one exception, below). The best way to get as much as you can out of the library is by using PowerPhotos to merge it into another library (you can even merge into a new empty library if you don’t want to alter your existing library).

In the case where the library with incomplete items was a backup of an optimized iCloud library, then in some cases you can designate that library as your new system library, reenable iCloud Photos, and let Photos sync the backed up library with what’s currently in iCloud. However, it’s only recommended to do this as long as:

  1. You’re sure that this library was previously synced with iCloud Photos. If it wasn’t, then the content of the library will be combined with whatever you currently have in iCloud, which may result in duplicates or other photos you don’t want to have in iCloud.
  2. You haven’t deleted a lot of photos/videos from iCloud since the backup of the library was made. If items have been deleted from iCloud since the backup of the library was last synced, then those same items will also be deleted from the local library when the sync occurs, which could result in losing some items you were looking to recover (e.g. you had accidentally deleted photos from iCloud and were trying to recover them from your backup).

Preventing incomplete items

The best way to prevent having to deal with incomplete items in the first place is to follow the advice given in the “Backing up your Photos Libraries” page of the PowerPhotos manual.

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