Here’s a way to back up iPhoto’s image comments into an easy-to-read flat directory structure. (Translation: one big folder.) You’d want to do this when archiving your photos to CD or DVD, or when trying to merge photo libraries, or when leaving iPhoto for another program, or at any other time you want your comments saved in a non-proprietary, easily readable format.

As you may have read last week, when I upgraded to iPhoto 4, all the image descriptions temporarily disappeared from my online photo albums. (I caught the problem on my own staging server before it appeared on this site.) The culprit was a change in the way iPhoto stores photo comments. Comments are now entirely gone from the easy-to-parse AlbumData.xml file; iPhoto now stores them in a binary format that appears to be proprietary.

AppleScript to the rescue. Last week’s script saved the comments to text files and generated a directory structure that exactly paralleled iPhoto’s library, with one text file for each comment. These files were in folders for each day, which were in turn inside folders for each month, etc., guaranteeing there would be no name conflicts. I had rejected using the internal ID of each picture (which would have allowed a flat conflict-free directory structure) because the ID wasn’t user-visible anywhere in the iPhoto interface, making comment files named for the ID difficult to map back to the original pictures.

One of the comments on that post asked for a version that generated the comment files in one folder, based on the image’s filename. That was a good idea. Though the filename is not guaranteed to be unique, it often is in practice. Most digital cameras save unique serial numbers for each picture as part of the filename. So this is enough for most people. (The exceptions would be if you have more than one digital camera using a similar naming convention, or if your camera is configured to reset its numbering between rolls.)

If you like guaranteed accuracy, use my original script; if you like simplicity, use the following alternate script. It will only save one of the conflicting comments if photo filenames are duplicated. Dropping the parallel folder structure simplified the script, since this version doesn’t need to employ any POSIX path manipulation.

Copy the following into Script Editor and run. Tested with iPhoto 4.0 on Mac OS X 10.3. (It may also work with earlier versions; drop me a comment below if you’ve tried it.)

-- Export iPhoto Comments - Flat
-- Creates a text file corresponding to each picture with a comment, containing just the comment. The filenames of the text files correspond to the filenames of the images. So avoid having more than one image with the same filename (taken by two different cameras with similar naming conventions, perhaps). This isn’t a problem for most people, but if it is for you, use the slightly more complex version of the script that duplicates the iPhoto folder hierarchy: <>.
-- Note: this does not remove files in the comments folder when a comment disappears (due to deletion of either the comment or the image). To guard against this, you may want to delete the whole comment folder before rerunning this script. (Using a separate folder rather than storing comment files alongside the image makes this easier; you can flush the whole cache at once.)
-- Written to work around the fact that iPhoto 4 no longer stores photo comments in the AlbumData.xml file.
-- by Andrew Shearer, 2004-01-25 <mailto:ashearerw at shearersoftware dot com>

-- config
set commentsFolderName to "iPhoto Library - My Comments Cache - Flat"
set stripJPG to true --whether to strip .JPG extension
set openFolderInFinder to true
set commentFileSuffix to ".comment.txt"
set requiredAlbumPrefix to "Web-"
-- end config

tell application "Finder"
--return some folder of (path to pictures folder)
if not (exists folder named commentsFolderName of (path to pictures folder)) then make new folder at (path to pictures folder) with properties {name:commentsFolderName}
set commentsFolderPath to folder named commentsFolderName of (path to pictures folder) as text
end tell
--set commentsFolderPath to POSIX path of (path to pictures folder) & commentsFolderName

tell application "iPhoto"
repeat with theAlbum in (every album whose name starts with requiredAlbumPrefix)
repeat with thePhoto in (every photo of theAlbum whose comment is not "")
set commentText to comment of thePhoto as Unicode text
set commentFilename to image filename of thePhoto
if stripJPG then
-- strip .JPG suffix (optionally)
if commentFilename does not end with ".JPG" then
error "Error: file does not end with .JPG: \"" & commentFilename & "\""
end if
set commentFilename to text 1 through -5 of commentFilename
end if
-- add suffix to comment filename (.txt extension, etc.)
set commentFilename to commentFilename & commentFileSuffix

set f to open for access file (commentsFolderPath & commentFilename) with write permission
set eof f to 0 -- truncate file, or old data can remain
write commentText to f as Unicode text
close access f
end repeat -- photos in album
end repeat -- albums
end tell

if openFolderInFinder then tell application "Finder" to open folder commentsFolderPath
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