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Issue #800: November 20-26, 2022

Q: When I try use Windows Explorer to transfer photos from my iPhone 11 Pro Max to my desktop computer, I see a large number of folders and I have no clue what photos are in them. In the past, I used to see the individual photos in Windows Explorer and it made the transfer decision much easier and quicker. Now I have to open each and every folder to decide what to do with the photos. This is a pain and it take a lot of time. Is there a way to just see all the photos at once? Thanks.

 – Edward R.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: Well, Edward, I think you’ll see as we get into this discussion that you’re at least partially at fault for what you’re experiencing.  The problem (which isn’t really a problem) starts with the way your iPhone handles photos, but you never see that until you start accessing them via something other than the Photos app on your iPhone.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First of all, starting with iOS 8, Apple changed the way photos are stored on iPhones.  They chose to do away with that single, monolithic folder containing all photos, and instead started to store them in a database that consists of many folders.  The names of the folders are often fairly obscure, but if you take a look at the screen capture you sent me, it seems like these folder names are based the dates that the pictures were taken.  There are other things that go into the decision of when to start a new folder, most of which are not public knowledge.  However, it’s safe to speculate that one other primary factor is the location where the photo, or group of photos was taken.

Many people don’t realize that every image processed on a typical smartphone (including iPhones) encodes each picture with metadata which means data about the picture.  This technique is called Exchangeable Image File Format, or EXIF.  These data consist of such useful items as the original image size in pixels, the date and time stamp the image was taken, GPS coordinates, the device and model of the camera, encoding type, plus information that would be of interest to a shutterbug, such as the aperture and shutter speed, and equivalent ISO setting.  And there’s the potential for a whole lot more. 

I tell you all that because some of this information is what goes into choosing when to start a new folder.  I’ve read that the multiple folders are “for your privacy and security.”  With all that EXIF information stuck on each pic, it’s hard for me to grasp how putting them in a bunch of different folders offers either privacy or security.

But your question was how to get them to your PC without taking the folder structure along for the ride.  Well, as I said above, you’re sort-of causing your own problem, by using File Explorer to do the transferring.  That piece of software has no built-in awareness of pictures – it just handles files. That includes files in folders.  It assumes that the files are in folders because that’s where you want them to be.  And honestly, in most cases that’s true.  I’d be mighty upset if File Explorer took it upon itself to flatten a carefully built hierarchy of files and folders into a single, flat folder.

I believe the app you should be using in Windows is Photos.  When you plug your iPhone into your PC via a USB cable, you should actually get the option to launch Photos automatically.  If you’re not getting that, perhaps you have something else set as the default.  You can open Photos manually via the Start menu any time you want.

Unlike File Explorer, Photos is, natively aware of pictures, and it knows how to handle them.  It also offers a bunch of import options that are right up your alley.  In light of your questions, one of the most significant options is where imported pictures will be stored on your PC.  It allows you to sort the photos on your phone using some of the information contained in each picture’s EXIF record.  Then, you can check the ones you want, and finally choose whether to leave a copy on your phone or fully move them to your PC.  Check it out.  I think it will do exactly what you want.

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