When it comes to giant iPhoto libraries, the problem isn’t so much one of hardware performance as of overwhelming numbers of images. How do you quickly locate the shots you’re looking for without having to scroll endlessly in iPhoto? Here are a few strategies.

Rate your best shots

Digital cameras let us make mistakes without paying for them in film costs, but all the bad photos we shoot add more cruft to our libraries. To make sorting through the large numbers of images easier, promote the better images in your iPhoto library by rating them with stars.

With a photo selected or enlarged to fill the viewing area, press Command and a number between 1 and 5 to add a star rating. For example, a decent shot may warrant pressing Command-1 for one star, while one that shows more promise could be given three stars, using Command-3. You can also click a star icon in the Info pane or choose a rating from the Photos > My Rating menu, but using the ?-key shortcut is faster when you’re processing multiple images.

Display high-rated photos

Assigning ratings to images is just the groundwork. The point of doing it is to be able to show or quickly access good photos and hide not-so-good ones without deleting them.

To find starred photos quickly, type between one and five asterisks into the iPhoto search bar

The fastest way to search based on star rating is to press Command-F to reveal the Search field, before typing asterisks. Entering **, for example, brings up all two-star photos. However, that displays only two-star photos, not shots rated two stars or higher. If you want to view photos rated two and three stars, separate the asterisks with a space: ** ***.

Sort images with smart albums

The previous technique is a great, speedy search method. But you still have to find all photos ranked higher than two stars.
Instead, create a smart album. A smart album performs a live search when you select it, so photos that match its criteria but were added after you built the smart album also appear.

Here’s an example of one that shows all photos ranked three stars or higher and shot within the last three months:

1. Choose File > New > Smart Album, or press Command-Option-N.
2. Give the smart album a name, such as ‘3+ Last 3mo.’
3. Using the pop-up menus, set the criterion to My Rating, Is Greater Than, and then click 2 as the number of stars.
4. Click the Add (+) button to the right to add another criterion. Change its properties to read Date, Is In The Last, and 3 Months.
5. Click OK. The next time you select that smart album, it will show photos ranked three stars and higher within the last quarter year.

You can create as many of these smart albums as you want, and they’ll be continually updated. iPhoto offers more controls for narrowing down a library search, but these are the methods we turn to first.