Need to Import Photos from a non-iPhone or Want to Keep Images out of Photos?
Most Mac users rely on iPhones and iPads to take photos and store them in the Photos app, which happens automatically for those who use Apple’s iCloud Photos syncing service. But what if you want to import photos from a device other than an iPhone or iPad—say a Samsung smartphone running Android—and what if you don’t want those images in Photos? Turn to Apple’s Image Capture app, which has shipped with macOS for ages and is stored in your Applications folder’s Utilities folder. To use it, connect your device to your Mac via USB, launch Image Capture, and click the device in the sidebar. Choose a destination from the Import To pop-up menu, and then either select some photos and click Import or click the Import All button to get everything.
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SSDs are essential for ensuring optimal performance on a Mac, but because they’re expensive, many people don’t have as much built-in storage space as they would like. If your Photos library has grown to the point where your SSD is nearly full, it might be time to think about offloading it to an external hard drive. (Don’t put it on a drive that you’re using as a Time Machine destination because there could be permissions conflicts, and note that Apple doesn’t recommend storing a Photos library on a drive shared over a network.)
Before we explain how to offload your photos, we want to mention another way of reducing the Photos footprint on your drive. If you’re using iCloud Photos (previously called iCloud Photo Library) to sync photos and videos between your devices, the originals are all stored in iCloud. In Photos > Preferences > iCloud, you can enable Optimize Mac Storage, which swaps the full-resolution images for smaller versions, saving a boatload of space. However, you may find Photos somewhat slower to use, as it has to download full-resolution versions of images you work with, and you won’t have a local backup of the original images. So it’s an option, but it has tradeoffs.
For most people with burgeoning Photos libraries, a better approach is to offload the entire library to an external hard drive. This approach comes with tradeoffs too; accessing images from a hard drive is slower than getting them from an internal SSD, and you have to figure out how you’re going to back up that drive as well. Plus, the drive has to be available, connected, and turned on (so you have to listen to it) for you to use Photos at all, which might be especially annoying if you regularly work remotely on a notebook Mac.
To move your Photos library to an external drive, follow these steps:
- If it’s running, quit Photos.
- In the Finder, drag Photos Library, which is stored in your Pictures folder by default, to the external drive. A few answers to common questions:
- Where on the external drive should I put it? It doesn’t matter, but we recommend putting it at the top level so you are less likely to lose track of it in the future.
- I got an error—what should I do? If you see an error telling you that you don’t have permission to copy to that drive, select the drive’s icon in the Finder and choose File > Get Info to open the Info window. If necessary click the triangle next to Sharing & Permissions, and make sure “Ignore ownership on this volume” is selected. If it’s not, click the lock icon, enter an administrator name and password, and select the checkbox.
- How long will it take to copy? Quite some time, depending on how many photos you have. It’s best to do overnight or when you don’t need to use Photos.
- When it’s done copying, double-click the new Photos Library icon on the external hard drive to launch Photos and set it to open that new copy on future launches.
- If you use iCloud Photos, designate this new library as the System Photo Library by choosing Photos > Preferences > General and clicking the “Use as System Photo Library” button.
- Scroll through your photo collection and make sure all your photos are present—double-click a few of them to spot check that the actual images open properly.
Obviously, your original Photos library is still taking up space on your SSD, but it’s best to use the new version for a little while before deleting the old one, just in case. When you’re ready to do that, drag it from the Pictures folder to the trash and choose Finder > Empty Trash to reclaim the space.
Social Media: Running out of space on your internal drive? You can clear a bunch of space by moving your Photos library to an external hard drive—here’s how:
Photos makes it easy to create and switch between libraries. That’s good when photos need to be kept completely separate. For instance, a real estate agent might want to keep personal photos separate from house photos taken for work. But too much separation is annoying—you have to keep switching between libraries, and it’s easy to import new photos into the wrong one.
If you struggle with multiple Photos libraries, never fear—you can merge them. Unfortunately, the process is slow, can require a lot of disk space, and may result in the loss of some metadata. You have three options: merging through iCloud Photos, using the PowerPhotos utility, and merging by exporting and importing. Each has pros and cons.
Merge through iCloud Photos
Apple’s iCloud Photos service offers the best solution for merging libraries. The trick is that whenever you designate a library as your System Photo Library, Photos automatically uploads all images that aren’t already present, adding them to the photos already in iCloud Photos. It also retains all the metadata surrounding your photos—titles, keywords, albums, facial recognition, projects, and more.
On the downside, using iCloud Photos almost certainly won’t be free unless you have so few photos that the combined library will fit within the free 5 GB of iCloud space Apple gives everyone. Almost everyone will have to pay for additional storage space ($0.99 per month for 50 GB, $2.99 for 200 GB, or $9.99 for 2 TB) for at least the month in which you’re doing the merge. iCloud Photos is a good service, so it’s likely worth paying for anyway.
More problematic is that the iCloud Photos way of merging will be very slow. If you haven’t already started using it, it could take a week or more to upload many thousands of photos. Plus, it will probably download the entire cloud-based collection of photos to each library whose photos you want to merge, so you may need a lot of local disk space too.
If you haven’t previously used iCloud Photos, go to System Preferences > iCloud and click the Options button next to Photo. In the dialog, select iCloud Photos.
Now, starting with the smallest Photos library and working up in size, follow these steps for each library you want to merge:
- Double-click the Photos library to open it.
- In Photos > Preferences > General, click Use as System Photo Library. (If it’s dimmed out, that library is already set as the System Photo Library.)
- Wait for photos to upload. Scroll to the bottom of the Photos view to see the progress. A Pause link will appear there during uploading—click it if you need to keep Photos from overwhelming your Internet connection. Once the photos have all uploaded, go back to Step 1 with your next Photos library.
When you’re done, the last Photos library becomes the one you’ll keep, and you can delete the others. Needless to say, make sure you have good backups first!
Merge with PowerPhotos
The $30 PowerPhotos from Fat Cat Software provides a variety of extra capabilities when working with Photos. It helps you to create and manage multiple libraries, copy photos between libraries, find duplicates, and—most important for this topic—merge libraries.
Because PowerPhotos is working entirely on your Mac’s drive, it’s fast and it doesn’t require huge amounts of extra disk space. Unfortunately, unlike the iCloud Photos approach, which brings in both originals and any edits to those photos, PowerPhotos can import only your original photos or the versions that you’ve edited, not both. Plus, it can’t merge facial recognition data, smart albums, or print projects.
PowerPhotos provides an actual interface for merging too—choose Library > Merge Libraries to start.
In the window that appears, you have four tasks:
- Choose source libraries. You aren’t limited to merging just two libraries; you can pick multiple sources.
- Choose the destination library. This is the library you want to receive all the photos. If you want, you can create a new one.
- Configure duplicate handling. PowerPhotos can import just one of several copies of duplicate photos, or you can bring in all the duplicates if that’s important.
- Choose options. PowerPhotos can merge album contents, create an album from each source library, and create a backup before merging. Most important, though, is the choice of whether to merge your original photos or the edited versions.
Merge by Exporting and Importing
This final option is conceptually simple. You export all the photos from one library and then import them into another. It’s even what Apple recommends. The main thing it has going for it is that it’s free, and it will be faster than the iCloud Photos approach. It could also be useful if you want to copy a subset of photos between libraries, rather than merging all photos.
However, as with PowerPhotos, you have to choose between original and edited photos, and you’ll need a lot of extra disk space. Even worse, you’ll lose even more metadata, including albums, faces, and print projects. And if you export as JPEG, your photos may also suffer a slight quality drop as they’re recompressed.
For those who want to use this approach, Apple provides detailed instructions. In essence, you’ll click Photos in the sidebar to see everything, and then choose Edit > Select All. Then you’ll choose File > Export and either Export X Photos (to get the edited versions of images) or Export Unmodified Original for X Photos (to get the original images). Once everything has exported, you’ll switch libraries in Photos and then drag the folder of exported images back into Photos to import it.
Our nod goes to the iCloud Photos technique, but PowerPhotos is a fine utility for those who aren’t perturbed by its limitations. Of course, don’t start any merging without making backups first, and if you need help, don’t hesitate to call us.
Social Media: If you want to merge Photos libraries to avoid having to switch back and forth, there are several approaches you can take, but each comes with pros and cons. See them all at:
iCloud Photos (which Apple previously called iCloud Photo Library) is wonderful when it’s working. Take some photos on your iPhone, and they appear on your Mac and iPad a minute later. Delete unnecessary shots and edit the others on your Mac, and your iPhone and iPad reflect those changes almost immediately. But what if changes aren’t syncing? Photos in iOS and macOS can pause syncing for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it doesn’t restart when it should. To see if this is happening, go to the very bottom of the Photos view in Photos, where it lists the number of photos and videos you have stored. Below that number is the sync status. If it has a reason and a Resume link, click or tap Resume to start it again.
Before iOS 12, you’d tap the camera button in a Messages chat in order to share either a brand-new photo or a photo that had already been taken. In iOS 12, Apple changed things so tapping the camera button only lets you take a fresh photo. To find and send a photo that’s already in Photos, use the Photos mini-app in Messages. If necessary, tap the Apps button to the left of the message field to show the Messages apps, and then tap the Photos button to see a list of recent photos. Tap one or more to add them to the message, and you’re ready to send!