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6 steps to move away from Photos on your Mac

Categories: Export Pictures, Organize Pictures    Tags: ,   9 Comments

Apple’s newest Photos and the old iPhoto are probably the only photo management applications left that take your photos captive. Apple, in their quest for simplicity has never trusted you, the user, to learn how to do things the right way…so it makes decisions for you.

5 simple steps for moving away from iPhoto
5 steps for using iPhoto somewhat efficiently
How to export your best pictures with Picasa

Photos takes your digital photos captive…still

Once you start using Photo (and everyone who has a new Mac uses Photos to some degree or another), Photos will store your photos in the locked Photos Library folder just like the old iPhoto (Read The good, the bad and the ugly of iPhoto).

As a consequence, you cannot simply move your Photos Library sub-folders and afterwards delete them. The reason is that Photos locks the Photos library and this means you cannot see or change what is inside the Photos library file.

What do you do then? How do you get your pictures out of Photos so you can rename the folders so that they make sense and help you?

First however, you must prepare by answering three important questions:

  1. Do you have enough room on your computer? Make sure you have enough room on your hard drive before doing this operation because this procedure will first create another copy of ALL your pictures. If you don’t have enough space, just export a few albums from Photos and then delete them from Photos…and repeat. To find out how large your Photos library is just Click on Finder then click on Pictures and notice the size of the Photos Library file. Then check your hard drive remaining space as well to make sure it will fit.
  2. Do you want to still keep your pictures in Photos after the export? You need to decide if you want to keep your events still in Photos in addition to exporting them. However, if you are nervous about deleting your photos from Photos, you can keep them in both places until you decide. You just need to know that you will be creating two copies of your pictures and it becomes more difficult to keep track of which photos you exported.
  3. What program will you be using instead of Photos? Wheather is Picasa or Adobe Lightroom, make sure you have it installed and ready to use. The good thing about organizing your pictures outside of Photos is that you can switch your programs later without losing any of your work.

Step 1: Create one export folder for all your photos

Having one folder with all your exported photos will help you slowly work through them and organize them as you have time.

Create an export folder called FROM-PHOTOS.
How to enter photo metadata in iPhoto

Step 2: Select all your pictures in Photos

The new Photos software allows you to select all your pictures in one operation which is great. This way the entire operation can be done quickly.

Select all your pictures in Photos
How to select all your pictures in Photos

Step 3: Export all your pictures from Photos

Once you selected all your pictures, select the Export menu option.

Exporting pictures from Photos
How to export pictures from Photos

You have two options available:

  1. Export Photos – this option will export your photos with all the edits and metadata you have created in Photos. If you want to keep all the changes you have made on Photos, then choose this option. You need to understand though that if you have cropped an image in Photos and export it with this option, it is only the cropped image that will be exported and not the original picture.

    Options for exporting pictures with all your Photos edits
    How to export pictures from Photos

  2. Export Unmodified Original – this option will export your original pictures without any edits you have done in Photos. You definitely want to use this option if you have RAW files and you need your original files.

    Options for exporting original pictures from Photos
    How to export pictures from Photos

    You have three options available for exporting original files:

    1. Export IPTC as XMP – this option allows you to export the IPTC metadata to an additional XMP side car file. This means you get an extra file containing XMP metadata. If you don’t know what this means you probably need to leave it unchecked. However, if you have RAW images and you added metadata in Photos, then you need to check this checkbox.
    2. File name – this option will maintain the actual picture file names that your camera produced. I recommend using the “Use File Name” option.
    3. Subfolder format – this option determines the names of the folders resulting from the export operation. I recommend using the “Moment Name” option.

Now that you have exported all your pictures from Photos, your export folder (05-FROM-PHOTOS) should look like the picture below.

Results of exporting pictures from Photos
How to export pictures from Photos

Notice that my export folder 05-FROM-PHOTOS contains all my pictures from Photos organized in folders with the date when the pictures were taken as the folder names. This is the result you want. These names are still not the final name you need but it’s a good first step.

Step 4: Delete your exported event folders from Photos

At this point you have created another copy of all your photos. Photos holds one copy in its Photos Library and in addition you have just created another copy by exporting your event to the FROM-IPHOTO folder. So the next step is easy!

Important note: If you are nervous about deleting all your photos from Photos, then you can do this step after you have organized everything in your export folder (05-FROM-PHOTOS) outside of Photos.

At this point you have exported all your pictures (essentially you have created another copy of your pictures outside of Photos) Photos to another folder. You should still have them all selected in Photos and you can simply Command + Click (or both mouse buttons together) and bring up the context menu and choose the Delete option.

Delete your exported photos
How to delete pictures from Photos

This operation should successfully remove all your pictures from the Library folder that Photo uses as the main place for putting all your pictures. You can check in Finder the size of the Photos Library…it should be very very small now having no pictures in it.

Remember that this operation does NOT remove the Photos application from your Mac. It only moves your pictures from Photos to an external folder that you can organize as you want.

Step 5: Make Photos play “nice” with your photos

While Photos does take your digital photos captive by default, it does provide some simple settings that make it play nicely with other software you might want to use for managing your photos.

When your camera is plugged into your Mac, Photos opens by default but you can simply uncheck the checkbox for your camera to stop Photos from coming up automatically. You can always bring up Photos up manually so this doesn’t really break anything…it just stops Photos from coming up every time you connect a camera to your Mac.

Disable automatic import into Photos
How to disable automatic import in Photos

Step 5: Set up your new software to use the new folder when transferring new pictures

Whatever software you decide to use instead of Photos (like Picasa for example, or Lightroom), make sure that from now on you only use that software for importing new photos…instead of Photos.

Once you have exported your organized events from Photos make sure you setup another folder to help you with transferring new photos from your cameras. In other words, once you get your photos out of Photos, stop using Photos to import new photos. Otherwise, you will have to repeat this procedure.

Setup that software so that it will transfer your new digital photos from your camera to the new folder you have created…the one you used for exporting (Pictures/TRANSFER).

Whether you use Picasa, Lightroom or Aperture, set it up so all new photos will use the new TRANSFER folder as the destination for photo transfer.

At the end of the entire procedure your folder structure would look something like this:

    ...lots of sub-folders from Photos

Once your pictures have been exported, examine the folder names you have in your new folder structure. If you have not used Photos to cleanup and organize your events prior to exporting them, you must start organizing these events that you have exported (Read Tutorial 2 – Creating an efficient folder structure).

For examples how to setup your photo transfer with Picasa, read this article.

Important note about connecting Android phones to Picasa on the Mac: it doesn’t work! Picasa on the Mac does not see Android phones at all. However, you can simply use Image Capture on the Mac to transfer your photos from your Android phone to your TRANSFER folder. Then you can simply organize them there.

Should you move away from Photos?

Photos is the Apple’s new photo manager which replaces the old iPhotos. While it is a powerful photo management tool, Photos maintains the same old approach from iPhotos. Apple has made some decisions for the sake of simplifying your digital life, but with these decisions they have essentially taken your digital photos captive.

The good thing is that you can export your pictures out of Photos and use something else…anything else that will allow you to manage your photo folders.

Should you move from Photos? The answer is yes if you want to have the freedom to name and organize your photo folders the way you want and be able to control your media library. If on the other hand you are not comfortable with manipulating file folders and files, then maybe you should not move from Photos.

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Updated: January 28, 2016  Categories: Export Pictures, Organize Pictures
Tags: ,    Comments: 9 Comments
Read related articles:
5 simple steps for moving away from iPhoto
5 steps for using iPhoto somewhat efficiently
How to export your best pictures with Picasa

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura September 17, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Thank you! This is extremely helpful!


Phil Allen October 21, 2016 at 4:48 am

Hi, I have exported all my original unmolested photos from MAc Photos as described, and have a directory with dated folders as you show. However the File info showing creation date of a photo does not match with date of the folder containing it. I have exported all with ITPC sidecar files also. Any idea why dates dont match ? Thanks


Vlad October 21, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Phil…the creation date of the image file is different than when the image was taken. Make sure you are looking at the EXIF data in your image file. In Image Capture for example, bring up the image and click Tools/Show Location Info. Then click EXIF in the small display that comes up. The date here should match the date in the folder name. Hope this makes sense.


Christian November 6, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Hi Vlad,
I have tried the steps outlined above to finally create my own library structure and become tool independent using embedded tags.

I do, however, have one serious doubt when I look at the steps outlined above: Is there a way to both –
a) keep the photo edits and tags etc.
b) have the exact same picture quality as before for not edited photos?

I have noticed that if I use the “Export Photos” option with JPEG quality “High” as in your screenshot, I will get JPEG files that are considerably smaller than my original files – even if I did not edit them in Photos.
– this seems bad, since Photos is messing with the files even without me asking for any “enhancements” – do you know what happens here?
If I chose JPEG quality “Maximum”, my photos suddenly get much larger even as the originals (sometimes x2), as if Photos was trying to “add” information to the image even though the pixel count stays the same…
– also not good, right?

But if I use the “Export Unmodified Original” option, I lose all my retouching and cropping actions, as well as all already embedded tags on all images, something I want to keep since I have spent quite some time on it already…

Is there a middle ground, where I get the originals from the images I did not touch including the tags and the optimal quality in retouched images if I worked on them in Photos?
Thanks and BR.

Dan March 23, 2017 at 6:39 am

Fantastic, straight forward, easy to follow article with great explanations.


Vlad March 23, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Dan…glad to hear the my article was helpful.


Mark April 11, 2017 at 12:29 am

Thank you for this excellent article! Very helpful and much appreciated!!

Can someone remind me why we are still buying Apple stuff? 🙂

Best wishes always


Vlad April 11, 2017 at 9:13 pm

Mark…glad you liked my article. Apple’s approach to making things simple means not allowing the user to see complexity…so they hide it. This is the case with Photos.


Vlad November 8, 2016 at 6:17 pm

Christian…you hit right on the head! Unfortunately there is no way to have both. You can either choose JPEG which will apply your edits, crops, keyword, geotags, facetags, etc…or unmodified and then lose edits and user created metadata. This is what unfortunately happens every time one tries to deviate from Apple software.


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