Updated: January 3, 2024 | Contains affiliate links

6 Steps to Move Away from Photos on Your Mac


Apple’s Photos and the very 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. Granted, some of these decisions are good, but if you want to make any changes, you simply can’t. Therefore, if you want to move from Photos to any other photo manager, Apple makes it very difficult, but not impossible. Read on to find out how to move away from Photos on your Mac.

Apple 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 automatically store your photos in the locked Photos Library folder just like the old iPhoto software on the Mac. If you just start using Photos with this default setting, it is difficult to move away from Photos if you decide to change photo management software.

Read more:  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.

The first simple option is to instruct Photos to leave your digital pictures in the original folder location by going to Photos/Preferences/General and deselecting “Copy Items to Photos library”. This way you can keep using Photos but organize your own folders outside of Photos…and keep using Photos. Most likely however, your photos are already stored in the Photos library, because it is the default option.

What do you do then if you want to move away from Photos? 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. If you find you don’t have room, move some files to a simple and reliable external drive.
  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? Whether it is Adobe Lightroom, ACDSee or something else 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. See my recommended software list for ideas.

1. Create One Export Folder for All Your Photos

Start your move from Photos with a very simple step. Having one folder with all your exported photos will help you slowly work through them and organize them as you have time. This is the target folder for all your pictures as you move them outside of Photos photo manager.

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

2. Select All Your Pictures in Photos

Continue your move from Photos by selecting all your pictures. The new Photos photo manager allows you to select all your pictures in one operation which is great. This way, selecting all your pictures can be done quickly.

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

3. Export All Your Pictures from Photos

Now, we need to export all your pictures in order to complete your move from Apple 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:

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.

In addition, this option will apply compression to your original images. This means that your exported images will have a decreased resolution.

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

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. This is the only option available if you want to keep the original resolution of your pictures.

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

You have three options available for exporting original files:

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.

File name – this option will maintain the actual picture file names that your camera produced. I recommend using the “Use File Name” option.

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

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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.

4. Delete Your Exported Event Folders from Photos

At this point you have created another copy of all your photos. In order to cleanup after your move from Photos, you need to delete the old pictures inside the Photos library.  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.

5. Make Photos Play “Nice” with Your Photos

In order to complete your move from Apple Photos, you need to “tell” Photos to behave. 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

6. Use Your New Photo Manager to Transfer New Pictures

Now, that you have completed your move from Photos, start using your new photo manager instead of Photos. Whatever software you decide to use instead of Photos (like ACDSee, Lightroom or Picasa), 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, 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 iPhoto.

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 more about  Creating an efficient folder structure.  If you’re still using Picasa after all these years, read my article about , transferring photos with Picasa.

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 and stick with the decisions that Apple makes for you.

Essentials for organizing your digital photos

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Excellent Lightroom alternative. If you need a cheaper and simpler photo manager then ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac (save 20% until Feb 15th) or ACDSee Photo Studio Professional for Windows (save $20 until Feb 15th) is my preferred solution for organizing all my media. It has a very fast browser, great image editing and it's simple to use.

If you do a lot of image editing like I do, I recommend using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC via the annual Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Lightroom has best photo editing capabilities even though it has a steeper learning curve. Adobe Lightroom is my favorite for image editing.

I recommend Backblaze Personal Cloud Backup for affordable & reliable unlimited cloud backup. I have been using Backblaze for backing up all pictures & videos for more than 5 years now. All my invaluable digital memories are safe and secure. This is the best solution especially if you have a large quantity of media files.

Use a reliable & affordable external hard drive for backing up everything on your computer. It is absolutely essential for keeping all your memories backed up and safe.

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