How to transfer photos from your iPhone to your Mac

Here are the quickest and easiest options for getting the photos from your iPhone on to your Mac.

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  • Import with Photos 1
  • Import with Image Capture 2
  • The WiFi Way 3
  • Email or iMessage 4
  • AirDrop 5
  • iCloud Options 6
  • iCloud Photo Library 7
  • More stories
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Step 1 of 7: Import photos from your Mac to iPhone with Photos

Wondering what is the best way to transfer the photos on my iPhone onto your Mac?

I still think the quickest and easiest way of transferring photos onto my Mac is simply to use ye old USB cable. By default, the Photos app on your Mac is set to open automatically as soon as you plug your iPhone into your Mac. The Photos app – or iPhoto on older Macs – will display all the photos that are stored on your iPhone’s camera roll, and you can simply click ‘Import All New Photos’ to import everything at once.

Alternatively, you can click on individual photos to select the best shots that you want to import and keep. I got a bit snap-happy on a recent trip to the wondrous Mont St Michel in France - a kind of real-life Hogwarts - so I can use this option to just import my favourite shots. You can also tell Photos to automatically delete photos from your iPhone once they’ve been copied onto your Mac. That will free up some space on your iPhone so that you’ve got room to store your next batch of shots.

Of course, sometimes you might just connect your iPhone in order to charge the battery. If you don’t want Photos to always open automatically then you can turn that option off by un-clicking the button in the top-left marked ‘Open Photos For This Device’. [See How to stop apps opening when you attach your iPhone to your Mac]

Updated 21 November with general iOS and macOS updates.

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Wondering what is the best way to transfer the photos on my iPhone onto your Mac?

I still think the quickest and easiest way of transferring photos onto my Mac is simply to use ye old USB cable. By default, the Photos app on your Mac is set to open automatically as soon as you plug your iPhone into your Mac. The Photos app – or iPhoto on older Macs – will display all the photos that are stored on your iPhone’s camera roll, and you can simply click ‘Import All New Photos’ to import everything at once.

Alternatively, you can click on individual photos to select the best shots that you want to import and keep. I got a bit snap-happy on a recent trip to the wondrous Mont St Michel in France - a kind of real-life Hogwarts - so I can use this option to just import my favourite shots. You can also tell Photos to automatically delete photos from your iPhone once they’ve been copied onto your Mac. That will free up some space on your iPhone so that you’ve got room to store your next batch of shots.

Of course, sometimes you might just connect your iPhone in order to charge the battery. If you don’t want Photos to always open automatically then you can turn that option off by un-clicking the button in the top-left marked ‘Open Photos For This Device’. [See How to stop apps opening when you attach your iPhone to your Mac]

Updated 21 November with general iOS and macOS updates.

 

Step 2 of 7: Import photos from your Mac to iPhone with Image Capture

There’s another app that you can use to import photos onto your Mac. The Image Capture app has been around for years, and was originally designed for importing photos from scanners and other devices in the days before we all had iPhones. If you’re happy to use Photos to organise and edit all your shots then you don’t really need Image Capture.

However, Image Capture can come in handy for more experienced photographers who may prefer to use other photography apps, or who want to organise their photos in folders that are kept separate from the main Photos library.

Plug in your iPhone and launch Image Capture. You’ll see a list of your photos along with quite a bit of technical information, such as file sizes and aperture settings, that will be useful for more knowledgeable photographers. You can use the Import All command, or just select individual photos that you want to import.

There’s also an option to delete photos from within Image Capture if you want. By default, Image Capture will import your photos into the Pictures folder on your Mac, but it also allows you to specify other folders as well. That’s a handy option if you like to keep several different photo projects stored in their own individual folders.

 

Step 3 of 7: Import photos from your Mac to iPhone using WiFi

If you can’t be bothered with USB cables and importing photos by hand, then you can just sit back and let Apple’s iCloud do all the work by automatically transferring your photos whenever there’s a WiFi network available. The only problem here is that iCloud can be a little confusing to set up properly, and there are a number of different options that you need to know about. 

Of course, the first thing that you need to do is to make sure that iCloud is activated on both your iPhone and Mac. There are actually a couple of different ways of doing this on your iPhone, but they’re both located inside the main Settings app, so just tap Settings on your iPhone’s Home Screen to get started. 

Once you’re inside Settings you can scroll down and click on iCloud. You’ll see a list of apps that work with iCloud, and you can just tap on Photos to see the options that are available. Alternatively, you can go into Settings again, and scroll down past iCloud until you find Photos & Camera. Tap on Photos & Camera and you’ll see the iCloud options for Photos again, along with a few other settings that can be used to control the camera itself.

Read: How to use iCloud Photo sharing and iCloud Photo Library

 

Step 4 of 7: Import photos from iPhone to Mac using Email or iMessage

if you're feeling really low-fi and you're just importing one photo, you can email or iMessage the photo to yourself, then open your email (or iMessage) on the Mac and copy the attachment wherever you want it. This might just be the best option if you wanted to send a baby photo, say, to the grandparents at the same time as importing it into your Mac.

Go to Photos on your iPhone or iPad and find the photo you want. If the menus have disappeared, touch the photo to make them come up again - click on the share icon (the an arrow coming out a box at the bottom left) then tap the icon for iMessage or Mail. This will pop the photo into an email or iMessage for you.

You can then open the email or iMessage on your Mac (you may need to activate iMessage on your Mac).

 

Step 5 of 7: Import photos from iPhone to Mac using AirDrop

You can also AirDrop your photo to your Mac. The process is similar to the one described on the previous slide.

Start by turning on AirDrop on your iPhone by swiping up fron the bottom and tapping the AirDrop tab and choosing Everyone.

Next you will need to open the Finder on your Mac for this to work - and you will also need to be running Yosemite, El Capitan or macOS Sierra.

For AirDrop to work on you Mac you need to make sure your Mac isn't sharing it's connection over WiFi (which is quite a common occurance in offices where the WiFi isn't up to the number of devices attempting to share it - read about how to share the internet connection of your Mac to your iPhone via WiFi here.) If that's the case go to System Preferences > Sharing and deselect Internet Sharing. Your Mac will then need to connect to the same WiFi network as your iPhone.

You will also need to make sure your AirDrop connection is visable to your iPhone. If you are only using it for a few minutes then it's probably safe to change it so it allows you to see everyone, so select Everyone from the dropdown menu beside 'Allow me to be discovered by:'

Now you can find the image you want to share, click the Share icon and on the next screen you will see AirDrop as an option.

To share your photo from your iPhone to your Mac click on the image that represents your Mac on your iPhone and this should start the process of sharing the image to your Mac.

Just remember to turn AirDrop off afterwards if you have it set to Everyone.

Of course if your WiFi network isn't great you may find this whole process is not as flawless as you would hope.

Here's how to Use AirDrop to transfer files from iPhone to a Mac and Mac to iPhone

 

Step 6 of 7: Import photos from your Mac to iPhone using iCloud

We’ll take the simplest option, which is to go Settings/iCloud, and then tap on Photos. The main two options that we need here are iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream. If you turn on iCloud Photo Library then all the photos and videos on your iPhone will be uploaded to your personal iCloud account, and then copied onto your Mac or any other device that also has iCloud Photo Library activated. You get 5GB of free storage on iCloud, which should be fine for most people, but if you need more than that then you’ll have to sign up for one of Apple’s monthly subscription plans for extra storage. 

My Photo Stream works differently, as it only uploads the latest photos that you’ve taken, and only stores them within iCloud for 30 days. You’ll need to activate My Photo Stream on your Mac to make sure the photos are downloaded onto your Mac before that 30 day period ends. However, photos uploaded with My Photostream don’t count as part of your 5GB of free storage, so you can snap away to your heart’s content.

 

Step 7 of 7: Import photos from your Mac to iPhone using iCloud Photo Library

On your Mac, you can activate iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream either in the main iCloud panel within System Preferences, or in the Preferences window within the Photos app itself. It’s best to use the second option, as Photos offers one important extra option that we need to look at.

When you activate iCloud Photo Library from within Photos, you’ll see two new choices that appear. If you’ve got plenty of hard disk space available on your Mac then you can select Download Originals To This Mac, and this will download the original high-def photos and videos that are stored in iCloud. If you select Optimise Mac Storage then your Mac will try to save space by downloading lower-resolution copies of your photos and videos (although the high-res originals will still be stored in iCloud).

There’s a Windows version of the iCloud software available for PCs too, so you can transfer photos from an iPhone to a PC if you need to (you can download the Windows version of iCloud here). The other thing to be aware of is that uploading your entire collection of photos and videos to iCloud via wifi can take a really long time – which is why I still prefer to quickly transfer files via USB whenever I can.

Read next:

Photo editing tips for iPhoto and Preview, free software for photo editing on a Mac

How to share your Mac's iPhoto library via iCloud

How do I transfer photos from PC to a Mac?

How to copy photos from iPhone to iPhone (or iPad)

How to share photos to an iPad: share photos from your Mac, camera or iPhone

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