You might be familiar with the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad as the place where all your photos and videos end up, but did you know you can use the same app on your Mac to view and edit your photos?

This article is part of a set of articles about using Photos on the Mac. Elsewhere we cover how to view, edit and share your photos and videos using the Mac app. We also discuss how best to organise your photos and how you can add filters to your photos and make other adjustments to make them look perfect.

But before you can do any of that you need to get the images onto your Mac. In this article we are interested in the different ways you can sync your photos with your Mac, including using iCloud Photos so that all your photos and videos are stored in iCloud and accessible on any of your devices, and other options for transferring your images to your Mac.

If you want to jump straight to any of the other articles in this series you can do so by clicking the links below:

There are actually a few ways to populate your Photo library. We’ll run through each option. Here is what you need to do to import photos into Photos.

Import from a iPhone using a cable

When you plug in an iPhone (or a camera) into your Mac using a cable Photos should automatically open to allow you to import the images into your Photos library.

  1. First you will have to unlock your iPhone
  2. You will then have to enter your passcode to prove that you Trust the computer.
  3. Your phone (or camera) should appear in a new Devices section that appears in the left-hand column. If it wasn’t automatically selected, click on it.
  4. You will have the option to import any photos, you can choose to Import to your Library, a New Album, or any existing album. Just click on the dropdown menu beside Import to.
  5. It might take a while for your photos to appear - especially if you have a lot of photos. (When we weren’t seeing any photos to import we took a photo with our iPhone camera and this seemed to jolt it into action pulling in thumbnails of our photos). You can either import all the new images, or just select the photos you want to import. Import Photos to Mac
  6. If you want to import a number of photos click on each photo while pressing the Command key and you will select just those photos. Alternatively use your mouse or touch pad draw a marquee around a collection of photos that are clustered together.
  7. Click on the Import 1 (or more) Selected button at the top of the window to import the photos.
  8. The photo(s) will now appear in your Imports view.

Import from a memory stick or SD card

This process is similar to that above, except that you won’t need to confirm that you trust the device in the same way.

Import wirelessly from your iPhone

There are actually a few ways to import images from your iPhone where you don’t need a wire.

The following two methods are our preferred ways to get photos into Photos on our Mac, but there are other methods such as using AirDrop, email, Messages, or saving to iCloud Files. We cover all the ways to get photos from your iPhone to your Mac in more detail here: How to transfer photos from iPhone to Mac.

Use iCloud Photo Library

If you have a iPhone and an iPad you might like the idea of having all your photos taken by or stored on those devices appear on your Mac.

In fact every photo on every Apple devices you own can be consolidated in one place - so you can view photos on your Apple TV too, for example.

To enjoy this feature in its entirety you will need to pay Apple a monthly subscription for an amount of iCloud storage.

  • 50GB storage: £0.79/$0.99 a month
  • 200GB storage: £2.49/$2.99 a month
  • 2TB storage: £6.99/$9.99 a month

You can get 5GB storage for free but it’s very unlikely that this would be enough for the purposes of storing photos in iCloud.

We recommend paying a monthly fee for iCloud storage. We use it for much more than our iCloud Photo Library, we also store everything on our Mac’s Desktop and Documents in the cloud so we have access to everything we are working on on all our devices. One of the biggest benefits is that, because your photos are in the cloud, if you lose your iPhone or it breaks you won’t lose your photos.

The other benefit is what we are concerned with here. Keeping all your photos in sync across all your devices. This means that when you take a photo on your iPhone that photo will be uploaded to iCloud and you will be able to view it, and edit it, on any of your Apple devices. In fact you can even access that photo at on a PC. It means that when you get home from your holiday and start up your Mac all the photos you took will be in Photos on your Mac.

You might be thinking that if all your photos were automatically added to the library on your Mac they would quickly fill your Macs storage up. You can choose that all your photos are downloaded to your Mac, which will mean that full-sized versions are stored on your Mac and in iCloud, but we choose the Optimise Mac Storage option, which means that smaller versions of the photos are stored on our Mac while the full-sized original is stored in iCloud. You can find this option in Photos > Preferences > iCloud.

Optimise storage photos

Use Photo Stream

If you don’t fancy paying the fee for iCloud storage you can still sync some of your photos over iCloud so that they appear on your Mac.

My Photo Stream will upload photos you take to iCloud, but it will only keep them for 30 days. You are also limited to 1,000 photos - so if you took more than 1,000 in the past 30 days, only the most recent will be there.

To turn on My Photo Stream you need to go to Settings > Photos on your iPhone and turn on Upload to My Photo Stream. You also need to go to Photos > Preferences on your Mac and turn on My Photo Stream there. Then you will see the recent photos you’ve taken with your iPhone when you open Photos on your Mac. If you want to download a photo to your Mac from your Photo Stream so that it doesn’t disappear from your Mac after 30 days you can duplicate it by right-clicking on the photo and choosing Duplicate 1 Photo.

Duplicate photo

Now that you have your photos on your Mac, the next thing you will want to do if explore the different ways you can view them.

We also have this guide to the best Mac for photo editing.