Whether you are trying to save space on an iPhone and need to back up photos to your Mac before deleting them, just want to make sure you have your photos stored somewhere other than your iPhone, need to copy photos and video onto your Mac in order to edit them using Mac software, or you want to copy your photos onto someone else's Mac, this tutorial will show you a number of ways in which you can transfer photos (and video) from an iPhone (or iPad) to a Mac.
There are actually lots of ways to sync your iPhone photos with a Mac, and you can do so using a variety of apps and services, so read on to find out which method will be best for you.
Copy iPhone photos & video to a Mac using Photos
If you have your iPhone USB cable handy, one of the quickest and easiest ways of transferring photos onto a Mac is to plug your iPhone into the USB port on your Mac.
By default, the Photos app on your Mac (read more about how to use Photos here) is set to open automatically as soon as you plug your iPhone into your Mac.
You may need to unlock your iPhone when you plug it into your Mac and confirm that you trust the device that you have plugged it into. If it doesn't automatically show the photos on your iPhone you should see the phone in the list on the left of the window, select your iPhone and the images should appear in the window.
The Photos app 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 into Photos.
Alternatively, you can click on individual photos to select the best shots that you want to import and keep. If you have limited storage available on your Mac you might want to do this and just import your favourite shots.
You can also tell Photos to automatically delete the photos on 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. (You can read more tips about saving space on your iPhone here).
Of course, sometimes you might just connect your iPhone to your Mac 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 of Photos marked ‘Open Photos For This Device’. See How to stop apps opening when you attach your iPhone to your Mac.
Import photos & video from your iPhone to your Mac with Image Capture
There’s another app that you can use to import photos onto your Mac. The Image Capture app was originally designed for importing photos from scanners and other devices in the days before we all had iPhones. The app's pretty redundant now that we have the Photos app on our Macs.
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.
We use Image Capture to move screenshots and photos we don't intend to keep onto our Macs (mostly to illustrate features like this!) If you just need to send an image to your Mac but don't intend to keep it, or display it in an album, this may be the solution for you.
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 (which is separate from the Photos app), 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.
Import photos and video to your Mac from your iPhone using iCloud Photo Library
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.
If you sign up for iCloud Photo Library all your photos will be synced across all your Apple devices, so you'll be able to see the photos you took on your iPhone on your Mac without doing anything (although you will need to have access to a WiFi network before your photos sync this way).
You will also need to subscribe to an iCloud storage plan to use iCloud Photo Library - you'll get 5GB free, but chances are you have more than 5GB of photos, so you'll be looking at 79p a month for 50GB or £2.49 a month for 200GB (there's also 1TB for £6.99 a month or 2TB for £19.99 a month).
iCloud Photo Library automatically shares all your photos taken on any of your Apple devices, to all of your Apple devices, whenever there’s a WiFi network available.
To set up iCloud Photo Library on your iPhone first of all you need to be signed into iCloud. Go to Settings on your iPhone’s Home Screen, tap on your name at the top of the page and sign in using your Apple ID if you haven't already done so.
From here you can tap on iCloud and then Photos and turn on iCloud Photo Library. Here you can also choose to Optimise iPhone Storage (which will stop your iPhone getting full up of all the photos you take on your other devices - crucial if you are trying to make more space on your iPhone!) You can also access this page from Settings > Photos & Camera.
This tutorial will show you how to use iCloud Photo Library
To set up iCloud Photo Library on your Mac go to the main iCloud panel within System Preferences, or open the Preferences window within the Photos app itself (Photos > Preferences). 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.
Import photos and video to your Mac from your iPhone using iCloud Photo Stream
If you aren't keen on the idea of paying money to use iCloud Photo Library then you can use My Photo Stream to automatically upload photos and send them to all your devices that are signed into your iCloud account whenever you connect to WiFi.
The main difference between My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Library is the limitations of My Photo Stream - with My Photo Stream the photos will only appear on your other devices for 30 days, and the limit is 1000 photos.
However, as long as you remember to go into Photos on your Mac, you can easily download them to that app so that they don't vanish later in the month.
To set up My Photo Stream on your iPhone go to Settings > Photos and Camera and use the slide to turn on Upload to My Photo Stream.
To set up My Photo Stream on your Mac open Photos and click on Photos > Preferences > iCloud. Then select My Photo Stream and turn it on.
To save a photo from My Photo Stream to your Mac right click (or control click) on it and choose save.
This tutorial will show you how to use iCloud Photo Stream
Import photos and video to your Mac from your iPhone 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 (or your friend), then open your email (or Messages) 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. 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 send up to five images or videos this way - if you want to send more there is a way though: you can select a number of images, choose Copy from the options below the app icons, and then open an email or iMessage and paste them in.
You can then open the email or iMessage on your Mac and copy them over (you may need to activate Messages on your Mac - read how to do that here).
Import photos and video 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 Mac OS X Yosemite, El Capitan or macOS Sierra.
Note: You can now use a new record screen feature in iOS 11 to record the screen on your iPhone or iPad, and anything that is playing, find out how to do this here: How to record your iPhone screen
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.The image will land in your Downloads folder, which you can access from the Dock.
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.
We also have a complete guide to using iMovie on the Mac to edit your iPhone video.