How to import pictures into Photos on Mac

Bring all of your images together under one roof with Photos for Mac.

Photos for Mac offers a lot to photographers of any stripe. It doesn't matter if every picture you take is #ShotoniPhone or captured with a DSLR, Photos offers an array of image management and editing features that any photographer can get something out of. But if you've been using a Mac for your photography for awhile, chances are you've tried a number of tools, and perhaps even have multiple libraries that you've decided to bring under a singular Photos for Mac umbrella.

After you've gotten Photos set up, the next step is to import your images. Here's what you need to know about bringing your older pictures and libraries to Photos for Mac.

How to import images and folders into Photos

  1. Open Photos from your Dock or Applications folder.
  2. Click on the File menu.

    Open Photos, click File

  3. Select Import (or type command-Shift-I).

  4. Find and select the image you're looking to import.

    Click Import, find image

  5. Click Review for Import.

Click Review for Import

The file will now be added to your Photos library.

In the Finder, you can also simply drag and drop the images you want to import onto the Photos icon; Photos will import them.

Bear in mind, though, that Photos' default behavior is not to include original images in imports. It keeps links to them, so you can use Photos to edit or catalog them but still keep them where they are.

This is a double-edged sword: It reduces the size of Photos' library but if your goal is to clean up folders and disks with lots of photos on them, it can get confusing. To put everything actually in your Photos library, make sure to modify Photos' preferences to copy imported files to your Photos library. There's another important reason to do this if you plan to share those imported images on other devices: Only items copied to Photos' library will be uploaded to iCloud Photo Library.

A note for Lightroom users looking to switch

If you switched to Lightroom a while ago but now want to make the move to Photos, your best bet is to load your Lightroom folders and files directly into Photos. Just note down where they're stored on your hard drive, and then import away.

How to copy imported files to your Photos library

  1. With Photos open, click on the Photos.
  2. Click Preferences...

    Click Photos, click Preferences

  3. Check Copy items to the Photos Library.

    Check Copy items to the Photos Library

How to import your iPhoto Library into Photos for macOS

If you have a single iPhoto Library

If you're upgrading to Photos for Mac from iPhoto and you've only ever had a single iPhoto library on your Mac, your upgrade path is easy: After you open the app for the first time, Photos will automatically import all your iPhoto images into the app.

Your old iPhoto library will still remain if you need to use iPhoto for whatever reason, but changes made to those older images won't automatically sync to your new Photos library. If you don't need your old iPhoto library, you can toss it in the trash — your images are now safely in Photos (and, if you've turned on iCloud Photo Library, in iCloud as well).

If you're working with multiple libraries

Photos for Mac is only compatible with one primary library per Mac: This means that you can't combine multiple old iPhoto or Aperture libraries into one master library.

As such, if you have multiple libraries on your machine, Photos will ask you to select which library you'd like to import when you first launch the app. Once you've selected the library you want to use, Photos will prep and import those images.

You can still upgrade your other older libraries to separate Photos libraries; you'll just have to individually import each one by option-clicking the Photos icon when starting the app. This brings up the "Choose Library" screen, where you can select a current Photos library or an older iPhoto or Aperture library to import.

macOS Photo Library selection

These other Photos libraries function identically to each other, with one exception: Only one library can be synced with iCloud Photo Library at a time. Your others will be locally (or externally, if you have them on a hard drive) siloed from iCloud's sync service.

How to import your Aperture library into Photos for Mac

If you want your existing Aperture library to be your main Photos library, simply select it as part of the initial setup of Photos for Mac.

If you want to import your Aperture library as an additional Photos library, here's how.

  1. Locate your Aperture library in the Finder and Control-click or right-click on it. The default location is in the Pictures folder.
  2. Hover over Open With.

    Right-click library, hover on Open With

  3. Click Photos where it appears in the menu.

    Click Photos

Photos will now launch and will import the Aperture library. Once it's completed, all your Aperture library photos will be there.

Questions?

If you've got further questions about importing images into Photos for Mac, let us know in the comments.