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How to sync faces across your devices in the Photos app on iPhone, iPad, and Mac

Apple's smart learning integrated system in iOS and macOS works fantastically in the Photos app. It identifies landscapes, animals, colors, and people's faces. It's quite incredible how well the facial recognition software works. Even if someone is in costume, the software is able to determine who it is.

You can add faces to your People album, where you can easily find them when you're looking for just the right pictures for your photo collage. In iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, you'll have to use a workaround to get your people to sync across devices, but in iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, the process becomes automagic.

How to sync faces between devices in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11

Apple has finally solved the face syncing problem in iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. No longer will you have to go through 20 steps for each face in order to sync between Macs. No longer will you have to perform keyword searches to find those faces on your iPhone. Thanks to a robust update to iCloud Photo Library. People albums will be synced across your iPhone, iPad, and Mac automagically.

So you literally don't have to do anything. All of your faces will begin syncing automatically when your device is plugged into power and the Photos app is not in use (Mac) or your device is locked (iPhone and iPad).

Sit back and enjoy the ride.

How to sync faces between devices in macOS Sierra and iOS 10

In older versions of Photos on Mac, iPhone, and iPad, syncing between devices has been a problem. It's not an actual feature of iCloud Photo Library or any other iCloud syncing. You have to manually create Smart albums and sync keywords in order to be able to view specific people on your various devices. It's a complicated workaround, but it does the trick.

  1. Launch the Photos app on your Mac.
  2. Click on People under Albums section in your sidebar.

  1. Select a person that you want to sync across your devices.
  2. Click on Show All in order to see all photos identified as that person.

  1. Select all photos in the person's album.
  2. With the photos still selected, click on Window in the menu bar at the top of your screen.
  3. Select Keyword Manager.

  1. Select Edit Keywords.
  2. Click the Add (+) button in the bottom left corner of the Keyword Manager window.

  1. Select the newly created Untitled keyword.
  2. Click on Rename.
  3. Enter the person's name.
  4. Click OK.

  1. Click on the person's name now listed in the Quick Group section. All of the photos that were selected will be tagged with the keyword.
  2. Click on the Add tool at the top right side of the Photos window.

  1. Select Smart Album in the drop down menu.
  2. Name the Smart Album after the person.

  1. Select Keyword in the first section of the conditional rules.
  2. Select Is in the second section of the conditional rules.
  3. Select the Name in the third section of the conditional rule.
  4. Click on OK.

The photos, filtered by the person's name as a keyword, will appear in the Albums section in the sidebar of your Photos app on all other Mac computers. You can repeat these steps with every face you want to sync across your devices.

Smart Albums are not supported in iOS 10. In order to find the faces you've added on your Mac, search for the keyword you created for the name.

  1. Launch the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Tap the Search icon in the upper right side of the screen. It looks like a magnifying glass.
  3. Type in the first few letters of the name of the person you are looking for.
  4. Tap the search result for the keyword of the name.

Note: In my experience, if you type in the person's entire name, the keyword search disappears. Just type in the first few letters.

It's not perfect, but it will do until you can update your operating systems to macOS High Sierra and iOS 11.

How to remove faces from your People album in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11

Oh, it's so easy to do. Since everything syncs across all devices, you only have to do it once per face on one device.

  1. Launch the Photos app on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
  2. Select People from the Albums section.
  3. Select a person.
  4. Scroll down to the bottom of the album and select Remove from People Album.

This will sync across all of your devices and the person will be hidden in your People section.

How to un-sync people between devices in macOS Sierra and iOS 10

If you decide that you don't want to have a particular person's face saved as a Smart Album or keyword in Photos anymore, you can un-sync their pictures by removing albums and keywords.

  1. Open the Photos app on your Mac.
  2. Right or Control + Click on the Smart Album of the person's name you created.
  3. Select Delete Smart Album.
  4. Select Delete to confirm that you want to delete the Smart Album.

  1. Select Keyword Manager.
  2. Select Edit Keywords.
  3. Select the Keyword name you want to remove.
  4. Click the Remove (-) button in the bottom left corner of the Keyword Manager window.
  5. Click OK to confirm that you want to remove the keyword.
  6. Click OK to close the Keyword Manager window.

If you want to remove a person from the People section of the Photos app on Mac, Command + click on a face. The face will automatically become hidden.

Any questions?

Do you have any questions about syncing faces across your iPhone, iPad, and Mac in macOS Sierra and iOS 10 or macOS High Sierra and iOS 11? Put them in the comments and we'll help you out.

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).

9 Comments
  • High Sierra and iOS 11 will sync faces.
  • Yup. That's why I included the sections about how High Sierra and iOS 11 will automatically sync faces in the how-to. It's going to be so much easier!
  • Hi - I realize this thread is a little old but I was WAY late to the game (because I was lazy) in upgrading to the Photos app (Yosemite, then Sierra). Two questions:
    1) I have WAY more faces identified in photos on my phone. Does the smart album pull them up to the Photos app vs vice versa? I'm assuming sync means both directions but I want to double check.
    2) Do you think it's worth doing now or waiting until High Sierra comes out - I assuming it will be mid to late Sept '17? I am nervous about a beta on my primary MacBook Air, but I would presumably not need all the smart albums once High Sierra has launched? I know this isn't the most important of issues but I have spend hours identifying faces on my phone - super helpful when you have two teen daughters who take *thousands* of photos. I don't want to recreate on my computer. Thanks! P.S. Someone mentioned pets somewhere - is this true? I would love to find photos of our doggos. To borrow from WeRateDogs, they're good dogs, Lory. 15/10 LOL
  • I recommend waiting until iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra launch. Your organized faces will automatically sync from your iPhone to your Mac. You won't have to do anything! As for pets, it identifies animals (like cats, dogs, horses), but doesn't distinguish between specific animals, like Fido or Fluffy. You can ask Siri to find pictures of dogs in Photos and it'll show you all the pictures you've taken of your dogs, but they don't automatically get organized into different Faces albums.
  • Thank you so much for your reply! I think that is the best plan. And, even if I find photos of dogs, it's still easier than scrolling through to find them. Thanks!
  • In the section "How to remove faces from your People album in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11" you talk about removing people from the people album, it works! BUT, how do I get them back in there after they have been removed? (can't figure this out for the life of me) Thanks!
  • "Note: In my experience, if you type in the person's entire name, the keyword search disappears. Just type in the first few letters."
    You know why it didn't work? It's because you misspelled Craig's name as "Criag" so it only works for the first 2 letters. lol
    Great article otherwise.
  • Hello, I have an iPhone iOS 11 and MacOS Sierra. I have people in my Mac but they are not syncing in my iPhone. (All my photos are in iCloud) i have close the app and Waited as you listed above but it is not working. Is there anything else I can do?
  • the people album seems to be stuck for me scanning the remaining photos. it says photos will scan the remaining photos when the Mac is plugged in and the app isn't running. I have both done and its still not moving or increasing the photo scan. any reason as to why Thanks