Where are photos stored on MacBooks? Find photos on Mac

How to find the location of photos on the Apple Mac. Do you need to access the original images? Here's where to find them on the Mac's disk

Do you know where your photos are stored on the Mac? Can you find photos on your MacBook or iMac? How do you back them up? It is not as simple as it seems and there are pitfalls to catch you out.

All of your photos could be stored on the Mac’s disk, all your photos could be stored online, or some could be online and some on the Mac. It is a confusing situation and many people do not know where there photos are stored. They know they are somewhere, but where? And are they backed up?

iCloud is a way to share all of your photos across all of your Apple devices, such as the Mac, iPhone and iPad. It is a very convenient and in addition to sharing your photographs and videos online (privately, only you can access them), it frees up storage space on the Mac and iOS devices.

However, any photos that are not on the Mac are not backed up. What’s more, they cannot be backed up because they are stored online. You might think that iCloud Photo Library s a backup, but it is not.

When all your photos are stored in one place, whether it is online or offline, then a single failure means you can lose the lot. If your Apple account was hacked you would lose all your photos. If Apple had some sort of service failure, you might not be able to access your photos.

These are rare events of course, and might never happen, but do you really want to leave it to chance?

Related: macOS has analysed all your photos and here's what it found

Enable iCloud Photo Library

If you use iCloud Photo Library you should also keep a copy of all your photos and videos on the Mac’s disk or a USB disk. That way every file is stored in two locations - online and offline.

Open System Preferences and click iCloud. At the bottom of the window is a bar that shows the amount of storage space available. If you have a 5GB free account you will need to add more storage.

Enable iCloud Photos in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

Click the Manage button and click Buy More Storage or Change Storage Plan.

Change the iCloud storage plan on the Apple Mac

The plans are displayed and the price of 50GB is very low. This is fine for many people, but if you also store the Desktop and Documents folders online then more storage might be needed.

Select an iCloud storage plan from Apple

Let’s assume you have sufficient online storage in iCloud. Back at the main iCloud preferences, tick Photos to enable photo storage on iCloud and then click Options on the right. Tick iCloud Photo Library.

Enable iCloud Photo Library in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

Download iCloud photos

It will take some time depending on how many photos you have, but eventually all of your photos will be stored online. The question is, are they also stored on the Mac’s disk?

Open the Photos app, go to the Photos menu and select Preferences

Select the iCloud tab and enable iCloud Photo Library.

Also select Download Originals to this Mac.

Download original photos from iCloud Photos on the Apple Mac

What this does is to make sure that all of your photos are stored on the Mac in the Photos app library on the disk. It also means that all your photos are stored online in iCloud Photo Library.

Your photos are in two locations, on disk and online. Having the photos on the disk means you can back them up with Time Machine or other backup software. You can also access the original images.

Where photos are stored on the Mac

Now that we definitely know that the photos are on the disk, we can find them. Go to your home folder and open Pictures.

Ctrl+click (or right click) Photos Library.photoslibrary and select Show Package contents.

Open the Photos library in Finder on the Apple Mac

The photos are stored in subfolders of Masters. There is a folder for each year, each month and each day, but only if you took a photo. Copy the Masters folder if you want to copy your photos elsewhere.

Where Photos are stored on the Mac

iPhotos and Photos libraries

When the iPhotos app was replaced by the Photos app, a new photo library was created. This might mean that you have an iPhoto Library.migratedphotolibrary and Photos Library.photoslibrary.

It looks like your photos are duplicated, but they are not. Photos are stored in one library and the other library contains a link to the original. It’s a bit like an alias, but more powerful.

Don’t worry about this, just use the photos in Photos Library.photoslibrary and forget the old iPhotos library.

Export photos from Photos

If you want to copy all of your photos then copying the Masters folder is the way to go. It is very tedious trying to find the location of a single photo though. You might have to trawl through dozens or hundreds of folders and files looking for it.

It is easier to open the Photos app, find the photo, and then use Export on the File menu. A copy of the currently selected photo is saved wherever you choose, such as the desktop.

Photos stored elsewhere.

This is not quite the end of the story and when importing photos they can be copied to the Photos library or left where they are. Go to the Photos menu, Preferences and select the General tab.

There is an option to Copy items to the Photos library.

Copy files to the Photos library when importing them on the Mac

If this is enabled then all your photos are in the Masters folder in the Photos library.

If this is not enabled then photos could be stored elsewhere.

Find referenced files

Open the Photos app and select a photo. Go to the File menu and look at Show Referenced File in Finder.

File referenced photos in the Photos app on the Apple Mac

If this is grey and cannot be clicked, it means the photo is stored in the Photos library. If it can be selected, it means the photo is stored outside of the Photos library, elsewhere on the disk. Finder will open to show the location.

Related: Fix photo flaws with the Mac's best free photo editor




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