Mac Apps

Where does the Photos app store images on my Mac?


macOS’ Photos app does a great job of managing and displaying all of your images, but have you ever wondered where these files are actually stored on your Mac?

Maybe you want to import a particular image into a different application, share it via an app or service that isn’t appearing in macOS’ ‘Share’ menu, or perhaps you want to backup your images en-masse and think this would be much easier if only you could view all of Photos’ content in a single Finder window.

Frustratingly, Photos doesn’t have a ‘Show in Finder’ option, so in this quick tip I’m going to cover various techniques you can use to track down the location of any of the images that appear in your Photos app.


Create a Copy

The easiest way to get access to the file behind any image that’s appearing in Photos, is to create a copy of that image and then place it somewhere that’s easily accessible – basically, drag your chosen image out of the Photos user interface, and drop it onto your Desktop.

This creates a copy of the image file in your chosen location, so technically you don’t get access to the original file, but depending on why you wanted access in the first place, this may be the easiest way to achieve your goal. For example, if you simply wanted to send the image to another user, or open the image in an editing program, then this method may be enough to get the job done.

Just remember that any changes you make to this copy won’t be reflected in the version of the image that appears in your Photos app.

Use ‘Show Referenced File in Finder’

Typically, you’ll add an image to Photos either by selecting ‘File > Import’ from the menu bar, or by dragging an image from the ‘Finder’ and dropping it into the Photos user interface. Both of these methods create a copy of the image and place it inside the Photos Library package, which is located in your home directory.

This is Photos’ default behaviour, but it isn’t the only way that you can use Photos. It’s possible to disable the import feature, and then use the Photos app simply as a way of browsing images that exist outside of the Photos Library package. This technique is useful if you prefer to arrange your images into the folders and subfolders of your choosing, for example if you already have a ‘Photos’ folder that contains all of your snaps, neatly divided into sub-folders, then you can disable the import feature and use Photos simply as an image-viewing app, not all that dissimilar to Preview.

This isn’t how Apple want you to use Photos, but if you disable the import feature (by navigating to ‘Photos > Preferences > General’ and deselecting the ‘Importing: Copy items to the Photos library’ checkbox) then it becomes much easier to navigate to an image’s original location. With import disabled, you can Control-click an image, select ‘Show referenced File in Finder,’ and a new Finder window will open in exactly the location where this file is stored. Alternatively, you can select ‘New > Show Referenced File in Finder’ from the Photos toolbar.

Exploring the Photos Library

Since the Photos app stores all of its images in a special Photos Library package, you can access the ‘master’ version of any image that appears in Photos, by opening this package and then spending some time browsing its various folders.

However, bear in mind that this library isn’t designed to be browsed manually, and therefore isn’t particularly user friendly – so tracking down a specific image may not always be easy! You should also avoid editing any of the images in this directory, as it could potentially confuse Photos, and may even cause images to vanish completely. If you do want to edit a photo then you should create a copy using the drag-and-drop technique described earlier in this article, and then apply your changes to this copy, rather than editing the original.

If you still want to take a closer look at the Photos Library, then:

  • Open a new Finder window.
  • Select ‘Go’ from the toolbar, and then click ‘Home.’
  • Open the ‘Pictures’ folder.
  • Control-click the ‘Photos Library’ file and select ‘Show Package Contents.’

Open the ‘Masters’ folder, and you’ll find the master file for each image that appears in the Photos app. Depending on how many images you’ve stored in Photos, this content may be spread across multiple folders and subfolders, so finding the exact image may require you to do a bit of digging.

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