8 Starter Tips for Managing Your Photos Library on Mac

Akshata Shanbhag 11-04-2018

In these snap-happy times, you need all the help you can get to manage your photos.


We have shown you how to import, organize, and edit photos in Photos on macOS. Now let’s see what else you can do with the Photos app to keep your photo/video collection sparkling and up to date.

1. Set Up Folders

Photo Library Mac - set up folders

Photo collections can get out of control in a flash (no pun intended). But you can keep them sorted in Apple Photos by setting up folders. Click on File > New Folder to get started.

Albums and folders sound interchangeable. Are they? Not at all. Albums allow you to organize your photos and videos, while folders allow you to organize your albums.

Folders can have folders within them, and can have nested albums too. But albums cannot have child elements.


The folder structure comes in handy for managing collections of collections around a certain theme. Let’s say you have a separate album for every trip you have ever been on with your family. Then it makes sense to bring all those albums under a single umbrella, which can be your Family Vacations folder.

2. Tag People

Photo Library Mac - tag people

It’s convenient if you can isolate photos of specific friends or family members. Photos knows this and eases the way for you by allowing you to tag people in photos.

The app automatically scans faces that show up in your photos and collects them in the People section of the sidebar. Double-clicking on a face displays photos in which that face appears, across all albums.


You can match names to faces by clicking on the Name option that appears when you hover over a face. Once you have tagged people this way, you can search for their photos by typing in their name in the search box.

We’ll interrupt with a word of warning here: while it’s great that you can tag people in photos, you must consider the impact of facial recognition on your privacy.

3. Add Location Information

Photo Library Mac - add location details

All photos that have a location assigned to them show up on an interactive map in the Places section of the sidebar. Click on the thumbnail that appears for a particular location and you get a grid view of all the photos assigned to it.


Not all photos pick up the location information automatically. For some you’ll have to add it yourself. To do so, start by opening a photo and clicking on the i icon, which you’ll find in the primary toolbar at the top.

You should now see the photo’s Info section in a popup window. Click on the Assign a Location placeholder at the bottom of this window.

Photo Library Mac - assign location

Once you type in a location of your choice and hit Enter, a tiny interactive map with the correct pin shows up right there. Note that you can also add a title, keyword, and a description for the photo from this window.


You can assign a location to photos one at a time or in bulk; the process for both is the same.

4. Turn Albums Into Memories

Photo Library Mac - create memories

If you click on Memories in the Photos sidebar, you’ll see that Photos has taken your best shots and turned them into slideshows. With these special compilations you’re sure to rediscover some amazing photos that you’d all but forgotten about.

Apple doesn’t always get the photo selection right though. Hence, you might want to delete a few of the Apple-created memories and turn albums into memories yourself.

Open any album and click on the Show as Memory link for it to have the album appear under Memories. If you want to view the album as a slideshow without turning it into a memory, click on the Slideshow link instead.

You can also view a bunch of photos as a slideshow. To do so, click on the Play Slideshow option in the context menu for the group of selected photos.

To play a selected memory, click on its Play button in the top toolbar and then on the Play Slideshow button in the menu that appears. Notice that you can also change the theme and background music for the memory from this menu.

5. Enable Cloud Sync

Photo Library Mac - enable icloud sync

Backing up your photos to iCloud makes them accessible from any device with an internet connection. You’ll be glad to know that even the edits you make to photos get synced to iCloud.

Ensuring that you have photo backups in multiple locations will help you recover from potential data mishaps without breaking a sweat.

If you would like to use the cloud sync feature for your photo library, head to System Preferences > iCloud. There, click on the Options button next to Photos. Now, in the box that shows up, select the checkbox for iCloud Photo Library and hit the Done button.

(Want to keep your photos off the cloud, but sync them across your Apple devices? In the above step, select the My Photo Stream checkbox instead of the iCloud Photo Library checkbox. This two-way sync works only for 1,000 of your most recent photos.)

Keep in mind that Apple allocates only 5GB of free storage space to each iCloud user. If you have a sizeable photo collection to back up, you’re likely to run out of space fast. And sooner or later you’ll need to think about buying more iCloud storage Is It Finally Time to Buy More iCloud Storage? Now that iCloud storage costs considerably less than it used to, it might be time to upgrade beyond 5GB. Read More .

To access your iCloud-synced photos online, you’ll have to visit and log in with your Apple ID.

6. Set Up Smart Albums

Photo Library Mac - set up smart albums

A handful of Mac apps allow you to create smart groups to filter items based on one or more criteria. Photos is one of those apps, and it calls these special groups smart albums.

Smart albums come in handy when you want to, say, filter photos that match a certain keyword or feature a specific set of people. You can also use smart albums to isolate pictures that Photos hasn’t been able to sync with iCloud.

To start setting up a smart album, click on File > New Smart Album. You’ll then get a popup box where you can select conditions for filtering photos from a set of dropdown menus. Once you have these conditions in place, hit the OK button. The album will then show up under My Albums in the sidebar.

7. Repair the Photo Library

Photo Library Mac - repair photo library

If the Photos app won’t open or if it crashes too often, you can tell macOS to repair it. To do so, hold down the Option and Cmd keys when you’re opening the application.

Once you hit the Repair button in the dialog box that shows up, the built-in repair tool does the rest. It fixes any database problems and inconsistencies to get the Photos app working again.

You might have a bit of waiting to do depending on the size of your photo library. After the repair process is complete, Photos relaunches by itself.

8. Create Photo Books and Calendars

Photo Library Mac - create calendars

If you want to turn some of your memories into, say, a photo book or a calendar, you can do it right from the Photos app. What’s more, you can have the product delivered to your doorstep. To get started, hover over My Projects in the sidebar and click on the Plus (+) button that appears next to it.

You’ll get a dropdown menu to select the product type you want to see in print. Once you select that, the app takes over. It walks you through the process of picking a theme, adding pictures, editing the layout, and placing the order for the product.

Photo Library Mac - select photo product

Combined with the Image Capture app 4 Practical Ways to Use Your Mac's Image Capture App Your Mac's Image Capture app is a quiet but useful tool. Here are some practical uses for Image Capture you must check out. Read More , you can import your family’s photos into an awesome book.

Mac Photo Management Made Simpler

Now that you have a grasp of the basics of Apple Photos on Mac, you’re better prepared to keep your digital memories well organized. Ensure that you aren’t making the usual photo management mistakes, and you’ll be ready to make your photo albums a delight to flip through!

If you want a lightweight alternative to Photos for updating and organizing your photo collection, try one of these top image viewer apps for macOS The 5 Best Mac Image Viewer Apps With Unique Features Looking for a more powerful image viewer for your Mac? Have a look at these choices that provide lots of flexibility. Read More .

Related topics: iPhoto, Mac Smart Groups, Mac Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Dilip
    June 22, 2020 at 7:09 am

    Is there an easy method to export entire albums from Photos to an external drive? I want to transfer 30 albums, but using File - Export doesn't put them in separate folders. It's too much of a hassle doing it one album at a time (Make 30 folders on external drive, select all photos in first album, save into folder. Repeat 30 times). And even if I do this, the photos don't retain the sequence in which I had rearranged them in my albums in Photos on Mac.)

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      June 25, 2020 at 2:27 am

      Hi Dilip, if you select the sidebar folder which contains your albums and select an option under File > Export, you can choose to export the photos as albums in the next step. Be sure to select the Album Name With Number option in the File Name dropdown menu under File Naming.

      • Dilip
        July 4, 2020 at 12:34 pm

        Hi Akshata, thanks for your reply. In *File Naming* drop-down menu, the options are *Use Title, Use File Name, Sequential* (No *Album Name With Number*). I remember that option used to be in the old iPhoto app, but it didn't export all albums as separate folders. Anyway, I found an app "Photos Takeout" in Mac App Store that does exactly what I needed, so that problem is solved!

  2. Mike Parsons
    May 28, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Folders and Albums
    I cannot find a way to have an album as a folder child, as you explain, no way no how.
    ALBUMS are the upper level and may contain folders or albums -- in my Photo app at least!......and your pictures visually show same.
    or please explain if am wrong how to create top level folders with

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      May 30, 2018 at 11:50 am

      Mike, once you create a top-level folder and select it in the sidebar, click on the + button next to it. You'll then get a menu with options to create a new nested album, smart album, or folder. Also, if you have an existing album and an existing top-level folder, you can drag the album to the folder into the sidebar.

      In the first picture of the article, what you see in the nested folder Trips > Family Vacations--Macau, Maldives, Vietnam--are albums and not folders.

      • Mike Parsons
        May 30, 2018 at 2:50 pm

        Thanks indeed for this reply. most appreciated.
        I have a mind fix, perhaps unsurprisingly, that folders will behave like in Mac OS or MS windows, but they dont.
        what was/is confusing me is that there is no such thing as a top level folder; everything folders, albums, smart albums are all underneath the main header 'ALBUMS'. there is no visual (graphic or colour ID) for folders and albums. The only way to recognise is clicking on arrow and it says open folder or album if its a folder; or open album/smart album if its album.
        To add to confusion at the top level 'view', shows library, albums, smart albums.
        One more question if I may; because am still unclear as to how to mange my pictures.
        when I download pictures from say, camera, to Library, are these then on my HDD or as temp files in A photo? Methinks am better to avoid downloading to library and creating a named folder if Finder and then pulling them in for editing and sharing.

        • Akshata Shanbhag
          May 30, 2018 at 3:45 pm

          Mike, there is a visual distinction between folders and albums in the sidebar. The folder icon is similar to what you see in Finder. The album icon appears as a couple of photographs; the photograph on top is slightly off-center.

          A copy of anything you import into your Photos library gets saved at this location in Finder: Home/Pictures/Photos Library/Masters. To access this folder you have to right-click on Photos library and select Show Package contents from the context menu.

          You can use File > Import or drag and drop photos into the Photos app to import them automatically if you enable this setting under Photos > Preferences > General > Importing: Copy items to the Photos library.

          If you haven't enabled the setting, Photos treats the dragged and dropped photos as referenced files. That is, they stay in Finder, but get cataloged for viewing in Photos. To import these photos manually once they're already in the Photos app, you can use the File > Consolidate option.

  3. Pete
    April 28, 2018 at 10:37 am

    I have created albums on my iPad and I would like to sync those same pictures in their albums to my Mac. Is there a way that will retain the album structure from the iPad to the Mac?

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      May 3, 2018 at 4:32 pm

      Hi, Pete. If you have turned on the iCloud Photo Library feature or iCloud sync on your Mac and iPad, the syncing should happen automatically. You'll need to be logged in with the same Apple ID on both devices. This Apple help page should help you out.