How to Use Photos for OS X With Photoshop, Pixelmator and Other Image Editors

Andy Betts 27-07-2015

Apple’s new Photos app for OS X and iOS A Cleaner, Faster iPhoto: Upgrade to Photos for OS X Yosemite Photos for OS X has finally arrived, replacing iPhoto with an image management application that Mac users will actually want to use — but is there enough here to satisfy Aperture refugees? Read More is being pitched as being the only photography app you might ever need.


It enables you to manage your library, edit your images, and then share them to common online services. It’s also fully integrated with iCloud, so you can access all your images on all your Apple devices.

photos editing

For most users, and in most use cases, it’s pretty good. But for more advanced users it falls short in a few areas, not least in its lack of support for external image editors 10 Easy-to-Use Photo Editing Programs for Newbie Photographers If Adobe Lightroom seems too complex for you, check out these easy-to-use photo editing programs for beginners. Read More  like Photoshop and Pixelmator.

Fortunately, there is a workaround that allows you to get your Photos images into Photoshop and other editors when you need them. Let’s take a look at how to do it.

Photos Doesn’t Support External Image Editors

In iPhoto, using external editors was easy. You would either right-click on an image and select Edit with… and choose your application, or simply drag the image onto the Photoshop icon in the OS X Dock Everything You Need to Know about Your Mac's Dock It's the primary way many users interact with Mac OS X, but a lot of people still don't know some of the most basic and useful things the dock is capable of. Read More , and it would open there. You could then edit the image, save it, and see the changes reflected in iPhoto.


Photos doesn’t work like that at all. There’s no option to edit your image with third party software, and you cannot open an image in another app by dragging it to the Dock.

Instead, you need to manually export the files that you want to open in your external editor, edit them, and reimport them when done.

Beware the Wrong Settings

But even here there are issues to be aware of. Dragging and dropping a file from Photos onto your desktop does not automatically give you a full-size, maximum-quality version of the file.

photos configure size


Dragging and dropping adopts the customizable settings from the File > Export > Export 1 Photo menu option, which we’ll look at below. You’ll use these when preparing images for use on the web, or for uploading to an online photo album Online Photo Albums: Where to Host Them for Free Which online photo storage service is the best? Between free price tags, unlimited storage space, and photo security, which service is best for you? Read More that isn’t offered directly through the Share menu. If you don’t check the settings every time, it’s easy to end up exporting smaller, or more compressed, versions of your photos by mistake.

There’s a hidden trick here. To drag and drop the original version of your image — and the same applies to your videos as well — hold the option key (also known as the alt key) as you click and drag your images to the desktop. Even screenshots will need to be exported as originals, as Photos converts them from .PNG to .JPEG.

How to Open an Image from Photos in Photoshop, Pixelmator or Any Other Image Editor

Photos has a good set of editing functions for quickly touching up and correcting your images. But sometimes you want to process an image more heavily, or use a specific plugin or filter. In these cases you will need to use a manual workaround to open your image in Photoshop, Pixelmator, Affinity or the editor of your choice.

To export images through the menu, click on the image (or command + click to select several images) that you want to open in your external editor.


Go to File > Export. The sub-menu that opens give you two options:

photos export menu

Export 1 Photo (or however many you have selected) enables you to export the images at quality levels of your choosing. Click the downward arrow alongside Photo Kind to set a size and quality — these are the settings that will also be applied when you drag and drop an image to the desktop.

Any edits you have made within Photos will also be applied to the images you export in this way, from simple cropping and straightening to full on color corrections.


photos export

Export Unmodified Original For 1 Photo exports a copy of the original version of the image, at maximum quality and with no edits applied. It’s most likely you’ll want to choose this option when making serious edits, to preserve the accuracy of the original exposure and maintain quality.

Choose a location to export your files. For easy access, particularly if the image will only be used temporarily, the desktop makes a good holding place.

Now locate your exported files. You can open them in your chosen editor by right-clicking (or control + click) and selecting Open With from the menu. Alternatively, you can drag it onto the icon for your image editor in the Dock.

The image will open in your chosen photo editor. Make the edits and save the file. You can overwrite the exported file on your desktop, since the original is still stored in Photos.

Get Your Edited Image Back Into Photos

There’s no need to change the filename when you re-import the image back into Photos. It won’t overwrite the original, and so long as the metadata (including the date it was shot) is still in tact it will be placed near the original in the library.

imported image photos

This means you get a duplicate, which is not as bad as it first seems as this ensures you still have access to the original.

Photos is a non-destructive image editor. Every edit you make to a photo can be undone, and you can always revert back to the untouched original file. When editing in Photoshop Photoshop for Photographers: 8 Free Lectures to Get You Started If you're a photographer, your education doesn't stop at the camera. You need to post-process if you want the best possible results. Here are eight free lectures to get you started. Read More , or any other editor, the changes you make are written directly to the file. The moment you save the changes and exit the app, they cannot be undone.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep the original alongside an externally edited version as backup.

photos reimport

To import your edited photo go to File > Import and select the image, or simply drag it from your desktop onto the Photos dock icon or into the app window.

Click on the Photos view to see that the image has been added alongside the original. Click on the Albums button to add the new version of the image to any albums you want to include it in (you might want to remove the original from these, too).

An Improvement For the Future

Photos is not a replacement for Lightroom or the now-defunct Aperture. It works well as a consumer-friendly photo management tool, but it falls short for enthusiasts and pros that want to include more advanced editing apps in their workflow.

photos extensions

There is an option for the developers of third-party programs to build extensions for Photos in future, to add a level of integration for their tools. This is available through the Extensions options in the Edit screen of Photos.

It would be better, though, for the functionality to be built in directly. Until then, this workaround is the way to go.

What do you think about this limitation? Do you still use Photos, or have you switched to something else?

Related topics: Adobe Photoshop, Image Editor, iPhoto, OS X Yosemite.

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  1. Mary
    November 27, 2017 at 1:02 am

    I'm a little late to this party,, but just had to comment. I've been using Macs for several decades. It was a no brainer as I was an artist and they were so easy to use. The did "just work" in the past. I set my first Mac up in minutes and was off and running. My husband spent all day getting his Windows machine to work. In the old days when there was a system upgrade it was primarily an improvement. But overtime I became reluctant to change as I was losing apps that were essential to what I was doing, with no replacement, and losing time having to 're-learn' new things. Consequently I have been happily and efficiently working in Lion and the Adobe CS6 Suite for some time now. But I obviously couldn't keep this up much longer, so I got a second hard drive installed in my desktop Mac and had El Capitan loaded, thinking I could make the transition gradually without the huge loss of time in relearning everything at once. But times have changed. I can't tell you how much I dislike El Capitan. Noting seems easy anymore. But the topper was when I found out I couldn't open an image from Photo into Photoshop without exporting and then importing it. Whose brainless idea was it to drop that? And the photo editing capabilities in Photo, please. They are an insult to even 'average' users, whatever that is. As someone else said, why do they feel they have to dumb everything down? Why can't they have their own edit capabilities but also make it possible to open in Photoshop, or other editor, if one so desires. I never ever thought I would live to say this, so enamored of Apple was I, but I am ready to throw the whole thing out and switch to Windows. (Ugh! I feel my skin crawling.) The who-evers at Apple ought to be charged with destroying what was a fantastic system, that worked beautifully for amateur and professional alike.

    • Nita
      May 14, 2018 at 4:09 pm

      I am an avid user of Photoshop. I just changed from Windows to Apple To my shock I realised I could not open an image in Photoshop. I am still reeling.

  2. Lester Dore
    August 20, 2017 at 3:57 am

    Taking out the possibility to link to an external editor sucks. And that's not the only thing that sucks. Not having a simple option to display all photos arranged by date also sucks.

    • Nita
      May 14, 2018 at 4:11 pm

      Yes the photos app of Apple is terrible. Even for amateurs like me. Not sure why people praise Apple so much.

  3. matthew cohn
    July 27, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Just finally had to get a new mac. the loss of direct drag and drop from Iphotos to Photoshop is a huge insult to users esp to those like myself who need to do this many times a day. the workrounds are clumsy and lengthy. Im moving to another photo manager asap. one suspects that Apple are deliberately trying to manipulate us away from a rival companies (excellent) product.

  4. Gillian Carson
    June 30, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    It's early days yet but I'm not impressed with Photos as a replacement for iPhoto. So far I just wonder why they've downgraded.

  5. John
    December 27, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    "Buy a Mac" they said. "They just work" they said. Just bought my first MacBook Pro, and so far it's been nothing but frustrations, like this ridiculous crap.

  6. Sarah Wood
    September 28, 2016 at 4:02 pm


    I have downloaded it and while it is a great shortcut, it is converting my raw files into jpgs without allowing me to see or use the cr2 files. Is there any workaround on this??

    • Alex Kent
      October 2, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Sarah,

      You're right the plugin does not support passing RAW files to external editors.
      Personally I don't keep RAW files in the Photos library, and I made the plugin to meet my own needs first!
      Just now the is no workaround, but since you are not the first to ask about RAW support, I hope to add that feature when I have a little time.


  7. alex kent
    May 27, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    Hi all,
    I created a extension to allow editing in external editors. You can edit images from your photo library in Photoshop (or whatever other app your like) and save them right back into the library.

    It's free, go check it out!

    • Eddie Narvez
      July 15, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      THANK YOU SO MUCH ALEX!! I've been so frustrated with this lack of integration with PS and just waiting for this 2 companies to play nice with each other, I really hope you get the recognition you deserve.
      once again BIG thank you!

    • CatdaddyKeys
      July 18, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      Echoing others' sentiments: THANK YOU, ALEX! You are a great example of digital citizenship.

    • Sarah Wood
      September 28, 2016 at 5:45 am

      YOU ARE AMAZING!!!!!!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! you have saved me countless nightmares, hassle and aggravation!!!

    • alfred braun
      February 18, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      Great Thanks !!!!

  8. Jan Mowka
    April 29, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    I think this whole thing sucks. My computer got struck by lightning last summer. It fried. I have used aperture for many years and have a very organized library with many many edits, versions. To think I have to jump through the export and import with each edit has me a bit frustrated. New virgin computer. Not one picture on it yet. Where do I begin. Lightroom? I cloud, photos....It used to be so easy. Getting my library out of time machine onto my computer into lightroom will be a huge i just forget it and start over. And where do I start??

  9. Jane Dough
    April 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

    Agreed - not happy with dumbing down an app at the expense of more advanced users. Not porting directly to photoshop is a HUGE issue. I'll be looking into a third party photo sorting program and ditching the photo app all together.

    • Sandra Schlesinger
      November 1, 2016 at 11:51 pm

      I totally agree. Not porting directly to Photoshop is a major annoyance and really frustrating.

  10. Richs
    February 17, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    photos is just utter crap, I bought an imac for photo editing and i am so completely disappointed and gutted. I have never known such an un user friendly system. Why oh WHY can't I just open a photo and edit it in photoshop!!!! AHHHHHH!!!!! Bring back my normal easy to use pc.

  11. Rob Luxford
    January 8, 2016 at 5:30 am

    Until Photos begins to play nicely with other image editing applications and layout software I will be staying a very long way away from it.

    I use my photos in layouts, websites, social media and creative art both for myself and clients. I have to have access to originals. I have to be able to know images down to the pixel and be able to wield them en mass.

    Photos is nice for users who distribute their pics across devices or socially but move one notch up from that and try to use them professionally across the thousands of media uses outside of the provided gamut (like make a pamphlet and send it to a local printer, or send high res press ready images with a set ink density to a PR agent) and you are gone.

    Reading posts from other people who committed their workflow and image asset organisation to iPhoto, the loss of convenient direct file access with this "upgrade" represents a very, very costly hit and makes me wary of investing time and professional reliance in systems that can be irrevocably altered with a change of policy.