How to Get Dynamic Desktops on Any Version of Mac OS – Without Mojave!

Jul 16, 2018 - 7 Comments

Dynamic Desktops on any version of Mac OS

Dynamic Desktops are an interesting feature in MacOS Mojave that cause the desktop wallpaper to change throughout the day with the time, mimicking the changes in lighting that would occur in a scene as the day and night progresses. It’s a subtle but cool feature that brings some life to an otherwise static wallpaper.

But you actually don’t need macOS Mojave (whether in public beta or otherwise) to gain a Dynamic Desktop feature on the Mac, and you can accomplish a very similar effect by using existing features available to every version of Mac OS system software.


To mimic Dynamic Desktops on any version of Mac OS, you will need a collection of wallpapers that are of the same scene but have different lighting or colors. If you’re creative with Pixelmator or Photoshop you can make them yourself, you can download collections of them found on the web (as we’ll do in this tutorial with images from Mojave default wallpaper), you create these yourself with Time Lapse photography on iPhone or iPad, or you can compile your own collection of images on your own – just make sure the pictures have file names that are labeled sequentially in the order of how you want them to show up (file1, file2, file3 etc). For optimal effect you will want somewhere between 10 and 25 images that are of the same general scene or landscape. Aside from that, you’ll simply be using the existing Automatically Change Desktop Picture feature of Mac OS that has been around since the earliest days of Mac OS X.

Here’s how to set it all up.

How to Mimic Dynamic Desktops in Mac OS

  1. First, gather a collection of images that feature the same scene but in different lighting conditions – for example you can download the full collection of macOS Mojave default wallpapers from here or here (zip file) – place this image collection in a folder that is easily accessible
  2. Now pull down the  Apple menu and go to “System Preferences”
  3. Choose “Desktop & Screen Saver” and go to the Desktop tab
  4. Drag and drop the folder of images into the left side menu in the Desktop section (or you can click the + plus button and find the folder manually)
  5. Drag the folder of images into the Desktop control panel

  6. This will load the image collection into the Desktop preference panel, now click the checkbox for “Change Picture:” and select an amount of time between when you want the wallpaper to change automatically (“Every hour” is pretty close to how Dynamic Desktops works in Mojave)
  7. Set the Dynamic Desktop time to change wallpaper

That’s it, simple! Now your Mac wallpaper will change dynamically for the amount of time you set.

You can quickly test out how it will work by setting the Change Picture time to “Every 5 seconds” but you will probably find that’s a bit too fast and can be distracting, though it does demonstrate rather quickly how the feature works.

Optional time to change wallpapers

The video embedded below demonstrates this setup and effect, with the aggressive 5 second setting so that you can see how it works and appears:

Note this is on a Mac running macOS Sierra, not Mojave, but you can get the same effect in literally any version of Mac OS X system software as the feature has existed since the beginning.

Another way to get dynamic-style wallpapers is to use a screen saver as the desktop wallpaper in Mac OS as discussed here, but keep in mind that trick will use some system resources to maintain. Another way to get a visually active desktop is to set an animated GIF as the wallpaper though that relies on a third party tool and also uses a fair amount of system resources to maintain. But they’re options if you’re into that.

Of course you can also just use Dynamic Desktops in macOS Mojave too, and while it’s currently under active development you can install macOS Mojave public beta on any compatible Mac and check it out yourself if you’d like, just be sure to backup your Mac before doing so.

If you want some inspiration to try this out yourself, browse through our wallpaper posts or a site like Unsplash, you can make multiple copies of the pictures then modify the brightness, hue, colors, and exposure of images to keep the scene the same while the ambiance shifts.

Do you have any other interesting image collections or combinations for using a dynamic desktop on Mac OS? Maybe some particularly cool wallpapers for this purpose? Share with us in the comments below!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Customize, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

7 Comments

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  1. Joshua says:

    But most of the time the desktop is hidden by other windows, so what is the use of a dynamic desktop?

  2. Mike says:

    Hi:
    I like the feature and it looks pretty good, however my iMac and my MacBook Pro don’t seem to be in sync with similar desktop backgrounds.

    For example my iMac is showing one of the daytime desktop backgrounds but my MacBook Pro is showing nighttime desktop background.

    Not a big deal just curious as why the backgrounds are not the same.

    Still a nice feature though.

    • Louie says:

      That depends on which picture each computer started the cycle with. I’m sure it can be adjusted.

      Also, if you are using the macOS Mojave collection of 16 pictures suggested above, be sure to rename the first two files with numbers 2a and 2b instead of 1 and 2 respectively. Otherwise, the system will mistakenly place picture #1 between pictures #9 and #10 instead of at the beginning and it messes up the sequence. It seems to be a bug, but that was how I worked around it. On a MacBook Air running MacOS High Sierra 10.13.6

  3. John says:

    The app Magic Window has been doing this for years. Ask them to make one of a desert if they don’t already have one.

  4. Diane says:

    Followed the steps – How to Set an Animated GIF as Screen Saver on Mac OS. Now the ‘desktop saver’ picture of “shell” is on my screen and I cannot disable or delete it. Please advise.

  5. Louie says:

    Just in case someone wonders, I tested this on my mid-2013 MacBook Air running high Sierra using the 16 image MacOS Mojave collection suggested in the example.

    However, by setting to change the pictures every 5 sec I noticed the pictures weren’t being changed in the proper order. Namely, the first image in the collection, number 1, was being skipped from the beginning and displayed between images 9 and 10 instead (so instead of rotating the 16 images in order, they were like 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,1,10,11,12,13,14,15,16 and then back to the beginning with number 2). It seems to be a bug caused by numbers 1 and 10, so all I did as a workaround was rename the first two image files in the collection as 2a and 2b instead of 1 and 2 respectively. Now the 16 images are shown in the correct order and it does look like the macOS Mojave dynamic wallpaper. Incidentally, the same issue I describe here can be seen on the video shown in the article above.

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