How to Copy Pictures from iPhone, Camera, or Memory Card to Photos App on Mac

Dec 21, 2015 - 27 Comments

Photos app icon in Mac OS X
Many Mac users rely on their iPhone as their primary digital camera, but even if you have a separate camera, or use a variety of memory cards stuffed with images, you may wish to copy pictures from any of those devices directly into the Photos app of Mac OS X.

Importing images from any camera, iPhone, iPad, Android, or memory card directly into Photos app is really easy, so if you like using the Photos app as your picture management software, you’ll be happy to know that regardless of the device type, it’s a quick process to copy the pictures directly into Photos app with little effort.

Importing directly from a camera or iOS device is convenient for many users and it works very similar to importing images from the file system into Photos app; you simply review the pictures and choose to import them, and it’s done. It’s that easy.

How to Import Pictures Into Photos App on Mac Directly from a Camera, iPhone, iPad, Memory Card

As you likely noticed by now, Photos app opens automatically by default when a camera or iPhone is connected to the Mac by default, but even if you turned that feature off you can quickly import pictures into Photos app very easily, here are the steps:

  1. Connect the digital camera, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or memory card to the Mac
  2. Open Photos (if it hasn’t launched itself already, or if you turned off the auto-open feature)
  3. Under the “Import” tab, review and select the pictures you want to import from the camera, iPhone, or memory card, then click on the appropriate action:
    • Import Selected – only import the pictures you have selected by thumbnail into Photos app
    • Import All New Photos – import every new picture into Photos app from the connected device

    Import pictures from iPhone to Photos app in Mac OS X and copy them to the computer

  4. Find the newly imported images in the “Photos” view as usual

It can take a while to import the pictures, depending on how many are stored on the camera, iOS device, or memory card, and the speed of the USB connection if applicable. Just let the process complete so you don’t miss anything.

Remember, when you want to copy pictures from an external device, always go to the “Import” tab in the Photos app, this is where you’ll find the device(s) to copy the pictures from.

Review the photos to Import from the Import tab in Photos app

Once the images have successfully imported into Photos app, you can clear off the memory card or bulk delete pictures from the iPhone or iPad to free up quite a bit of storage space if you’d like, since the pictures are now stored locally on the Mac.

Note that we’re covering bringing pictures into Photos app directly from an external device here, whether it’s an iPhone or camera or memory card doesn’t matter, as long as the Mac can detect the camera and pictures it will be an import option. If you already have the pictures transferred to the Mac through another application like Preview or Image Capture and stored in the file system but now want to bring those into the Photos app, you can simply import those image files into Photos app without having to pull them from the camera or device again.


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


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  1. David Gerety says:

    But wait….you write that once photos have been uploaded to Photos on a Mac, they can be deleted from the external device: SD card, iPhone, iPad, etc..
    That may work if iCloud Sync is not enabled, but if it is, then deleting photos from an iPhone or iPad will delete them from Photos on the Mac as well. I would love to keep sync enabled but prevent photos on my Mac from being deleted without saving them to an external drive.
    Or am I missing something?

    • Chris Glueck says:

      Did you ever get a reply on this? That’s the first thing I think about because I use iCloud. I have all these photos on iMac, MacBook and iPhone. All devices are “the same”, which I thought was the point with Apple. If I delete on iPhone they are gone everywhere.

  2. Jamarion Buie says:


  3. John Zehr says:

    What’s the best way to store photos? There are so many options and they seem to be redundant.

    I’m not 100% sure I’m backing up everything, so I use…

    Amazon Drive
    Google Photos Backup and
    Google Drive and

    Crazy, huh?

    What do you recommend as the fastest, most foolproof system to make sure I’m 100% backed up, at least as far as images and music?

  4. Downunder says:

    Photo browser background is anything but conducive to properly assessing photo quality. The background should be alterable, or permanently set to grey, like the menu bars. ( that’s probably why grey is not an option.)

  5. mojoron says:

    Photo’s is horrible. Case in point: Take picture. It show’s up in Photo’s, great. Close Photo’s. Try to upload picture to Facebook from the website. NOT! The picture is not in Photo’s. You open Photo’s again. IT’S there. Try Facebook again, NOT!. You copy the picture to the desktop, open Facebook again, copy from desktop. Finished. I hate Photo’s.

    • Justme says:


      The problem is not that Photos is horrible. It is Facebook. Why are you using it? Why do you need to upload pics there?

  6. OGenius says:

    There is a beautiful app called Photosync which works seamlessly with Photos and let you back up your photos from your iPhone and iPad to many popular storage websites such as Flickr, Dropbox, Google Photos, and even Facebook, Box, 500 px, One Drive and so many more.

    You can even ask it to start automaticaly once you arrive at home the transfer from your iPhone/iPad to your Mac or PC ;)

  7. not overly impressed says:

    I use dropbox. One big frustration with El Crapitan is that I no longer can automatically associate all picture files (i.e. *.JPG) with Photos. Every time I try to open a new file in Finder I have to “select an app” to open the JPG file with. Very frustrating. How do I permenantly fix that?

  8. Hans says:

    Thanks to all of you.
    I now use ImageCapture (I thought it was only for cameras.
    And in my camera is a SD card and the SD card fits in my Mac).
    Merry XMas.

  9. Win4Life says:

    My Windows Server downloads the pictures automagically as soon as I take them, removes the Red eye, makes the chicks hot looking, tags them, scans them, and sends them to my 14 cloud backups all by itself.

  10. Rick Thalhammer says:

    As a redundancy to Photo, which is not trustworthy in keeping all my photos, I will import from my camera to Photo as described in the article. (I then create an album on Photo to locate those photos; Events has no discernible ordering). Then I go to Pictures in Finder, and create an identically-titled album there. Back to Photo, go to the new album, select all the photos therein and drag them to the new album in Finder. The latter are independent of the Cloud; they reside on your hdd. If you delete from the Cloud, they will be there nevertheless. But back up your hdd. 😛

  11. Rodney says:

    I am using iCloud Photo Library to keep iPhone, iPad, and Mac Photos App all synchronized. If I delete a photo on IOS device it also gets deleted on my Mac.

    How do I get the Photos app to keep the photo on my Mac and not delete it if I delete in on my IOS devices?

    • BuffyzDead says:

      You write:
      I am using iCloud Photo Library to keep iPhone, iPad, and Mac Photos App all synchronized.

      Then you write:
      How do I get the Photos app to keep the photo on my Mac and not delete it if I delete in on my IOS devices?

      That is an Oxymoron:
      synchronized but different on one device
      is an Oxymoron

  12. Rodney says:

    What about if you are using iCloud Photo Library?

    Sometimes I would like to delete a bunch of photos from my iPhone or iPad but keep them in the Photos app on my Mac. If I delete them on my iPhone or iPad the photos on my Mac get deleted too.

    How do I delete photos from the iPhone without also losing them on my Mac if I am syncing with iCloud Photo Library?


    • Sam says:

      I don’t think anyone understands iCloud Photo Library, it’s so unreliable and weird. 1000 of your most recent photos…. deletes the old ones… downloads them to take up space on everything you have… total mess. iCloud should store all photos at full resolution for free with iPhone purchase, and you should be able to retrieve them if you want them, through file access or Photos, like Dropbox. iCloud is such a mess, nobody gets it.

      • Hexalellogram says:

        I have personally used iCloud Photo Library and I can confirm that iCloud does not delete any photos over the 1000 most recent. That feature is Photo Stram which is a separate service.

        I have 300GB of photos and videos stored in iCloud Photo Library and I have never experienced a hiccup or problem. Sure the upload was a bit slow, but then again it was uploading 300GB and I was expecting it to be slow.

        • wallac says:

          But your 300GB of iCloud Photo Library photos are now in iCloud plus on the Mac plus on every other device and no iPhone can hold 300GB of Photos so it’s out of storage immediately. None of it makes sense. And this is different from Photo Stream, another service nobody knows or makes sense! iCloud is a mess that nobody can explain.

          • makemineamac says:

            Incorrect. It does not take up the full resolution space on your iPhone or other iOS device if you have Optimize Photo Storage enabled. It only does that if you download the full resolution photo on your device.

  13. Hans says:

    Thanks. But….
    How to save photos from iPhone/iPad to computer without Photos app?
    Just to store them on the harddisk?
    Using mail or an app for bulkmail is’nt very handy and very slow.
    And I don’t want to use iCloud.
    Is there a handy solution?

    • Tom says:

      Hans, I use the Preview App on my Mac to save a copy of photos from my iOS devices. I do this first, saving to a removable drive (twice of course! redundancy in case 1 hdd goes bad). Then I import the same photos into the iPhoto or Photos apps and after import is complete, you should be prompted by iPhoto or Photos to delete images…answer “Y”
      Of course you could also import into Photos from the hdd that was used with Preview and then remove the images manually using Preview…this is a bit more tricky though. Hope this helps.

      Great article Paul, Thanks!

      • kevin says:

        I use Image Capture for copying from iPhone and memory cards to the Mac, I like to manually manage my pictures and don’t want the Photos management. But, Photos is easy, I tell most people to use it.

    • Paul says:

      You can use Image Capture or Preview as the other commenters suggested, they will import pictures directly from the iPhone and iPad to the Mac. Similar options are available in Windows too. This should be helpful:

      • Adam says:

        No, Preview, Image Capture, Aperture or Photos do not show any of my Live Photos for import. They simply do not exist outside of my photo it seems.
        Videos, Gifs and Photo show up normally.

        • Tom says:

          Live Photos are imported as photos, with an accompanying mp4 movie file. They will show up in Photos app as Live Photos, however, but in Finder you’ll see two different files – the picture and the short video.

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