How to Get Access to Photos Master Image Files in Mac OS Quickly with an Alias

May 21, 2018 - 9 Comments

Photos app icon in Mac OS X Photos app for the Mac imports images and manages pictures by automatically moving the files into organized folders within the apps dedicated package file. While this file container is not intended to be user facing, many advanced Mac OS users like to have access to the original master files rather than solely relying on the Photos app for image management.

One easy method to access those files is by using the Show Original File trick to jump to the Finder location of the master file of a particular image, but if you find yourself using that often, or frequently needing access to the master image files from Photos app in Mac OS, we’ll show a quick and easy way to instantly access those master images from anywhere in the file system in Mac OS.

How to Create a Quick Access Shortcut for Master Image Files from Photos App in Mac OS

  1. Open a new Finder window and navigate to the users “Pictures” folder, found at ~/Pictures/
  2. Locate the file named “Photos Library.photoslibrary” and right-click (or control+click) on that file name, choosing “Show Package Contents” from the menu
  3. The Photos Library package file in Mac OS contains master image files of photos imported into the application

  4. Within Photos Library package directory, drag and drop the “Masters” folder into the Finder window sidebar under the Favorites section – this places a quick access alias in the Finder sidebar accessible from anywhere in Mac OS X
  5. Fast access to Photos app master image files in Mac OS X

  6. Close out of the Photos Library.photoslibrary package

You can now click on the “Masters” item in the sidebar to instantly jump to the master image files found within Photos app, these are the original full resolution files that Photos app copies from iPhone, digital cameras, memory cards, and elsewhere, wherever they have been imported into the application.

Accessing the master image files in Mac OS X with a shortcut in Mac Finder Sidebar

Importing additional pictures into Photos app from the file system or another location will move them into the Masters folder as well (unless you specifically turned off that feature, which can lead to duplicates for certain use-cases)

If you decide you no longer want “Masters” in the Finder sidebar, simply drag and drop it out of the sidebar to remove it.

The video embedded below walks through how to access this “Masters” image folder and all of the original images contained at the ~/Pictures/Photos Library.photoslibrary/Masters/ directory, if you’re having any difficulty in accessing the directory it may be helpful to refer to:

This trick works the same in all versions of Photos for Mac, whether you’re running a modern macOS release or a prior Mac OS X version of system software.

Know of another handy trick to access your originals and raw image files from Photos app on the Mac? Share it with us in the comments.

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


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. Drew says:

    In Catalina and Big Sur, the Masters folder is now called Originals.

    These folders allow access to items stored in Photos Library but be careful if you want to extract them: Don’t alter the library or package contents e.g. by dragging the photos out of the folders. Duplicate the photo and drag the duplicate.

    For exporting all or selected albums while maintaining the sequence of photos in the albums (e.g. if you have rearranged photos within albums), the App Store has apps e.g. Photos Takeout, PE Pro, Photo Organizer Pro etc.

  2. Jim Willeke says:

    Apple seems to forget that these are not their photos.

    The inability to manage data items that are clearly NOT owned by Apple will cause me to move off of macOS just as I moved off of IOS.

  3. Apple Photos is a world of hurt.

    Best tool I’ve found for viewing, cataloging and arranging images (and video) is Pixave.

    Tagging, sorting, and exporting is fast and simple. The viewer also handles huge collections.

    The developer’s website has a free trial, and the full app is available in the macOS App Store.

    Highly recommended.

  4. space2001 says:

    Does anyone know if the copy to iphotos (instead of move) takes advanatage of the apfs space efficiency? IE, duplicates created within APFS no longer take extra space.


  5. David says:

    One useful tip is that photos in “Masters” folder appears to be organised by date pictures were *imported* not by the date the image was taken. (and I agree, this should be strictly treated read only).

  6. Marcel says:

    This is one in the category “Don’t try this at home”. There’s a good reason for these folders not to be easily accessible to the user. Photo relies completely on their content to be managed by the application itself. If the user changes files, or structure, the database will be corrupted and images and edits get lost.

  7. Stu says:

    You guys really need to hire a decent editor. The words “apps” and “app’s” convey two wholly different meanings. It’s simple English grammar.

    This damages your credibility as a source of information.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      If you’re going to play grammar nazi, you need to verify that “app” is actually being used as a word. Because if it’s only an abbreviation for application, then the plural form is actually “app’s” which moots your point since you’ve implied that “app’s” is a possessive form. There are always multiple valid viewpoints, which makes playing grammar nazi pointless and annoying.

      Oh look what I’ve just done :(

  8. arni says:

    This weird “hidden”, unorganized method of storing important things like photos is one of the many reasons I long ago stopped using photos/iphoto and can’t recommend it to any of my photo taking friends. Aperture was great while it lasted, but now Adobe Lightroom (or a similar DAM) is the way to go for anyone who is even slightly serious about keeping their photos intact and organized.

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