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How to transfer photos & video from iPhone to Mac


Maybe you're trying to save space on an iPhone and need to back up photos and video to your Mac before deleting them. Perhaps you want to store your photos somewhere other than your iPhone, edit them using Mac software, copy them on to someone else's Mac, or upload them to a website. Whatever your reason, this tutorial will show you a number of ways in which you can transfer photos and video from an iPhone (or iPad) to a Mac.

There are actually lots of ways to sync your iPhone photos with a Mac, and you can do so using a variety of apps and services. Some methods are completely free, others are a benefit of paying Apple for iCloud storage.

We'll discuss ways to sync your photos to your Mac using a cable, but because few Macs ship with USB A ports today (which is what the majority of iPhone cables use) you may be more interested in our methods that sync your photos via the cloud or Wi-Fi.

Read on to find out which method is best for you.

Using Photos

Using Photos

One of the quickest and easiest ways of transferring photos on to a Mac is to plug your iPhone into the USB port on your Mac (assuming you have the necessary cable with a connection that's compatible with your Mac).

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac via the USB port.
  2. Open the Photos app on your Mac (if it doesn't automatically open).
  3. Look for your iPhone under Devices in the left-hand column and click on it.
  4. Unlock your iPhone if required.
  5. It may take a while but eventually you will see thumbnails of the images on your iPhone. You'll see a line of those 'Already Imported' and below that any 'New Items' which Photos hasn't found in your library. (In our case these were predominantly photos that had been shared with us via Whatsapp).
  6. Beside 'Import to' there is a drop-down menu that allows you to choose where you want to import the photos to. This could be your Library or you could add them to an existing album or a new album. Choose where you want to import to.
  7. If you want to You might want to create a new album (perhaps called backup or similar) select New Album,  enter the name and click on Create.
  8. Now you need to decide whether you want to 'Import All New Items' to import everything into Photos that isn't already there, or import just a selection of photos. If you want to import everything then click on the Import All button.
  9. If you want to import just a few photos you can click on each photo, or select a number by clicking and dragging your mouse over them. Click and drag and a square will appear, just cover the area you want to select with the square, if you want to deselect an image just hold the shift key and click on it. Be careful not to click on the white space as it will deselect everything and you'll have to start again! When you are ready click on 'Import Selected'.

(Read our Photos tips).

Using Image Capture

Using Image Capture

If you just want to copy a few photos from your iPhone (or iPad) onto your Mac without using Photos there is another way.

The Image Capture app was originally designed for importing photos from scanners and other devices. The app's pretty redundant now that we have the Photos app on our Macs but it is really useful when it comes to transferring the odd image between devices. 

We particularly like that we can choose to import the images to a folder anywhere on our Mac, rather than the photos being trapped inside the Photos app. For that reason Image Capture is handy for more experienced photographers who want to organise their photos in folders that are kept separate from the Photos library.

Here's what to do:

  1. Plug your iPhone into your Mac (you will need a cable to connect your iPhone to your Mac).
  2. Open Image Capture (press Command + Space and start typing Image to find the app).
  3. Unlock your iPhone when you see the prompt onscreen.
  4. Wait while the Photos in your camera roll are prepared (this can take a while if there are a lot of photos on your iPhone).
  5. You'll see a list of your photos along with quite a bit of technical information, such as file sizes, file type, width and height, and sometimes aperture settings and shutter speed. This information will be useful for more knowledgeable photographers. This information may be useful when deciding what to import.
  6. You can use the Import All command, or just select individual photos that you want to import.
  7. By default, Image Capture will import your photos into the Pictures folder on your Mac (which is separate from the Photos app), but it also allows you to specify other folders as well. That's a handy option if you like to keep several different photo projects stored in their own individual folders.
  8. When an image has been imported you will see a green tick in the bottom right corner.

Using iCloud Photos

Using iCloud Photos

If you have a subscription to iCloud you can sync your photos from your iPhone to your Mac without needing any wires, which is handy if your Mac doesn't have the required port. It's also super easy to sync this way!

However, to take advantage of iCloud syncing you need to be prepared to pay Apple monthly for the storage, but you can end your subscription at any time (just make sure you have a backup of your files first!). Per-month prices are as follows:

  • 5GB storage: Free.
  • 50GB storage: £0.79/$0.99.
  • 200GB storage: £2.49/$2.99.
  • 2TB storage: £6.99/$9.99

If you sign up for iCloud Photos all your photos will be synced across all your Apple devices. This means you'll be able to see the photos you took on your iPhone on your Mac without doing anything (although you may need to have access to a Wi-Fi network before your photos sync this way).

iCloud Photos is a great option if you are short of space on your iPhone and Mac as you can choose a setting that means that while the full-res photos are stored in the cloud, smaller versions appear on your device. So you can see all your photos but they don't take up significant space on your devices. You can download the high-res versions at any time.

This might be a good solution to you if your motivation for moving photos from your iPhone to your Mac was to save space on your iPhone. Just to give you an idea of how much space you can save, we have about 228GB of photos in iCloud. On our iPhone they take up 7.5GB, and on our Mac, 24GB.

Here's how to set up iCloud Photo Library on your iPhone:

  1. On your iPhone go to Settings > Photos.
  2. Check the box beside iCloud Photos (so it's green). This will automatically upload and store all your photos in iCloud so you can view them on any device.
  3. Here you can also choose to Optimise iPhone Storage (which, as we just explained, will stop your iPhone getting full up of all the photos you take - crucial if you are trying to make more space on your iPhone!)

You will also need to set up iCloud Photo Library on your Mac:

  1. Open Photos.
  2. Click on Photos in the menu
  3. Click on Preferences.
  4. Check the box beside iCloud Photos.
  5. Choose Optimise Mac Storage if you don't want full-res versions of all your photos taking up space on your Mac, or Download Originals To This Mac if you do. 

Your Mac and iPhone photo libraries will now start to sync up so you can see all your photos on both devices (you can also set your photos to appear on your iPad using the sane steps as on the iPhone).

Note: if you are thinking this would be a good way to back up your photos beware! While your photos are stored in the cloud, they aren't backed up in the traditional way. And if you were to delete a photo from your Mac or iPhone, thinking you could free up space, you'd actually be deleting it from iCloud! So don't!

We discuss how to download the images to your Mac below, and also how to back up your iCloud Photos here.

There's a Windows version of the iCloud software available for PCs too, so you can transfer photos from an iPhone to a PC if you need to (you can download the Windows version of iCloud here). The other thing to be aware of is that uploading your entire collection of photos and videos to iCloud via Wi-Fi can take a Really. Long. Time.

Using Photo Stream

Using Photo Stream

Not keen on the idea of paying money to use iCloud Photos? There is still a way to use iCloud without paying Apple anything! 

You can use My Photo Stream to automatically upload photos and send them to all your devices that are signed into your iCloud account whenever you connect to Wi-Fi.

The main difference between My Photo Stream and iCloud Photos is the limitations of My Photo Stream - with My Photo Stream the photos will only appear on your other devices for 30 days, and the limit is 1,000 photos.

However, as long as you remember to go into Photos on your Mac, you can easily download them to that app so that they don't vanish later in the month. We'll show you how to do that below.

Here's how to set up My Photo Stream on your iPhone:

  1. Go to Settings > Photos.
  2. Use the slide to turn on Upload to My Photo Stream.

To set up My Photo Stream on your Mac follow these steps:

  1. Open Photos.
  2. Click on Photos > Preferences > iCloud.
  3. Then check the box beside My Photo Stream to turn it on.

Now you will see your last 30-days worth of photos in Photos on your Mac.

How to save photo stream photos onto your Mac:

If you want to save any onto your Mac, right click (or control click) on the photo and choose Save or Duplicate.

Unlike with iCloud Photos, once you have copied the photo onto your Mac you could delete the photo from your iPhone - you now have a copy on your Mac.

Using iCloud Files

Using iCloud Files

There is another option that utilises Apple's iCloud - you can transfer photos between your iPhone and iPad or Mac using the Files folder on your devices.

The Files app is a shared folder in iCloud where you can store anything and access it on all your devices. Files arrived in iOS 11.

If you want to share a photo from your iPhone to your Mac via iCloud Files follow these steps:

  1. On your Mac go to System Preferences and click on Apple ID (or iCloud in older versios of macOS). This will open up your iCloud settings.
  2. Go to iCloud Drive > Options.
  3. Check Desktop & Documents folders.
  4. Open Photos on your iPhone.
  5. Select the photo or photos you want to share and tap the Share button (square with the arrow).
  6. Scroll down to Share to Files.
  7. Your iCloud Drive will open and you'll see all the folders you have on your drive.
  8. Tap on the folder you want to add the photo(s) to.
  9. Tap Save.
  10. Now that you've copied your image(s) to your iCloud folder you just need to locate that folder on your Mac.

Since our work and home Macs are set to share their Desktop we can save images to the Desktop folder and just access them there, but you might want to create a folder for this purpose to make things easier to locate (and backup) later.

Using email or Messages

Using email or Messages

if you're feeling really low-fi and you're just importing one photo, you can email or Message the photo to yourself (or your friend), then open your email (or Messages) on the Mac and copy the attachment wherever you want it. This might just be the best option if you wanted to send a baby photo, say, to the grandparents at the same time as importing it into your Mac.

Here's how:

  1. Go to Photos on your iPhone or iPad and find the photo you want.
  2. Click on the share icon (an arrow coming out a box at the bottom left).
  3. Tap the icon for Message or Mail. This will pop the photo into an email or Message for you.

There used to be a limit that meant you could only send up to five images or videos this way if you were using Messages, but now Apple will bundle up the images into an iCloud link which your recipient can download them from. They will be available to download for a month.

You can then open the email or Message on your Mac and copy them over (you may need to activate Messages on your Mac so you can receive and send text messages there).

Using AirDrop

Using AirDrop

Last, but by no means least, is AirDrop. With AirDrop you can share files between devices if they are close together using a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies.

Before you attempt to AirDrop you'll need to make make sure that AirDrop is set up on your Mac and iPhone.

On your Mac open the Finder and click on AirDrop in the left-hand column. In the Finder window you should see the devices that you can share with nearby. If you don't see them try turning Wi-Fi off and on again, Bluetooth off and on, or change the 'Allow me to be discovered' setting to Everyone. You'll also need to wake up the devices you want to share with (if your iPhone is set to switch off after 30 seconds that can be frustrating). And of course you'll need to make sure Airdrop on your iPhone is switched on. If you have problems check our Airdrop fixes article.

Your iPhone will probably be ready to receive over AirDrop because AirDrop is on by default. However, you can check by following these steps: Open the Control Centre (swipe down from top right on a Face ID phone or any iPad, or swipe up from the bottom of the screen on a Touch ID iPhone).

Now press your finger in the middle of the four icons that include Airplane Mode and Wi-FI. This will open a pane with AirDrop included. You'll see if it's set to receive only from Contacts or Everyone.

If below AirDrop it says 'Contacts Only' and you are just transferring between your own devices, or the sender is in your contacts book, you are good to go. If they aren't in your contacts then tap on the AirDrop icon and choose 'Everyone'.

AirDrop settings iPhone

Now you are ready to share from iPhone to Mac:

  1. Open Photos on your iPhone.
  2. If you're just sending one photo, locate and tap it, then tap the sharing icon - a square with an arrow pointing up, at the bottom left on iPhone or top right on iPad. If you want to send more than one, hit Select, tick multiple photos, then hit the sharing icon.
  3. You'll now see the photo(s) to send at the top of the screen, and various sharing options below. Tap the icon for your Mac in the AirDrop section and the photo(s) will be sent.
  4. The image will land in your Downloads folder, which you can access from the Dock.
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