Pocket Scrapbooking with Project Life

Cultivate a good life and record it.



7 tips for getting the most out of the photos app

According to some sources, the human population took more than 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) photos in 2015. That’s a lot of precious memory keeping! Another interesting fact… we are currently storing more than 5 trillion photos in the cloud and on our hard drives. That number is staggering to me! With an estimated world population of 7.4 billion, that’s an average of 675 photos per person. I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked my Photos library, it was more than 20,000 photos (this doesn’t include my archived photos) and that number increases each day!

With all those photos, you would be crazy not to use a good photo management/editing system. In June 2014, Apple announced that they would be replacing their popular iPhoto app with a new app called “Photos,” which was subsequently made available to the public with the release of OS X 10.10.3 (Yosemite) in April 2015. While the initial release of Photos was somewhat rocky and controversial, it did have some great benefits to it. Ease of use and a sense of familiarity when using in conjunction with the Photos app on an iOS device were among the advantages. Photos is my go-to tool for photo management and most of my photo editing and sharing.

With the simplicity of Photos (by design), it may be difficult to imagine there being many advanced tips and tricks for using Photos. For those who are new to Photos, I will help you learn how to use the app. For those who have used it for some time now, I hope to help you rediscover some of the more advanced features that are available to you. Regardless of your experience, I think you will find these tips extremely useful. Let’s get started!

Show the Sidebar
iPhoto (the predecessor to Photos) made it easy to manage your photo library by giving you a sidebar that allows you to navigate your folders and smart folders. When you open Photos for the first time, you may feel a little lost because the sidebar isn’t there. What the tech?! Fortunately, revealing the sidebar is just a click away. To view the sidebar, simply go to View > Show Sidebar (Command + Option + S).


Edit Like a Pro
Sure, Photos is a great photo management tool, but did you know that it’s also a great image-editing application? It will never be as powerful or as feature-rich as Photoshop or Pixelmator, but then again, that’s by design. While you won’t be able to remove a rogue photobomber from your once-in-a-lifetime shot, you can perform plenty of other page edits such as red-eye reduction, coloring adjustment, straightening, cropping, applying one of many filters, and even applying edits using third party extensions. To begin editing your image using Photos, simply double-click on an image, then click on “Edit” in the top right corner.


This will expose your editing toolset. I won’t go into what each function does in this post (there’s way too much to cover in a single post), so it’s up to you to explore each of the options on your own.


Syncing with iCloud Photo Library
Remember earlier when I mentioned that there are more than 5 trillion photos stored to date? A good chunk of those are very likely stored in Apple’s online iCloud storage system. My library, by the way, is definitely one of them. iCloud Photo Library is a feature built right into Photos (both for OS X and iOS) that allows you to seamlessly sync your photos between all your Apple devices. For example, I can take a photo on my iPhone 6s and because iCloud Photo Library is enabled on all my devices, that photo is automatically synced to my iPad Pro, iPad mini, and MacBook Pro. It’s even accessible by going to www.icloud.com! Not only is this convenient, but it also serves as a protection from data loss due to hard drive failure (in other words, it’s part of my backup strategy).

To enable iCloud Photo Library on your Mac, open the Photos app then navigate to Photos > Preferences. Next, click on the iCloud tab and enable iCloud Photo Library.


To enable iCloud Photo Library on your iOS device, go to Settings > iCloud > Photos and enable iCloud Photo Library.


Depending on the size of your library, it may take some time to upload to the cloud, so be patient. My library of more than 20,000 photos took about a day to upload. A caveat to this is storage: the free iCloud account will give you 5 GB of storage. That may not be enough storage for your library, so you may need to increase that. This can easily and quickly be done on your iOS device by going to Settings > iCloud > Storage.

Smart Albums
Albums are great because they allow you to organize activities or events into their own respective category. Simply create a new album (File > New Empty Album…), then drag and drop photos into that new album. Smart Albums take organization to the next level by allowing you to create a dynamic album based on search criteria. For example, I could create a smart album that will show me every picture taken in March 2015 with my iPhone 6. To do this, we create our new smart album by going to File > New Smart Album… From here, we simply give our new smart album a meaningful name then start building our criteria.


As you can see from the drop-down list, we can choose from all sorts of metadata including dates, names, descriptions, ISO speeds, focal length, aperture, camera model, etc. You can add as many filters as you need to. Once you’re done, click OK to add your new smart album.

If you ever need to change the criteria of your smart album, simply right-click on the smart album and choose “Edit Smart Album”. This can be an extremely powerful tool for searching for and organizing your photos.

Photo Sharing
Generally speaking, we don’t take photos to keep to ourselves. That’s crazy talk! We take photos so we can share those precious moments with family, friends, and others we care about. Photos makes this quick and easy, and there are several ways to share them.

To simply email a photo (or series of photos) to someone, we first highlight the photos we want to send, then click on the action button in the top-right corner and select “Mail.”


This will create a new mail message where we can enter the recipient’s name or email address and add a message.

To share photos using one of various social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc), we go through a similar process as an email. Highlight the photo(s) we want to share, click the action button and choose the network we wish to share on.

Finally, we can share using an iCloud feature called “iCloud Photo Sharing.” This feature allows us to create a photo stream. We can add photos to this stream at any time by highlighting the photo(s) we want to share, then choosing “iCloud Photo Sharing” from the action menu.


If you’re new to iCloud Photo Sharing or want to create a new photo stream, we can do this by clicking on “New Shared Album….” If we’re simply adding a photo to an existing stream, we just click on the stream we are adding to. To invite others to subscribe to one of our shared albums, we first need to highlight the shared album under the “Shared” section of the sidebar. Next, click on the “People” button on the toolbar. From here, we can add people or email addresses to invite as well as we can make this shared album available to the public. As we continue adding photos to our shared album, subscribers will receive a notification when additional photos are added. They can also “like” and comment on photos. This is great for sharing family vacation photos.

Create a Second (or Third) Library File
By default, our Photos library file is stored in our Home directory (~\Pictures) and will contain all of our photos. In some cases, it may be necessary to create a second Photos library. An example of this would be a work project that includes a series of photos that you may want to keep completely separate from your personal photos.

To create a new Photos library file, we hold down the Option key while opening Photos. This will reveal the following dialog:

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 3.00.57 PM

As you can see from here, we can create an entirely new Photos library file or open an existing library stored elsewhere. This feature is great for more advanced users looking to organize photos in a non-traditional way.

Search Using Metadata
Metadata is defined as “data that provides information about other data.” In the case of photos, this metadata comes in the form of a photo name, description or keywords. While this metadata isn’t necessarily visible all the time, it can be extremely powerful in searching for images. Here’s an example of when this would be useful. I go on a caping trip with the boys and want to be able to search for this trip any time in the future by searching for “camping””. After adding new photos to my library, I would add “Camping” (as well as other) keywords in the keyword and/or description fields. In the future, these photos would be searchable any time I searched for “Camping”.

To add keywords or a description to a photo, we highlight a photo then reveal the Get Info HUD (heads-up display). This can be done by either right-clicking and choosing “Get Info” or by pressing Command + I. Not only will this HUD allow you to add this searchable metadata, but you’ll also have access to lots of other metadata related to this photo (EXIF information as well as GPS location, when applicable).

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 3.02.30 PM

Hopefully you are starting to see the power of how Photos can help you keep your photos organized and allow you to easily share your photos with loved ones. These are only a few of the tips and tricks available for getting the most out of Photos. Do you have other tips and tricks that may help others? Share them in the comments section below!


46 Responses

  1. Monica says:

    I mean seriously – – I don’t even know Kevin and I love him! LOL

    I wish he lived next door so he can be my go-to-guy – – I’ve learned more about my phone with Kevins tricks and tips and I love my phone more and more each day.

    Thanks Kevin – – you are an AH-MAZING guy!!!

  2. Yvonne Gronau says:

    Showing the sidebar-yay!! I can’t believe in all this time I didn’t realize I could do that. Thanks Kevin!

    • I know! Seriously… I don’t know why they turned that off by default. I know people who have switched away from Photos just for that reason alone!! Crazy.

    • Sandy says:

      I didn’t know about the sidebar! I’ve been avoiding using the newmPhotos app on my iMac because I couldn’t figure out how to find my photos easily. So excited to go turn this on!

  3. Norine says:

    Thanks so much Kevin this has been so helpful. Do you do regular tutorials if so where?
    I do have a ? I still have photos on my 27 “iMac should I update to El Captain I hate changing things that work but that is the only way to get photos ? I have a new iPad and will be getting an iPhone 6 soon so just want everything to work together.
    I have pics everywhere iMac drop box cd it is a bit overwhelming
    Anyway thanks again

    • I try to post on my site every weekday, but when I run short on time (which has been the case this week), it slows down a little. You can find me at http://www.kevinallgaier.com (original, I know). :-)

      I’m a BIG fan of keeping current as often as you can. not only do you get the benefits of new features, but you also get bug fixes and security patches. So, as long as you can, I would update!

  4. Jan says:

    Thanks for the great tips! The sidebar info alone is super helpful! I always enjoy your posts. Quick question about iCloud. Do you just use it for the current pictures that you have in Photos? And then archive past years using Dropbox? I think that I remember you saying that you keep 3 years of pictures on the computer, and archive the rest. Thanks!

    • I will preface my response by saying this is what I do and not everyone is like me. For me, this works PERFECTLY! So, with that in mind…

      I keep anywhere from 2-3 years of photos in Photos (and use iCloud Photo Library). Photos older than that are organized in folders in my Dropbox account. Still accessible, just not taking up local storage on my laptop. It’s an awesome, and super-easy solution that keeps ALL images accessible from any device.

  5. Sue Pigott says:

    Will you be having any recommendations for the rest of us not using istuff? Maybe google products?

  6. Monique says:

    I love these posts! I’m not very tech savvy and Kevin makes the information very user friendly!! Thank you for sharing this information.

  7. Wendy says:

    Thanks for all the great tips! If I enable my iCloud Photo Library to upload my photos, will I still have my photos on my phone and iPad to see still?

    • When you turn on iCloud Photo Library on each device, it will upload photos on each device to your iCloud account (in effect consolidating them), then they will be synced back down to each of your devices. So, when it’s all done (and depending on how many photos you have, it could take a few days or longer for that to happen), you will have a single consolidated library, available on all devices!

  8. Shannon says:

    Thanks for this great info! I know so many people who don’t use Photos because they don’t understand it.

    One suggestion: if people want to learn more about Photos their local Apple Store probably has lots of free workshops about Photos (and lots of other topics like iCloud, iPhone photography, etc).

    I know the stores in my area have been offering a lot more workshops lately and the presenters are really friendly and helpful.

  9. Dneilg says:

    Does iCloud save pictures in full resolution? I have avoided it because I heard the quality is degraded. Also, when iCloud shares all photos to your phone and iPad does it eat up all your memory? Thanks

    • Great question. When you enable iCloud Photo Library, there is an option to Optimize your Library. While full-res images are uploaded to iCloud when first imported into Photos (or taken on your iPhone), if this feature is enabled, it will only download a thumbnail version. That is UNTIL you open the image. At that point, the full-res version will be downloaded. This saves a tone of space on your iPhone/iPad or even on your MacBook (this is also an option on your Mac).

  10. Edie says:

    Great information! I’ve been an iPhone user for a while now but I’m finally getting to make the transition to a MacBook Pro (used but new to me!!!). I am totally excited about getting all of our photos organized but I’m worried about my external hard drive. It was set up to work with my Windows laptop. Is there anything special I should do to be able to access this EHD with my new Mac laptop? Is it as simple as plugging it in? I’m terrified that it would be wiped clean. Would my current organizational method be carried over? Got an article to help me with this? PLEASE?

    • In order to use a hard drive, it needs to be formatted. There are several formats you can choose from and by default, every new external hard drive or thumb drive is pre-formatted using FAT. This is because FAT is fully accessible from both Windows and Mac. The problem is, it’s not the most efficient. For the most efficient Windows-only format, you would use NTFS. For the most efficient Mac-only format, you would use OS X Journaled. If you plan on using this drive solely for Mac, I would do the following:

      Step 1) Copy all your files from the external hard drive to your laptop or another drive so that you have a copy
      Step 2) Format the external hard drive using OS X Journaled (this will wipe the drive so make sure step 1 is done first!!)
      Step 3) Copy the data back to the drive post-format

      If you want to use your external drive for both Windows and Mac, leave things as they are.

      This sounds more difficult and scary than it actually is. If you need help, reach out to me!!

  11. Priscilla Taylor says:

    Do you have a recommendation for Android users?
    Thank you!

  12. Lezlie says:

    Hi! I’m usin the Photos app on an iPad and I don’t have the bar across the top with “File” etc across the top that gives me the option the choose “View” and show the Sidebar. All I have access to is Albums and pictures. I can do some editing from within the pictures.
    Can you tell me how to get that bar across the top?
    Thank you!

    • The SideBar is only available for Photos for Mac. You can access the same organizational view by navigating back and forth through the interface for Photos for iOS. Start by tapping the “Albums” button along the bottom. That will show you your albums.

  13. Becky Crockett says:

    When will the android app have capabilities to pull from dropbox and save there?
    My daughter threw my phone and it killed my lcd screen, i was not able to backup all my completed pages on the app…there is nothing i can do right? all my photos are of course backed up but my PL pages? they were only saved to PL? im so not techy so im just curious if there was anything i could do to retrieve them!?

    • Hi Becky! That’s a great suggestion and while I don’t have any direct influence on product development for the ProjectLife App, I will certainly pass that along!! Keep those ideas coming!! We love to hear/see/read them!

  14. Lindsay says:

    Oh hey Kevin,
    I feel like I don’t have a clear answer on this. If I use iCloud, and it sends photos from my phone automatically to the cloud so I can then access from my computer, what happens when I delete those photos from my phone? Do they delete from my computer too? If so, how do you make sure your phone photos stay in your computer Photos library so you have them but you can delete them from your phone (when you run out of space on your phone per se). Does that make sense?

    • Hi Lindsay! Let me see if I can help…

      Think of iCloud Photo Library like email. When I send you an email, it lands in your Inbox on your laptop, desktop, tablet, phone, etc. When you delete that email, it subsequently deletes from all of your other devices. We LOVE this about IMAP, Exchange, Gmail, etc mail accounts. Can you imagine if you had to delete that same email 4 times? Yuk. Anyway, iCloud Photo Library is similar in that when you take a picture on your iPhone, it syncs with your other devices. If you delete that photo, it deletes from all other devices. Just like your email does. The idea is that you have access to ALL of your photos (at least those in iCloud) from any device any time… even http://www.icloud.com, by the way! Very cool.

  15. Deb M says:

    I had iCloud Photo Library enabled on my MBP and all iDevices (iPhone 6s, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4), and had Optimize Photos enabled on all devices, but my 20,000+ Photos Library still ate up most of the space on all of my devices’ hard drives. I have 64 GBs on each device, and was down to maybe 5 GBs left. I had to turn off iCloud Photo Library on all devices because of that. How are you keeping your iDevices’ hard drives from filling up with photos? It frustrates me.

    • HI Deb. You are correct.. the larger than Photo library, the more space will be needed. I keep about 2-3 years of photos in my Photos library (which then syncs with all my devices). Photos older than that are archived to Dropbox (which is also accessible on any device, just using a different method to access them). When I buy devices, I spend a little more to get as much storage as I can so this isn’t an issue. If you’re not able to do that, I would recommend a similar method… store maybe a year’s worth of photos in Photos and then rest on Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive… somewhere else. Does that make sense?

    • Deb M says:

      Hi Kevin!
      Thank you for your reply! I kinda figured this is how it worked, but didn’t know the full res photo is removed when the device needs more storage. Interesting. I can afford 128 GBs on my devices, I just didn’t think I needed the space. Next time for sure. I guess my plan to convert my whole 134,000 images Aperture library to the Photos app isn’t the best plan right now. lol Oh well. I hope the Photos app continues to grow and evolve. :)

  16. Randi says:

    Hi! Thanks for the post! I’ve got two questions. One plays off the above questions about space constraints and full-res vs. thumbnail versions. Once a photo is opened and the full-res is downloaded does it remain full-res? My kids love to look through photos and so I would imagine that quickly all the thumbnail versions will be converted over to full-res, right? Which defeats the space-saving options. Love to hear your thoughts about the previous question on taking up too much hard drive space. I can’t currently afford to pay for the space to store 18,000 photos so far in both iCloud Photo Library and DropBox. So, I stopped DropBox and simply use the pictures stored there as an extra backup with all my photos from prior to 2015.

    I’m also still confused about the search mode using keywords. I’m a BIG fan of keywords. But…let’s say I want to look up pictures of my daughter at school from either a few months during one school year or even a few school years but not necessarily every picture tagged with the keyword “School”. Is there a way to search a keyword (i.e School) in just a couple albums in a single folder or even across albums in different folders. I organize my pictures by labelling a folder by each year and within each folder, I have albums by months. I can’t seem to figure out how to narrow the search to desired locations as opposed to simply getting all 700+ photos tagged as “School.” Not sure if it’s not an option (and a big negative for photos app, if you ask me) or I just don’t know the steps to do it! THANKS!

    • Hello Randi! Great questions. Here are your answers…

      Yes, when the full-res version of an image is downloaded, it’s on your phone for good… sort of. While there isn’t a way to force a full-res version of a photo to be removed, it will be automatically removed (leaving the thumbnail preview) when your device needs more room. We don’t have any control over this. It just happens in the background… like magic.

      I wasn’t sure about your second question, so I did a little exploring and learned something new (thank you!!). If you tag a photo with “school” and search for that tag across all photos, it will return that image. If you search for the same tag (school) while selecting an album where that photo is not included, it will NOT return that image. In other words, when you search for keywords, it will only search in the album you have selected.

  17. Lynn L. says:

    Great information! Thanks for sharing!! So glad to learn about the sidebar!!! :)

  18. Ronda says:


    You are awesome! Thanks for all the “techy” information. I always learn something new from you!

  19. KathyinMN says:

    I wish I could tell icloud library to start at such and such a date and forward, instead of it trying to synch my nearly 30,000 pictures in my library. Its why I turned it off. Slowly moving from iphotos to photos. Not as easy of a process as I hoped. Photos tried to move my entire library…creating duplicate pictures. What it ended up doing is giving me a heart attack-seriously thought I had lost thousands of pictures. I’d have made the switch sooner if I could have dictated it start with a specific date and those pics forward use photos. My beef with it.

  20. Chelsea says:

    I totally love the auto albums feature in Photos (I used it in iPhoto, but I’ve since switched out of iPhoto/Photos because it was waayyy too slow for me with all my photos) & I’m wondering if there’s a similar way of organizing like that in Dropbox? I’ve switched over to keeping everything there (or I’m in the process of switching) but right now I’m just putting everything in folders by date. What I really want is to also be able to have some sort of organization in place so I could, say, find all the photos with x-person in it or from such-and-such location or trip or whatever. Do you have any thoughts on how I could achieve this? As far as I know, there’s no tagging or keyword capability on Dropbox.
    I also have a really specific question about using Automator to rename my photos, if you are familiar with that program too (which I’m assuming you are cuz you seem kinda genius-y)

  21. Natalie says:

    This has been so helpful for me-thank you! I have been lost as to where or how to start organizing my photos ever since I got a Mac and have struggled with a simple system. The smart album was a game changer for me and now it’s making sense. I’m frustrated with a certain aspect however. So I’m organizing by date (per month/per year). However I have some pictures that aren’t specific to month and wanted to organize those by subject more- for instance I created a folder for quotes because I often screen shot quotes I see online, etc. I know how to move it over to that folder but the photo also remains in my month folder? I don’t really want it duplicated I want it moved but when I move it over and then delete it from the month folder- it also deletes it out of the subject folder. Are there any secrets to this?

  22. Charlotte says:

    Hi! I have been using Photos since it came out, and iPhoto before that. I love both programs, for many reasons. However, I would like to add several boxes of photos to my digital Photos. I can scan them, but what is the easiest way to put them in the correct date? I tried using my ScanSnap scanner, which was awesome, but they all went into the date I scanned them. I will need to go back at fix these individually, but do you have a suggestion for setting up a workflow so that I don’t have to do as much work after scanning the photos. Thank you for any suggestions you may have.

  23. Luisa says:

    Thank you for the info regarding photos and iCloud.com. I finally understand how they relate to each other! How do I remove the over 3000 photos on my iPhone without deleting them in the cloud though? I need the space on my phone for more photos!

  24. Angie Ulseth says:

    I always appreciate your technology tips. Disclaimer – I am a disgruntled Mac user who misses iPhotos greatly.

    I recently tried to download my phone photos to Photos on my computer using a cord. I had approximately 4000 photos. 24 hours later, only 500 photos had transferred. I couldn’t do without my phone any longer, so I had to disconnect. That evening I used my husband’s computer (which still has iPhotos on it). All of my photos downloaded in 14 minutes. What could cause the poor transfer the first time? It’s frustrating, to say the least.

    Another thing I miss about iPhotos was how it would automatically sort photos into albums by date. I would edit, send my photos to Shutterfly, and mark the albums as “done”. With Photos, I have to create the albums, which is another step. Argh. I know technology changes are inevitable, but I sure miss iPhotos.

  25. Barbara Eads says:

    I have already spent an hour online with Apple tech support. No one can seem to help me figure out how to PERMANENTLY save photos to my main computer (in this case, my MacBook). Although tech support gave me a series of steps to follow, when I tried them, they did not work. I do not want the 1000 photos from my daughter’s wedding on my phone. But if I delete a photo from one place or another, it disappears from all of my devices. Can you help?

  26. Melissa Miller says:

    Hi Kevin!
    GREAT GREAT instructions and help, BUT I have an Android. Can you help me figure out how to find my photos when I’m using the PL app?! I have some in Amazon Cloud, some in google photos, and some on my phone. I am working on getting them all to one place, but it’s taking forever. help!

    Twinscerely plus one,

  27. sally says:

    Hi there! Do you know the best way to access a smart album from my iPhone? I do a lot of my memory keeping with iPhone apps, one of which is the project life app. I love creating smart albums for each month ( I cull the months photos by favoriting and then add “favorites” to the criteria for my album, which makes it really easy to immediately access only the images I want to document) I see my albums, but not my smart albums. thanks!