I am so excited to share a photo ‘cleaning’ series with you this week – Clean Up Your Photos with Miss Freddy. Casey (Miss Freddy) helped me sort through my photo mess earlier this year. Having our photos backed up and sorted properly was such a gift – organizing photos is not my specialty and it was such a relief to know that everything was backed up properly. I asked her to share her tips with you guys – I am thrilled for her to help you too!  

Whether you’ve been a life-long Apple user or are new to Mac products, this blog post is meant to serve as a helpful overview of Photos and iCloud- hopefully you’ll learn something new or find a feature you haven’t previously used that will make your life easier!

What is Apple Photos?

Previously known as iPhoto, Photos is the program on all Mac computers + iPhones for viewing, organizing, and editing your photos + videos.  In my experience, the program isn’t always very intuitive so I’ve spent a lot of time learning the features it offers and how to make them work for me… here are the basics I think everyone needs to know.

Apple Photos on iPhone

    1. HEIC files.  In 2017, Apple changed the file format of photos taken on iPhones from JPEG (universally recognized and used) to HEIC (high efficiency image format- exclusive to apple).  It’s a full resolution file that takes up less space.  It has become more widely recognized now, but still isn’t universal.  You’re able to change your phone back to JPEG, if you desire, in Settings/Camera/Formats (most compatible).  If you’d like to convert existing HEIC files, this free converter works great.
    1. Albums. The Albums tab has a lot of great functionality.  You’ll find facial recognition in the automatic People album, location search in the Places album, but my favorite is Albums by Media Type.  When cleaning up your camera roll, it’s SO helpful to see all the Screenshots in one place or focus in on Videos because they typically require more storage space.  You can also create your own Albums.  The ‘Favorites’ Album is also really helpful- it displays any photo where you’ve tapped the heart icon.  This is great for photos you reference frequently (ex: a photo of my license plate because I can never remember the number correctly!).
              • A note about albums: albums function similarly to a Music Playlist which means it’s a second COPY of the photo inside the album.  If you delete a photo from the album, it will still reside in the Camera Roll.  To truly delete the photo from your phone, you must do it from the general Camera Roll.
    1. Facial Recognition.  Technology is so crazy and Facial Recognition is a really useful tool.  If there is a person you’d like to name, select a photo of them, swipe up, then tap the circle with their face, and then designate a name.  That face/person will now show up automatically in your People album within Albums.  The album will contain all the automatically identified photos of that person, not just the single photo you named.
    1. Search by Keyword.  Tapping the search function (icon in the bottom right corner) opens up a world of search functionality.  Type in any keyword you like- such as dog, car, beach, etc to find the photo you’ve been searching for!
    1. Editing. When you open a photo, tapping Edit in the top right opens a menu of editing options.  The three dots house another feature called Markup.  This allows you to type + doodle right on the photo.
              • Another fun editing feature is for Live Photos.  When you’re viewing a Live Photo, you can swipe up to find animation options or something called Long Exposure.  This is fun with action shots like a waterfall (it will make the water blurred to show the effect of the water movement).

Apple Photos on Mac Computers

    1. Photos Library Catalog.  On a computer, Apple Photos uses a master catalog file.  This means photos need to be imported to be used inside the program and exported to be used outside the program.  If you want an individual photo or a group of photos to be available outside of the program, you need to go to File/Export.
            • Important note:  it feels intuitive to drag + drop items from the Photos program onto the desktop but this creates a compressed thumbnail and NOT the full size file.  Always use File/Export.)
    1. Smart Albums.  Albums function the same way as they do on iPhones (see above), but there are some more advanced features available in the computer version of Photos.  Smart Albums are a neat way to automatically organize your photos (click the plus sign next to My Albums to create one).  For example, you can create a Smart Album for a range of dates so albums will automatically exist for years, or months within years.  Or you can add multiple requirements, like if you want to make a slideshow for your son’s senior year, you can create a smart album that filters by Person AND Date!
            • Remember, deleting a photo from an album, doesn’t remove it from the Photos program/computer.  It will still reside in the Photos tab.  If you want to remove a photo permanently, delete it from the Photos tab instead of the Album.
    1. Photo Stream + iCloud.  By clicking Photos in the top left corner and selecting Preferences, you’ll be able to see your iCloud settings (as long as it is set as the System Photo  Library under General).  If iCloud is enabled, you can choose whether the full-sized files will be downloaded to the computer OR if you’d like iCloud to optimize the storage space.  If you choose optimize, all photos will continue to be visible in your library, but the full sized files will be saved in the cloud, not on the computer.  Photo Stream, on the other hand, syncs the most recent 30 days worth of photos to your computer, but it doesn’t require you to use or pay for iCloud.

What is iCloud?

    1. iCloud Definitions
            • iCloud Photos uses the cloud to extend your phone’s storage space so you can see ALL of your photos, beyond what fits on your phone.  It is an automatic sync, NOT a backup.  The sync means your photos will automatically appear on your other Apple devices (computer, iPad, etc).
            • iCloud Drive is a similar idea, but for files/folders.  When it’s enabled on your computer, it syncs everything on your Desktop + in your Documents folder by default.
            • iCloud Backup is a feature on iPhones that backs up the entire phone.  In the event of loss or damage, you’ll be able to restore from this Backup on a new phone.
            • Photo Stream syncs only the most recent 30 days worth of photos to your computer/devices, but it doesn’t require you to use or pay for iCloud.
            • Shared Albums.  Share photos easily with friends/family (who also have iPhones) using Shared Albums.  (Note that the contents of Shared Albums aren’t actually saved on your phone’s camera roll so they won’t be detected by third party backup apps (like Dropbox) unless you manually choose to save each photo to your camera roll.)
    1. iCloud Photos is NOT A BACKUP.  This is a really common misunderstanding, but iCloud is NOT a backup; it is a Sync. This means if your toddler accidentally deletes everything from your Camera Roll on your phone, it may be deleted everywhere.  For this reason, I think it’s important to have another copy of your photos outside of iCloud (the Backup Bootcamp course has tutorials for this… save $10 with code CLEANMAMA!).
    1. You don’t HAVE to use iCloud.  You can use another service, like Amazon Photos or Dropbox, to backup your photos.  Apple provides 5GB of iCloud storage for free so with iCloud Photos disabled, you can continue to use iCloud to backup Contacts/Notes/Calendar/etc settings without any monthly fee!

Casey, aka Miss Freddy, is a certified Professional Photo Organizer (yes, that’s a thing!) who helps people worldwide make sense of their photo mess.  She lives in Colorado with her husband, two kids, and micro-mini golden doodle (that’s a dog).  Follow her on Instagram for free tips on how to take better photos and use them in meaningful ways.

There are affiliate links in this post. See my full disclosure policy here.