How to manage photos on Mac using Smart Albums and other tricks

With cameras so readily available, it’s easy to accumulate more photos than you know what to do with. You probably take dozens of pictures when you go out, meet up with friends, or go on vacation. And while taking photos is fun, organizing them is work. But it doesn't have to be that way. In this article, we’ll show you how to organize pictures on your Mac with the Photos app and without it. Here are the things you’ll be reading about:

  • How to merge your photo libraries in the Photos app
  • How to group pictures using Smart Albums in Photos
  • Tricks for keeping your Photos library organized
  • How to organize pictures outside of the Photos app

Tips to help organize photos on a Mac

1. Consolidate an all your photos in the Photos app for Mac

When macOS Yosemite was released in 2014, the Photos app finally came to Macs, replacing outdated iPhoto. Now with Photos, you’ve got more organization tools, including the ability to switch between libraries and merge them. To start with, let’s get all of your photos from different places onto your Mac. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Use iCloud Photo Library to ensure that everything you take on an iOS device is synced automatically with your Mac. Alternatively, AirDrop photos from your iPhone and/or iPad to your Mac.
  2. Import photos from external drives to the Photos app on your Mac
  3. Import photos from your camera
  4. If you have several libraries in the Photos app, merge them into one

Once everything is on your Mac and in one library, it’s easier to get organized. Let’s take a look at a few questions most people have when they juggle several Photos libraries.

How to get rid of duplicate Photos?

The next thing is to get rid of the duplicate and similar-looking pictures that are wasting space on your hard drive.Thankfully, the app Gemini 2 can scan your entire hard drive to quickly find and get rid of them. After you’ve downloaded and installed Gemini 2, you can follow these steps to declutter your photos:

  1. Download Gemini 2 for free, install and launch the app. 
  2. Click + > Pictures Folder.
  3. Then, click Scan for Duplicates and let it go.
  4. Choose either Review Results or Smart Cleanup.

Review Results does exactly what it promises and will let you see your duplicate files grouped together, making it that much easier to decide which version you want to delete. While Smart Cleanup will get rid of your duplicates with just one click.

How do I switch libraries in Photos?

Libraries in Photos can come from a few different sources, including external devices such as cameras and iPhones. If you were using iPhoto prior to Photos, each device and source will have a Systems Photo Library. You can switch between them, and here is how you do that:

  1. Go to Launchpad
  2. Hold down the Option key, and then double-click on the Photos app to see the libraries you have on this device
  3. Now you can move easily from one photo library to another and open the one you want by double-clicking it

How to create a new Photo library on Mac?

Creating a new library is easy. If Photos is open, you’ll need to quit and reopen to create a new library:

  1. Hold down the Option key
  2. Double-click on the Photos apps
  3. Click the Create New button, then choose Library
  4. Give your new library a name and click OK

How to merge two or more Photos libraries?

At present, there is no native macOS tool for merging libraries in Photos. Essentially, what you’ll be doing is moving all pics to one new library. So, create one as described above, and then follow these steps:

  1. Launch Photos holding down the Option key and select one the libraries you want to merge
  2. In the menu bar, click Edit > Select All
  3. Again in the menu bar, select File > Export. Now you’ve got the following options:
    • Export Unmodified Original. This will export every image in these libraries, excluding any edits or changes made to them.
    • Export [number of photos you want to export] Photos, which gives you the option to pick a format and select Full Size. That will export your photos as they are, with any edits you’ve made, in TIFF, PNG, or JPEG formats.
  4. Pick where they’re going (this could be a folder on your Mac or a connected external drive, for example)
  5. Repeat these steps for the other libraries you want merged
  6. Now close Photos and re-open using Option to select the library you are merging these photos into
  7. Either use File > Import or drag the exported photos into the library

How do I delete a Photo library from my Mac?

If you want to delete a library, it’s super easy. You just navigate to the Pictures folder on your Mac, locate the library you want gone, and move it to the Trash. However, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got all the images and videos out of it first. Export them like we described in the previous section, and then trash the library.

2. Use Smart Albums in Photos to organize your pics

After merging your libraries and clearing out duplicates and similar images, take photo organizing one step further and group the remaining pics with Smart Albums. Let’s take a look at how to use this fantastic feature of the Photos app to your advantage.

What is a Smart Album in Photos?

Smart Albums are a way of grouping images by the parameters you set. Maybe you’ll want an album to contain photos taken last Christmas, or you’d rather group all the pics of your kid together. All that and more can be done with a Smart Album. As is the case with a regular Photos album, you can edit and delete it.

How to make a new Smart Album in Photos?

Creating a new Smart Album is simple:

  1. Launch Photos
  2. Click the + button next to My Albums in the sidebar
  3. Select Smart Album<
  4. Give your Smart Album a name
  5. Choose the Parameters, e.g. “kids,” “days out,” “Holiday 2018.” You can modify these at any time.
  6. Click OK to create

By developing a system (e.g., photos are grouped into albums by date taken) and using Smart Albums, you’ll make sure your photo library is easy to navigate, even if it contains thousands of photos from 2001 and up until now.

3. Other tricks for keeping your Photos library organized

Now that you’ve got your libraries consolidated and you’re using Smart Folders, here are a couple more tricks to help keep your pictures organized.

How to favorite Photos?

The more pictures you have in your Photos app, the harder it can be to find the picture you’re looking for. A simple way to view only the photos that are important to you is to favorite them. You can favorite an image in the Photos app either by:

  • Selecting a picture and clicking the heart button in the toolbar.
  • Hover your mouse over an image and click the heart in the bottom left corner.

Then, you can view all the pictures you’ve favorited by clicking Favorites in the left sidebar.

How to find faces on Photos?

Photos also has a facial recognition feature, which is great when you’re looking for pictures of a specific person. But it’s definitely not without its flaws. It will identify faces and make suggestions, but it requires you to put in some time to either verify the people in a picture or label them yourself. To view your pictures organized by faces:

  1. Click People in the sidebar.
  2. Select one of the people to view all of their photos.

How to create a shared album?

Shared albums are a collaborative way to share photos with your family friends. Everyone can drop their pictures from a specific event or place into one place. Follow these steps to create a Share album:

  1. In the left sidebar of Photos, hover over Shared Albums.
  2. Click the +.
  3. Name your album and invite people to collaborate.
  4. Click Create.
  5. Click All Photos in the sidebar.
  6. Drag and drop the pictures you want to add to that album.

If you forget to add someone when you’re creating the album, don’t worry. You can always add people to an album by clicking the button that looks like a person in a circle in the toolbar.

How to navigate through years and months?

Probably the most common way to view your photos is by the date they were taken. In the toolbar at the top, you can select to group your pictures by year, month, or even by date.

Even if you’re viewing your pictures in the All Photos tab, you’re still scrolling through them by date. You can use the scale slider to zoom out and see more photos from a time period or zoom in to see a specific period.

4. How to organize photos outside the Photos app

Of course, you don’t need the Photos app to organize your pictures. You can manage them within folders as you do with your documents or downloads. For some, this way maybe a little more difficult because you’re not able to see all of your pics simultaneously. But this does make it easier to transfer your photos or store them on an external hard drive.WTip:

Tip: 

When you’re not storing your pictures in the Photos app, it does make it harder to spot duplicates, though. So you should use an app like Gemini 2 and periodically scan for duplicate or similar-looking photos. 


The app will scan your hard drive to show you copies of the same picture that are just wasting space. You can get rid of your duplicates with one click of the Smart Cleanup button or you can review the files Gemini 2 finds to decide which copies you want to delete. And the best part is you can download Gemini 2 and try it for free!

How to find all photos on Mac?

If you have pictures everywhere on your computer and you’re wondering how to find the photo files on your Mac, the easiest way is with Smart Folders in Finder. Setting up a Smart Folder will allow you to see all of your pictures in one Finder window, regardless of where they’re actually stored. To set up a Smart Folder for your pictures:

  1. In a new Finder window, click File > New Smart Folder.
  2. Click “This Mac” and then click the + in the right corner.
  3. From the drop-down menus, change Name to Kind and Any to Image.
  4. If you want to save the Smart Folder so you can come back to it, click Save and then name the folder.

But the best way to organize your photos on a Mac is in a detailed folder structure, typically by date of when you took the pictures. And once you have a Smart Folder where you can find and see all of your photos in one place, it makes it a little bit easier to sort and organize them into easy-to-navigate folders.

How to view pictures on Mac?

Viewing pictures on a Mac without Photos is easy, but can get tedious really quickly. You can use Preview to open and view your pictures. The major drawback to doing this is you first have to find the photo file(s) in Finder and then double-click to open them with Preview.

That’s it, hope this short guide helps you cope with your photo overload. And remember: the best way to organize photos on your Mac is to keep your library lean and manageable — free from clutter and useless copies. Gemini 2 will gladly help with that.


These might also interest you:

Gemini Photos
Unclutter your photo library on Mac

Gemini 2: The duplicate photo finder