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How to organize photos on Mac: Smart Albums and other tricks


How to organize pictures using the Photos app on Mac

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. No wonder organizing all those photos becomes a job you keep putting off. But it doesn't have to be a time-consuming challenge. In this article, we’ll show you how to organize photos on your Mac in three easy steps:

  1. Merge your photo libraries in the Photos app
  2. Delete unwanted photos
  3. Group pictures using Smart Albums in Photos

Step 1. Consolidate 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When macOS Yosemite was released in 2014, the Photos app finally came to Macs, replacing outdated iPhoto.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 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 switch between several Photos libraries: Screenshot

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.

How to delete a Photos library: Screenshot

Step 2. Remove duplicates and other useless photos

Now that you've merged libraries — which can take a while if you’ve got a lot of photos scattered across different locations — you’ve probably got a whole load of duplicates and similar images. Chances are, you had the same photo on an external HDD and on your Mac and now it’s duplicated, or you had a dozen slightly different variations of the same shot.  Sure, you might want to keep one or two, but do you really need the other 11 wasting space on your Mac? Probably not. Here is how you delete redundant photos from a Mac without it taking all evening.

How to delete duplicates in Photos

  1. Download Gemini 2 for Mac and launch it
  2. Click Scan for Duplicates
  3. It will scan every photo, album and folder on your Mac, including those on any connected external hard drives and imported from the iCloud Photo Library. Once complete, click Review Results.
  4. Gemini has a photo preview mode, so you can see every image, including metadata. Your duplicates are grouped under Exact Duplicates > Images, and similar photos will be under Similar > Images. Use the icon at the top to see a grid view, making it easier to identify which copy you want to delete.<
  5. Tick the box next to each image you want to delete, then click Remove

Gemini places these in a separate folder in Photos (Gemini Duplicates), giving you a possibility to look through the images once again before deleting them for good. For more information, this article is well worth a read.

How to delete duplicate photos with Gemini 2: Screenshot

Step 3. 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 are Smart Albums in Mac’s Photos app?

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

How to create a Smart Album in the Photos app on Mac: Screenshot

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.


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.


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