So you’ve decided to step up your photography game and get Adobe’s Lightroom to manage and edit your photos, eh?! This guide will help you get your photos from Apple’s Photos into Adobe Lightroom Classic. As of the date of this publication, there isn’t an everyday tool or utility that transfers an Apple Photos Library to Lightroom Classic, like there is an Apple Aperture Library to Lightroom Classic tool.

While this gets your images into Lightroom, this, however, does not go over editing within Lightroom. There are a load of resources here on that can help with that!

This works for Apple Mac’s that run OS X 10.10 – 10.11, and macOS 10.13

Why switch from Apple Photos to Adobe Lightroom?

If I didn’t know much about photography and just wanted photos to easily sync up with my Mac and all my iOS devices all while being able to lightly edit photos, this would be a grand piece of software. The option for iCloud Photo Library within the Photos App, makes it super easy and hassle-free to have your photos synchronized to a remote server (iCloud), and consequently other Macs, iPads and iPhones that have that feature turned on — pretty awesome because if you lose your device, you at least know your pictures are safe on other devices and in the iCloud Photo Library. Images you take on an iPhone upload right away to the iCloud Photo Library, same with images you import into the Photos App on the Mac. It is really is good for what it is meant for, which to provide convenience to those who want their special moments safe with them at all times.

But …

Photographers like myself don’t exactly want all hundred-thousand photos taken in a year appearing on their iPhone and iPad, which would happen if they used Apple Photos and iCloud Photo Library to the fullest extent that it is meant to. So, instead of having every single image sync over to the iCloud Photo Library, it might be better to keep a selection of images that really mean something to you on the iCloud Photo Library and utilize it for its ease of getting images from one device to the other. More about that later, though.

Organizing your photos within Lightroom does become pretty simple. Lightroom has quick and easy options of importing images straight to folders on a hard drive — internal or external, and even remote if you’d want. Lightroom was also made to help you cull out unwanted images and choose/rate images that you want to keep. Easily searchable Keywords and file information is readily available by default, so there aren’t any hidden things to turn on or off. Lightroom has a whole lot of built in editing tools that are a bit more advanced than what Photos contains, and those tools give you more control.

I could technically be pretty content with using Photos as an everyday consumer, but as an advanced user, these things among others prevent me from staying in Photos:

1. File structure

  • All the files that are imported or stored in Apple’s Photos program are contained within a file called Photos Library, which stored by default in the Pictures folder, within the Mac user’s home folder on. This file, in OS X is actually a special folder that contains other folders that Apple’s software manages, so the user only has to worry about the one seemly appearing “file” to back up.
  • When you organize your photos into Albums in Photos, which many people do, the pictures don’t get moved into corresponding folders within that special library file. This can often cause frustration when trying to move from one program to another. Sorry to break it to you, but if you’ve organized your photos by albums, we’re going to lose out on them by moving to Lightroom — but believe me, it’ll be worth it when you’re done, more about that later.
    • Files stored within Lightroom reflect the actual location on the hard disk. I won’t go into detail about organizing at the moment, but basically, when you import into Lightroom configure it to create a new folder in the Pictures folder called Family Photos, you can then use Finder to navigate to the Pictures folder, and you’ll find the Family Photos folder there with your pictures within it. This makes it really easy to duplicate, transfer and really get a hold on more advanced file management options.

2. Third party programs

  • When you’re getting more advanced, you’re often broadening the scope of work that you can do, often by different tools. While Apple is working hard to get third party software like MacPhun’s suite of software, Perfectly Clear, or Pixelmator integrated into Photos via Extensions, the industry standard for photo editing and retouching — Adobe’s Photoshop — isn’t one of those Extensions.
  • Photos has a 7 different Filters, which are presets based off of processed film that alter the image’s look, integrated into the their Edit area. That’s super cute, as it reflects the rest of their Photos app on the iPads and iPhones. However, Lightroom has a whole lot more built in, has the easy ability to add other amazing presets from the likes of VSCO, Mastin Labs and other companies that provides presets, and has the ability to save and create your own.
  • Extensions are nice to have mainly because when you use them, you don’t need to export a picture to a location on your hard drive, edit the picture, then re-import it back into Photos in order to keep track of them. Super nice right? Well if you want to use Photoshop with Photos, you’ll have to do that export-edit-reimport loop.
    • Lightroom has integrated functionality similar to Extensions, with many software developers that allows Lightroom to manage those files after they’re edited — making Lightroom a one-stop shop that keeps the images in the catalog.

3. Editing tools

  • I was rather impressed with how simple or how advanced Photos could be. Under the Adjust panel of Photos, you have access to many of the sliders you can use to tweak the look of the image, the bells and whistles — white balance adjusting and sharpening among others — are mostly hidden by default to avoid confusion, which is different from Lightroom, which basically lays out all your options under the Develop Module.
  • All the tweaks, like lightening the picture, color correcting the picture and sharpening/defining the picture on done a global scale (effecting the whole image). If you only wanted to brighten a certain section of the image, well … you’ve got to use another program, like Photoshop. And well, you just read the process that it entails.
  • Apple has made Photos to really protect you from yourself, which is really kind of them to do when I really think about it. They make it so simple that you really can’t mess it up.
    • Lightroom, while it is a bit overwhelming at first, has so many things built into it that it can often be daunting to learn. Don’t freak out though. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some sort of free online resource you can use to help you learn Lightroom? Hmm. One of the things that I definitely love and need within Lightroom is the ability to batch edit images.

Anyway, if you’re taking photography seriously, you’ll want more control, and that’s what Lightroom can help you with. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ll keep saying this throughout this guide — Apple’s Photos is great for what it supposed to do.

This is what I do …

While this works for me, this may not work for you, so feel free to change things around based off what you tend to use.

I import and store client images on my Drobo 5D (my directly attached expandable external storage) in individual folders created by Lightroom and organized date taken (one of the great options available at the time of importing). I’ll then add a little note of what/who I shot to that folder after the date. Because of that, I’m able to keep the internal, low capacity but high speed drive, uncluttered with pictures that I don’t need everyday and I’m able to find them quickly. I’ll then do all the culling of images that I know that I don’t need — closed eyes, blurry pictures, black misfires and such. After that, I’ll start editing images. I may send them out to Photoshop, or apply presets that I’ve made or bought from other companies and I’ll make sure that things look consistent with the other pictures from the shoot. That’s about it. I may print them out using the Print module in there, or create a quick slideshow, like in Photos. I’ll keep the images cataloged in Lightroom, and summon them whenever I need to.

Within Photos, I have iCloud Photo Library turned on. This essentially syncs all images in Photos to the iCloud and consequently other devices that have iCloud Photo Library turned on, such as my iPhone and iPad. This makes it easy to get an image that I’ve edited in Lightroom onto my iPhone. So this is what I do after editing in Lightroom:

  1. I’ll export the image from Lightroom on the Desktop.
  2. I’ll drag that image from the Desktop onto the Photos icon on the dock. This imports it to the iCloud Photo Library and puts it onto the iPhone. Then I’ll delete the image from the Desktop.
  3. I’ll then post the image to Instagram from my iPhone, which also goes to Twitter and my Facebook and Flickr.
  4. I’ll delete the image from my iPhone if I don’t want to keep it. Since everything syncs, deleting it from the iPhone deletes it from the Photos App on the Mac.

So, I basically keep all my personal pictures and snapshots stored on my iPhone and iPad. And with iCloud Photo Library turned on, all my photos are safe in the rare occurrence that I have either device stolen or misplaced.

Moving images into Lightroom

When moving these images into Lightroom, I think of two different ways to really get things going, one being more quick and fast, the other one, more detail oriented — for those who want to create folders from their existing Albums in Photos.

This move from Photos to Lightroom assumes that files are in their default locations, that you are using a Mac, and that this is your first time running Lightroom and that Lightroom contains no photos as of yet. These instructions will be for those using the latest version of El Capitan as well as Adobe’s Lightroom Classic.

Dump all the images into Lightroom!

This move does not retain any organization created within Photos and will reorganize the photos by creating folders based off the date that the images were taken according to the metadata stored in the image. This is a quicker and easier method due to the reorganizing that is done by Lightroom. I personally sort and store all my images by date and add a description to each folder after the date, just to help me get a quick clue as to what was there.

By the end of this process, all your pictures from Photos will then be moved to Lightroom. Photos will then be empty and ready for images you take with your iPhone or for images you import into Photos on your Mac.

Main steps for this are:

  1. Ensuring that images are stored on your Mac/Turning off iCloud Photo Library
  2. Finding the Photos Library and Navigating to the Masters Folder
  3. Importing the original images to Lightroom
  4. Deleting the Photos Library
  5. Creating a new empty Photos Library

1. Download Originals/Turning off iCloud Photo Library

To get started, you’ll need to launch Photos then access the preferences for Photos (Command+,).


It is important that before you turn off iCloud Photo Library, you select the option “Download Originals to this Mac.” If you’ve have “Optimize Storage” selected, your computer would hold a lightweight, lower resolution and space saving version of the images, while iCloud Photo Library holds your originals. Turning off iCloud Photo Library and having the originals saved to the computer will be necessary to not mess anything up within your Photos Library that is stored locally on your computer and ensure that the images will be physically moved over to Lightroom.

2. Finding the Photos Library / Navigating to the Masters Folder

With the Photos App, all your images are managed by the software and hidden away in a nice little package called the Photos Library. Apple had the right thing in mind for all the novice users — making the software keep all the photos in a consolidated place so they wouldn’t be scattered across the hard drive. This kind of makes it simple for us to pull the actual image files out and move them into Lightroom.

You’ll need to open a Finder window, then for the sake of ease, head up to the Menu Bar and find the Go menu and select Home, which is the place where OS X tends to hold all your personal files and folders.


We’re going to find the Pictures folder and open it up. There, we should have located the Photos Library package.


Secondary click (commonly called a right click or a two finger click) on the Photos Library and select Show Package Contents


Find the Masters folder, and drag it onto the Lightroom icon.


3. Importing the images into Lightroom

This is pretty simple for the most part. This is when you configure Lightroom to import your images. There are a lot of options that are available, so take it easy at first. The things to understand at first is where the images are coming from, where they’re being imported to, and what things are going to happen when you import them.

The top left should say where your Masters folder is — effectively showing you the source from where Lightroom will move files from. The left sidebar is where you should see a visual of the source as a folder hierarchy. In this section, we will want to select “Include subfolders” or click the button in the center of the screen.


The top center is where you can select Lightroom’s behavior toward the pictures we want to import, in this instance, we are going to select “Move,” which will move the files from the Masters folder over toward a destination.


The right sidebar shows us more options to choose. We want to look at the “Destination” area. This is where we are going to select where we want our pictures and folders to be created on our hard drive. With the default settings, Lightroom will move images into the Pictures folder (the same place that the Photos Library was stored) and will create folders based off the date the image was taken. The folders will be made by year, and within each year will be another folder with the month and the date. The “Date Format” is where you can choose from several different folder options. The default is like this “2016/2016-09-07.”


Finally, just click the Import button on the bottom right corner and let it go at it.

4. Deleting the Photos Library

In my workflow, I end up using Photos to help me get images from the computer to my iOS devices. The best thing to do after moving your images and having Lightroom import and move everything over is to clear out Photos to be brand spanking new! This step is pretty simple. Move the Photos Library over to the Trash!

5. Creating a new empty Photos Library

The easiest way to create a new library at this point is to just try and launch Photos. Since the original Photos Library was thrown away to the trash, Photos has no idea what to do at this point, so it squawks at you, saying that the Library is gone! Well, we’re going to have to Open Other …new-photos-library

Once you’ve clicked that, you’ll end up seeing another window appear, letting you choose another Library to open with Photos. If you have no other libraries, your window will look like mine and from here, all you need to do is click Create New. From there, you’ll be able to name your new library (I just left the default name there, since that’s what I deleted), and choose its location.



Moving album by album in Photos to Lightroom

This is quite a bit simpler, but it is more of a meticulous process, leaving you able to choose which original images you want import into Lightroom. I say original images because some of you out there may have shot in RAW, and you’ll definitely want those to get into Lightroom in order to secure the awesome magic-making powers from the photo-angels. You’ll need to tell Photos to export the pictures from an Album to a folder someplace. Then you can import that whole structure of folders into Lightroom. Lightroom can then move that whole folder with the corresponding subfolders to a collective place such as the Pictures folder. The nice thing about this process is that you can pick and choose what images and albums you want to bring over to Lightroom. Often times, people I know will continue to use Photos to hold all their images and have them sync to their other devices. These are they who tend to edit only lightly and focus on iOS apps to edit their images.

  1. Select the images within the Album
  2. Export the Original images out to a folder.
  3. Import the images into Lightroom
  4. Clean Up

1. Selecting images within the Album

You’ll first want to navigate to the Album that contains your photos, then select the images. You can use Command+A to select all. Then you can hold Command while clicking on images to deselect individual images or select individual images. Here, I have an Album named Motorcycle, and everything is selected — which is why they’re in blue.


2. Export the original images out to a folder.

Well, you may have made some small edits in Photos already, but this will take the original image taken, whether in JPEG or in RAW, and copy them into a safe little folder where we can retrieve them later.

You’ll need to go to File on the menu bar, then move your mouse down to Export and then to Export Unmodified Original. The number images selected will also be designated there as well.


Use the original defaults, keeping the original File Name and such, without any subfolders.


We’re going to create our own folder and subfolders for us to place our images. Clicking Export should take you to the next screen where you can point Photos to a location, and have the option to create a New Folder.

I’d choose the Desktop, since it is easy access. Create a new folder by clicking the button that says the same. Name it whatever you’d like, I chose “Lightroom Images” and click Create.

That should’ve taken you into that folder, where you’re going to create another New Folder with the name of the Album that you’re exporting (that would make the most sense, but you can change that around how you’d like). I ended up making one called Motorcycle.


Now, repeat for every Album you’ve got. I did it twice.

3. Import the images into Lightroom

Now, we’re just going to drag the folder from the Desktop right into Lightroom! The Import dialog should pop up, with the same options that you’d have if you were just doing the Masters from earlier. Same thing goes! Top left is where you should see where you are importing the images from and make sure you have Include Subfolders on. Top and center needs to have the Move option selected!

The thing that is going to differ from above is what we change in the “Destination” section on the right sidebar. You’ll want to change the option for “Organize” to “By Original Folders.” This is what is going to help you recreate the hierarchy that you made on the Desktop earlier.


4. Clean Up!

Well, the images are now in Lightroom, and you should still have a folder on the Desktop that has subfolders with nothing in it. This is safe to delete! Drag that to the trash and call it a day!

Moving from iPhoto or Aperture?

If you Aperture or iPhoto, Lightroom has a built in plug-in that will help you transfer your images over, simply and easily.

To migrate from Aperture

  1. In Lightroom, go to File > Plug-in Extras > Import from Aperture Library.
  2. Select the location of your Aperture library and choose a new location for your images.
  3. Click the Options button if you want to change any settings prior to migration.
  4. Click the Import button to start the migration.

To migrate from iPhoto

  1. In Lightroom, go to File > Plug-in Extras > Import from iPhoto Library.
  2. Select the location of your iPhoto library and choose a new location for your images.
  3. Click the Options button if you want to change any settings prior to migration.
  4. Click the Import button to start the migration.

If you’ve found this guide helpful, share it around to spread the word!