How To Set Up And Use Apple’s New Photos App In OS X Yosemite

How To Set Up And Use Apple’s New Photos App In OS X Yosemite

Last week, Apple released an update to Yosemite that includes a new Photos app. This app is a working replacement for iPhoto, and it does a much better job of organising your photos without hogging system resources. Here’s how to use it.

What’s Different from iPhoto

Before we dig into how to use Photos, it’s probably worth running through a quick checklist of what sets Photos apart from iPhoto. Both apps are photo management tools, and you’ll be familiar with Photos if you’ve used iPhoto. However, they do work a little differently. Here are just a few important ways they differ:

  • iCloud Photo Library is deeply integrated with Photos, although you can still use Photos by manually syncing with your phone. That’s good, because the 5GB of free space offered by Apple probably isn’t enough for most people.
  • With iCloud Photo Library, all pictures are pushed immediately from your phone to your computer (and vice versa) instead of using the older Photo Stream feature (which is still available).
  • You can sort by photo type, including panoramas, burst shots, timelapse, and whatever else — just like you can in iOS.
  • The sorting options are very similar to the iOS apps, but you can still sort by album, date and location. You can also separate by collections, much like on iOS. Shared albums now appear in the main source list as well.
  • The star rating system in iPhoto has been replaced with a heart to “favourite” specific photos.
  • Like the iOS Photos app, the different views are separated into several levels: Years, Collections and Moments. You can zoom in on any of those by clicking the clicking anywhere on the timeline. You can also click on a place name to look at a map view of where your photos have been geotagged.
  • Your photos are divided into three separate tabs on the top navigation bar: Photos, which is all the photos in your library, Shared, which is any shared Photo Streams you’re a part of, and Albums, which is any dedicated albums you’ve created. Finally, you also have a Projects tab where you can create and print photo books.

Of course, there are a few other minor differences as well. Really, what matters most is the fact Photos is much faster and more responsive than iPhoto was. It’s still not the perfect photo management tool, but at least it doesn’t bring your entire system to a screeching halt when you open it up. For the most part, if you’re already an iPhoto user, you’ll understand Photos. If not, it’s still easy to pick up.

How to Set Up Syncing in Photos

The initial set up process for Photos is simple. If you’re using iPhoto or Aperture, Photos will automatically import your photo library into Photos. If you have multiple libraries, hold down the Option key and open Photos. You’ll be asked which library you want to use. Photos uses the same master file as iPhoto or Aperture, so don’t delete your old libraries when you’re done. It should bring over all you photo details too, including any faces you’ve tagged, geolocation, dates, albums and everything else.

From there, you’ll need to decide if you want to use iCloud Photo Library or My Photo Stream. With iCloud Photo Library, any picture you take on your iOS device is automatically uploaded to iCloud and imported into Photos.

With My Photo Stream, the most recent 1000 (or the last 30 days, whichever is greater) photos are synchronised across devices only when you connect to Wi-Fi and they’re not stored on iCloud at all.

You can also opt out of either and upload your pictures into Photos manually. Just plug in your camera and Photos will ask if you want to import them.

If you’re using Photo Stream or iCloud, you’ll need to do a little setup.

On a Mac:

  1. Head to System Preferences > iCloud
  2. Check the box marked iCloud Drive
  3. Check the box marked Photos, and make sure iCloud Photo Library is turned on (or check the box for My Photo Stream)

On your iOS device:

  1. Head to Settings > iCloud
  2. Tap Photos, and toggle iCloud Photo Library to on (or tap My Photo Stream to sync all your devices over Wi-Fi)

Keep in mind that if you decide to use the iCloud Photo Library, you’ll likely need more storage space to keep up with those photos. Here’s what it will cost you:

  • 20GB: $1.29 per month
  • 200GB: $4.99 per month
  • 500GB: $12.99 per month
  • 1TB: $24.99 per month

Once all that is set up, Photos will take some time to sync everything up or import old photos. Once it does, that’s pretty much it for the photo management part.

Get to Know Photos’ New Editing Features

Besides being photo management software, Photos also has some very basic photo editing features. Most of these are slightly beefed up versions of what was already in iPhoto.

To edit a picture in Photos, just highlight it and click the Edit button. Here, you’ll get a very basic set of editing six editing options.

  • Enhance: This applies a set of automatic changes that are supposed to improve the photograph
  • Rotate: As the name suggests, this allows you to rotate the image in 90 degree increments
  • Crop: Crop allows you to both straighten an image, crop it out, or adjust the aspect ratio
  • Filters: Photos comes with eight filters you can use to apply to your images: Mono, Tonal, Fade, Chrome, Process, Transfer and Instant
  • Adjust: Here you can add specific adjustments, including Light, Colour and Black & White. Click the down arrow to reveal a set of more adjustments for each of those. You can also adjust white balance, levels, noise and more by clicking the Add button. These use sliders to control everything. Add more of the effect by sliding the adjustments to the right, and less by sliding them to the left.
  • Retouch: Retouch allows you to cover up blemishes or spots. It doesn’t work that well, but it’s fine if you need to cover up something small.

There’s not much there, but Photos does support third-party extensions, so hopefully we’ll see integration with software like Pixelmator at some point in the future.


  • I was really optimistic about Photos. But sadly I am hugely annoyed by the removal of “events” in favour for “Albums” and “Moments.” I have 35,000 pics in my collection which i was slowly making my way through and sorting, only to have the work I did with events destroyed by Albums!

    The thing that has been driving me nuts is the fact that the All Photos view is locked to “Moments”/Date order. In iPhoto, you could sort events and photos by a range of ways.

    I used to use the events view (which automatically set up an event on import for each day) to easily merge pics from multiples days but all belonged in the one event. I know I can still sort of achieve this by creating an album, but at least with events I could see unnamed events and know that either a) the event needed naming and it essentially become my “album” or b) needed to be sorted and dragged into multiple events.

    The other big thing that is missing is the ability to then view all photos but in Album or event order. Every “all photos” type view seems to be stuck/hell bent on only showing the pics in date/moment order, not album order. I want to have every photo in some sort of album or event (I had a junk event for misc pics). The removal of the events feature and being forced into moments & albums is driving me mad!

    • I so agree! Just did the same… organised all my old photos into events. I really miss events, so that days could be merged. Otherwise its too many albums….

    • Yes. New program sucks. my events are screwed. I moved from PC to apple for ease of use. Same with new iTunes horrible experience

  • @i2

    Did you ever find a workaround–I’m in EXACTLY the same frame of mind as you! Ugh!

    • No not yet but I did submit a feedback/improvement request to apple to treat albums a bit more like events were in Photos.

  • Having my photos resorted by upgrading to Yosemite and photos has rejumbled my photos and making me miserable. My “events” section was my organizing basis and now I am unable to use it as I did before. The hours wasted combining photos into events is now wasted. HELP SOMEONE, please ….

  • I’m so incredibly annoyed with the change from iphoto library to the new Yosemite system. I love photography and used to love editing, arranging into albums etc. It worked brilliantly. I find the new system hopeless. I’m having the same frustrations as many of the responders above with the change away from Events. Another huge frustration is that the photo editing tools do not work. At all! Can anyone help out with this?

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