Apple Photos Export Strategies?

I want to export my Apple Photos library to a standard, browsable folder structure on my Synology NAS. Here are some things I have tried, none of them work perfectly:

  1. The Synology Photos app on the iPhone and iPad. It works fine for transferring recent images to my Synology, but gets stuck when trying to import older photos from iCloud Photos.

  2. Exporting from Photos totally fails when trying to do my whole library. Photos freezes up and I get an “out of memory” error despite have 40 GB of RAM and 100 GB of SSD free.

  3. I’ve experimented with the trial version of Photos Takeout, but it’s frustrating since you can’t choose which photos to export. The ones I have tried seem to strip out the Live Photo component, which I want to preserve.

  4. I’ve tried a few experiments with directly copying photos from the Photos Library package. That seems to work fine, but the folders inside the package are weirdly organized. The full app costs $50.

Another option, and maybe it’s worth trying, is using Lightroom to export my photos. It’s only $10 per month and it looks like Adobe has made it easier to cancel.

I’d really like the photos to be organized in a folder structure of Year > Month > Day, and with as much preserved metadata as possible.

Has anyone exported their entire Photos library, and how did you accomplish it?

I only use Lightroom and have never used Photos, so this might not be helpful, but have you thought about AppleScript? At a quick glance, Photos has a small but possibly useful scripting facility.

On the older photos I had an issue with iCloud Photos not downloading onto a new Mac. Turned out it would not download anything that had been edited in iPhotos. Reverted those pictures to the original and they downloaded fine. I wonder if that’s the problem with the Synology export.

IIRC Google photos had a feature to pull all your iCloud photos into Google. Might be an intermediate step but could burn some bandwidth.

How many photos are you exporting?

If you can use iOS as the source and still get everything including originals, PhotoSync should be able to do it and it’s certainly more mature than Synology Photos, it’s been around for many years. It uses a desktop companion, and can be easily set up to use your desired folder hierarchy. I don’t see a way to use it to export from Mac Photos to disk folders though.

A way to get the originals out, but not edits:

Copy the arcane directory from the photos library and flatten the file structure

Use something like A Better Finder Rename to rename them consistently using the exif data, e.g.


Then sort them into your folder hierarchy:

Other than that, Lightroom or maybe the demo of Capture One, which can import directly from Photos, should also be able to handle edits and provide metadata side files.


You may have considered this possibility but there is an export / import tool built into Lightroom that allows you to extract a date-based folder hierarchy of photos. I know it’s available for migrating from an Aperture library and I believe they may have the option for an Apple Photos library, which is very similar in structure to an Apple Photos library.

The advantage for your use case is that LR exports to a straight set of folders with no proprietary library connections like the wonky folder structure that Apple Photos uses for its “library”. I’m not sure but I’m guessing you would be able to use a free trial installation of Lightroom to perform the export. Might be worth a try…

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It looks like this is possible with Lightroom Classic.


You might want to take a look at Plex. I haven’t used it for photos but as a media manager for TV, movies, and music files I think it’s far superior to the equivalent Apple programs, which I use strictly for copy protected media I’ve purchased from the iTunes store.

I would consider that a last resort.

About 500 GB worth.

Does current Lightroom still store photos in regular folders or does it do some weird library format? I read the documentation and that wasn’t clear.

I like Plex just fine, but it won’t help me get my photos out of the Apple Photos Library unless I’m missing something.

You can set up any folder structure you want in lightroom. Set up the folders IN lightroom. Lightroom itself does not store photos. It catalogues them wherever you have them or put them.

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Ah, good to know! Maybe a Lightroom trial is the way to go.

Yep…10 bucks a month and you get full LR and PS for 2 computers at a time. Photos is pretty bare bones in comparison. Nice thing about LR is that everything it does is non destructive…essentially a series of recipes on how to edit the image but the displayed preview has the edits incorporated. When you export the shot they get applied to the output file. The only issue is that if you move files or rename folders or anything like that do it from within LR so it knows about the changes…or conversely you can do it in Finder and then right click/Synchronize folder in LR to get it to catch up. The images themselves are stored in regular old Finder hierarchy folders.

There are other options to LR that aren’t subscription…but neither ON1 or Luminar really have very good file management features…LR is still the standard.


Lightroom will oragnize them on input if you want, and follow any structure you assign. I have it store them in the way you describe, and it’s one of the reasons I haven’t moved off it, despite still using LR Classic.

FWIW, if you just want a one time extract from Photos, $10 for a month of LR might be worth it. If you’re looking for other options for longer term DAM/Editing features, there was a thread on here last year discussions LR alternatives (some of which were mentioned, eq CaptureOne).

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I’m installing Lightroom now. Something to know: Adobe has made it so you can cancel your subscription online, but they charge you an early termination fee if you cancel before the end of year one. I’m hoping I can do my export within the trial period and avoid that.

So apparently Lightroom is absolutely useless for this. The current Lightroom will import from Apple Photos, but will only store your photos in your cloud, not on your local storage. Lightroom Classic will store photos locally, but can only import iPhoto or Aperture libraries, not Apple Photos libraries.

There’s apparently a hacky way to import with Lightroom and then export with Lightroom Classic, but I don’t want my photos in yet another cloud.

I’m getting pretty angry at these big tech companies trying to hold my data hostage.

Hi, longtime Lightroom Classic user here. Do you want to recover photos with edits intact or are you happy if I show you how to make Lightroom Classic find all your original photos and organise them in date based folders?

To late here to help you today, will check in tomorrow.

I don’t edit my photos much, so originals are fine.

What I’m actually experimenting with now is making smart folders of each year in Apple Photos and exporting the originals from the smart folder. So far, it’s an extremely slow process, but the photos are reasonably organized, Photos isn’t choking, and Synology Photos is picking up on the Live Photo.

So I figured out the trick: make an alias of the Photos library and Lightroom Classic can read that. I’m going to try a test import as soon as my CPU stops choking on 50,000 or so images.

To import from the whole Photos library might cause some duplicates. Here is my method.

On your mac, check that setting has been Download Originals to this mac.

Go to your Photos Library in Finder. Right click it and choose “Show Package Content”. You will see several folders, the interesting one is the “Original” folder. Do “Get Info” on the “Original” folder to see if the file count seems right.

My recommendation is to test on duplicates first by copying some photos from “Original” to somewhere else.

Make a new catalog in Lightroom Classic. Drag the “Original” folder (or the test folder) into the main window in Lightroom Classic. Now you should see your photos coming in.

Start on the left and go right in the Import GUI.

Enable “Include Subfolders”

Choose between Copy or Move at the top. Move will empty your “Original” folder.

On the top right, choose the destination.

In the “File Handling” panel, choose Minimal.

Scroll down on the right to the Destination panel. Choose Organize By date. Check that you are happy with the structure. Click Import.


That’s essentially what I’m doing now, but thanks for documenting it so folks can see it.

It’s in progress now. It’s very slow and both Lightroom and the Synology are struggling, but it’s chugging along and seems faster than the Photos export.

The nice thing is I’m putting the Lightroom exports into their own subfolder in my photos directory, so if they’re screwed up I can delete the folder without it messing with the rest of the library. I have several duplicates already because I’ve tried a half-dozen different import methods. But it shouldn’t be hard to clean up since I’ve kept every method to its own folder. Yay for regular folders over monolithic libraries!


From your lips to God’s ears. :+1: :slight_smile: