How to Find the Snaps You Want in the Mac’s Photos App

Digital cameras have been around long enough that people have stopped making snarky comments about how hard it is to find anything in a shoebox filled with hundreds of unorganized photos. But given the tens of thousands of photos many of us now have, it’s hard to be smug about the ease of finding any given image. Luckily, Apple has provided us with numerous tools in the Photos app to help. Some of these organization systems you have to set up and maintain, but others work silently for you in the background. Let’s start with the automatic methods.

Date

It’s impossible to miss how Photos automatically organizes your photo library by date, particularly in macOS 10.15 Catalina, where the Photos view lets you drill down by Year, Month, and Day. One tip: Day view doesn’t necessarily show you all the pictures taken on a particular day; to see them, click All Photos.

If you don’t want to browse, you can also search (choose Edit > Find) on things like “2015” or “January 2015.” The utility of such searches is that they filter the displayed images to just those taken in that year or month. You can even search on “January” to find all photos taken in January of any year.

People

With a little training of its facial recognition algorithms, Photos can automatically create and maintain collections of photos of particular people. Click People in the sidebar to see the faces that Photos has identified automatically, and if any of them currently lack names, click the Name button for a photo you want to identify, enter a name, and either press Return or select from the suggestions. Although it may not happen immediately, Photos will scan all photos for other pictures of each person and add them; if you get a banner in the toolbar asking you to review additional photos, click Review and then deselect any photos that aren’t that person in the next dialog.

Whenever you’re looking for a photo of a particular person, the fastest way may be to focus on just those photos that contain their face. Click People in the sidebar and double-click the desired person’s box to see their photos. Make sure to click Show More to see all the matched photos, rather than just those Photos deems the best.

Places

By default, the Camera app tags every iPhone or iPad photo with the location where you took the picture. That enables you to search for images on a map. Click Places in the sidebar, and then pan and zoom the map to find the desired location. Click any photo thumbnail to show just the photos taken in that spot. If you know the name of the location, you can also search for it directly—Photos knows the names of all geotagged locations.

Location-based searching could be a godsend for real-estate agents, builders, and others who need to collect images by address. No need to use keywords or other metadata, since the geotagging provides all the necessary information. 

AI Object Search

In the last few releases of Photos, Apple has added object searching, which finds photos based on their contents. Looking for photos of cows, or beaches, or oak trees? Just type what you want to find into the Photos search field, and Photos might find it.

Although it’s magic when this approach works, don’t put too much stock in it. Searching for “cow” also brought up images of pigs, goats, and horses for us. Close, in that they’re all four-legged farm animals, but no cigar.

Media Types

Sometimes, what you want to find is already categorized by its media type. If you want to find a selfie, for instance, or a panorama, look no further than the Media Types collection in the Photos sidebar. It includes dedicated albums that automatically update themselves to contain videos, selfies, Live Photos, Portrait-mode photos, panoramas, time-lapse movies, slo-mo movies, bursts, screenshots, and animated GIFs.

Albums and Smart Albums

With the categorization techniques so far, you don’t have to do much, if anything. With albums, however, all organization is entirely manual. Creating a new album is easy—select some photos and then choose File > New Album with Selection. After the fact, you can add more photos to the album by dragging them from the main window to the album in the sidebar. And, of course, clicking the album in the sidebar displays all the photos.

Smart albums are entirely different from albums—they are essentially saved searches. To create one, choose File > New Smart Album and then define the matching criteria. Photos provides oodles of options, making it easy to create a smart album that, for instance, holds photos of a particular person taken with one specific camera over a certain time frame.

An aspect of working with albums and smart albums that can be confusing is how to delete photos. When you remove a photo from a regular album, you’re just taking it out of that album, not deleting it from your library. (To actually delete a photo from your library, click Photos in the sidebar before selecting the photo and pressing the Delete key.) The only way to remove a photo from a smart album is to ensure that it no longer matches the smart album’s criteria, either by changing the conditions or by modifying the photo’s metadata, which isn’t always possible.

Keywords

If you want to tag individual images in a way that makes them easy to find later, keywords are an excellent option. Choose Window > Keyword Manager to display the floating Keywords window, and click Edit Keywords to open the editing view where you can click + to add a keyword (complete with a one-letter shortcut, which also puts it at the top of the Keywords window). Click – to remove a keyword (from the list and from any photos to which it’s assigned). Click OK to switch back to the main keyword view.

To assign a keyword, select a set of photos or just focus on the current one. Either click the keyword in the Keywords window or press its associated letter shortcut. Clicking or pressing the shortcut again removes the keyword.

You can see what keywords are attached to an image by making sure View > Metadata > Keywords is chosen and then clicking the badge that Photos adds to keyworded images. To find everything with a particular keyword, though, you’ll have to do a search and, if necessary, look at the Keywords collection at the bottom of the search results.

Titles and Descriptions

Another way to find photos manually is to give them titles or descriptions and then search for words in those bits of metadata. Applying consistent titles and descriptions manually would be onerous, but you can do multiple selected images as easily as one. Select some pictures, choose Window > Info, and in the Info window, enter a title or description. Close the Info window to save.

To see (and edit) the title under each image, make sure View > Metadata > Titles is chosen. To find included words, you need to do a search, just like with keywords.

Choosing the Best Approach for Your Needs

So many choices! Here’s our advice about which should you use:

  • When possible, stick with the approaches (date, People, Places, object search, media types) that require little or no additional tagging work. People and Places are particularly useful that way.
  • If you can construct a smart album that finds all the images you want, do it. However, it may not be useful (or possible) unless you’re looking for a subset of photos that already are in an album, have a keyword, or are attached to a person.
  • Use albums for quick, ad-hoc collections or for collections of related photos. They’re easy to make and use, and to delete if you no longer need them. An album would be good for collecting all the photos from your summer vacation.
  • Use keywords to identify general aspects of images throughout your entire photo library that you’re happy to access only by searching or via a smart album. Keywords would be useful for tagging all the photos you take of lecture slides, or that relate to your hobby.
  • Avoid relying on titles and descriptions if you can. It’s too easy to make mistakes such that later you can’t find items you’ve titled or described. Albums and keywords are better for organization. Leave the titles and descriptions for actually titling and describing individual images.

Next time you think, “I wish I could find all my photos that…,” take a minute and think through these options to decide which will best serve your needs.

(Featured image by Simon Steinberger from Pixabay)

Import Photos from a non-iPhone or Want to Keep Images out of Photos

Most Mac users rely on iPhones and iPads to take photos and store them in the Photos app, which happens automatically for those who use Apple’s iCloud Photos syncing service. But what if you want to import photos from a device other than an iPhone or iPad—say a Samsung smartphone running Android—and what if you don’t want those images in Photos? Turn to Apple’s Image Capture app, which has shipped with macOS for ages and is stored in your Applications folder’s Utilities folder. To use it, connect your device to your Mac via USB, launch Image Capture, and click the device in the sidebar. Choose a destination from the Import To pop-up menu, and then either select some photos and click Import or click the Import All button to get everything.

(Featured image modified slightly from an original by Al ghazali on Unsplash)

Make Sure to Test Your Backup System with Occasional Restores

Did you know that the word for the irrational fear of Friday the 13th is paraskevidekatriaphobia? Neither did we, but what that supposedly unlucky day is good for—whenever it rolls around—is reminding us to test our backup systems. If something does go wrong, backups can save your bacon, but only if they’re actually working. So on Friday the 13th this month, take a few minutes to make sure you can restore files from Time Machine, see if you can boot from your bootable duplicate, and generally verify that your data really is being backed up successfully. And if you’ve already missed the 13th, today is a fine day to make up for it with a quick test.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Need to Move Lots of Data Between Macs? Try Target Disk Mode

We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the number of ways we can move data between Macs. You can send files via AirDrop, attach them to an email message, put them in a Messages conversation, turn on and connect via File Sharing, or use Dropbox or Google Drive as an intermediary, to name just a few of the more obvious approaches.

But what if you have a lot of data—say tens or even hundreds of gigabytes—to transfer from one Mac to another? The techniques listed above might work, but we wouldn’t bet on it. If you had an external hard drive with sufficient free space handy, you could copy all the data to it from one Mac and then copy the data back off to another Mac. To cut the copy time in half, though, try Target Disk Mode instead.

What Is Target Disk Mode?

Target Disk Mode is a special boot mode that enables nearly any Mac to behave like an external hard drive for another Mac. You can connect the Macs using Thunderbolt 3, USB-C (on the MacBook), Thunderbolt 2, or FireWire. It’s best to use the same port on both Macs if possible, but it’s usually fine to use adapters, such as Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter for connecting newer and older Thunderbolt-capable Macs.

Target Disk Mode is nearly universal, easy to set up, and one of the fastest methods of moving files between Macs. Let’s unpack that statement:

  • Nearly universal: Every Mac sold in the last decade supports Target Disk Mode, so you can be sure it will work with any modern Mac.
  • Easy setup: Because Apple has baked Target Disk Mode into the Mac firmware, the version of macOS is irrelevant. There’s no software to configure nor any permissions to worry about. Putting a Mac into Target Disk Mode merely requires holding down the T key during boot or clicking a button in the Startup Disk preference pane.
  • Speed: Because Target Disk Mode on modern Macs relies on a Thunderbolt connection, and you’re connecting one Mac directly to another, you’ll get the fastest transfer speeds in the fewest steps.

You can also use Target Disk Mode on an old Mac to set up a new Mac with Migration Assistant, repair its drive using Disk Utility, or possibly even boot another Mac with it. Booting one Mac from another in Target Disk Mode works best if the two Macs are of the same model and vintage and are running the same version of macOS, but it might work even if those facts aren’t true.

Step-by-Step Instructions

To use Target Disk Mode to copy data between Macs, follow these steps:

  1. On the source Mac, either:
    • Restart the Mac, and once it starts booting, hold down the T key until you see the Target Disk Mode screen with a bouncing Thunderbolt logo.
    • Open System Preferences > Startup Disk, click the lock button and enter your administrator credentials, click Target Disk Mode, and then click Restart.
  2. Connect the source Mac to the destination Mac with an appropriate cable. The source Mac’s drive appears on the destination Mac’s Desktop like an external hard drive. (If the source Mac is running macOS 10.15 Catalina, two drives will appear on the destination Mac’s Desktop: DriveName and DriveName – Data. The first is Catalina’s system volume; you’ll find all your files and folders on the Data volume.)
  3. Move or copy files as desired.
  4. When you’re done, press and hold the power button on the source Mac for a few seconds to shut it down.

If you have hundreds of gigabytes to transfer and either of your Macs is a notebook, it’s best to connect it to power to avoid draining the battery before the copy finishes.

Minor Gotchas

Two things can complicate putting a Mac into Target Disk Mode: FileVault and a firmware password. Both are easily worked around:

  • If the Mac is encrypted with FileVault, hold down the T key at startup like normal, but then enter the administrator password for that Mac to complete the switch to Target Disk Mode.
  • If the Mac has a firmware password, press the Option key while the Mac is starting up and enter the firmware password when prompted. Then press the T key to continue booting in Target Disk Mode.

Also, the Apple USB-C Charge Cable that comes with the power adapter for the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro models doesn’t support Target Disk Mode, so if that’s the cable you were planning to use, sorry, but you’ll need to buy a real Thunderbolt or USB-C cable.

Despite these small caveats, Target Disk Mode is one of the unsung innovations that has made Macs easier to use for decades, and it’s well worth keeping in mind whenever you need to move lots of data between machines.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Consider USB Peripherals When Troubleshooting Mac Problems

If you’re experiencing a sporadic problem with your Mac, the sort of thing that happens often enough to be annoying but not so frequently as to be reproducible, allow us to suggest one little-known troubleshooting tip. Malfunctioning USB devices—keyboards, mice, hubs, printers, etc.—can sometimes cause truly inscrutable problems ranging from startup issues to kernel panics. USB-caused issues aren’t common, but when they do happen, they can be challenging to track down. If you’ve tried everything else, disconnect all unnecessary USB devices and, if possible, swap your wired keyboard and mouse for another set. Then see if the problem goes away.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

New 16-inch MacBook Pro Sports a Redesigned Scissor-Switch Keyboard

Responding to customer complaints and media mocking, Apple has introduced a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that features improves on its predecessor in several ways, most notably with a scissor-switch keyboard in place of the flaky butterfly-key keyboard. The 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro at the top of Apple’s notebook line and starts at $2399. The 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air remain unchanged.

Apple also announced that the new Mac Pro (starting at $5999) and Apple Pro Display XDR (starting at $4999) will ship in December 2019—we’ll have more details once those are available.

New Keyboard Provides More Key Travel

Apple says the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s new Magic Keyboard features “a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel.” That’s a positive way to say that many people disliked typing on the previous keyboard’s butterfly mechanism. Plus, keys failed frequently, causing Apple to redesign the keyboard multiple times and offer a repair program for out-of-warranty devices.

Although the new 16-inch MacBook Pro still features a Touch Bar with a Touch ID sensor in place of the classic F-keys, another important keyboard enhancement is the return of the physical Escape key and the reinstatement of the traditional inverted-T layout for the arrow keys.

Initial reviews from pundits who received early access to the new MacBook Pro were positive, with several vocal critics of the previous keyboard saying the new one feels the way a keyboard should.

About That 16-inch Display… and Other Displays

You might expect the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s display to be its most notable feature, and it is legitimately bigger, with that 16-inch diagonal measurement and a slightly higher native resolution. That translates to a scaled default resolution of 1792-by-1120, up from 1680-by-1050, so the new MacBook Pro will show more content on the screen than the previous model. And it’s still gorgeous.

To drive that larger screen, the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer both integrated (for better battery life) and discrete (for faster performance) graphics. On the latter side, you can choose from the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4 GB of memory, or the Radeon Pro 5500M with either 4 GB or 8 GB of memory. Those graphics chips simultaneously support up to four 4K external displays or up to two 6K displays.

More Power, More RAM, More Storage

Apple claims the 16-inch MacBook Pro is up to 80% faster than the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, thanks to new 9th-generation processors: the 6-core Intel Core i7 and the 8-core Intel Core i9.

16 GB of RAM is the base level, which is good10 since we don’t recommend any less than that. For those who need a higher RAM ceiling, Apple offers 32 GB ($400) and 64 GB ($800) build-to-order options.

When it comes to SSD storage, the base level is 512 GB, but you can upgrade to 1 TB ($200), 2 TB ($600), 4 TB ($1200), or a whopping 8 TB ($2400).

Radically Better Audio

Apple clearly had audio professionals in mind while designing the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Along with the beefy processors, high RAM ceilings, and massive storage options, all of which will be popular with the audio crowd, the new notebook features significantly improved audio input and speakers.

For input, the MacBook Pro relies on a three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming that Apple claims delivers a 40% reduction in hiss. Podcasters have praised the new mic array, though without suggesting that it competes with dedicated mics.

Equally compelling for anyone who listens to music is the new six-speaker, high-fidelity sound system. Its force-canceling woofers with dual opposed speaker drivers reduce unwanted and sound-distorting vibrations and enable the bass to go half an octave deeper than the previous model. There’s still a 3.5mm headphone jack too.

Slightly Larger Physical Package

Between the larger screen, the six-speaker sound system, and the 100-watt-hour battery that Apple says provides up to 11 hours of battery life, the company had to increase the size of the 16-inch MacBook Pro slightly compared to the previous 15-inch model.

It’s only about 8mm wider and 5mm deeper, which likely won’t be noticeable. However, it also weighs 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg), which is noticeably more than the 4.02 (1.82 kg) pounds of the previous model.

802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 remain standard for wireless connectivity, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer four Thunderbolt 3.0 ports for charging and connectivity. You’ll still need a collection of dongles for connecting to USB-A peripherals, HDMI and DisplayPort monitors, Ethernet networks, and so on.

Price and Availability

You can buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro now, in either silver or space gray. The base model starts at $2399 with 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, and the AMD Radeon 5300M graphics chip. That’s a totally legit Mac, but if you need more power and can pay for it, a maxed-out configuration with 64 GB of RAM and an 8 TB SSD  would set you back $6099.

Note that the 16-inch MacBook Pro ships with macOS 10.15 Catalina and almost certainly cannot be downgraded to 10.14 Mojave.

Frankly, this new MacBook Pro is a solid upgrade, particularly for those who have been delaying due to the problems with the butterfly keyboard. The only real problem is that the smaller, lighter, and less expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are still saddled with that keyboard. We hope 2020 will bring the redesigned scissor-switch keyboard to those models as well.

(Featured image by Apple)