Moving Your Images From iPhoto to Lightroom

By Gene McCullagh
March 4, 2009 | Comments: 56

Earlier versions of Apple's iPhoto stored its library information in a regular folder structure. Around version 7 Apple changed that approach and iPhoto began hiding its folder structure inside a package file. While this makes the applications presence on the drive neater and theoretically more portable, it does hide the images in iPhoto's library from Lightroom.

If you want to migrate your iPhoto library to Lightroom I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that it is relatively easy to import the files. The bad news? Your edits will not migrate easily. Unlike Lightroom, files that you edit in iPhoto are saved as a separate file. You can import these edited files but you will have both an original and the edit without any connection between them. Essentially, you wind up with two separate images. If you're still game here is how you do it.

Locate your iPhoto Library package. It's is in the Pictures folder by default.

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Right click (or Control click) on the iPhoto Library and choose Show Package Contents.

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A new Finder window will open revealing the folder structure hiding inside the package.

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Lightroom cannot see inside this package so we need to make an alias to the Originals folder. This is where your original image files are stored. Right click (or Control click) on the Originals folder and choose Make Alias.

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This creates the alias at the same folder level as the Originals folder.

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Lightroom won't be able to see this either so we need to drag the alias to a regular folder. The desktop is a convenient place since we won't need the alias once we're done.

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Now open Lightroom and click Import in the Library Module.

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Choose the Originals alias from the desktop (or wherever you chose to save it).

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In the import dialog it is important to choose the option to Copy photos to a new location and add to catalog. You can't leave them at their original location because Lightroom won't be able to get to them inside the iPhoto Library package. Choosing to move the files will damage the iPhoto Library package and you won't be able to open the library in iPhoto. So Copy is the best choice here.

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When the import is finished you have your iPhoto images in Lightroom!

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If you choose to also import the edited version just follow the same make an alias procedure for the Modified folder inside the iPhoto package. Once you're done you can delete the alias files.

Keep in mind that many things may also be left behind. iPhoto will store EXIF and keywording in expected locations. However, IPTC data may not migrate with your files.

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thanks this helps me a lot. :)

If I copy my iPhoto library to Lightroom, does that mean I double the amount of space the photos are now taking on my hard drive?

Hi Doug!

If you decide to keep both the iPhoto version and the Lightroom version then yes. Unfortunately, the way iPhoto stores your images makes them unavailable to other programs like Lightroom. There are a few applications that can access the files trapped in iPhoto's package setup but they aren't many.

I would recommend that you choose to import selected images into Lightroom that you want to work on in ways iPhoto cannot handle.

Somehow this seems complicated to me. Can't one simply move images from iPhoto to a designated desktop folder, then Import the folder to Lightroom? The iPhoto images always seem to end up as jpegs, anyway.


Hi Ginnie!

That is one way to approach the problem. However, if you are shooting RAW it is better to access those original RAW files from the iPhoto library than to give up all that data and flexibility by converting it to a JPEG before importing to Lightroom.

If you want to get RAW files out of the iPhoto library and into Lightroom this is the easiest way at present.

hi gene:)

i just currently bought a mac computer and am trying to figure out the best, most efficient way workflow system to catalog, edit, and package my images to clients. i am not tech saavy so reading things like this helps. if i dont' want to do the steps listed above (i worry about external hard drives and broken links) can i just download them to a pictures folder on my hard drive, upload to lightroom, edit, and then export back to my harddrive???

is that to many steps?

Hi Heidi!

If you are using Lightroom already then there is no need to use iPhoto at all. Lightroom can import the images directly from your card. This article is really aimed at people who already have existing images in iPhoto and now want to switch to Lightroom.

Just a quick note - I tried to export all my iPhoto originals from my MacBook to my iMac desktop computer, but that didn't work. I created an alias on my laptop desktop and then tried to import from Lightroom using that alias.

Of course (I found out), the iMac see the alias as pointing to the iPhoto originals folder on the DESKTOPS coputer, since the path is the same for both compuers :-( No photos where visible! ;)

If you need to copy photos between two computers in this way you first have to copy all pics from the originals folder to a separate folder ;)

All works now ;)

// B

I appear to be having the same problem as Benny - I tried importing into Lightroom, where my photos are stored on an external drive. Things seemed to be showing up in Lightroom, but I couldn't find any of the photos on the external drive. After a while, my original iPhoto library had swelled from 9 GB to 16GB, and I ran out of hard drive space.

I'm not quite sure what to do now, actually.

I appear to be having the same problem as Benny - I tried importing into Lightroom, where my photos are stored on an external drive. Things seemed to be showing up in Lightroom, but I couldn't find any of the photos on the external drive. After a while, my original iPhoto library had swelled from 9 GB to 16GB, and I ran out of hard drive space.

I'm not quite sure what to do now, actually.

thank you for taking the time to share this information! eased the burden upon me...

all the best


I am playing with lightroom 3 beta. Having been a long time iPhoto user I am working on the same idea as your post. My goal is to use both iPhoto and LIghtroom side by side. I realized I can not see the effects of edits in one program with the other. For example if I make changes using Lightroom it will not show up in iPhoto of vice versa.

What I have accomplished is an work flow where I can used the Originals folder of iPhoto as the source to both programs. Make sure Lightroom is set to not copy the file into it's own folder. Setup a catalog you wish to work from. Using the MacOS finder do the "right click" show package contents trick to work your way into the Originals folder. Enter the folder and find the sub folder with the files you want. Select the files and simply drag them to the Lightroom application. The thumbnails will show up and you can select which ones to import.

If I make a change with Lightroom that I want in my iphoto application I can export from light room and then drag it into iPhoto. I really can imagine having to do this much though. Just for cases when I want the photo available via iLife related applications, such as iDVD etc.

As a side note I did play around with changing files in Lightroom, exporting them to JPEG and the moving them into the "Modified" folder in iPhoto. It worked but I could see how this could cause issues and screw up iPhoto's database. So I wouldn't recommend it.

Hope this helps.


Interesting approach, Scott!

You need to be careful. Deleting or moving the image from either app may cause you headaches in the other. If using both works for you then great. Personally, I would make one app my main workflow tool and export some images to the other to take advantage of a particular feature set.

Hi Gene!
I'm not much of a pro. Still, I DO have some very nice pics I would like to work with with something better than iPhoto. I've been trying to figure out what's best for working with: Apperture 3 or Lightroom. Both programs kind of like have similar tools, and they cost about the same. Also, one advantage I can think of is that Apperture uses the same photo library than iPhoto, so you can skip these steps in order to move your photos to it, but I would really like to know like the advantages of Lightroom over Apperture, before I spend some money.
Thanks in advance for your response!

Hi Chris!

I just published my initial impressions of Aperture 3. Take a look at

Until the final release of Lightroom 3 it's too early to tell.

Hi Gene,

I am so thankful you did this article. I have followed it step by step and had success. One question... Is there a way to plug in my camera on the USB port and have Lightroom automatically be the Application my photos drop into? I have a Nikon D90 using with a Macbook.

Thank you SO MUCH!

Hi Anna! Thanks!

Yes. LR will import from your camera. I recommend that you install a free utility called Cameras which will let you easily set up what app opens. It's really useful if you want LR to open when your camera is attached but you want something else to open when you attach an iPhone for example. It's at

As a general rule I don't recommend attaching your camera to import files. It uses up the camera battery and is usually slow. Get yourself a card reader. It's quicker and leaves your camera available while importing files from the card.

Hi Gene,

When I hit Show Package info
Column #1 - There are many folders above "originals" including folders with the years 2009,2008, 2007 etc ( some are empty, some have photos)

when I hit "originals"
Column #2 there are only year folders

What is the difference between the folders in these columns?

And what are the year folders in the MODIFIED folder?
I have only used iPhoto as a database and Photoshop to manipulate images

Are all of these photos duplicated?

Thank you

Thanks, Gene, Your advice worked nearly perfectly! However, the only issue was several photos didn't export because they "weren't supported." Not sure what that means or how to figure out which of the photos in my iPhoto library fell under that category. It was a huge first export--more than 7,000 photos. There didn't seem to be a way to export in smaller bites. How do I find the unsupported photos? Your thoughts? You were a huge help--many thanks!

Glad to hear it helped!

I can't think of an easy way to track down the "unsupported" files. Look to see if there were any with a file extension out of the ordinary. Or, perhaps, a few PDFs made it into the iPhoto library folder?

Hi Gene

Thanks so much for this post it really helped me figure out how to get my photos from Iphoto to Lightroom 3.

I was just wondering though should I delete all my photos in iphoto now and just use lightroom to import all my new images? I have limited space on my harddrive and it has gone done dramatically since the transfer and duplication of these images?! What do you suggest?

Also I want to join an online website to store my pictures as like a back of my external harddrive and was wondering if you could suggest the best one in your opinion? I am willing to pay so I can upload a lot at a time.

Thanks so much

Hi Catherine!

Once you are confident that you have the images safely in LR you can backup the iPhoto library and then delete them from there. Just remember to backup first in case something goes wrong or you change your mind.

There are several good ways to put your images online. A Flickr Pro account is inexpensive and a good way to do this. If you want to have more control over how the images are presented (and, perhaps, offer them for sale) then Zenfolio or SmugMug would be great choices.

If you aren't interested in seeing the images online but just want online backup then Carbonite is the best solution. Carbonite will backup your internal drives no matter how big and keep them backed up as you change them.


I am using a trial version of LR 3 on an inTel iMac running OSX 6.

I have my iPhoto Library on an external HD and it is backed up via SuperDuper.

If I use the operating iPhoto "Contents" Alias you advised that the iPhoto Library will be damaged. Ouch!

I can, of course, replace it on the external HD from it's BU copy?

Question is, will iPhoto then be able to use it?

Please advise and thanks

Hi Peter!

The iPhoto contents will be damaged if you move the files when importing into Lightroom. However, it's never a good idea to have too many apps controlling the same group of files. At some point one of them will step on the other's toes.

You should consider using LR and iPhoto for different purposes. For example, I use LR as my main photo management/development tool. If I need something that iPhoto does I'll import selected files in, use that feature, and then remove them from iPhoto. But that's my personal preference.

Find out where these apps fit into your workflow. I still don't advise, though, using both on a large number of image files at the same time.

Hello Gene-

My iPhoto Library is on an external HD that is backed up.

You advised that using the "originals" alias approach to connect with LR, the operating iPhoto Library it comes from will be unusable.

If I replace that Libray with it's BU copy will iPhoto be able to use it ?

Please advise and Thanks!


inTel iMac OSX 6 with Trial Version of LR3

Hey Peter!

It's only if you choose "MOVE" when you import into LR that you will damage the iPhoto library. If you choose "COPY" as I mentioned in the article then the iPhoto library will be fine and still usable.

Hello, Again Gene--

Thanks for your assistance!

As I was initially thinking about your solution, the possibility occurred to me that perhaps the words "copy" and "move" might, in this instance, mean pretty much the same thing (The infamous "Word Muddle Trap" that our years of research uncovered).

Coupled with the fact that loss of 2496 Photo files would be a disastrous outcome, I got a little nervous.

So, I asked you the question I did along with it's misspelled words.

Thanks for not rubbing any of this in :-)

Your process, of course, works as stated.

Plus, it's also great that you take the time to answer a fairly dumb question!

Finally, in passing, if an iPhoto Library ever did get damaged in some other way can it simply be replaced with it's backed up copy?



In general OS terms "copy" makes a copy of the file at location B but leaves the original at location A. On the other hand, "move" puts the file and location B and removes it from location A.

Never assume a question is dumb. If you have it then it's a valid question! ;-)

Yes. The backup of your iPhoto library can be restored. However, any changes made since the last backup will be lost. So, as is always good advice, backup OFTEN.

ene, I have tried to follow your advice in moving my iPhoto Library to LR 3 completely, BUT, the first time I went through the contents >originals> alias> Drag to desktop, the Alias File only had a portion of my Library(??). I played with them a few days in LR and then went back to get the rest - the Originals file has disappeared. Used the modified>alias drag to desktop, it only had the modifications but missing most of the originals.

Without taking too much of your time could you tell me what I could have done to "eliminate" the 'Original' file and what I may be doing wrong to prevent getting the whole iPhoto Library into a folder structure.

Just switched to Mac a few years ago and made the mistake of adding my entire collection to iPhoto not realizing the difference.


Hi Ed!

The only thing I can think of is that at some point you either turned on or turned off the option to copy your images to the iPhoto Library. Any images you added while that option was turned off will be elsewhere on your drive.

Try this... Find one of the images in iPhoto that is missing when you try to import to Lightroom. In iPhoto, right click and pick "Show File". That will open a Finder window and you will see where that image file is on your drive. If it is outside the iPhoto library you can import it directly to LR from where it is.

Good luck!

I have tried to import from iPhoto to lightroom, but when I go to make an Alias file (right click) there is not a choice for alia. I have done this before and it worked... now the photo's are on my backup external drive. Does that matter?

Hi Saen!

I'm not sure why "Make Alias" is not available for you. If that item isn't there try Command-Option-dragging it to your Desktop. That will create an alias there.

If your external drive is actually a backup drive then that is a problem. Backup drives are meant to store copies of items held elsewhere. If your images only exist there then they are not backed up. Use LR to move them to another drive and then make a backup to our backup drive using your normal backup procedures. If a file isn't in at least two places it doesn't exist!

With your help am making the move from iPhoto to LR 3. Some 7,000 images (RAW all have been converted to TIF).

Wish you or someone would write a simple explanation of the import function. Manuals and other authors seem to get carried away with side issues.

I want my originals to be on my iMac HD > Photos in Folders of eras (e.g., 1990-2000, 2001-2010, etc.) with sub-folders of special dates and events. I think that is just a straight import to destination using but I'm not sure how the images also get organized in a catalog/collections in my Pictures Folder.

Would appreciate a clarification and embarrassed to admit to having read the User's Manual, Kelby and the Adobe Forums.

Hi Ed!

If you haven't already take a look at my previous article on importing. Once you have your images in Lightroom you can begin organizing using collections, smart collections, keywords, etc.

Stop by my main site at for more ideas. I also have links to other useful Lightroom specific sites that can help.

Hi Gene,
Thank you for this extremely useful article and all your helpful replies to the queries raised. I am still trying Lightroom 3, started a video course, and I cannot wait to import all my images into it and scrap iPhoto for good. I am lucky I don't have too many digital photos yet and will now be able to start indexing and developing more seriously. Cheers.

Hi Gene,

THanks for the suggestion of using an alias. I've kept thhe alias by the way and left the files at the old location. As the alias is permanent, Lightroom appears to be accessing the photo's in the iPhoto library (as the Lightroom catalog is still tiny). It doesn't update automatically however...

Isn't this will duplicate the photos when import form Lightroom? Since you selected "Copy photos to a new location and add to catalog"

With Iphoto 09 you can leave the original version outside Iphoto library. (under preference ->advance untick copy photo to library.

The way i manage mine is import all photo to Lightroom, keep them in date folder then if I need them to show up in Iphoto, simply open Iphoto and import the date folder to Iphoto library. If I made any changes in Iphoto, change will create new version in Iphoto library (under modified folder). If I need to edit them in lightroom before import in Iphoto, I can use Lightroom's export feature and export them directly to Iphoto library (this is lightroom 3 feature).

I found Lightoom has better photo management than Iphoto. But if Iphoto is your primary photo management program, you can alway import photos outside Iphoto library and sharing the original version with lightroom.

Hi Mark!

Yes, this will duplicate the images. That's a necessary thing if (1) you let iPhoto manage everything in its library and (2) you want to keep iPhoto alongside LR. Most people I've talked with don't elect to have their images outside the library (since that's the default). So this method is a compromise.

My suggestion is to move from iPhoto to LR and then only import images into iPhoto for specific purposes (such as a photo book). Otherwise I wouldn't bother with it.

Thanks so much for this information! I will be referring back to it time to time until I get used to it!

Gene, have you updated your analysis of LR3 v. Aperture 3? At this point I'm leaning toward LR, primarily because the file structure is so much more transparent and it shows up in the finder, and I have PS. But I wonder if Aperture has better demo features, like slideshow and photobook (which LR does NOT have, right?) Is that a big deal to you? Also, Aperture has a full "curves" feature, but LR does not, right? But as I said, I have PS so that shouldn't be a problem. Is there any reason to get Aperture instead of LR?



Hi Jordan!

No. I haven't seen much change since my initial review. At this point I recommend to anyone who is trying to decide between the two to download both. They each have a 30 free trial so you can find out which feels better for you.

Aperture's slideshow still has the edge on Lightroom. However, for serious slideshow work I recommend Fotomagico. To me it's best in class for slideshows.

Lightroom does, indeed, have a full point curve now.

To answer you last question—personally I can't recommend Aperture over Lightroom, But again that's a personal and subjective statement. Try them both and see what you like.

Thanks a million!!!!!!!!

Hello Gene,

Thank you for your commonsense approach to the above queries, which has helped me get my mind around a seemingly intractable problem.

Having used iPhoto alone for some two years (Nikon D300/iMac), I have just installed Lr3 and pse 9, as I wish to organize my photos, and to get the best out of my originals and future efforts. I prefer the LR/PS ethos, and will transfer all of my (15,000) images to LR as per your advice; however, due to my previous slipshod husbandry of my photo output, I have many duplicates. My photos have very little tagging, metadata etc; would you advise weeding out duplicates "visually", image by image, before transfer from iPhoto to LR or, after the transfer, doing this on LR?

As an alternative, might it be best to install Photo Mechanic to help me to sort out this muddled situation, and to continue to use it as a "pre-conditioner" for my future inputs to LR?

Your advice would be appreciated,

Best regards,


Hi Keith!

Thanks for the kind words!

I personally find it easier to work in LR. I would bring them all into your LR catalog. More likely than not, the duplicates will have the same timestamp as each other so sort them by date/time and the duplicates should gather together. From there you could examine them and delete the ones you no longer want. When I say delete you have a choice between removing them from the catalog and leaving the files on disk or deleting them from both the catalog and the disk. I rarely delete a file so that is a decision you need to make. Make sure you have a backup, though, in case you change you mind.

I've heard good things about PhotoMechanic but have not used it personally. Unless you have a real need for extreme speed I think LR will serve your needs just fine. I'd be interested in hearing what you decide and how that workflow works for you.


Thanks for the helpful post. I was wondering if you'd have any advice for my situation:

1. I have a few thousand photos in iphoto, and I want to move them to Lightroom.
2. The pics are on my laptop hard drive, which is completely full.
3. I have two 1 tb external drives ready to use for backing up all these eventually Lightroom-managed photos (one mirroring the other).
- I currently have my whole laptop drive backed up on a separate drive, so all my data is safe.
4. B/c my hard drive is full, I can't copy the iphoto photos to Lightroom as explained in this tutorial.

Any idea how I can get around this issue so I can get my photos managed with a usable system (ie, not iphoto)? Many thanks!


Hi Ryan!

You could approach this problem in a couple of ways. If you don't need the image files resident on your laptop drive then use one of the external drives as the image drive. Once everything is in LR (and you've verified that) you could delete the iPhoto library.

If, on the other hand, you want the images on the laptop drive, then move the iPhoto library to the external drive. That will open up space on the laptop and you can copy the images from iPhoto on the external drive to LR on your laptop drive. After you've verified that everything is there you could delete the iPhoto library and proceed with your mirrored external backup plan.

Being cautious I would recommend that you keep the iPhoto library backed up somewhere. Drives are relatively cheap these days so perhaps a third external drive could be used for this process and then just leave the iPhoto library on it in case you ever need it again.

I just edited several hundred pictures in LR2 and when I export them to iPhoto only the original photo exports - NOT the edited photo. How do I get the edited photo to export to iPhoto? THANKS - this is killing me!

Hi Terri!

You don't. If you want images with all of your LR edits then you must first export them from lightroom and create new JPEGs with the edits baked in. Then you can import those to iPhoto.

Unless there is some particular aspect of iPhoto you really need I'd recommend you just leave it alone and stay in Lightroom.

I'm trying to get my original files out of iPhoto and not having much luck with this approach. I have an MacBook and when I creat an Alias there is nothing in the alias folder. Also, I don't really want to keep my photo files in LR, I'd rather keep them in my own filing system and use the programmes just for working on the photos when I want to.

What is the best way to wrest all my original files out of iPhoto's evil clutches?

Hi Anna!

Is there anything in the folder you are creating the alias to? An alias is merely a pointer to another folder. Check to make sure you are creating the alias to the correct folder.

If you are going to leave iPhoto behind then you can simply drag the folder out of the package and put it on your drive elsewhere. Once there you can import into Lightroom directly.

You can organize your files any way you like and import them into Lightroom from there. You said "I don't really want to keep my photo files in LR, I'd rather keep them in my own filing system and use the programmes just for working on the photos when I want to. " That's not an issue since the files are not "kept" in LR. LR is a database that references the files wherever you keep them. As you learn more about LR you may decide to use it's organizational features to set up where and in what folder structure files are kept. Once you use LR you really don't need to worry about this. However, you can manually maintain your own folders and LR will gladly obey! ;-)

Hi Gene, thanks for your prompt answer!

So LR is different from iPhoto (which I think is an evil beast) in that respect then? The files are not kept in a 'package'? I'm sure I have a lot to learn about LR.

Thanks again.

Yes. LR is quite different from iPhoto. Drop by my site at . Aside from the information you'll find there I have a ton of resources listed under the "Interesting Sites" in the sidebar. There's more than enough to get you started.

Hi Gene,
Thanks for your article. As everyone else has said before me - it's been very helpful. I've been able to transfer my last year's worth of RAW files from iPhoto to LR3 with no trouble. Now I'd like to delete the year in question from my iPhoto library to save space - and here's the rub - keep the previous years intact. Can I just go into the 'Originals' folder w/in the package contents and delete the year, or will that break iPhoto? (I'm trying to avoid going into iPhoto and deleting the entire year by hand since I don't have it organized in any useful way.) Thanks in advance for your reply.

Hi Amy!

I'm not sure but I think if you alter the iPhoto package by deleting some files from it externally, that will cause iPhoto to complain and perhaps no longer recognize the library.

It would be better to do the deletions inside iPhoto. You can use iPhoto's find feature to locate all of the images for a date range and then delete the year in question. That should save you some time.

Alternatively you could get all of your images out of iPhoto and into Lightroom. Then just delete the entire iPhoto library.

Thanks for the quick reply Gene. Knowing iPhoto as I do, that's what I was afraid you'd say. Oh well.

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