The Photos app in macOS Catalina underwent a major upgrade, bringing many iOS 13 Photos features to the Mac OS. And while Photos retains much of the same user interface as recent versions, the entire app feels snappier, while supporting many new features.
In this Rocket Yard guide, we’re going to take a look at the Photos app included with macOS Catalina.
What’s New in Photos
The new features in Photos run the gamut from minor tweaks to the user interface to the use of machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence that concentrates on data analysis to build analytical models. The models allow the Photos app to identify patterns and make basic decisions. Apple is using machine learning in some interesting ways to bring new capabilities to the Photos app.
Photos Curated with Machine Learning
Photos you take that correspond to an event, such as a birthday party, a vacation, a garden harvest, or a first trip to the beach, are automatically highlighted by the new machine learning system built into the Photos app. Events are sorted both chronologically and geographically. Once sorted, Photos creates a cover photo by picking an image, which it then crops, and sets magnification. These cover photos seem to feature people, faces, or pets, depending on the event. Cover photos can also use video or Live Photos.
The intelligence system Photos uses when making the choices for the cover photo images as well as photo previews (see below) appears to be spot on, at least in testing on my relatively small image library.
In previous versions of Photos the Photo category displayed images by the time they were taken, and further sorted them by location. This allowed Photos to keep together images that were taken at one location during a single day.
The Photos category also provides access to a tab that allows you to further refine the view by Years, Collections, Moments, and Photos. The macOS Catalina version of Photos has updated the Photos tab to provide viewing options by Years, Months, Days, and All Photos.
Selecting one of the tabs, such as Years, changes how the images are displayed. As an example, you may find a birthday collection containing all the birthday images taken for each year.
Images can contain Live Photos and videos, which will come to life as you scroll through the collections.
- Years: View all the images you have taken, organized by year.
- Months: Images, memories, and locations grouped together by month.
- Days: Your best photos, Live Photos, and videos from each day.
The Years, Months, or Days categories make use of animations and transitions to separate the timeline. You can use these separations to switch between the available views while keeping your place in the timeline.
All Photos View
Use the All Photos view to display your images and videos on a grid. You can zoom in to see large previews of each image or zoom out to see most, if not all, of your image collection. Images on the grid can be displayed in a square format, with machine learning choosing how to crop the images, or they can be viewed in the original format.
Live Photos and Videos
Live Photos, as well as videos that are included in your image library, auto-play when they come into view. This produces a dynamic display that can be slightly different each time you open the Photos app.
Memory Movies makes the transition to the Mac. You can view Memory Movies you created on your iOS device, and edit the run time, mood, and title. You can sync changes you make to your iOS devices if you’re using iCloud Photos.
Only the Best Shots
Well, not really; all your shots are available to you, but Photos intelligence is used to pick the best shots in a sequence, hide duplicates while showing the best one, and generally help you keep your image library well organized.
Who’s In That Photo?
Machine learning helps Photos recognize who is in a photo and what is happening in the picture. This allows Photos to create collections, such as Memories, that may highlight a person, event, or both.
Photos User Interface
On the surface, not a lot has changed in the user interface; the same overall structure is present. However, the way images are displayed has changed, producing a much more dynamic and interesting visual representation of your image library.
The Photos sidebar is where you will find most of the options for how your library is viewed. Not all of the sidebar items are present at all times; the following are the most common:
Photos: We mentioned the Photos category in the What’s New section, above. This category gives you direct access to your image library, organized by Years, Months, Days, or All Photos.
Memories: Photos scans your library in the background to gather related photos and images into “memories.” Memories let you rediscover past events you may have forgotten about. Photos will create up to three memories a day, depending on the size of the image library.
You can also curate your own memories from photos in a moment, collection, or album.
People: Photos scans your image library for pictures that contain people. When the scan is complete (and just a warning: the first time your library is scanned, it can take quite a while), you can open the People collection and see all of your photos that contain friends, family, or loved ones. You can add names to the people Photos found, and the app will know who’s who as you add more images over time.
When you add new images to the library, Photos scans the images looking for people it already knows and adds them to its collection. You can manually identify photos or make corrections if Photos misidentifies someone.
Places: Photos knows about geography, or perhaps it’s better to say Photos can read GPS information that’s part of an image’s metadata. If your camera is GPS capable (iPhones fit this category), or you’ve added GPS information manually to your images, Photos can display thumbnails on a map, giving you a bird’s eye view of where you took each picture.
You can move around the map, zoom in or out, and change how the map is displayed; as a street/terrain map, satellite map, or grid.
Imports: View images you imported into Photos, organized by time.
Recently Deleted: This is your Photos trash. Images you’ve removed will be available here should you wish to recover them.
Shared: This sidebar section will contain albums you’ve shared with others.
Albums: This sidebar section will contain albums you or Photos create. Use Albums as an organizational aid to bring similar photos and videos together. Images can be placed in more than one album, and you can create Smart Albums that automatically include images that match the criteria you set.
Projects: If you’re creating photo books, calendars, cards, collages, or other projects involving images from your Photos library, this is the place to keep track of them. Projects supports the use of third-party apps, many of which are available from the App Store.
Photos Library Tips
You’re not stuck with a single Photos library; you can have multiple libraries although only one can be in use at any one time. Multiple Photos libraries can be helpful for organizing images, allowing you to have separate libraries for home, business, projects, and other categories.
You can also use the ability of Photos to open libraries to gain access to Aperture libraries that can no longer be used in macOS Catalina. Apple has been warning Aperture users that the non-supported app will soon stop working. With the release of macOS Catalina, that day has finally come. There are a few replacement apps available, but often overlooked is the Photos app.
If you just upgraded to macOS Catalina, Photos may be the app to use to regain access to your Aperture library and all the images it may hold. If you exported your Aperture library before you updated to Catalina, you can use the Photos Import feature to add your Aperture images to your Photos library.
If you didn’t export your Aperture library, you can use Photos to open the Aperture library and then either work with your images or export them for use in another app. Once exported, you can also consolidate the images into a different Photos library.
You can find instructions for opening Aperture libraries as well as combining libraries in the Rocket Yard guide:
Where to Keep Your Photos Library
Photos likes to keep your image library on the same drive as your startup disk. But, that’s just the default. You can store your image library wherever you wish: on the startup drive, on a separate partition, or on an external drive. You can find details in the Rocket Yard guide:
Just One More Shot
That’s our first look at the Photos app included with macOS Catalina, but it won’t be our last. You can look forward to future guides that look at Photos and other image library apps to help you manage your ever-increasing collection of exciting images, and the not-so-exciting ones, too.
If you use the Photos app, let us know what you think of the macOS Catalina version by leaving a note in the comments section below.