How to Track and Categorize Pictures in Mac’s Photos App


Given the tens of thousands of photos many of us now have, it can be a challenge to find specific pictures when you need them. Luckily, Apple provides many tools in the Photos app to help. While you do need to set up some of these organization systems, there are many available automatically, and you don’t need to plan ahead in order to use them. Let’s start with automatic methods.


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 be sure to see everything, click All Photos.

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If you don’t want to browse, you can also search (choose Edit > Find) on dates, such as “2015” or “January 2015.” These searches 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.


With a little training on its facial recognition algorithms, Photos can automatically create and maintain collections of photos of particular people. Click People in the sidebar to automatically see the faces that Photos identified. If any of them are unnamed, 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.

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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.


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—Photos knows the names of all geotagged locations.

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Location-based searching is ideal for real estate agents, builders and others who need to collect images by address. There’s 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” may also bring up images of pigs, goats and horses!

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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 multiple 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.

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It can be confusing to delete photos from albums and smart albums. The key to remember: 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.


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 is assigned). Click OK to switch back to the main keyword view.

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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 to choose:

View > Metadata > Keywords 

Then, click 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 a hassle, but you can do multiple selected images as easily as one.


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 to choose:

View > Metadata > Titles 

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 you should use:

  • When possible, stick with the approaches that require little or no additional tagging work, such as date, People, Places, object search and media types. People and Places are particularly useful choices.

  • 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 are easy to make and use, and to delete if you no longer need them.

  • 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 possible. It’s too easy to make mistakes and you might not be able to find items you’ve titled or described. Albums and keywords are better to organize pictures. 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 and decide which will best serve your needs.

About Us

arobasegroup has been consulting with clients and advising the best use of Apple Technology since 1998. We listen to our customers and solve problems by addressing their specific, unique needs; we never rely on a one-size-fits-all solution or require them to use a specific product. arobasegroup is your advocate in all things related to information technology. Contact us to learn how we can help:

(Featured image by Simon Steinberger from Pixabay)