Dec 22


Recently I was trying to access some photo’s from my Mum’s iPhoto library on her time machine backup, but my computer doesn’t have iPhoto, it has Photos App. When I tried to open the iPhoto library with the newer Photos App, it wanted to upgrade the entire iPhoto library. Here’s how to access an individual photo from an old iPhoto library.

If you go to your home directory, there is a folder called ‘Pictures’ where Apple stores all your photos. If you have used iPhoto, then in the ‘Pictures’ folder there will be a file called ‘iPhoto Library’.  It appears as one file. Don’t do this, but if you were to click it then it would try to open in iPhoto, or Photos.  Instead, if you hold down the control key while you click, you will see an option called ‘Show Package Contents.’ Click on this.


Now you will see all kinds of files. Find the one called ‘Originals’ and click on it.


Now you will see a new folder with a lot of years. Click on a year, then a month, and you will see all the pictures from your iPhoto library from that month. You can then open the photos one by one, copy them, or do what you like with each picture.


The photo’s are arranged in folders under the years and months they were taken.

Can’t find the iPhoto files?

If you can’t find the right folder, open  Apple Photos app, go to ‘settings’, ‘general’, and under ‘Library Location’ it should show where your photos are stored.

69 Responses to “How to access your old iPhoto library without iPhoto”

  1. Mitch says:

    Worked like a charm. Even better if I just dropped the original file on top of lightroom it pretty much imported the iphoto pictures into correct date files. Thanks a lot. Wish this had come up on my first, second etc search

  2. Dru says:

    Thanks so much for this. I messed up my Photo Library somehow and lost years of pictures, but was able to recover a lot from my Time Machine backups this way!

  3. Adam says:

    This is a create tip. It has helped me to check what is in the old folder versus the new updated Photos folder

  4. eli says:

    woooow you saved me so much time!!! thank you so so much for this!!!!!!

  5. reem says:

    i did the same thing you just described above there. i couldn’t find this “originals” so what can i do?

  6. Jennifer says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU! I searched SO many forums and your advice was the simplest by far–plus it was the only advice that WORKED. Helped me find my wedding photos from 8 years ago that I thought were gone forever.

  7. claire dotson says:

    my folders came up numbered 0-9 and A-F. the pictures in the folders were not from my iphoto account. does my computer need to be connected to the cloud? The pictures were in iphoto on an older computer. I stiil have that computer can I access them there using this method?

  8. Paul Murray says:

    Thank you for the information. Unfortunately the structure of the “Show Package Contents” does not have the “Originals” folder in it. The structure appears quite different. I am unsure if this has been corrupted somehow. I do however have an iPhoto Library.photolibrary file saved in a backup on a hard drive. I am uncertain of the type of format this has been saved in.
    Is there anything I can do to recover these lost photos? The file size on the backup is 179Gb.

    • Paul Murray says:

      I have located the file type the iPhoto Library.photolibrary file is saved under. It is NTFS. Any ideas on how to resolve this problem would be more than welcome. Thanks again.

    • Sue says:

      When I did this it showed the package contents as ‘Masters’ not “Originals’, but it’s the same thing, the masters ARE the originals. Open up the various folders in the ‘Masters’ folder and you will find all your original photos which were originally in iPhoto. Then select your photos and drag them (not in their folders, just select multiple ones) into the new (or old) Photos application. It helps if you open “Photos’ first and create new untitled albums you can drag your pics into. You can rename the albums later. Hope this helps.

  9. mb says:

    Thank you so very much! this solved my problem. I could not find my photos from 2010 on my time machine backups.

  10. Jeanine says:

    This is the best information possible. I’ve been trying to recover pictures from my old iPhoto library for years and couldn’t figure it out. Wow! I think the error happened when I changed my apple ID and somehow my old pictures didn’t sync with the new ID and wish I knew that would have been a problem before I changed the ID. I’m now downloading the pictures to my current computer. Is there a way I can put these pictures back in my iPhoto library?

  11. Kathleen says:

    Is there a way to merge my iPhoto library (originals) with my Photo library?

  12. Marion Holt says:

    Got as far as package contents and then there was nothing to open iPhotos
    So disappointing. Lost All my grandparents, parents, my baby items, my 4 children and even lost everything in my life since iPhotos was changed to photos. I am now 70. So you can imagine my sadness.
    Don’t know where to turn for help

    • Raphael says:

      Marion – let’s see if we can help you. What happens when you hold down the control key while you click on iPhoto?

  13. Jennifer says:

    I have an old MacBook from 2010, (obsolete already), but I want to take all of my pictures out of it before it stops turning on. When I tried to open Iphoto it was empty, I tried following the steps but didn’t work, it doesn’t have a single picture ? any help?

  14. Brenda says:

    Does this work, using the same instructions, when opening iPhoto on an external hard drive?

  15. Rachel says:

    Thank you so much! I don’t know why this information isn’t part of the program itself. You just saved me hours of work and of course, freaking out that my old library wasn’t really saved or viewable anymore!

  16. Tina says:

    I have the internal hard drive from an old MacBook (circa 2010) with photos in the old iPhoto app (laptop got wet so received the hard drive and all contents on it). I cannot start attempting the instructions above for photo retrieval because I do not know how to find the home directory. Is this a lost cause for me and I need to seek professional assistance or is there a way? Desperately needing advice…please.

  17. Dorothy Smith says:

    I recently started putting decades of pictures into Albums in Photos on iMac mid 2007 running El Capitan. I was forced to upgrade from iPhoto (which I loved) with the new! Operating system. When I got back yo the photos that were transferred from iPhoto many of them are cut off (heads cut off). They must be enormous files (taken with a real camera). If I can get back to the iPhoto library as you describe here. How can I move them to Photos without them being cut down?

  18. Jean C says:

    Thank you so much for the instructions, this helped me find my photos in the iPhotos! I am very grateful!

  19. Emms Ro says:

    Thank you for this awesome solution! U saved me!

  20. Katherine says:

    I’m trying to access photos from an external drive. Should the process be the same? When I click on the iPhoto Library and press the Command key at the same time, nothing happens. But if I right click on the iPhoto Library and then click “Show Package Contents” then I am able to find the “Masters” folder, however, it only has photos from one trip from 2013 in it, and none of my other thousands of photos that were in my iPhotos Library. Is there another way to open the photos from an external drive if they’re in iPhoto?

  21. Kathy says:

    I can not find the files for my Photos in the Photos App that came on my 2015 Mac laptop. As suggested above I have went to users, Pictures. I have an iPhoto Library, which I not not used that app. I can see the pictures in the Photos app, however I am looking for the actual files so I can save a backup copy to an external hard drive. Looking for advice on how to find the files for the photos.

  22. Evette says:

    Hi, when I hold down the control button and click on the folder, the “Show Package Contents” option does not show up for me. Any tips?

    • John says:

      You have to hold the control key and hold the return key to get package contents up. Then slide the cursor to the required position whilst still holding the control and return key.

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