How to access your old iPhoto library without iPhoto


Here’s how to access an individual photo from an old iPhoto library without having to upgrade the entire iPhoto library.

Recently I was trying to access some photo’s from my Mum’s iPhoto library. It was on her time machine backup. I didn’t have access to her computer.

My computer doesn’t have iPhoto, it has the newer Photos app. When I tried to open the iPhoto library with the newer Photos App, it wanted to upgrade the entire iPhoto library. Thankfully there’s a way to access the photos directly without using iPhoto. Watch the video or read on!

If you go to your computer’s home directory, there is a folder called ‘Pictures.’ This is where Apple stores all of your photos.

If you have ever used iPhoto, then in the ‘Pictures’ folder there will be a file called ‘iPhoto Library’.  It appears as one file. If you were to click it, it would try to open in iPhoto, or Photos.  

Instead of clicking, hold down the control key while you click, and you will see an option called ‘Show Package Contents.’

Click on this to bring up a menu of extra options.


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 folders named by year. In here are your photos.

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 somewhere else, or do what you like with each picture.


The photos are arranged in folders under the years and months they were taken.

Can’t find the iPhoto files folder?

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


80 responses to “How to access your old iPhoto library without iPhoto”

  1. Nicholas Honigschmidt

    This helped me restore my iPhoto Library after a upgrade that lost all connections with my original photos.

  2. Lee

    Thank you- Finally! a clear description of this. I have to say, Windows (and I am a Mac person) makes this MUCH easier.

    Thank you, Lee

  3. zahra

    I did all the steps but there is 0 items when i click show package content and i Know for sure I have many Pic in my IPhoto

    1. Sarah

      I have the same issue

  4. Nick

    There was no “show package contents” option when I pressed “control” while clicking “Library.iPhoto”. Please advise. Thanks.

  5. Cindy

    Ohmygod I think I love you! HaHa! I can’t thank you enough. I’m bouncing of my seat, I’m so happy I came across your advice! THANK YOU

  6. elaine

    OMG!!! Thank you !!!! Thank you !!!! Thank you!!! can’t say thank you enough!

  7. Joe Matthews

    Brilliant! Thank you!

    I thought I had lost all my 2011-2014 pics but there they are! :)

  8. Brian

    You are a genius. Thank you.

  9. Haakon F. Stenersen

    Hi. I have another setup when showing package. It seems most picture are stored in the “Master” folder, but I can not find all because of date problems who made all pictures from 2010 and 11 are stored as 2000, and not showing up in Master folder.

    1. thank you for this. I was able to get it back when I found all of them in the Master folder. 0 files in the Original folder though

  10. Mike McDevitt

    Awesome. I followed each step than dragged the “masters” folder to my desktop and all photos easy to open.

  11. carol

    thank you; thank you; a thousand times thank you!

  12. rainman

    Been a Mac man all my life.
    I can’t remember when Mac was this complicated.
    And I searched and struggled.

    Its just so not Steve.
    Goes against everything he stood for.

    Until I read this! Can’t thank you enough.
    Apple could have just publish this help.
    would’ve save a few billion heartaches.

    Bless you my friend!

  13. Norma

    Ha! I was going to put “bless you,” and I see the comment before me says that. Ditto. BLESS YOU! I have looked up this problem before, got in fights with my husband about it, and worried, worried, worried. Your solution was simple and effective, and now I’m moving all my photos. I don’t understand why this got so screwed up on Macs. Very disappointing. I’m still transferring, but it appears all my captions are lost (*cries*), but at least I can find them and copy them over. THANK YOU!

  14. Chris

    Thanks so very much. Had an external backup drive from our old Mac (2005-2010) and am now finally able to get the iPhoto pics uploading to Dropbox.

  15. Maria

    My Mac Air has been running out of space for a loooongg time now because of the iPhotos library! I never really took action until I saw this article. HUGE THANK YOU!

  16. Simon

    Thank you sooooooo much!!!
    This simple trick allowed us to retrieve our photos.
    Thanks for sharing

  17. Antoinette

    THANK YOU! At first I thought, oh, this will be a simple trip to the Apple Support link… but no… I had this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I thought my photos were lost forever. But then, this super easy to follow advice. Yay!

  18. Madeleine

    Is there any way to view these as they were organized by album instead of by date? Some albums I had contain photos from years apart. Thank you!

    1. Michelle G

      I have the same question! I also don’t have an “original” folder. I found most of them in the “master” folder but would love to see them by the albums I had. Any ideas? Thanks!

      1. Grateful

        Grateful for this advice! Found ten years worth of photos on my Time Machine backup that had iPhoto, which my new Mac does not. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

      2. Thanks for the feedback!

    2. LAN

      This worked for me:
      – Close the Photos app.
      – Drag the library you wish to open into the Photos app icon in the dock.

  19. Alexandra

    OMG, I cried over weeks about the loss of more than 10 years worth of pictures, family life, travels and pro work to the garbage. I thought I would never find them again. I truly lived in mourning for weeks. So I really cannot thank enough whoever wrote this, much better than what all Apple pages and technicians had to say. As all of the above note, it was so easy to follow the advice, I also found my photos or at least most of them in the Masters File. I can now reconstruct my libraries in a better way, but the important thing is that the data IS THERE!!!! A zillion thanks!!

  20. Carbon Bridge

    This advice didn’t help me because I don’t have electric photos stored in this manner on iPhoto to begin with. What I really enjoyed here was reading the comments of people rising from the dead over previously lost images. Hurrah, re-file, backup somewhere, etc. And think of all the money you saved not buying film nor paying for chemical developing and instead, get to edit your own images and share by e at the touch of a button. I was sorry to see Eastman Kodak go bankrupt after 150 years. My newest electric small camera is a small, black Kodak model which is a bit SLOW in recording but performs excellent and the fantastic zoom lens is a German Schneider model. Excellent, top of the line lens glass. So I spent $200 more with Kodak for the camera before they folded. Electric photography is such a bonus all around and especially for the environment. Kudos to the inventors. I’m sure that there were many.

  21. Ken

    As so many others have already said, thank you! I have an external drive with backups from several years ago from my old Mac. I have been planning to bring it to Mac support to have them figure out how to get the old pictures out – but this is the answer. Thank you again!

  22. Laura Dennison

    I followed these wonderful instructions, but the date folders contained only items that had a .attr I couldn’t open them, no matter how I tried. Please help. What is .attr?

    1. Amber

      when you hit “show package contents” on the icon, it should pop up with another handful of folders, i found it under the masters folder. i hit that and all the years popped up in individual files so i highlighted them all and dragged them right into the new photos location. I don’t know why they got rid of iPhoto. Extremely easy to use and kept everything organized.

  23. Amber

    I cant thank you enough, after the latest update I thought I had lost years worth of memories. The only difference I had was instead of it being under an “Originals” folder it was under a folder called “masters’. I just highlighted all the years and dragged them right into the new photos location. You are a life safer.

  24. Claire

    Honestly can’t thank you enough for this info!

  25. Anaeli

    Hello. The photo’s are not arranged in folders under the years and months they were taken. they are arranged in folders under 0-9 and then a-f. Is there any way i can see them by years?

  26. Lilly

    This was so helpful, thank you so much!
    Just in case this is helpful to anybody, mine wasn’t under “originals” but in “previews”!

  27. Thank you sooooo much. I thought they were gone forever!

  28. Vasco

    Thank you so much you saved 12 000 photos

  29. Robin

    So I started to get really excited that all was not lost…No file called originals, but I do have a “Masters.” Nothing there. Then someone mentioned a “Previews.” Got excited again, but alas… nothing there. There is nothing in any of these folders. Now what?

    1. Dru

      For me, I have several time machine backups from 2016 and 2017–I did not have this Masters folder in every folder though. For the oldest folder (2016-04-033233), when I went to my Pictures folder it was blank. Do you also have multiple folders you could try looking through? Good luck :)

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