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. Mitch

    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

    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

    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

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

  5. reem

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

    1. Jim Linder

      I found mine in a folder called Masters

      1. Jennifer

        Wow! A huge THANK YOU for helping me find my pictures!

  6. Jennifer

    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.

    1. wow- glad to hear it was helpful! Thanks for the feedback!

  7. claire dotson

    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

    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.

    1. Paul Murray

      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.

    2. Sue

      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

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

  10. Jeanine

    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

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

  12. Marion Holt

    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

    1. Raphael

      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

    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

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

  15. Rachel

    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

    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.

    1. Go to folder called ‘Users’
      Inside that is the home folder for each account.

  17. Dorothy Smith

    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

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

  19. Emms Ro

    Thank you for this awesome solution! U saved me!

  20. Katherine

    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

    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.

    1. If you go into iPhoto, settings, general, you can see where your iPhoto library is stored.

  22. Evette

    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?

    1. John

      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.

  23. Karolina

    Life saver!! Thank you so much!!

  24. Aster

    This was great help, found all my old pictures. Thank you !!!!

  25. Pieter G.

    Thanks, this was so easy!
    For months I was searching for a solution to import my (old) iPhoto libraries into the Photo app of my new MacBook Air. All the iPhoto libraries are stored on a Time Machine backup (of my former and now broken 2008 alu unibody Macbook). Read a lot of blogs and advices, not one worked for me. Yours did!!

    Your simple solution works: “hold down the control key while you click, you will see an option called ‘Show Package Contents.’ Click on this.” Now I have access to all my iPhoto photos. Exporting them to a new library in the Photoapp now. Really happy with that. Thanks!

  26. Adelene

    I updated my OS and then clicked on the iPhoto library. It opened to photos (the new app). And all my photos were missing.

    I copied the iphoto library to a hard disk and tried on a previous version OS, it doesn’t work. I tried to find them in the Packages and Masters, the photos are not in there at all.

    Could advise how?

  27. Jonnie

    Hi, I have an old iPhoto Library (2005) on a portable hard drive. If I click on show package contents, there’s nothing to see… the iPhoto icon is showing 40GB so there’s obviously something in it. I’ve copied it to my Mac (into the Pictures folder) and tried again but still nothing. Anyone have any tips?

  28. Gabriela

    Thank you so much! You save a very important part of priceless memories of my life that went away when my ex couple stole my Mac and left me without my baby, my parents and my grand parents photos. Then I was able to recover some of them and they were in iPhoto, but when I installed Big Sur, iPhoto stopped working and I thought I had lost them for ever. With your excellent explanation I was able to recover all the photos stored in the library, thank you very much again.

  29. Josh

    I got halfway there but when I click on Show package contents, I get a folder called Contents with some technical things in it — but no photos. Does anyone know where they might be, please?

    1. What folders can you see?
      Look in some of them!

  30. Melinda

    I had searched the web off and on for over a year looking for instructions to locate photos that became unavailable after we upgraded our OS software without properly transferring photos. Then one day I found you!!!! Your information helped me locate *all* my digital photo history (2006-2023) – what a life saver. These memories are everything to me and I wanted access to these photos as I prepare a look back on 30yrs of marriage.

    1. That’s lovely feedback!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.