Use Smart Albums in Apple’s Photos

I posted an article yesterday about using smart albums in Apple Photos to find which lens or camera you use most. I discovered that many people don’t know about smart albums in Photos, so here’s an overview of how you can use them.

If you’re familiar with smart playlists in iTunes, then you’ll understand smart albums. Each one is made up of one or more conditions that the app uses to filter your content, and display only those items that match your choices. In iTunes, it’s a great way to find tracks with ratings, that you have or haven’t played recently, by certain artists, and much more.

In Photos, you have a number of interesting choices you can use as conditions. Start by choosing File > New Smart Album, and you’ll see a dialog offering you a number of options.

Smart album

Select the first menu after Match the following condition to see a number of types of metadata – data about your photos – that you can use.

Smart album menu 1You can choose any of these types of metadata, such an existing album, the date you took a photo, a keyword or description, and more. You can choose technical information, such as the camera model, lens, focal length, aperture, shutter speed, and whether you’ve used a flash.

The second menu lets you select operator such as is or is not, numerical operators such as greater than or less than, ranges (from x to y), and more.

For each of the bits of metadata in the first menu, you have a number of options in the third menu. They are contextual; they depend on what you’ve chosen in the first menu. For example, the default option you see is Photo is favorite, but you can, from the third menu, choose things like Photo is edited, movie, HDR, tagged with GPS, and more. For all the technical metadata in the bottom part of the first menu, Photos presents a list that you can choose from with the existing metadata in your photos. For example, if you chose Lens, you can select a specific lens that you have used from a list. Camera model will show all the cameras you have used, and so on.

You may want to make a smart album with, say, all the photos you’ve shot with an iPhone; any model, among those you’ve used over the years. In this case, you can make a smart playlist with the condition Camera model includes iPhone, and Photos will find all the pictures that were taken with any iPhone.

You can also add conditions; click the + button, and you can have another condition, and you can continue adding conditions until your smart album shows exactly those photos you want.

Smart albumsTo the left you can see the smart albums I have in my Photos library. As you can see, most of them sort by camera or lens, but I also have a Recent Photos album (Date is in the last 1 months), and a Panoramas album (Keyword is Panorama; I’ve entered this manually, because the default Panoramas album doesn’t find all of mine).

If you want to sort your photos by any of these conditions, to easily scan photos you’ve tagged with a certain keyword, such as “vacation,” photos of a specific person (as long as you’ve tagged them), or, as I do, photos taken with specific equipment, smart albums are versatile and easy to set up.

Note that smart albums do not sync to iCloud Photos Library, so you cannot view them on your iPad or iPhone. That’s a shame; it would be useful to be able to sort photos like that to view on a mobile device.

12 thoughts on “Use Smart Albums in Apple’s Photos

  1. Good info. My wife and I each have an iPhone 7. Since the device is of the same type, any way to set up a smart album so that we know which photos I took and which photos she took?

    • I’d recommend tagging them with a keyword when you add them to Photos. Select the photos, press Command-I, then add a keyword in the inspector. Then you can each create a smart album searching for that keyword.

  2. Good info. My wife and I each have an iPhone 7. Since the device is of the same type, any way to set up a smart album so that we know which photos I took and which photos she took?

    • I’d recommend tagging them with a keyword when you add them to Photos. Select the photos, press Command-I, then add a keyword in the inspector. Then you can each create a smart album searching for that keyword.

  3. For me, the first decision is whether to use Photos or Lightroom. Do you use both?

    Since I use LR I have always left Photos untouched. I guess I also did not trust Apple after the unexpected retirement of their LR competitor, Aperture.

    If people do find a use for both programs I would be interested to learn more about how they make that work. For example, it might be quite useful to store finished JPEGs in Photos for use elsewhere in the Apple ecosphere, such as screen savers and portable devices.

    • No, I don’t use Lightroom, and I see no reason to. Photos manages my photo library very well. If I had tens of thousands of photos, I might think differently, but I’m not there.

      You realize that Photo can store and process RAW photos as well, right?

      • I did not know that; maybe I was thrown by its predecessor iPhoto. I thought Photos only handled JPEGs. But the challenge at this point would be migrating from LR (around 2000-3000 photos per year for the past 8 years) or maintaining two systems. It’s not hard to run up several thousand photos a year if you are taking, say, 300 pictures a month.

        • Yes, and if you shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time, Photos imports the two together and shows a single photo, allowing you to choose, when editing, which one to work on. It’s very practical; more so than Lightroom (I don’t think it pairs photos like that, does it?).

  4. For me, the first decision is whether to use Photos or Lightroom. Do you use both?

    Since I use LR I have always left Photos untouched. I guess I also did not trust Apple after the unexpected retirement of their LR competitor, Aperture.

    If people do find a use for both programs I would be interested to learn more about how they make that work. For example, it might be quite useful to store finished JPEGs in Photos for use elsewhere in the Apple ecosphere, such as screen savers and portable devices.

    • No, I don’t use Lightroom, and I see no reason to. Photos manages my photo library very well. If I had tens of thousands of photos, I might think differently, but I’m not there.

      You realize that Photo can store and process RAW photos as well, right?

      • I did not know that; maybe I was thrown by its predecessor iPhoto. I thought Photos only handled JPEGs. But the challenge at this point would be migrating from LR (around 2000-3000 photos per year for the past 8 years) or maintaining two systems. It’s not hard to run up several thousand photos a year if you are taking, say, 300 pictures a month.

        • Yes, and if you shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time, Photos imports the two together and shows a single photo, allowing you to choose, when editing, which one to work on. It’s very practical; more so than Lightroom (I don’t think it pairs photos like that, does it?).

Leave a Reply

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