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Import My Process: 2020 Apple Photos to Lightroom Classic Migration

Joined
Sep 3, 2017
Messages
12
Location
So California
Lightroom Experience
Intermediate
Lightroom Version
Classic
Lightroom Version
Classic V9.3
Operating System
  1. macOS 10.15 Catalina
  2. iOS
I am documenting this for posterity to hopefully help someone else one day who is also attempting to migrate Apple Photos to Lightroom Classic as of July 2020. After days of research, I found only old instructions and dated forum suggestions how to manually accomplish this task. IMO, most of the well-intended instructions and tips just don’t work today as software levels have evolved, or their older and perhaps simpler procedures cause more data to be lost and/or cause more manual work than I’ve found is necessary.

Hang with me. This is long as I’ve tried to be complete for techies with multiple observations how things appeared to work throughout the process. For those that don’t care about the detail, skip to the “My Migration Process” section and follow the big bullets. ;)

MY OBJECTIVE
  • Move all media and DAM from Apple Photos 5.0 (2020) to Lightroom Classic 9.3 (2020)
    • Retain existing file types (no conversions)
    • Retain as much curated metadata as possible
    • Retain all source media
    • Retain a select number of final edited versions
      • I accept I will loose access to proprietary non-destructive edits I made in Apple Photos (just as I lost them when I left Lightroom to migrate to Photos), including any from Plug-ins I occasionally used. The best I can hope for is to also retain a static version of the final combined edits.
  • Rename and structurally organize media into a consistent methodology; It’s OK if physical media files change filenames as part of the migration, as long as the metadata remains in-tact. (You don’t have to do that.)
ISSUESFrom My POV
  • Adobe has not done current Apple Photos users any favors providing a migration tool or at least an official documented process that I’m able to find for Lightroom Classic. Anyone embarking on this with a substantial Apple Photos library, especially if it’s been highly curated, will have a daunting task ahead. The legacy Lightroom Classic Extras Plug-In for Aperture/iPhotos has been outdated for years, and is useless for the vast majority of new customers that may want to move to Lightroom Classic. I appreciate migration is something that Apple-based customers hopefully only use once, but IMO, making on-boarding as easy as possible for any customer, establishes the best path for early adoption and long-term satisfaction — just sayin’. ;)
  • Most WWW articles and forum discussions on this subject don’t apply to TODAY’s software environment, or at a minimum make you question how valid several-year-old tips may be. I read dozens of web pages and forum threads before doing my own tests and finally taking the leap.
    • IOW and IMHO, if you perform one of the older variations of “point Lightroom directly at an alias of the Apple Photos Library source file, and import from there”, it may be simple, but you may loose an awful lot more in your move than you really need to
MY ENVIRONMENT
  • macOS 10.15.6 (Catalina); Apple Photos 5.0; Lightroom Classic 9.3
  • ~14K photos including .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .tif, .tiff, .psd, .bmp, .crw, .cr2, HEIF/.heic — perhaps others; plus a few dozen .avi and .mov videos created long ago in my earlier PC and digital photography days
    • It’s now all managed by Apple Photos (for the past 3+ years)
      • Prior to Apple Photos, I used every release of Lightroom V6 back to the original V1, Aperture/iPhotos, Photoshop Elements back-in-the-day on PC/Windows, and numerous manual methods before that as digital photography was starting and automated DAM became a thing — each time, migrating my growing media assets the best I could (Remember the Kodak DC cameras? I had several in those early days, and still have their low res photos in my library.)
    • Most images and video have been tagged with metadata, including: Title, Description, Capture Date/Time, Structured Keywords, Location and People (Faces)
    • Physical filenames are historically all-over-the place — it’s never been a real problem for me. I used file folder structure to keep things in order, and in more recent years metadata has become the primary way to access and manage the library.
OBSERVATIONS
  • Apple Photos Source Location (for Techies — not needed for the migration process below)
    • Most likely maintained in ~/Pictures/Photos Library.photoslibrary
      • Access for knowledgeable users outside of Apple Photos is via Finder and the Show Package Contents option
      • Photo source files are located within the /originals subdirectory AND PERHAPS /Masters.legacy (I only have a few there for whatever reason)
    • Individual media filenames visible via Finder are NOT what they really are; Use “Get Info” within Apple Photos to see the actual individual filename as it will be upon export outside Apple’s protected Photos environment
  • IMPORTANTLY: I believe no matter what you do today in this migration to Lightroom, you of course will loose all non-destructive edit instructions, and what were Photos Albums, Projects, Slideshows and People/Face tagging as you migrate to Lightroom -- perhaps more. Be prepared to manually recreate what is important to you in the Lightroom world post-migration, and adapt your workflow to what Lightroom provides.
    • I suggest if you use Photos Albums, consider uniquely keyword tagging those photos and videos before beginning the migration process, so you can easily reconstruct similar Lightroom Collections later, then simply delete the temporary keywords that helped you during the transition when you no longer need them.
MY MIGRATION PROCESS

NOTE: My major trick is to use the Apple Photos Export functions to an intermediate location, prior to importing that into Lightroom, which preserves significantly more metadata than if you try to subvert Apple Photos and grab the data directly without its help to put all the pieces back together for you. Even as you export away, Apple Photos seems to try and help its users when you give it a chance. ;)

  • 1. Using Finder or your favorite backup utility, backup your legacy Apple Photos Library to at least 2 different external sources for posterity, just-in-case something goes wrong or you change your mind later on
  • 2. Install and setup Lightroom so it’s ready for media import (Victoria’s books are always helpful, as are some other video courses)
    • 2a. Using Finder, create a new permanent directory that will become your Lightroom master photo library. Be sure you have sufficient space to house not only what you have today, but what you may expand into.
    • 2b. Decide upon your new photo filename and directory naming structure, then test your Lightroom import settings with a handful of photos to be sure all works well.
    • 2c. When you are satisfied, delete (trash) your test photos and any subdirectories from inside Lightroom
  • 3. Create a temporary directory to house a copy of all your photo images from Apple Photos
    • Yes, to complete my migration process, the implication is you will need roughly triple the size of your existing Apple Photo library to complete the migration. Once the migration is complete to your satisfaction, and Lightroom has become the center of your universe, you can delete this temporary directory and then delete or downscale your original Photos Library.
      • If you are out of disk space, my suggestion is you can always use a temporary external drive to house the migration files.
  • 4. Open Apple Photos
    • Original Source Media
      • 4a. Select Photos / Library in the left menu (or you could use Albums or other selections to migrate only part of your source library — just be sure you ultimately migrate everything)
      • 4b. Click File / Export / Export Unmodified Original for n Photos
        • BE SURE to Tick ON “Export IPTC as XMP” to preserve metadata applied in Apple Photos
        • Leave File Name and Subfolder Format alone. (Apple Photos Export is smart enough if you have multiple photos with the same physical filename, it will add an incremental “(n)” to the end of additional newly exported filenames so you don’t have a duplicates conflict or loose anything.)
      • 4c. Click Export
        • Apple Photos will now copy original files with their real filenames AND most metadata to the temporary directory. XMP Sidecars will be generated with appropriate metadata for each photo.
        • NOTE: HEIF Live Photos within Apple Photos are split into a separate .heic photo and .mov movie file when you do the export. This is normal as you move outside Apple’s world. You can read all the technical reasons why in various WWW articles. IOW, if you are cross-checking yourself as I tend to, your file count of items being exported from Apple Photos may different than what you find in your exported temporary directory, for a number of reasons.
        • You’ll get an error panel at the end of the export if there are problems. It’s then your choice how to deal with whatever the problem may be. (FWIW, I had 6 export failures for my entire library, and after tracking down 3 of them being very old images that had somehow become corrupt over many years of transitioning between apps and versions, I just let them finally disappear into infinity.)
        • If this process hangs with the infamous bouncing-ball, at least in my case, I tracked it down to Photos Export not being able to handle a few old RAW+JPG photos from a specific camera I used years ago (other cameras since with RAW+JPG worked without an issue). Instead of reporting and waiting to possibly get a resolution from Apple if one would be created for a 6+ YO camera and only a handful of images (doubtful!), my workaround was to eliminate these photos, and manually generate maximum size and resolution JPG for each one that I migrated into Lightroom. Interestingly if you follow my procedure below for edited versions to extract these problem files, it works, and your metadata will flow for each of those photos properly into Lightroom.
    • Edited Versions
      • 4d. If you want to retain a static version of some or all of your edited photos, it will take additional work to first locate and select each photo manually inside Apple Photos (there is no Smart Album way to locate all edited photos that I’m aware of.) Then, similar —but not quite the same— as above, use:
        • 4d1. File / Export / Export x Photos
        • 4d2. Specify the Photo Kind, Quality and Size to meet your needs
        • 4d3. BE SURE to Tick ON both of the “Info Include items” in the dialog box to preserve any keyword and location data
        • 4d4. Click Export into a temporary subdirectory of your choice
  • 5. Import the files from your temporary directory into Lightroom using the Import Dialog. Doing it this way (vs. others ways), IMO saves time allowing Lightroom to copy and create your desired directory structure in your new media library. The choice is additionally yours:
    • It’s a good time to rename files for improved consistency as well as create a consistent subdirectory structure at the same time the initial media is migrated. I didn’t change filenames, but certainly let Lightroom do the heavy lifting creating dozens of subdirectories and placing media in the right place.
    • While I normally import with a Metadata Preset containing my © info and such, be careful doing it during this migration step as you will overwrite any existing data your photos may already have. I wanted EXIF/IPTC meta left the way it was, so I used no preset during Lightroom Import and just remembered to start using my preset again when I imported my first new photos.
  • 6. When the migration is complete, spot check to ensure all looks well within Lightroom — focus on your new file structure, numbers of photos in total and each subdirectory seem roughly correct, and metadata (keywords, GPS data if you use it) are there
    • You may have what at first appears like duplicates for some photos you edited in Apple Photos. That of course is because you decided to create and migrate them using step 4d above, or in your long ago past like me, perhaps used apps that actually created secondary physical images each time you edited them (and they existed in Apple Photos too — it’s not Apple’s issue.)
    • If you have any Burst photos in Apple Photo, this migration process will cause each of the individual photos to be exported and imported into Lightroom. Each should have correct metadata. You will need to then stack them yourself inside Lightroom, post migration, if you desire.
    • You may also find the number of non-XMP files in your temporary export directory is greater than what the Lightroom Import dialog displays. There are at least a few issues at play I found in my situation. There may be others.
      • You may have some ancient Windows .bmp files that Apple Photos still supports, but more recent versions of Lightroom do not. If these are important, you must manually export each one from Apple Photos and convert to a supported format before importing to Lightroom, then remember to re-tag each one as you’ll most likely have lost their metadata in the process.
      • You may have some very old versions of .mov or .avi files (not all!!!) in Apple Photos, that today’s Lightroom and even current levels of native macOS, no longer support. If so, it becomes your choice to try and track down what has gone missing, then perhaps export and convert the files to a supported format using tools outside of Lightroom. More info on the specifics of this can be found with some WWW searches on both Apple and Adobe FAQs. I’ll leave that for others to explore if it’s important to them. Be forewarned, resolving this will be labor intensive on your part.
        • There is no report or easy way that I could figure-out, to find what the Lightroom Import dialog decides to ignore after your selection. You’ll only notice something is off, if you see the total count when the count in the upper right of the center import dialog is less than what you may remember from the displayed count your Apple Photos export completion notification (less the matching XMPs of course.)
        • In my case, I have ~100 .mov/.avi movies that did not migrate. After spending way too much time finding just two examples, and track down internal file formats they had, both ended-up being low-res short movies from the late 1980s that have been moving with my library for years, but I never watched or care about today. I’ve decided to let them all disappear into infinity and move on. Your choice may be different. Just be aware this may happen with these file formats. Again, it would be so much easier if Lightroom had an Import Dialog exception log or notice of what it has decided to ignore after your selection.
    • FWIW, I also had multiple problems when I tried to import all of my temporary exported files in a single Lightroom Import -- in one case, it completed without any indication there was an error, but I was more than 3K files short that didn't import as they should. I also had Lightroom hang trying to bring in more than 4-5K items (roughly 10K files with XMPs) in a single import. I have 32GB of memory, with plenty of available workspace, so I don’t normally have memory constraints under my control, but I bet I hit a bug in Lightroom Classic or macOS. Anyway...
      • The workaround I found was to create multiple Smart Albums in Apple Photos, breaking up 100% of my media library into groups by capture year subsets, then exporting each Smart Album in-turn using the Originals process above into it’s own temporary directory, and importing each set individually into Lightroom. I became tired of fooling around with someone’s software bug, and ended-up not exceeding 3K media items (6K files) being imported at a time, and it worked. YMMV and no, I did not take the time to report the likely bug to Adobe as I don’t want to try and recreate all this one-time migration effort for them again. Time for me to move forward. ;)
    • 6a. When you are satisfied with what has made it’s way into Lightroom, you can delete your temporary working directory used for the migration. You still have your original Apple Photos library if all else fails at this point.
  • 7. Update your personal workflow with Lightroom becoming front-and-center. See Victoria’s great docs and other videos from other providers for help.
  • 8. Final Migration Steps
    • 8a. Consider what you want to do with photos you previously managed in Apple Photos, as your new source versions are now in Lightroom. Delete one or the other is one possibility, and there are all sort of variants you could do. I personally am in process of working my way through what’s best for me, going through the entire library via Lightroom, stacking related media together, while fixing a few tagging and naming anomalies I’m finding along the way. Someday, I may have to reconstruct non-destructive edits against one or more original photos I’ve lost, or I'll just use the final extracted version I may have — I’m electing to worry about that then, since I more importantly have retained all originals and metadata to help me find what I'm looking for. ;)
    • 8b. Construct any new Lightroom Collections for legacy Apple Photos Albums you may have been using, then delete any temporary keywords you may have applied to accomplish this work. It's best to keep things tidy in your new Lightroom Catalog.
    • 8c. Work through People/Faces tagging to update what may have been lost
    • 8d. Rebuild any Slideshows you have lost
  • 9. Lastly, do something with your legacy Apple Photos
    • Determine what you want to do with your now outdated media copies inside Apple Photos
    • Remember, you have the same photos and media in both Apple Photos and in Lightroom, which for me is a long-term nightmare. You may also have iCloud Photos syncing still happening across your Apple devices, so FIRST consider what will happen to everything else in your life if you simply delete photos from Photos on your Mac. I’ll leave it to other threads, books, and such for the possibilities. I won’t even try to describe what I may initially be doing myself once I have my initial Lightroom migration completed in several more days — it’s way beyond the subject of this thread.

Good Luck, and welcome to Lightroom! I would appreciate any corrections from folks that have recently done an Apple Photos migration themselves —no theories please — or found some clear problems with what I’ve tried to convey. In the future, it would be great if others post changes or alternatives they have found necessary because of evolving software levels so we can try to help the next generation of migrators with more current information. Thanks in advance!

Stay well all!
Bert
 
Last edited:
Joined
Apr 2, 2009
Messages
102
Location
Seattle
Lightroom Experience
Advanced
By the way, since @clee01l mentioned migrating to the cloud-based Lightroom first: in my small test, it only migrated the unmodified originals, and keywords were not preserved for raw or non-raw files. File names are the cryptic Photos file names. Titles and captions/descriptions migrate, as does other metadata. If the Title field isn't in use for an image, the migration process puts the original filename in the Title field.
 

nafaway2

New Member
Joined
Jan 26, 2021
Messages
2
Wow a lot of brainpower. I am in this dilemma too...I want to go forward and start using LR with external plug-Ins like Topaz etc. I have a huge Photos library of 240 GB which I have backed up by year an albums to external HD/RAID. Going forward I want to convert to LR. The process of migrating all my old stuff to LR seems like an incredible process. I am hampered by having even worse internet than BertL...a neighborhood network with a radio relay nailed to a tail Douglas fir tree. My best UL is 3 mbps. Getting all my photos into iCloud originally took weeks. Not only that if I download back from the iCloud I will get 100s of errors for corrupted files...who knows if it is my stuttering internet or incompatible old versions. So doing this same process up to Cloudy LR is not at all appealing. Maybe Elon Musk/Starlink will save all of those in the non fiber universe which Apple and Adobe seem to be oblivious to. This is a few years off as they are in beta version now. I know that there are only 6 billion camera users versus 60 billion smart phone users so I am not holding my breathe for them to make photo users life easier. Can someone suggest where in this migration process I might go? I am thinking just keep my old Photos Libraries split into Archives by years and go forward in life with Adobe LR? It is kind of like Marie Condo...if I have not looked at those photos for years do I really need them in LR? I am using Big Sur and it seems to have issues that further complicate this whole process. Appreciate a simple path for a big problem.
 
Joined
Jun 20, 2009
Messages
17,413
Location
Houston, TX USA
Lightroom Experience
Power User
Lightroom Version
Cloud Service
Wow a lot of brainpower. I am in this dilemma too...I want to go forward and start using LR with external plug-Ins like Topaz etc. I have a huge Photos library of 240 GB which I have backed up by year an albums to external HD/RAID. Going forward I want to convert to LR. The process of migrating all my old stuff to LR seems like an incredible process. I am hampered by having even worse internet than BertL...a neighborhood network with a radio relay nailed to a tail Douglas fir tree. My best UL is 3 mbps. Getting all my photos into iCloud originally took weeks. Not only that if I download back from the iCloud I will get 100s of errors for corrupted files...who knows if it is my stuttering internet or incompatible old versions. So doing this same process up to Cloudy LR is not at all appealing. Maybe Elon Musk/Starlink will save all of those in the non fiber universe which Apple and Adobe seem to be oblivious to. This is a few years off as they are in beta version now. I know that there are only 6 billion camera users versus 60 billion smart phone users so I am not holding my breathe for them to make photo users life easier. Can someone suggest where in this migration process I might go? I am thinking just keep my old Photos Libraries split into Archives by years and go forward in life with Adobe LR? It is kind of like Marie Condo...if I have not looked at those photos for years do I really need them in LR? I am using Big Sur and it seems to have issues that further complicate this whole process. Appreciate a simple path for a big problem.
Note this original post was about migration of the Photos Library to Lightroom Classic. Lightroom Classic only supports migration from Aperture and the legacy app iPhotos. There is no migration tool from the Photos app to Lightroom Classic. If you have a less than stellar internet, Using the Lightroom Cloud is not probably desirable.
 
Joined
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Messages
744
Lightroom Experience
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Classic
A number of people have reported in the last year that the Avalanche app is far superior to the buggy and limited Lightroom plugin for converting Aperture libraries to Lightroom. The product web page has said conversion from Photos app libraries is "coming soon" for the past couple of months. So you might contact them to see if they're willing to provide an estimate when that might be available. (Small companies are more willing to answer such questions, since they don't have armies of overpaid lawyers telling them to be afraid of vaporware lawsuits.)
 

nafaway2

New Member
Joined
Jan 26, 2021
Messages
2
A number of people have reported in the last year that the Avalanche app is far superior to the buggy and limited Lightroom plugin for converting Aperture libraries to Lightroom. The product web page has said conversion from Photos app libraries is "coming soon" for the past couple of months. So you might contact them to see if they're willing to provide an estimate when that might be available. (Small companies are more willing to answer such questions, since they don't have armies of overpaid lawyers telling them to be afraid of vaporware lawsuits.)
Thanks for the info...I see some of the newer more hungry Photo Editors have no problem importing my Sony RAW folders from A9(out since 2017) whereas the latest Mac Photos cannot(read can't be bothered for a few years). So your comment is good advice. Serious photo users are way down the food chain versus the smartphone market. I understand how to use LR yet the process of migration with a slow internet seems daunting...maybe I should wait til Avalanche or Elon Musk comes up with a better solution for me.
 
Joined
May 9, 2015
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802
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Palo Alto, CA
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Lightroom Version
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Getting back to your question though, Assuming your Apple Photos library is on a locally attached hard drive (i.e. the originals have not been migrated to iCloud leaving only a small thumbnail on your local computer) then you can get them over to LR/Classic without use of the Internet.

Full disclosure: I am not an Apple computer user (never have been) so what I'm telling you is book knowledge - subject to correction from Mac literate people - not first hand knowledge.

  1. using Apple Photos, export the image to a file structure which will become the source for LR/Classic. As I understand you have two choices in doing this. First is to export the "edited" (or current state) of the images. This will create image files which contain all your Apple Photos edits and much of the metadata (but not all). The second option to to export the "original". This will create a file that is pretty much how it was when you imported it into Apple Photos. I'm not sure if changed metadata is included or not.
  2. Now, import those images into Lr/Classic.
Here's a link to a prior post which may prove useful. Import - My Process: 2020 Apple Photos to Lightroom Classic Migration
 
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