How to get your photos off your phone, out of the cloud and onto your computer or external hard drive: A Complete Guide, plus resources to make it easier

Contents

There is a lot going on in this long post! Jump to the sections that interest you:

Note: Due to table formatting, long subtitles and multi-step bulleted lists, this post is significantly more readable on a desktop or laptop computer screen compared with a small phone screen. Just a heads-up.
 
(And let’s just be real: Photo management is a heck of a lot easier on a computer screen than a smartphone screen, so you might save yourself a headache and just head on over to larger-screened device.)

Introduction

Our photos give our memories tangible life. They are invaluable, so we should be treating them that way! That starts by making sure we’re backing up our photos regularly and organizing them so we can find them all (on a single digital device!) later.

I recommend that the single digital device to which you download all of your photos be an external hard drive (EHD). Actually, I recommend you run this process in order to copy all of your photos to two EHDs.  

The reason I recommend EHDs instead of relying on cloud storage alone will need to be a topic for another day. So back to the topic at hand…

In order to collect your photos in a single location, organize them, and back them up in a systematic way, first you need to get them out of their various locations.

This article will show you how to do just that.

FREE RESOURCE

A FREE download that will make downloading photos easier to track

Photo Archive Log

link to download photo archive log from CorComm Story Squad

Getting your photos backed up is a great feat. Give yourself a pat on the back for starting this huge task!

Unfortunately, though, downloading and collecting photos isn’t the end of your photo-organization project!

It will take some time to get your photos collected into one spot, but the project isn’t ever officially over. You will still be taking photos, so at some point down the road (the sooner and more often, the better!), you’ll need to do this process again.

When you sit down to do it again, will you remember which devices you scrubbed for photos or how far back you collected images (all of 2021? All of 2020? All of 2006?) the last time?

Maybe not without some help.

That’s why I created a Photo Archive Log — first, so that I myself could keep track of my downloads. I found it super helpful, so I am sharing it with you, as well! 

Use this log to keep track of which photos you’ve collected and which ones you haven’t. 

Simply jot down the device name and check off the months and years that represent the timeframe of the photos you have just downloaded. Keep this log in a binder with your other photo notes, scrapbooking notes, journaling, etc., so you can find it easily later.

Tip

If you’re downloading a partial month (for example, if you do this activity today and download the photos you’ve taken so far in July, be sure to NOT check off July on your Archive Log. Otherwise, a few months from now, when you go to do this again, you won’t mistakenly think you have already downloaded ALL of July’s photos.

Get started downloading

If you’re not sure how to get your photos off of another device or out of the cloud, just use the chart below to be pointed to step-by-step instructions. Be sure to pay attention to the column headers, and use whichever applies to you — depending on whether you’re using an iPhone or Android device.

How to Download Photos

iPhone Users

Android Users

From phone to Mac
or EHD connected to a Mac
(using Image Capture)

From phone to Mac or vice versa
(using AirDrop)

From phone to PC*
or EHD connected to a PC

From iCloud Photos to Mac
or EHD connected to a Mac

From iCloud Photos to PC
or EHD connected to a PC

From Google Photos to Mac
or EHD connected to a Mac

From Google Photos to PC
or EHD connected to a PC

* A personal computer that is not a Macintosh/Apple computer is considered a PC. For the purposes of this article, PC refers to Windows-based computers running Windows 10.

** You can also use the processes listed for external hard drives (EHDs) to move photos to a flash drive. However, due to the small amount of storage compared with an EHD, I recommend you use EHDs instead.

SECTION 2

How to download photos
from an iPhone or Android device
to a Mac or EHD connected to a Mac

There are various ways to get your photos from your phone to a folder on your Mac computer or an external hard drive, but my favorite way is to use Image Capture, which is a program that comes on Macs by default.

(It’s my favorite way, because, in my experience, it’s the easiest, least likely to cause hiccups and fewest-steps way.)

icon - Image CaptureTo open Image Capture, go to your Applications folder, then choose Image Capture. The icon will look like the image at right. 

Image Capture will allow you to transfer both still images and videos to your Mac. It also accepts many versions of smartphones, tablets and digital cameras. Basically, most devices that can capture digital photos can connect with Image Capture.

To use Image Capture:

  1. Connect your phone to a desktop or laptop computer using a USB cable.
  2. Turn your phone on, and unlock it.
  3. Open Image Capture by going to Applications > Image Capture.
  4. In Image Capture, on the left side of the screen, select the device you have connected, which should be listed in the Devices list.
  5. Click on the icon-view icon at the top of the Image Capture screen to see your photos clearly.
    • Click once on the first image, then scroll to the last photo you want to download, hold down the Shift key, and click on the icon of the final photo.
    • Optionally, you can click the Download All button in the bottom-right corner.
  6. Choose your Import To: location by clicking on the word Pictures, then using the dropdown menu, scroll down to Other… and use the Finder window to choose a location for your photos to be saved. Click OK.
  7. Decide if you want the images to be deleted from your device after they are imported, or if you’d prefer that they remain on your device.
    • They will remain on your device by default.
    • To have them deleted after you download, click on the Action button (the circle with the three dots inside, located in the toolbar at the top of the screen). Then, choose to either Keep Originals or Delete After Import. The option that you see will depend on the type of device you have connected.
      Click the Download button in the bottom-right of the screen.

 

Image Capture screen with notes

Tip

If you use Image Capture for downloading your images, Finder will use the date you downloaded the files as the Date Created data…at least at first. When you first think the download is complete, the photos will ALL show a Date Created date as the date you downloaded the photos (today). Eventually, as the computer has time to fully process the images, the Date Created dates will update to be the dates the photos were taken. However, if they don’t (especially if you downloaded a large number of images), you can work around this issue a couple of ways. See “Make sure your photos’ file names reflect the correct dates” (#photodates) at the end of this article.

SECTION 3

How to download photos
from an iPhone
to a Mac — or vice versa (AirDrop)

If you save full-size, high-resolution photos to your smartphone, you can also opt to AirDrop the photos to your Mac laptop or desktop computer.

However, if you store optimized images to your computer instead, you’ll want to download the photos from iCloud Photos, rather than AirDropping them, so you make sure you keep the high-resolution images. (See separate sections on downloading from iCloud Photos).

To check to see if you store high-res or low-res images on your device, go to: Settings > {Your Name} > iCloud > Photos.

  • If Optimize Phone Storage is checked, you have only low-resolution images on your phone.
  • If Download and Keep Originals is checked, the photos on your phone are high-resolution.

If you have high-res images on your phone, you can AirDrop them to your computer using these steps:

  1. Air Drop screen on iPhoneBring your phone within close proximity of your computer.
  2. Make sure you have both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi turned on for both devices.
  3. Log in to both devices using the same Apple ID.
  4. Open the Photos app on your phone.
  5. Tap Select in the top-right corner.
  6. Choose the photos you wish to transfer to your computer by clicking on the images to select them.
  7. Tap the Share icon in the bottom left of the screen. (It looks like a square with an arrow pointing up.)
  8. If your computer and phone both have AirDrop activated, you should see your device pop up as one of the first options at the bottom of the screen. Tap on the device’s name or icon to send the photos to your computer.
    • If your device’s name is not listed, hit the Air Drop icon in the second row.
  9. Go to the Downloads folder inside Finder on your computer. The AirDropped files will have been sent to that folder.
  10. Move the photos to your backup location.

Tips

  • In order to select multiple images at once, tap once on the last photo you wish to transfer, then, while keeping your finger on the screen, quickly begin moving your finger, continuing in a snaking direction toward the top of the archive.
  • To send photos from your Mac to your phone, you will follow the same instructions, switching the device names in each step.

SECTION 4

How to download photos
from an iPhone or Android smartphone
to a PC or external hard drive

If you use a PC, you can download your photos from an iPhone in just a few simple steps. These steps apply when you need to download to either your computer’s hard drive or an external hard drive.

  1. Connect your phone to the PC using a USB cable.
  2. Turn on your phone. Unlock it.
  3. Make sure your high-resolution photos are saved on your phone, and not saved in the cloud. If the full-resolution images are saved to the cloud instead, you will need to download from the cloud location. (See separate sections on downloading from iCloud.)
    • To check to see if you store high-res or low-res images on your device, go to: Settings > {Your Name} > iCloud > Photos.
    • If Optimize Phone Storage is checked, you have only low-resolution images on your phone.
    • If Download and Keep Originals is checked, the photos on your phone are high-resolution.
  4. On the computer, choose the Start button, then select Photos.
  5. Select Import > From a Connected Device, located in the top-right corner of the window.
    • Note: If you get an error message here (“Something went wrong”), try the troubleshooting tip below, then continue with step 6.
  6. You will be prompted to confirm that you want to import photos from the device you connected.
  7. Import photos from an AndroidIn the Import to: box, change your destination to the folder — located either on your PC or an EHD — where you want to save your photos.
  8.  Select the items you want to import.
    • You can choose from All Items*, Items Since Last Import, None, or tap to select individual photos.
  9. Make a decision about whether you want Photos to delete the original photos from your phone after importing. Mark your decision in the bottom-left.
  10. Click the button that says Import ### of ### Photos to begin the download.

Troubleshooting

If you get an error that says “Something went wrong,” or are otherwise unable to complete your download, return to your phone and do the following:

  • Unlock the phone. Return to the home screen.
  • Swipe down from the very top of the screen.
  • Under Android System, tap on “Charging this device on USB” to open other options.
  • Under Use USB For, make the option File Transfer active.  
  • Return to step 6, above.

Be sure to work quickly after doing this step. Your phone will time out and automatically reset the sharing settings if you don’t take action within a short amount of time.

Tips

* Caution: If you choose to download All Items in step #7 above, you will end up donating a LOT of photos you don’t know are even stored on your computer! Photos that have arrived via text, that are posted on Facebook or WhatsApp or SnapChat, photos from web pages you have visited and more will be included in your personal photos. To avoid the headache of having to manually delete the extra files, choose to download photos by date folders or manually select each photo. Unfortunately, there is not a foolproof, fast, easy and free easy way to go about this! Optional, third-party software could do the trick, but we won’t cover apps here. If you have a good one to share as a recommendation, feel free to post in the comments section below.

SECTION 5

How to download photos
from iCloud Photos
to a Mac or EHD connected to a Mac

To download your photos from iCloud to a Mac or external hard drive:

  1. Open an internet browser on your computer.
  2. Go to iCloud.com. Log in with your Apple ID username and password.
  3. Click on Photos.
  4. Tap Select, then choose the photo or photos you wish to download.
    • To choose multiple photos in a row, choose the first photo, then hold down Shift while selecting the last photo.
    • To choose multiple photos that are not next to each other in the camera roll, hold down the Control key while clicking the images you wish to download.
    • To choose to download all photos, hold down the Control and A keys to select all.
  5. Icon: Download Photos from iCloud PhotosClick the Download button in the upper-right corner of the window.
  6. Be sure to choose Most Compatible in the format options, so that you download JPGs for images and H.264-format videos. These are universally accepted file types and will be able to be opened by many users. HEIC/HEIF images and HEVC videos are compressed files in a format that not everyone will be able to open.
  7. Choose destination where you wish to save your photos. Click OK.
  8. Use Finder to navigate to where you saved your photos.
  9. Unzip the zipped file by double-clicking on the file.

Tip

When you delete photos from iCloud Photos, Apple will delete the photo from all devices that included that photo, if you’re signed in on these devices using your same Apple ID.

SECTION 6

How to download photos
from iCloud Photos
to a PC or EHD connected to a PC

To download your photos from iCloud to a PC or external hard drive:

  1. On your PC, open a web browser.
  2. Go to iCloud.com.
  3. Log in with your Apple ID username (usually an email address) and password.
  4. Click on Photos.
  5. Click on an album or on individual photos you want to download to your computer.
    • To choose multiple photos in a row, choose the first photo, then hold down Shift while selecting the last photo.
    • To choose multiple photos that are not next to each other in the camera roll, hold down the Control key while clicking the images you wish to download.
    • To choose to download all photos, hold down the Control and the A keys to select all.
  6. Click the Download button at the top of the screen.
  7. Be sure to choose Most Compatible in the format options, so that you download JPGs for images and H.264-format videos. These are universally accepted file types and will be able to be opened by many users. HEIC/HEIF images and HEVC videos are compressed files in a format that not everyone will be able to open.
  8. Choose destination where you wish to save your photos. Click OK.
  9. Navigate to where you saved your photos and unzip the zipped file by right-clicking on the file and selecting Extract All.

Tip

When you delete photos from iCloud Photos, Apple will delete the photo from all devices that included that photo, if you’re signed in on these devices using your same Apple ID.

SECTION 7

How to download your photos
from Google Photos 
to a Mac or EHD connected to a Mac

Follow these steps:

  1. Open an internet browser on your computer.
  2. Go to Photos.Google.com.
  3. Log in to your account.
  4. Make sure the Photos option is selected in the left menu bar. (It should be by default.)
  5. Select the images you wish to download.
    • To choose individual images, hover over the image you want to download. In the top-left corner, click the circle to add a check mark, signifying that you want to download that image.
    • To choose all images in a range of photos, choose the first image in the series that you want to download, then scroll to the last image you want to download, and, while holding down the Shift key, click on that image.
    • To choose multiple images that are not next to each other in the list of images, select one image, then hold down the Command key while selecting additional images. 
  6. Click on the three-dots icon in the upper-right corner of the screen, and choose Download.
  7. In the dialog box that appears, name the zipped file that will include your photos.
  8. Select the photo destination.
  9. Choose Zip Archive for the format.
  10. Click Save.
  11. Use Finder to navigate to the location where you saved your zip file.
  12. Double-click on the file to extract the files inside.

SECTION 8

How to download your photos
from Google Photos 
to a PC or EHD connected to a PC

To download individual photos or a series of photos (but not ALL of your photos) from Google Photos to a PC or external hard drive connected to a PC, you can follow the same instructions as you would for a Mac. (See Section 7, above.)

However, if you want to download ALL of your photos from Google Photos to a PC or EHD connected to a PC, you can also use Google Takeout.

Despite the misleading name, this will NOT remove all of the photos from Google Photos. It will only copy them to your device.

To use Google Takeout to download ALL of your photos from Google Photos

  1. On your computer, navigate to takeout.google.com.
  2. Under Products, click on Deselect All.
  3. Scroll down until you see Google Photos.
  4. Check the box next to Google Photos.
  5. Click Next at the bottom of the list.
  6. Set the frequency you want the download to occur.
    • Choose Export Once if you want to manually download your photos.
    • Schedule repeating downloads via the Export Every… option.
  7. Under File Type and Size, choose .zip.
  8. Set a limit for how large each zipped file will be. If you’re not sure what to put here, I recommend 2 GB.
  9. Click Create Export.
  10. Navigate to the location where you saved your zip file.
  11. Click on the file and hit Enter to extract the files inside.

FREE RESOURCE

This free ebook outlines a system for organizing all of your downloaded photos.

After your downloading is done (for now!), this 4o-page ebook will help you take the next steps!

Find Your Photos Without Losing Your Mind - free ebookA FREE Guide to Organizing Your Digital photos: Find Your Photos—Without Losing Your Mind!

Once you’ve collected all of your photos into a single archive, you’ll want to start digging into organizing those photos by date person, event, season — whatever makes sense to you!

If you need help knowing how to get started, or how to set up your folders so you can find your photos quickly in the future, or if you like checklists and worksheets to help you along the way, be sure to download this free resource today!

SECTION 9

Sources

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

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