How to Recover and Delete Photos on Mac and Keep Your Collection Tidy

You can delete photos on Mac in just a few steps. Perhaps more importantly, you can restore them also in most instances. Take a look how to do both.

If you’re an Apple iCloud Photos user, you probably already know that images and videos saved or edited on one device get adjusted on your others as long as you’re logged in with the same iCloud account. The same thing happens when you want to delete photos on Mac or then wish to recover them, which you can do for a limited time.

How to Delete Photos on Mac

When you delete photos on Mac (and videos), they’re placed in the Recently Deleted album in the native Photos app. They’ll stay there for 30 days before being automatically removed from iCloud and your devices, including Mac. Beneath each photo is information on when the photo will get deleted.

Delete photos on Mac

Some important points to consider:

  • If you aren’t using iCloud Photos, any deleted photos and videos in the Photos app on Mac are only removed from that device.
  • You can restore files from the Recently Deleted album at any time within 30 days.
  • Deleting photos and videos from the Photos app won’t save storage on your computer. That only happens when you permanently delete the items from the Recently Deleted album.

Deleting Photos

There are various options you can take to begin deleting images and videos from the Photos app. The path you take will determine whether the items are sent to the Recently Deleted album or immediately deleted from the app.

As Apple explains, your choices are to:

  • Delete selected photos and videos in Days view: Press Delete, then click Delete. The selected items are deleted from your library and placed in the Recently Deleted album.
  • Delete photos and videos from an album, but not from your library: Press Delete. The selected items are deleted from the album only and remain in your library.
  • Delete photos and videos from a Smart Album (for example, Last Import, Favorites, or Videos)Press Command-Delete. The selected items are deleted from your library and placed in the Recently Deleted album.
  • Delete photos and videos and permanently remove them from the Recently Deleted albumPress Command-Delete, then open the Recently Deleted album. Select the items you want to delete permanently, click Delete, then click OK.

Restoring Photos

If you can find your content in the Recently Deleted folder in the Photos app, you can restore it.

To do so:

  1. Click Recently Deleted in the Photos app sidebar.
  2. Select the items to restore.
  3. Choose Recover.

Using Time Machine

If you back up your files using the macOS Time Machine, you can restore images and videos that are no longer available in the Recently Deleted folder — assuming they were backed up, of course.

Apple explains:

If you use iCloud Photos and you restore the System Photo Library from a Time Machine backup, any photos you’ve deleted since the last Time Machine backup are restored to your Mac and uploaded to iCloud again. If you chose to optimize Mac storage, Time Machine may not have a backup of your originals. However, the originals are stored in iCloud.

To do this:

  1. Choose Photos > Quit Photos if you’re still in the Photos app on your Mac.
  2. Click the Time Machine icon at the top right in the menu bar.
  3. Select Enter Time Machine from the pull-down menu.
  4. Next, click on the date of your last backup, then navigate to the backup of your photo library. Click to select.
  5. Choose Restore.

Restore photos

In most cases, deleting photos and videos on Mac isn’t the final step. You can restore those files (if you made a mistake) in 30 days. You can also take advantage of your Time Machine backups when applicable.

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