How to quickly combine multiple Photos libraries in OS X

PhotosIconXAs of OS X Yosemite, Apple is encouraging everyone to use its new Photos program for managing pictures in OS X. While Photos has a number of pros and cons, it does share a limitation of its “iPhoto” predecessor, in that while it uses a library system for managing photos and offers an option to create multiple libraries, it can only have one open at a time. This means that if you wish to consolidate libraries, you might find yourself jumping through hoops; however, there is a relatively simple way to get this done.

First, the classic way of doing this would be to use an export/import option:

  1. Open Photos while holding the Option key
  2. Select your desired Library to open
  3. Select all items and export them to a folder
  4. Quit and re-open Photos while holding the Option key
  5. Select a second library to open
  6. Import all of the items into this second library.

This approach will undoubtedly take a long time, and will require you essentially duplicate your library contents more than once to consolidate them import them all into the second library. While it may be doable for those with only a few libraries to manage, for those with a number of different libraries, the following approach may be more streamlined:

  1. Open Photos to load your current library (or open with the Option key held to choose a different or new library to use)
  2. Open the Terminal utility (in the Applications > Utilities folder)
  3. Type the following command, then hold the Option key immediately after pressing Enter to execute it:
open -n -a Photos

When you do this, a second instance of the Photos application will open, and will request you select a library. Do this for a different library, and you will now have two Photos windows on your screen with different libraries open. Now you can select some or all the photos from one library, and drag them into the second Photos window to add them to that library. You can do this for individual photos, entire moments, or custom selections as you browse through your photos.

Note that copying in this manner may cause Photos to briefly hang and show your cursor as a spinning beachball, but do not interrupt the process. After a short while, your photos will be copied and show up in your second library. You will also see a notification that confirms the number of photos imported.

Photos library chooser

This window will pop up if you held the Option key at the appropriate time when launching an instances of Photos (if not, then quit Photos and try again). Use it to select a photo library other than the one open in your primary instance of Photos.

When done, close the second instance of the Photos application, and then repeat the Terminal command (press the Up arrow to quickly load the previously-entered command–be sure to hold the Option key after pressing Enter), to load a new library and copy your files into your main library.

One quick warning with this approach, is that you should not load the same library in two separate instances of Photos, as this may lead to conflicts in how data in the library is handled, and could corrupt the library. Therefore, just be sure you load separate libraries in separate instances of Photos, and you should be good to go.

7 thoughts on “How to quickly combine multiple Photos libraries in OS X

  1. Sylvain LE BOUCHER

    Thanks a lot, finally a solution to merge my libraries quite easily. It just change the date of the video… Do you have a solution to keep the date inchanged?

  2. Fabrice Chavy

    Dragging images and videos out of the Photos library window actually transcodes them changing compression and removing some metadata. Images and videos are smaller but modified. To keep the images and videos their original format, you have to export as unmodified (File menu).

  3. Chris

    Once the “merging” has been done, via the steps provided above, do the photos that newly reside in the destination Photos library still possess the “changes” information, and all other metadata (e.g., location, names) that they possessed while in their original Photos library?

  4. ksenia

    Does this work in Yosemite? When I open two instances of Photos each with a different photos library, and try to drag and drop photos from one to the other nothing happens. What can I do?

  5. Philip Brookes

    For me, this isn’t working – each time I try to open the second libary it says it’s currently in use. I tried to swap the order but still the same problem.

  6. Karl Jefferys

    Very interesting points you have observed , thankyou for posting . “Death is Nature’s expert advice to get plenty of Life.” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

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