Mac tip: Drag and drop high resolution photos from the Photos app

A reader recently drew my attention to the fact that his Mac compressed images that were dragged onto his desk from the Photos app. Even when I dragged them from photos into the Photoshop app, I noticed that the output was too small. So the question was now: How can you export high-resolution photos from the Photos app using drag and drop? I did a little research and found a solution - it's as simple as it is easy;)

Export photos in high resolution via drag and drop from the Photos app instead of receiving compressed thumbnails - this can be done by holding down the Alt key! ;)

Export photos in high resolution via drag and drop from the Photos app instead of receiving compressed thumbnails - this can be done by holding down the Alt key! ;)

Photos app automatically compresses pictures as they are moved

If you take image files directly from the Photos app in order to move or copy them to a new storage location, the file may be compressed. Regardless of the original format, a JPEG file is usually also made from it. The same thing happens when you export photos via the "File" menu. The reader's question describes the following:

[...] I drag and drop a photo (approx. 18MB) from the Photos app onto the desktop or into the download folder and the photo is then extremely small and shows in the information that it is only 160px x 120px. The behavior seems to be like this when it exceeds a certain photo size. A smaller photo (4.5MB) is not reduced by drag and drop. [...]

Export high resolution photos from the Photos app

If you want to continue to use drag and drop, so simply drag photos and images with the mouse into a folder, on the desk or in an app for image editing, then I recommend you the option button! This is also called the Alt or Option key and usually has the symbol ⌥ on the Mac keyboard. If you hold down the Alt key while you drag a photo to save or edit it from the Photos app, it will be moved in its original size as well as in its original format.

If you use the menu bar, then the way to the original output file still leads you via the storage area. Only this time you don't choose Export... -> Export photos, rather Export... -> Export unedited original. As the name suggests, the image is output here in its original size and with the respective format (PNG, GIF, raw file, etc.).

RAW photos can only be saved using the export function

I've tried out whether I can also save RAW photos by dragging and dropping with the ALT key pressed, but unfortunately these still have to be saved using the export function, as I did in this post have described.

Lots of tips and tricks: macOS Catalina manuals and guides

Photos app Mac tips coming soon

Output photos in high resolution via drag and drop from the Photos app:

  1. Press Option or Option / Alt on the Mac keyboard
  2. While holding down the button, use the mouse to move the picture out of the Photos app
  3. Then use / edit the new file or the opened picture in the original

Export photos in high resolution via the menu:

  1. In the menu bar filing here
  2. The cursor on Export... to move
  3. In the menu that opens Export unedited original here




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  1. Peter Wilhelm says:

    I always do this via the context menu. Right click and then "Edit with ...".
    Is the easiest way for me.

    • Sir Apfelot says:

      Hi Peter! Do you know whether only the high-resolution PSD or also a RAW is transferred to Photoshop (or another software), for example? You'd have to test that. Would be a quicker way to get a RAW, otherwise you have to go through "Export".

  2. Melli Mair says:

    And how can I save the photo that has been edited in the photo app in the Finder in high resolution (i.e. edited; only the original with the Option key)?

    • Sir Apfelot says:

      Hello Melli! I think that's what you'll get if you drag and drop it (without pressing a key) onto the desk. Or does that not work for you?

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