How to Transfer Photos from iPhone to Computer (Mac & PC) without iTunes

For every iPhone user, there comes a point when they want to know how to transfer photos from their iPhone to a computer, whether it be a Mac or PC, desktop or laptop. Uploading and downloading pictures from your iPhone is a smart way to create more storage space on your iOS device. There are a multitude of ways in which you can import your photos or videos to your computer, including AirDrop, the Photos app (on Mac or PC), using iCloud, downloading from Mail, syncing to Dropbox, or uploading your pictures to Google Photos. We’ll go over all of the methods I just listed so that you have plenty of options for getting your photos off your iPhone. Here’s how to transfer photos from your iPhone to a computer.

Related: Preserve Your Memories: Digitize Analog Photos, VHS, Cassettes, Music & More

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You can transfer your pictures from iPhone to PC (personal computer) or Macbook in a lot of different ways. The traditional way we think of importing photos to a computer is with a USB cable that connects your iPhone to your computer. This method uses built-in software on your PC or Mac that makes downloading a large number of photos to your computer fairly easy, with a little bit of how-to knowledge. You can use cloud services to keep your photos safe without taking up space on your computer with iCloud, Dropbox, or Google Photos. And last but not least, you can upload photos to your computer by sending them to yourself in the mail. Those are the methods I’ll cover in detail below, but if you have a relatively recent Macbook and iPhone, consider using Airdrop to transfer smaller numbers of photos from your iPhone to Mac computer, as it’s an incredibly quick and easy way to transfer pictures.

Table of Contents

How to Transfer Photos to a Computer (Mac & PC)

How to Use AirDrop to Transfer Photos

How to Automatically Upload Photos Using iCloud

How to Import Pictures Using Mail

How to Sync Photos Using Dropbox

How to Download Pictures with Google Photos  

How to Transfer Photos to a Computer (Mac & PC)

This is the tried and true method for transferring photos from your iPhone to a Mac or PC that hasn’t change much over the years. Of course, for this method, you’ll need the USB to Lightning charging cable that came with your iPhone. The only difference between offloading photos onto a Mac versus a PC is the program you’ll use to import them. Let’s break it down.

Mac OS X  — Yosemite or later

  1. Using your USB cable with Lightning Connector, plug your iPhone into your computer.
  2. The Photos app will automatically launch once plugged in. If it doesn’t, open your Applications folder and select Photos. 
  3. Click Import at the top. The program will instantly figure out how many new photos there are to upload. To quickly import all the new photos, click Import All New Items. If you’d rather download select photos, you can choose the ones you want to import and click Import Selected.
  4. If you want the transferred photos to delete from your iPhone once they are on your computer, check the box next to Delete items after import. This is smart practice if you’re low on iPhone storage.

    How to Download Photos to a Computer (Mac & PC)
     
  5. If you want to view the pictures you’ve uploaded, select Albums at the top.

PC  — Windows 8 or later

Newer versions of Windows, such as 8 or 10, shouldn’t have any problems transferring iPhone photos to a PC. The process is nearly identical to a Mac, except you’re using Microsoft's version of the Photos app. However, if you are using a PC with an older version of Windows, AutoPlay will pop-up and give you the option to import your photos.

  1. Using your USB cord with lightning connector, plug your iPhone into your computer.
  2. The Photos app will automatically launch once plugged in. If it doesn’t, launch the program using the Windows Start menu or search bar.
  3. There will be an Import icon in the top right corner represented by a downward-facing arrow within a box.

    How to Download Photos to a Computer (Mac & PC)
     
  4. Individually select the photos you’d like to transfer from your iPhone and click Continue.
  5. The next pop-up window will tell you where the photos will be saved and give you the option to delete the uploaded photos off your iPhone. Check the box to do so, if desired. If you want to save the photos in a different location than specified, click the gray text: Change where they’re imported.
  6. Afterward, to view the photos you just uploaded, click Albums on the left-hand navigation bar. Then select Last Import at the top. From here, you can share and edit your newly downloaded photos!

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How to Use AirDrop to Transfer Photos

One of the easiest methods for moving pictures, documents, videos, and more from your iPhone to your computer or other Apple devices is AirDrop. We've written a lengthy guide that includes everything you need to know about AirDrop, including what it is, how it works, whether or not your device is AirDrop compatible, how to turn AirDrop on, and how to AirDrop photos and other files from your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I'll briefly go over how to turn on and use AirDrop on your iPhone here, but if you find yourself needing more help or information, please visit the AirDrop guide

Before Using AirDrop

Before you begin, both you and the person or device you're AirDropping photos to need to have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on, and be in range for both. If either of you have a personal hotspot, it will need to be turned off. If the person you're sending pictures to has AirDrop set to receive from Contacts Only, they'll only receive your AirDrop if you're one of their Contacts, with your email, phone number, or both entered into your Contact Card. Alternately, they can change their receiving setting to Everyone.

How to Turn on AirDrop on Your iPhone

  1. If you have an iPhone X or later, swipe down from the upper-right corner of your display. If you're using an earlier iPhone version, swipe up from the bottom of your screen to open the Control Center.

    open control center on iphone x and lateropen control center on iphone 8 and earlier
     
  2. 3D Touch the connectivity tile and a menu will appear.
  3. Tap AirDrop.

    turn on airdropchange airdrop settings
     
  4. You’ll see three options: Receiving Off, Contacts Only, and Everyone.
  5. To turn Airdrop off, select Receiving Off.
  6. If you only want to receive AirDrops from your contacts, tap Contacts Only.
  7. If you’re okay with receiving AirDrops from anyone nearby, tap Everyone.

    iphone airdrop settings

​How to Use AirDrop to Share Photos from Your iPhone or iPad

You're probably already familiar with the Share icon on your iPhone, and that's where you'll find the option to AirDrop pictures (as well as files, documents, videos, etc). For this example, we’ll AirDrop photos from an iPhone to a Mac. It's also possible to AirDrop from iPhone to iPhone, or to an iPad, either yours or someone else's nearby. When you send photos to one of your devices they’ll automatically download and save to the receiving device. If you’re sending pictures to someone else, they’ll receive a notification that you’re trying to AirDrop them something; they can then Accept or Decline it. 

  1. To AirDrop a picture, open the Photos app.
  2. Tap on a photo you want to share.
  3. Next, tap the Share icon.​

    share a photo on iphoneairdrop share icon
     
  4. In this case, you can see that my MacBook is the only device nearby that I can send these photos to. When I’m in the office, however, I can see icons for most of my coworkers.

    choose a device to airdrop photos to

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iCloud Photos: How to Automatically Upload Photos from Your Phone to the Cloud

You can use iCloud to automatically transfer new photos to all of your iCloud devices when connected to Wi-Fi using either iCloud Photo Library or Photo Stream; although, we recommend using them in conjunction if available (if you have a newer Apple ID, you may not have the option to use Photo Stream). You get 5 GB of free iCloud storage, so if you’re going to use iCloud Photo Library, be aware that it does count towards that storage limit. You can pay a dollar a month to upgrade to 50 GB. You can also use Photo Streaming on its own if preferred. Should you choose to use one over the other, simply check only iCloud Photo Library or Photo Streaming when prompted below instead of both.

For both methods, when you take pictures outside of a Wi-Fi network, those photos will automatically transfer once you are in Wi-Fi. To do this:

  1. First, you need to enable iCloud Photo Library and Photo Streaming on your iPhone. Open the Settings app, and tap the top banner with your name on it, then tap iCloud.
  2. Tap on Photos from the iCloud menu.
  3. Toggle on iCloud Photos and Upload to My Photo Stream (screenshot of iOS 13). 

    tap on photos in iphone settings apptoggle on icloud photos and photo stream
     
  4. If you’re using a PC, download iCloud for Windows to continue. If you’re using a Mac, log in to iCloud on your computer.
  5. Open System Preferences on your Mac and open iCloud. Next to Photos, click Options.
  6. Make sure the iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream boxes are checked, and click Done.


  7. To view the photos in your Photo Stream, open the Photos app on your computer.
  8. Tap Albums at the top and select My Photo Stream. You’ll find your iCloud Photo Library photos in the Photos app on any of your devices as well; you can also access your photo library online here.

Photo Stream won’t transfer videos you take, but iCloud Photo Library will. And remember that you need to connect to Wi-Fi before the most recent photos you’ve taken will appear. But when you have this set up, it’s a great way to transfer photos to your computer automatically.

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How to Import Pictures to Your Computer Using Your iPhone's Mail App

If you have a small batch of photos you want to transfer from your iPhone, sharing them to Mail is a quick way to import them to your computer. I use this option a lot when I’m taking screenshots for articles like this. To do this:

  1. Open the Photos app on your iPhone and tap on the Photos tab, or choose an album from the Albums tab.
  2. Tap Select and tap the pictures you want to download.
  3. Tap the Share icon.
  4. Select Mail.

    transfer photos from iphone to computer with emailtap the mail app icon to send your photos
     
  5. A New Message for email will pop up. Send the photos to your own email account and tap Send. It will give you the option to resize them, but I usually select actual size.
  6. Open the email you send yourself on your computer.
  7. Download and save the images in whatever folder you’d like.

There’s no limit on the number of images you can send through Mail if your iPhone is running iOS 9 or later. For older operating systems, the maximum amount you can send is five. This isn’t the best option to select if you have a large number of photos to import, but for a select group, it’s one of the fastest (non-automatic) ways to transfer pictures that I’ve found.

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How to Sync Photos between iPhone & Computer Using Dropbox (what the hell?)

Dropbox is an awesome platform that allows you to easily access photos, documents, and more across any device with the Dropbox app or in a browser. You can also set up Dropbox to automatically copy photos to Dropbox, which means those photos are quickly accessed from your computer anytime. We’ll cover your manual and automatic options with Dropbox.

Manual Transfer

  1. Download the Dropbox iOS app from the App Store on your iPhone. If you don’t already have an account, create one and log-in.
  2. In Files, choose the folder you want your picture to go in.
  3. Tap the three dots in the top right corner.
  4. Select Upload File.
  5. Choose Photos.
  6. Select all the photos you want to transfer to Dropbox and tap Upload.

    upload photos to dropbox from iphoneupload pics from iphone to dropbox
  7. On your computer, either download an app for Dropbox, or go the Dropbox website in your preferred browser and log-in.
  8. From there, navigate to the folder you placed your newly synced photos in.
  9. You can then download them from Dropbox to your computer if desired.

Automatic

  1. Download the Dropbox iOS app from the App Store on your iPhone. If you don’t already have an account, create one and log in.
  2. Tap the Account tab at the bottom of your screen in the Dropbox app.
  3. Select Camera Uploads.
  4. Toggle on Camera Uploads, then grant permission for Dropbox to access your photos.

    auto save photos from iphone to dropboxturn on camera uploads in dropbox app
     
  5. Now, new photos will automatically upload to the Camera Uploads folder in your Dropbox, which you can access via your computer on the Dropbox website.

When you turn on Camera Upload, you’ll see the option to automatically Upload Videos as well. There will also be an option to turn on Use Cellular Data. I don’t recommend turning that on unless you have an unlimited data plan. Dropbox offers limited space for free, so that’s something to aware of if you plan to adopt this method. However, you get 2.5 GB of free space through the iOS app, which can hold a lot of awesome photos.

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How to Download Pictures to Google Photos from Your iPhone

Unlike Dropbox, Google Photos gives you unlimited space for all of your pictures, so long as each photo is under 16 megapixels. Similar to Dropbox, you can set it up so that your pictures sync manually or automatically. We’ll cover both options below.

Manual

  1. Open the App Store on your iPhone and download Google Photos.
  2. Open the Google Photos app and log-in.
  3. If it’s your first time using the app, it will ask to access your photos, tap OK.
  4. Navigate to Photos.
  5. Tap the three vertical dots in the upper corner.
  6. Tap New Album under Create or Select Photos.

    move photos to google photochoose photos or start a new album
     
  7. Once you’ve selected the photos you want to upload, tap Done if creating a New Album and the photos will upload. You’ll then be prompted to name the album.
  8. If Selecting Photos, check the photos you want to upload. Then tap the three dots in the upper corner, and select Back up. The photos will upload.
  9. On your computer, open Google Photos. The pictures you uploaded will be there!

    transfer pics to google photossave pictures to google photos

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Automatic

  1. Download the Google Photos app on your iPhone.
  2. Open the app and log-in.
  3. If it’s your first time using the app, it will ask to access your photos, tap OK.
  4. Tap the three horizontal bars in the upper-left corner.
  5. Tap Settings.
  6. Select Back up & sync
  7. Toggle on Back up & sync.

    change settings in google photosback up and sync photos to google photos

     
  8. All of your photos will begin backing up and syncing to Google Photos.
  9. Once all your photos are synced, you can access Google Photos on your computer and see them sorted by date.

If you want to make sure all the photos you take are available across your devices, this is a great way to go. When you launch the app, all your recent photos will back up as long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi. In Settings of Google Photos, you can use cellular data to back up photos too, but unless you have unlimited data, I don’t recommend it.

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Conner Carey's picture

Conner Carey's writing can be found at conpoet.com. She is currently writing a book, creating lots of content, and writing poetry via @conpoet on Instagram. She lives in an RV full-time with her mom, Jan and dog, Jodi as they slow-travel around the country.