Using iTunes to Put Photos on Your iPhone

So you had a wonderful vacation, took a lot of photos with your digital camera, and now you want to show them to friends and family. One convenient way to do this is to transfer the photos to your iPhone or iPod touch. Then, whenever the situation arises, you can pull out your device and use the Photo application to display them.

In this article I’ll explain how to use iTunes to copy photos to your iPhone or iPod touch. In addition, I’ll show you how to transfer photos taken with your iPhone to your desktop computer, and describe how to use any photo as the background for your startup screen.

Syncing digital photos to your iPhone

By now you must be familiar with using iTunes to sync music, videos, podcasts, ringtones, and more on your device. The photos that you want to put on your iPhone need to be either in 
iPhoto, a free application that comes with all Macs, or in a specific folder on your computer.

Assuming that you’ve already transferred the digital photos from a camera or other source to your computer, here’s how you transfer photos from your computer to your iPhone or iPod touch.

  1. Connect your device to your computer, go to your device screen in iTunes, and select the Photos tab.

New Photo Folders

Photo Albums

Note that when you select “Sync photos from” you’ll get a scary warning message that says, “Are you sure you want to sync photos? All existing photos and albums on the iPhone will be replaced with photos and albums from the current photo library.”


You can select photo folders you want to sync with your iPhone or iPod touch

Don’t worry! Syncing does not delete any photos you’ve taken using your iPhone’s camera. These are stored in the Camera Roll folder and this is left untouched. The message means that, with the exception of the Camera Roll folder, every time you sync photos, iTunes replaces all the photos on the device with the photos/folders you selected when you checked the “Sync photos from” box (described below).


Main screen of Photos app with different albums listed (left).

This warning is relevant because one may assume, as I did, that you can sync one folder, then go to another folder and sync that—thinking that the photos in both folders will be on the device. However, the second folder you sync replaces the first one. It is possible to sync multiple folders, but you have to select them before you sync, and they have to be subfolders within the folder you designated as a source.

In the Photos tab menu, you can select iPhoto or identify a folder on your computer as the source of your photos. Note that if you identify a folder on your computer, it can have subfolders containing the photos.

  1. Click on the check box labeled “Sync photos from” and select whether you want to sync “All photos” or “Selected folders”/”Selected Albums.” Then select particular albums or subfolders.
  2. Once you’ve made your selection, click on the Sync button in the bottom right corner of the iTunes screen. If your photos are in separate albums or subfolders on your computer, iTunes will retain that structure and put the photos into separate albums on your iPhone.

If you’re on a PC and you use Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 or later or Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 or later, you can sync from those programs in a fashion similar to syncing photos from iPhoto on a Mac.

Viewing photos on your iPhone

thumbnail view of an albumTo view your photos, open the Photos app, select the desired Album, and tap on the thumbnail of the photo you want to see. It will open in full-screen view. full-screen view of an individual image in the folderOnce you’re in full-screen view, you can swipe your finger across the screen to move from one photo to the next. If a photo is wider than it is tall, you can tilt your iPhone to view it in horizontal orientation.


Full-screen view of an individual image in the folder (right)

You can also use Safari’s thumb-and-finger-spreading gesture to zoom in on the photo, and its pinching gesture to zoom back out. As with Safari, you can double-tap a particular spot on a photo to zoom in and out on it. Finally, you can view the photos as a slide show by tapping the right-facing triangle at the bottom of the screen in either the thumbnail or full-screen view.

Thumbnail view of an album (left).

Selecting a photo to use as wallpaper

Photo4NewOnce you have images on your iPhone, whether taken by the iPhone or synced to your device, you can select any image to be the background (a.k.a. “wallpaper”) of the startup screen. Once you have the desired image displayed in full-screen view in Photos, tap once on the photo to bring up the navigation menu at the bottom of the screen (or on the right side of the screen if you’re in landscape mode). Then, tap on the leftmost icon to bring up a second menu that gives you four options: Use As Wallpaper, Email Photo, Assign to Contact, or Cancel. Select the first option and the image will appear as the background for your startup screen.





You can select photo folders you want to sync with your iPhone or iPod touch. 

Importing photos taken from your iPhone to your computer

Importing photos to your desktop or laptop computer from your iPhone is pretty simple.

Mac users should run iPhoto and then connect your iPhone to your Mac. iPhoto will automatically sense that you’ve connected your phone and will open a window on your Mac showing the photos on your phone and asking if you want to import them. You can choose to import all of them or only selected photos. After it imports the photos, it asks if you want to keep the originals on your iPhone or delete them.

You can also import photos to a Mac using the Image Capture application that comes with Macs. Under Preferences, select General. Under Camera, select Image Capture in the option that says, “When a camera is connected, open.” Then close the dialog box. This will make Image Capture the default application when you connect your iPhone or iPod touch to download photos from it.

Windows users can use the Scanner and Camera Wizard to import photos. Connect your iPhone to your PC, go to the Windows Start menu, and select Programs >Accessories>Scanner and Camera Wizard. (If your 
iPhone is not connected, it will not open.) In the opening screen, select the Apple iPhone icon as the device to use and click OK. In the resulting welcome screen, click Next and import the photos. It also gives an option to move the photos manually using a File Explorer-like interface. Like iPhoto, the Scanner and Camera Wizard will give you the option of deleting the photos from your iPhone once you’ve imported them.

Over time, the number of photos stored on your iPhone will build up. If you’re unsure which ones you want to keep, you might sync them all to your computer and then delete them from your iPhone to save space. At your leisure, on your PC or Mac, you can look them over, select the best ones, and sync them back to your iPhone for your viewing pleasure.

Syncing photos between your iPhone and your desktop computer
Summer 2009
TOC Weight: 
Jim Karpen's picture