Frustrating limitations on iPhone photo syncing with key photos and album folders. Looking for workaround

On my MacBook Pro I’ve got north of 50,000 photos that I have very thoughtfully arranged into 334 custom created and named albums which are in turn placed into 20 custom folders. Also each one of the albums has a key photo set that I have carefully selected as being both visually appealing and highly representative of the album as a whole. The albums within each folder are organized by newest to oldest but the folders themselves cannot be organized that way since the albums within each overlap with the albums of the other folders in time. So I’ve got everything arranged just perfectly how I like it on my mac, but when I sync all this to my phone it’s a complete disaster since the sync process does not transfer any key photos or the folder system at all, so I’m left with 334 albums in a long list that are not visually distinct and jump all over the place in time since the folders system is missing. I’ve discussed this with Apple’s senior support over the phone several times and with Apple employees in store but all I’ve ever been given is a shrug and told to leave feedback on Apple’s website (which I’ve been doing for years on this issue already with no success). Do any of you, much more knowledgeable people than me, have any ideas about what I can do? This problem has been just driving me up the wall! When I try to show my friends pictures on my phone I have to stand there for a while each time in aggravated silence scrolling all over the place trying to find the photo I want in that mess whereas on my mac finding what I want is trivial. And please don’t tell me to pay for iCloud. I tried that once, it was a disaster and didn’t fix this issue anyway. To be clear I’m not looking for any 3rd part solution, especially if it costs money.

I host my pictures on Professional Photo websites like SmugMug or Zenfolio. I’m not a professional photographer. The way I organize on the website its the same across devices. SmugMug also functions as a a perfect off site backup outside of Apple Eco system.

Thanks for the suggestion, but I’m not interested in websites, only in local storage options on my mac itself.

+1 for SmugMug. I’ve been using it pretty much since it was introduced. If @Aster you do decide to use SmugMug you should arrange for @sangadi to get the recommendation credit.

Then never mind.

I love how the Photos app works on my mac, I have no intention of quitting that, I just hate the result of syncing to my iPhone. Moving my photos somewhere else would result in me having to abandon Photos on my Mac which I’m not willing to do, especially as I paid to have 4TB of internal storage on my MBP so I can easily store everything locally.

I suppose you could use something like Jump Desktop to log into your Mac from your mobile device. I don’t know how good the viewing experience would be.

Well I don’t often have access to the internet on my phone when I’m out hiking, plus I turn off or put to sleep all my computers when I’m not at home to save power

I’m afraid you are looking for a feature that doesn’t exist. Given that you aren’t interested in iCloud, websites, or 3rd party solutions, it sounds like you just want the Photos app to work different than they way it actually does. I’m not sure there’s a way around that, especially since you’ve already talked to Apple support.


If the problem you are trying to solve is that you want Photos on iOS to work as Photos on macOS does then as @ibuys notes you are likely out of luck. I say “likely” as I do not use Photos on the Mac.

If the problem to be solved is to have a local copy of your images on your iOS device that mimics the folder structure on your Mac then SmugMug is a solution, albeit one that requires the intermediate step of loading the selected images to the SMugMug website, and then downloading them to your iOS device. And setting up the folder structure and key image on SmugMug prior to downloading.

Reframing the problem may help lead you to an acceptable to you solution. Although it is possible the set of required criteria may result in no viable answer.

Good luck, and I hope you find something that works for you.

You could try photoprism? It’s got apps for iOS upload and as a web based tool is accessible from any machine

The community version is self-hostable, so you would not be dependent on any hosting solution or third party

Other option is to use Adobe Lightroom, if you are a subscriber to Adobe Photography Plan. Then your libraries a.k.a Lightroom catalog will sync exact the same way to iOS and Mac. Please see this link Import photos automatically for syncing Apple photos with LR

You have options but it’s not a straight out of the box solution. There is an additional step involved. Web hosting form Smugmug and/or Adobe Lightroom.

You’ve not been clear (to me at least) How are you currently syncing your photos to your phone?

would you consider Synology Photos ( but you need a Synology NAS in the first place). The features of Synology Photos are getting better day by day and I do not see Apple photos are getting much attention from Apple management


I sync them through Finder on my Mac.

@geoffaire @Aster Now it’s not clear to me either. :slightly_smiling_face:

OK, that explains a lot.

I’m going to explain this from my best guess on Apple’s perspective so you can see why they’re not responding. It may come across as cynical, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but hopefully it’ll explain why you’re where you are.

Synching data from a Mac to an iPhone or iPad via a cable and Finder is a legacy feature as far as Apple are concerned. They have over 1bn IOS/iPadOS devices out there and I’d be very very surprised if more than 0.01% of them are ever connected to a Mac to transfer data (that’s the key bit, I’m sure lots are connected just to charge). This tiny percentage is so far outside the realms of what Apple pays attention to that they’re going to spend little to no time improving it as it’s a feature they extracted from iTunes 4 or 5 years ago.

As far as Apple are concerned, they want people to use Apple Photos in the Cloud, this allows people to upload more data to their servers which eventually will mean that people need more data and have to pay them to provide more storage. It also means Apple can focus on this one thing (it’s actually lots of things, but they make up one service).

You can stick with the process you have, but two things are going to happen.

  1. This feature is going to get no improvement and you’re gonna remain frustrated
  2. This feature is eventually deprecated and one day you’ll upgrade (hardware or software) at which point you’ll no longer be able to sync photos as you do now. I doubt this will be announced (due to the small percentage again) so you’ll likely get little to no warning.

There’s also sadly a 3rd option

  1. There’s also the risk that this feature breaks accidentally with an upgrade and never gets fixed

So you can either look for a replacement right now, or you can wait until you’re forced into it.

I would recommend Apple Photos in the Cloud, but there is a cost.

I also hear good things about Plex’s photo library service, but I’ve never tried it. You can try it for free, You may need a Plex Pass to use some of the more advanced features, especially to sync photos outside your home.

Sorry, I know that’s not the answer you wanted, but I’d bet you £1 to 1p that this is the case.

It’s the old iTunes Functionality for transferring iPhoto/Photos content to your iPod/iPhone which was broken out of iTunes when Apple Music, Podcasts and Books were released as separate apps. They added it to Finder when you connect an iDevice.

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