Saving Photos From IPhone To External Hard Drive

Can the Photos on your iPhone be saved onto an External Hard Drive?

The answer is hell yes and I show you how.

What Will You Get From Reading This Article?

How to save your photos from your iPad or iPhone direct to an external hard drive.

Without using iTunes, Photos or iPhoto to do it.

The methods I show you here uses software freely available on your Mac to do the transfer. No paying for third party software to save your photos.

I talk about using an external hard drive here but it could just as easily be a USB stick you copy your photos onto, just plug one of those in instead.

Why Would You Save Your Photos From Your iPhone To An External Hard Drive?


1. It is just so annoying to constantly get the message that you cannot take a photo because you have run out of space on your iPhone.

Cannot Take Photo Screen

2. It’s possible with iPhone storage getting larger and larger for you to have a smaller internal disk on your Mac than your iPhone or iPad. Which means you can’t even backup your phone to your Mac, never mind your photos.

3. You have little space free on your Mac and copying your photos onto your Mac would first would completely fill it up. Your only option is to copy them onto an external hard drive.

Advantages To Saving Your iPhone Photos To An External Drive

1. Once your photos are saved you can delete the photos on your iPhone or iPad leaving just the ones you want to keep there and free up space on your iPhone.​

2. When your photos are on the external hard drive you can connect the external hard drive to any computer and view the files from there.​

3. Using the methods I describe below creates a full sized copy of your photos. They are not resized or changed in any way.​

4. Assuming you have the space on your Mac, it can take hours transferring a ton of photos from your IPhone onto your Mac, and then out to an external hard drive. This way you just transfer your pictures to where you want them to be.​

5. When you are fed up of paying for Cloud storage, just have some external hard drives to store your pictures or videos on.

Prep Before You Save Your Photos To Your External Drive

What Is Needed ;

1. Make sure the external hard drive you are planning to use works on your Mac. This means that it is formatted to Mac OS Extended (journaled) file system and not NTFS or other PC type format.

That way you know there is no issue with your writing to the external hard drive and your photos will transfer without issue.

If you still haven’t got an external hard drive yet then the WD Elements is a good basic drive. You can check out what I have written about the WD Elements Portable external hard drive here​.

And if you are not sure how to connect your external hard drive and format it for Mac you can find out in this article on the site​.

2. You may want to create some folders or directories on your external hard drive to help you organize your photos before you copy them over. For example copy them to a general folder first and then move them to specific folders so you can easy find those pictures of your holiday in Canada, last fall.

3. Just in case, backup your phone to iTunes. Nothing should go wrong but – well you just never know.

However I realize that you may not be able to backup your phone first if you haven’t got the space on your Mac.

4. Have your Mac plugged into external power. You may not have an issue if it isn’t. But some folks have had errors on importing because of this.

5. You’re going to need two USB ports (remember thunderbolt ports are USB ports too) – one for your iPhone and one for your external hard drive.

You may need adaptor cables, or a powered USB hub or splitter cables if your MacBook is one without sufficient ports.

Save Your Photos With Image Capture

Using Image Capture to save your photos from your iPhone or IPad to an external hard drive. 

This method uses software on your Mac to do the transfer but the photos go directly from your iPhone or iPad to the external hard drive.

1. Use the lighting cable to connect your iPhone or iPad to your Mac.

2. If this is the first time you have connected your iPhone up to your Mac then you will need to confirm you trust the computer.

Trust This Computer Screen

select trust to trust your computer. You will then be prompted to enter your passcode. Enter it.

3. Connect up the external hard drive to your Mac if you haven’t done so already. It’ll appear on the desktop as an icon.

New Drive Icon On Desktop
New Drive Icon On Desktop

​4. Now start up the Image Capture application on your Mac.

Search for image capture in spotlight search.

Spotlight Search Image Capture

or you can find it via Lauchpad.

Image Capture in Launchpad
Image Capture in Launchpad

​or you can find it via the Application’s Folder.

Image Capture In Applications Folder
Image Capture In Applications Folder

Once Image Capture has started up, find your iPhone or iPad listed under Device.

Choose Device On Image Capture Screen
Choose Device On Image Capture Screen

​5. Click on your iPhone or iPad and all the photos on it will appear in the central window.

Image Capture All Photos
Image Capture All Photos

You can choose how you want all your photos to appear, either as it is here in list form with the photo detail or in grid form where you have all your photos laid out.

This is selected at the bottom of the screen.

The yellow square shows where.

Choose Photo Display Options
Choose Photo Display Options

6. Select the images you want to import by clicking on them. Shift and click to extend the selection or

Select all. Command + A will select all

As will the Import All button, but don’t choose that yet. First we need to change where the pictures will be imported to.

By default the images will be imported into the picture folder on your Mac.

But you don’t want that.  

Click on the up down arrows on Import To. The yellow arrow in the image above shows you where on the screen.

A menu will appear and scroll down that window and select other. It’s at the end.

Scroll Down To Other
Scroll Down To Other

7. Choose your external hard drive.

Choose The External Hard Drive
Choose The External Hard Drive

The image above shows the one external hard drive connected, called Untitled. If you have more than one drive connected, the yellow circles show you where you can select the one you want.

Click on the choose button to select the external hard drive as the destination for your photos.

The yellow arrow shows where.

A great feature at the bottom right of this window.

The ‘New Folder’ button.

This allows you to create a new folder on the external hard drive, named so that you can find your images easily. Create a folder if you wish before pressing the choose button.

​8. Then click import to import the ones you have selected.

Or Import All to choose all your photos.

Import All Photos to External Hard Drive
Import All Photos to External Hard Drive

​If you are importing quite a few photos it may well take a while and you will need to be patient as they transfer over and save to your external hard drive.

If you have a lot of photos, you may find getting yourself an SSD external drive like the Samsung T5 a good idea​.

As SSD‘s are really fast.

And that’s it you have saved your photos from your iPhone or iPad to your external hard drive. You are free to navigate to your external hard drive and view them on the drive in the directory you saved them too.

Other Useful Image Capture Features

There is a radio button bottom left if you click on that another small window opens.

Radio Button Bottom Left
Radio Button Bottom Left

You then can select a few default options for your iPhone or iPad.

You can choose to delete the pictures after importing.

Delete After Import
Delete After Import

This will free up space on your iPhone or iPad.

You can also choose what happens when your iPhone or iPad is connected to your Mac.

Click on the up and down arrows. And a window will appear. Here it is selected that no application is started up when this iPad is connected to my Mac. This allows me to choose what application I want started rather than a default one.

Should you want to choose to have a different application start on your Mac, you can choose that here.

When IPhone is Connected To Mac
When IPhone is Connected To Mac

YouTube Videos On Saving Photos To An External Hard Drive

You may like to take a look at both these videos on using Image Capture to save photos to an external hard drive.

I found it difficult to choose between the two so I thought I would offer you both as they are excellent in different ways.

This one is newer and six minutes eighteen seconds long. You will need to turn up the sound though.

How to Transfer iPhone Photos to External Hard Drive Using Image Capture

This one is a little longer video at nine minutes forty one.

I just loved his laid back style.

How to Easily Transfer iPhone Picture to External Hard Drive

Video Credit: Jaylen James

Saving Your Photos From Your iPhone To Your External Hard Drive Is Not A Backup Strategy

If you have a single copy of your photos, on an external drive or even in the cloud and should something happen to that device or storage place then you could loose your photos.

This is true whether your photos are on your iPhone only, loose your iPhone or something happens to it you loose your photos.

If they are on an external hard drive, something happens to that drive then you will loose your photos.

One story I head was of a mother on upgrading her phone wanted to give her old phone to her son.

She didn’t realize that when she wiped the phone (because clearly she didn’t want her son to have her photos) it synced to the cloud.

And before she knew what was happening it wiped the photos from her old phone, her Mac where they were also synced to, her iPad …

And they were gone.

A backup is a must. You can;

1. Backup the external drive you have just copied your photos onto another external hard drive using time machine.


An external drive with plenty of storage on like a 3TB WD My Passport drive could be useful here​.

2. Clone the external drive with your photos on​. Of course you will need a second external hard drive to do this.

Save Your Photos With The Preview App

Because Apple gives you not one but two ways to save your photos.

The Preview application on the Mac works in a similar way to the Image Capture App.

1. Connect your iPhone or iPad to your Mac as I have described in method one above.

2. Connect your external hard drive to your Mac.

3. Start up Preview

Spotlight search, Preview.

Spotlight Search Preview
Spotlight Search Preview

4. Once Preview has started up. From the top of your screen select File > Import from iPhone. Or your iPad.

Preview Import from IPhone
Preview Import from IPhone

Note: you will have to unlock your iPhone or iPad before they show up as options to import from.

Unlock Iphone Window
Unlock Iphone Window

5. All your iPhone or iPad’s photos will appear in the central screen. Click on the photos you want to copy to the external hard drive.

Shift and click to extend the selection or Command + A to select all.

Then either choose Import to import just your selection or

Import All to import all your photos.

Preview Select Photos
Preview Select Photos

6. The next window that opens allows you to choose the destination where your photos will go to.

Select the external hard drive from the side of the window or at the top. The yellow arrows show you where.

Select External Hard Drive
Select External Hard Drive

In this image the external hard drive is called Untitled.

One other neat feature on this screen is bottom left of the new window, there is a ‘New Folder’ button.

This button allows you to create a new folder directly on your external hard drive (as long as you have chosen the external hard drive first).

Really super useful if you want to import certain photos of an event. Say a party or a wedding – you can name the folder in a way that allows you to find the photos easily again.

7. Then click the button to Choose Destination

Your photos will now copy across to the external hard drive. And if there are a few it will take a while.

In this case Preview does not give you the option to delete the photos on importing. Preview takes a copy to your external hard drive and then it is up to you to delete them from your phone or iPad.

Use A Wireless External Hard Drive To Save Your Photos

You may not have considered this but there are wireless external hard drives you can use with a Mac.

Check out my view of the ones I think are best for a Mac​.


  • You can save your photos over Wi-Fi.
  • They can also be used as entertainment devices and stream the videos you have taken as well.


  • Saving your photos over Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is slower than direct cable connection and if you are saving a lot of photos to a wireless drive is can hog your Wi-Fi bandwidth.
  • A Wi-Fi device does come with security considerations, make sure you read what I say on securing those devices.

Saving Photos From iPhone To External Hard Drive FAQ’s

1. Do I Have To Remember Which Photos I Have Backed Up To The External Drive?

One neat thing about using Image Capture is that it keeps track of photos that are copied and where they are copied to.

So, if the photos are still on your phone and you choose the same destination, Image Capture isn’t going to create duplicates.

2. How To Transfer Videos From Mac To Your External Hard Drive?

Will either of these methods Image Capture and Preview Backup Videos?

Yes, if you select videos using either of these methods they will be transferred to your external hard drive as well.

3. I Can Select My Photos But The Import button Is Greyed Out

This is an issue that arrived with MacOS Sierra in grid view compared to list view. Change to view your photos as a list, select the photos and like magic you can now import.

4. I Plug In My iPhone And No Photos Are Shown In Image Capture.

Disconnect your iPhone from your Mac – plug out the lightening cable from your Mac.

Then turn your iPhone off.

Plug the USB cable back into your Mac with the iPhone off.

Turn your iPhone back on. Your pictures should now appear. If not, you may need to restart Image Capture in addition.

Last words

I hope you enjoyed my article ‘Saving Photos from iPhone to External Hard Drive Easily’ and I have given you the confidence to try it out.

It is really a simple way of saving your photos when you don’t want to or can’t store them on your Mac first.