How to search your photos by objects and scenery in macOS Sierra


Cult of Mac
Searching your photos just got easier!
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple is giving its Photos app a massive overhaul for macOS Sierra, adding cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology to make searching for individual pictures far, far smarter than it’s ever been before.

The Photos app can now search upward of 4,432 scenes and objects, letting you pull just the pictures shot in your backyard, for instance, or only those that include your car. Although the feature’s not working in Apple’s beta releases just yet, the finished version of macOS Sierra also promises to recognize seven different facial expressions — including greediness, disgust, smiles, neutral, surprise, screaming and suspicious.

Here’s how to use Apple’s smart photo search when running the new operating system, which is currently in public beta and will be released this fall.

Smarter search

Using the feature couldn’t be easier. To get started, simply type a scene or object you’re looking for into the search bar in the top right.

Your search starts here.

The list is pretty comprehensive, so try entering terms like “Airstrip,” “ATM,” “Back Pack,” “Hot Air Balloon,” “Baby Buggies,” “Tacos” or whatever else you’re hoping to find and more often than not you’ll be pleasantly surprised as the search results pull out any images in which these objects have been discovered.

If you’re in doubt, you can find a complete list of all the objects Photos can recognize by clicking here.

As you can see, searching for “Baby Buggies” does an impressive job of pulling out the relevant images.

You can also search for places such as “Zoo,” “Fields,” “Apartments,” Backyard,” and more. In my experience, Photos does a good job of sorting these — even when the results are potentially confusable locations, such as “Zoo” and “Fields.”

Finding all those photos from that trip to the zoo is easier than ever.

While the feature is definitely impressive, however, it does occasionally miss the mark somewhat — like mistaking baby pictures for a car.

There are occasional mistakes, though!

For the most part, though, this is a great addition to Apple’s Photo app, which you are likely to find yourself relying on a lot. Trust us: Once you get used to this feature, you’ll find it difficult to remember how you managed without it!


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.