How to Prevent the Photos App from Launching in macOS

Recent versions of macOS want to launch the new Photos app automatically every time you insert a memory card or connect a device. Here’s how to stop it.

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If you’ve upgraded to recent versions of macOS (aka Mac OS X) and inserted a memory card or attached a photographic device, you will have run into the new Photos app. It’s a replacement for the old iPhotos app that also incorporates aspects of Aperture and integrates the management of photos more tightly into the operating system in a more IOS-kind of way.

The Photos app is at the heart of Apple’s new approach to working with images, whether you like it or not. When you attach a camera to your computer or insert a memory card into a card reader it will automatically as you if you want to use the Photos app.

That’s great if you do want to use the Photos app. But what if you don’t? That popup every time gets annoying. And, I’m sorry to say, I’m not much of a fan of the Photos app myself.

Thankfully, there’s are ways to turn it off.

Global Solution

Since I originally posted this, Australian theatre photographer Ben Fon shared (hat tip to PetaPixel) a global solution that works for every card and device, even if you reformat and rename them.

It involves using terminal. So fire up a Terminal window and copy and paste this line at the prompt:

defaults -currentHost write disableHotPlug -bool YES

Then press Return. You won’t get any feedback–it’ll just start with a new, blank prompt on the next line–but that should stop it completely.


If you decide later that you want to revert back to the default behavior, simply use this to switch back:

defaults -currentHost write disableHotPlug -bool NO

Per Card or Device or Customize Action

The global option is an all-or-nothing switch. But you can also fine-tune it more by specifying on a per-card or per-device basis whether simply to disable the automatic Photos launch or launch a different app or import automatically. It’ uses the new Image Capture app, which incorporates the same kind of functionality as the old Cameras app.

The Image Capture app is now part of the operating system and is installed automatically.

What you want to do is open Image Capture (Applications > Image Capture). When you insert a memory card or connect a camera, it will show up under the devices section at the top left.

With the device you want to work with selected, click on the small menu icon in the bottom left.

Mac OSX  Prevent Photos App from Launching

That will expand a section that displays what action is set to happen automatically when that device is connected. By default, you should have it showing the Photos app.

Mac OSX Prevent Photos App from Launching

Mac OSX Prevent Photos App from Launching

You can change this here to several options, including “no application,” in which case nothing will happen. You can also set it to import the images automatically do a specific place on your hard drive or open something like Lightroom.

Mac OSX Prevent Photos App from Launching

Once you change that, you’re all done for that device. There’s no save settings button. Just close Image Capture, and the next time you insert that card or connect that device your chosen action should happen.

Mac OSX Prevent Photos App from Launching

The settings apply only on a per-device basis, unfortunately–there’s no one-click way to set a particular action for all devices.

David Coleman / Photographer
by David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

15 thoughts on “How to Prevent the Photos App from Launching in macOS”

  1. Thanks, this solved a major frustration. I wanted to save my photo files in a file database of my own choosing, as I can do on any Windows computer. Now when I connect my camera I can download the files into the Pictures folder without iPhone or Photos grabbing them and spiriting them away.

  2. This was so so helpful. Believe it or not, every time I plugged my iPhone 6 into my MacBook it would flash the charging icon on and off continuously every second or so – hence in fact taking forever to charge. All the way through the console log I found entries like:

    #ICDebug – 23:{ICWiredBrowser.m} (USB Device first match)
    #ICDebug – 51:{ICWiredBrowser.m} (USB terminate)

    .. and at the same time the iPhone device was appearing/disappearing in the Image Capture application (but not long enough to set it to not open any application on insertion). Using your command line fix above I was able to disable Image Capture auto-open, set the device name behaviour to ‘No application’ and then re-enable the global behaviour as it was originally set.

    Now, I have a fully charging iPhone… thank you!!

  3. I love you. i love you so much.
    before el capitan i use to just open the content package of an app and delete the files. but apple got wise to that trick. this save me like a million grey hairs!

  4. So, if I set it to Image Capture then it will save the full size version of the images? And where? Does it create separate folders for different downloads?

    I HATE the Photos app in that I haven’t been able to figure out where it actually stores my full size photos. I also do not want to purchase a large icloud storage which is what this seems to be trying to force us to do. Am I correct in this assumption?

    I want to download everything to organized picture folders (by date first) and then work in photoshop instead. Tips on most straightforward way to do this?


    • Image Capture will let you specify which folder you want to put the photos in (drop-down menu at bottom left). It saves them in subfolders according to the memory card’s friendly name, but you can’t specify by date or other variables. For that you’ll want something a bit more powerful. If you have Photoshop, there’s a good chance you already have Bridge (or have access to it if you’re using a Creative Cloud subscription). That gives you all sorts of extra control. Here’s a good guide. Other popular apps that give you a lot of control with using variables include Ingestamatic, Lightroom, or PhotoMechanic (none of these is free).

  5. Still sucks though, because when you format a camera card in the camera, and plug it back in to the computer, it thinks it is a new card. Apple is not thinking from the user side anymore. 20 year loyal customer getting fed up here.

    • It seems to depend on whether the camera resets the volume name on the card. Many cameras don’t–they keep it as-is and even their full “format” is really a “delete all.” And if the volume name stays the same it seems to get remembered correctly, at least in the instances I’ve come across.

    • So, assuming you just want to make go away (and not have it start something else when you plug a phone or media card in), this is what I did:

      1) disable SIP
      2) type the following commands:

      cd /Applications
      sudo mv Image\ Disable\ Image\
      cd /System/Library/Image\ Capture/Support/
      sudo mv icdd icdd-disable

      3) reboot
      4) enable SIP if you care — I have it disabled since I need to run TotalSpaces2 just to get back useful Spaces like what we had in 10.5 back before Apple forgot how to make good software.

      And there we go, no more Photos. I expect I will have to repeat this often. I might even make a script for it. sigh

  6. Sweet baby Jesus THANK YOU!! I have been using Image capture fore YEARS. however in the older versions the option to disengage ‘iphoto’ was in the preferences. Thank you for showing us where they moved it (sneaky) :)

  7. Thanks a lot. I have to set it this way for every SD card I use but at least I can manage it. And it works for the iPhone. I note that the app is called differently for every language the El Capitan speaks…


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