Iris Photos for macOS

Iris is the culmination of over a decade's worth of thinking and experimenting. It's an idea I've been dancing around for years but never had the courage or necessary help to build.

Iris is a Mac and iOS app for people who take their photo and video libraries seriously.

Iris is not an app for professional photographers. It's also not an app for people who snap photos with their phone, upload to Facebook, and forget about them.

Iris is for people who care about their photos and videos and believe they're worth safeguarding in a private, future-proof format that will outlive their grandchildren.

Iris is for family historians and archivists. As well as those who want a better, more robust, and dare I say nerdy way to manage an ever-growing photo and video library.

Want to read about the “Why” behind Iris? Just keep scrolling. Want to skip straight to the fun part? Click here.

The Iris Manifesto

When it comes to trusting Iris with your digital memories, we have five guiding principles.

1. Privacy

Your data is yours, and no one else’s. It should not be mined by algorithms to increase engagement and earn advertising dollars. Sharing to friends and family (or strangers) is opt-in and off by default. No data is collected or ever leaves your Mac without your permission. Full stop.

2. Control

Again, this is your data. You should not be locked into a proprietary database format. You are free to move your library to a competing product (or no product) at any time with minimal fuss. Everything you put into Iris can be exported out in both human and machine-readable formats.

3. Longevity

Your library must be stored in a format that is future-proof and resilient to change. It should not be at the mercy of BigTechCloudCo getting bored with an underperforming web service or a computer glitch flagging your account for a Terms of Service violation and locking you out. Nor should you worry if an app goes out of business or a hot startup gets acquired.

4. Safety

Iris respects the file formats and organizational structure you bring to the app. As far as the app is concerned, your photo and video archives are read only. Iris will not alter, edit, move or rename your content without you instructing the app to do so. Iris does not convert your data into “high quality” versions to save space. You can trust Iris with your data because we don’t touch your data.

5. Fun

There is no reason to maintain and invest in your family’s photo and home video library if you’re not also going to enjoy (and optionally share) your memories. Iris helps find, unearth, re-discover, and share your photos using a fast, native, and powerful UI that only a truly Mac-ass Mac app can provide.

Sign-up to learn more, or keep reading.


From the Beginning

I've always had an appreciation for the past. My father spent a lifetime doing genealogy research, and my mom meticulously filled my childhood home's bookshelves with hundreds of curated and organized family photo albums.

That reverence for the past and the need to preserve memories for the future translated into how I stored my first digital camera’s photos. Files inside folders on disk. And then how I organized them in iPhoto on my first iBook in 2003.

But I realized that trusting iPhoto or any black-box of an app was too risky.

In 2011 I switched back to folders on disk with an entirely Dropbox-based workflow for managing my family’s photo and video library. I even attempted (and failed) to write a book on the topic (to be fair, my son was unexpectedly born the day after I wrote up the outline and the first chapter, so I was a bit distracted) and released an open-source tool to help rename my photos. And two years later, I did manage to make an iOS app just for viewing your Dropbox photo library.

But then, iCloud Photos and Google Photos launched, and the internet got collectively pulled into their ecosystems with cheap storage and the promise of all your data on all your devices.

Both services are wonderful and amazing for many different reasons. And at the same time awful, frightening, and untrustworthy for a whole host of other reasons.

But there are no legitimate alternatives. So I dutifully paid my ten dollars each month to both companies and struggled to make their services fit my needs.

But in the back of my mind, I’ve been searching for an escape hatch. A way to own and control my data and be confident that it’s safe and private. Someplace that’s financially manageable as my library grows ever closer to Apple and Google’s storage tier limits. And also a way to continue sharing with friends and family that doesn’t feed the social media machine during a year when we need to stay more connected than ever.

I realized I was never going to find that escape hatch if I didn’t build it myself.

My ideal workflow. The Mac app I’ve always wanted.

That vision is Iris.

And with a lot of help from a talented friend, it’s happening.

Quote from an early test user

Iris is a fast, fluid, flexible, and robust, native Mac app with an inviting UI that offers a level of information density and power that Mac users love and expect. There’s no Electron hot garbage or website that works best only in Chrome. It’s a real desktop app made for real Mac users who really care about the details. We believe there is a large base of users, like us, who want software without training wheels. Software that is both empowering and comfortable to use.

Iris is pragmatic and does not impose a certain workflow on you. Just point the app at your photo library on disk, and Iris will take it from there. We also don’t limit you to a single “system” library that can easily fill up your laptop and force you to decide which photos to leave behind or trust to the cloud.

Instead, add as many "sources" to Iris as you’d like. A folder on your Mac’s internal SSD. Another on an external USB drive. Or a NAS in your utility closet. Whatever, wherever, no matter how many, Iris will index and present all of them in a single, unified library.

Iris handles all the basics you’d expect.

View your library as one continuous, chronological stream of photos. Or drill down to a specific album. Sort by date: newest to oldest or oldest to newest. File size. Filename.

Or search by date. You can use our amazing date scrubber tool to instantly get a bird’s eye view of when your photos were taken and jump to exactly when you want to be. Or drill down to a specific year, month or day.

Of course, Iris will also group your photos by location. So you can instantly find day three of your 2012 road trip across the Southwest US when you stopped at that national park in New Mexico.

But Iris goes even further. It analyzes your photos to learn the people and things inside them. (All done locally on your Mac - no data ever sent to a cloud service.)

When you need to find a photo, the big players offer you an empty search box, and it’s up to you to guess what to type into it and hope the computer understands what you’re looking for. Iris will show you up-front everything we know about your library so you can take the guesswork out of searching when you need to find that one long lost photo of your grandmother’s border collie in the 80s at a beach in San Diego.

Do you have a favorite funny t-shirt from high school or college? Was there a banner hanging behind you at your 30th birthday party? Any other photos with text in them? Iris will pull out the words in your library and make that searchable, too.

All of this wealth of information from your photos and videos is indexed and maintained privately by Iris on your Mac so you can instantly find what you need.

But it also means all of your various sources don’t need to be connected all the time. Looking for the photo album of your cousin’s wedding from 2002? Iris can find it, show you the thumbnails of all the items, and then tell you the originals are on the 500GB backup disk that’s unplugged and in the basement fire safe.

With all of your memories accessible on your Mac, it’s a shame your friends and family can’t see them, too.

Well, they can.

If you have an always-on Mac like an iMac or Mac mini, Iris contains an embedded web server that does two things.

  1. It serves up a browsable website of your library that you can privately share with your loved ones. Restrict access by album, or generate shareable URLs to a specific photo. And like iCloud Shared Albums, you can allow visitors to like and comment on items. Or they can even upload their own photos to a shared stream.
  2. The Iris web server vends and API that mobile apps can take tap into. You can sync your library to the Iris iOS app to have it available offline or browse remotely. The iOS app can even upload new photos from your phone directly into your desktop library.

If you don't have a Mac you can leave online, that's fine, too. Iris can export a beautiful static website of your library, specific albums, or a custom search query. Then, just upload that to your own website. There's nothing to install or configure.

Quote from an early test user

Even More

There’s so much about Iris that we can’t wait to share. It really is a labor of love that we have wanted for ourselves, well, forever. And still, there's even more we’d like to build in the future. This app is our vision for photo management made for opinionated pro-users who expect to do great things with powerful software.

Development is nowhere near complete, but we’re getting closer and using Iris every day ourselves.

Quote from an early test user

If you’d like to learn more, be notified when Iris is available, or help test early builds and provide feedback, we’d be honored if you’d trust us with your email address. No spam ever. Promise.

Sign-up to learn more.


Quote from an early test user

(No shade to the Photos team at Apple. They're great. We have a different vision.)