macOS Catalina: How to delete images from manually-created albums in Photos

The latest version of macOS, Catalina, has a lot of quirks (to put it nicely). One crops up in Photos when you’re working with manually created albums—those are albums into which you choose which images and videos appear, as opposed to smart albums, which rely on search criteria.

In Mojave and earlier versions of macOS, you could select one or more images in the album and either right-click to Delete X Images or use the menu item Image > Delete X Images. When confirmed, that would remove the images from your Photos library, as opposed to Image > Remove X Photos from Album, which removed the media from being part of the album being viewed, but left the photo or movie in your main library.

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Apple changed Photos deletion options between Mojave (left) and Catalina (right).

I can only guess this feature was removed to avoid accidental deletion. Perhaps users misunderstood the difference between Delete and Remove all the time, and Apple viewed this as a user-experience improvement?

Whatever the case, many people assemble albums to review what they want to keep and what they don’t, and relied on deleting within the album. Otherwise, you would have to use the main Photos view to find those images and delete them.

Since that’s no longer an option, there are a couple of workarounds that let you reach the same result.

Mark images as favorites and make a smart album

As your first pass in an album, mark images you want to delete as favorites. Or, inversely, mark images you want to retain by favoriting only the ones you want to keep. Choose whichever approach makes more sense to you.

Then, create a smart album:

  1. Choose File > New Smart Album.

  2. Set the first criterion as Photo, is, favorite if you’ve marked images to delete as favorites; choose “is not” if you favorited images you want to retain and this select only unfavorited images.

  3. Click the + (plus) sign at the far right.

  4. Set the second criterion as Album, is, album name.

  5. Name the smart album something descriptive, like “Images to delete from Berkshires album,” and click OK.

  6. Select the smart album in the left-hand Photos sidebar.

  7. Choose Edit > Select All and then Image > Delete X Photos and confirm your deletion.

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Create a smart album that collects items tagged for deletion

Using the favorites tag doesn’t work in cases in which you already mark photos with a heart for another purpose. In that case, try the following alternative.