How to Use Your Own Photos as Screen Savers on a Mac

Updated on May 8, 2020
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Susette has used her own photos as desktop and screen savers for more than ten years now—to enhance goals, love, and beauty in her life.

This is my current desktop at the time of writing. When I go on a photo walk and find something I like, I always shoot at least one photo of it with a blank space on the right to use for my desktop. For screensavers I use the whole screen.
This is my current desktop at the time of writing. When I go on a photo walk and find something I like, I always shoot at least one photo of it with a blank space on the right to use for my desktop. For screensavers I use the whole screen. | Source

I was sitting at my computer one day, letting my mind drift with the screen saver, and suddenly became aware of something: When my brain is tired, I lean back and blankly stare at the screen for awhile to rest it. That blanked-out state feels a lot like mini-hypnosis—which is a perfect time to influence oneself. So, I thought, if I'm going to stare anyway, why not use my own photos to embed a vision that I aspire to?

I knew already that it was possible to pull down photos from the Internet, other than what Apple provides, to use as screensavers. It made sense that I should be able to use whatever that tool was to set up my own photos for the same thing. I immediately checked into it, and what I'll show you below has evolved from what I found out that day.

Why Use Personal Photos for a Screensaver?

The main reasons I use my own photos are to influence myself in positive ways and to take pride in the quality of them, since I like photographing a lot. Here are a few potential ways you could use them too:

  1. To help you become more successful at achieving goals.
  2. To feel closer to your family and friends.
  3. To get yourself excited about the next event, if you like parties and holidays.
  4. To cheer yourself up as the months or seasons go by.

You may think that setting it up is a hard thing to do, but it isn't really. What takes the most time—but is also the most fun—is organizing your photographs so they can be seen by the screensaver program, then editing them to look good on your desktop.

General Procedure for Setting Your Photos as Screensavers

Those of you who are already well aware of how your computer operates may not need any more than this summary of steps to take:

  1. Choose a reason for using your own photos, then choose the photos you want to use.
  2. Move them to a single folder in the Photos application labelled something like "Screensavers."
  3. Format the photos so they fit your screen without being cut off (usually 3x5").
  4. Edit the photos, so they show up well when enlarged on your screen.
  5. Open System Preferences. Go to the Screen Saver page. Under "Source" below the photo window, choose Photo Library, then the folder you just made.
  6. From the column on the left, choose the type of movement you want for switching from photo to photo.

That's all you really need to do. There are details to all of these steps below, so if you're uncertain of any, be sure to check out the relevant section . . . or just read on.

To help stimulate your creative juices, I've also included a section on how various themes might look photographically.

1—Choosing and Organizing Your Photographs

First you need to have a purpose, so you know which photographs to choose. Let's say motivation is your purpose. You've set up the goal of buying a new house. You've already thought it through, imagined what you want it to look like, and have talked about it with others involved. You know the search can be discouraging, so you want to use screens savers to keep yourself focused and upbeat. Here's how to start:

  1. Take photographs of houses in your area that you love the looks of.
  2. Upload them onto your computer in Photos.
  3. Create a Photos folder and label it something like "Screensavers—My House."
  4. Click and drag to it whichever of your new photos you like best, then add whatever photos you already have that fit the bill.

After that you'll edit each photo a bit, then hook the folder up with the screensaver software. (In the examples section at the end, I'll show you how my own screensaver photos are organized.)

I happen to like peaked roofs and flowering trees. So this is a photo I might use to motivate myself to buy a house, if I wanted one.
I happen to like peaked roofs and flowering trees. So this is a photo I might use to motivate myself to buy a house, if I wanted one. | Source

2—Formatting Photos to Use as Mac Screen Savers

Most screens have a similar shape, whether you're using a Mac screen or a small TV screen as your desktop. That shape takes a 3x5" photo, but that's not how most photos come, so you'll need to change that. Here's how:

  1. Find your photo in the screen saver folder you just set up. Double click on the photo to expand it. In the upper right hand corner, click "Edit."
  2. Now you can change the looks and shape of the photo. From the tabs in the middle of the screen, click "Crop."
  3. On the right hand side, you'll see a number of choices. Click on "3:5" near the bottom of the list.
  4. The computer will automatically reshape your photo to that size, but it does it by cutting off part of the photo. It may also rotate the photo slightly, if it doesn't think it's straight. However, it also gives you the means for modifying both of those changes.
  5. If you want to move the photo back the way it was, or straighten it better yourself, go to the scale just to the right of the photo. Click and hold to grab the scale, then move your mouse (the scale) up or down until the key lines in the photo are straight.
  6. To reformat what shows in the photo, click and hold in the photo somewhere, then move it around within the 3x5" shape, until all the elements you want to be included are showing.

Now your photo will fit the screen properly, without anything more being cut off. Depending on the strength of light coming from your screen, you'll now want to edit the photo to look good as well.

Here is a screenshot of the Photos editor, after you've clicked on "Crop." Here I will check to make sure the fence post is straight, resize the photo to 3x5", and make the frame smaller, if I want to zoom in on particular features.
Here is a screenshot of the Photos editor, after you've clicked on "Crop." Here I will check to make sure the fence post is straight, resize the photo to 3x5", and make the frame smaller, if I want to zoom in on particular features. | Source

3—Editing Photos to Look Good on the Desktop

You could, technically, set up your photo folder as a screen saver source now. However, there is still more you can do to enhance the looks of each photo for your screen:

  1. In edit mode, click on the button left of "Crop" that says "Adjust." This will give you a myriad of tools on the right that you can use to enhance the photo quality. Start by looking to see if the photo is dominated by light, by dark shadows, or if it's well balanced.
  2. It it's too light—go down to the "Black Point" slider and move it to the right. This increases the level of blackness, which often has the effect of intensifying the colors, as well as shadows. If that's not enough, move the "Brightness" button a little to the left to darken it, and the "Contrast" button to the right to keep your contrasts.
  3. If it's too dark—go to the "Shadows" slider and move it to the right. This will lighten the shadows. If the whole photo is too dark, move the "Brightness" slider to the right and the "Contrast" slider a little to the left to keep your middle shades.
  4. If the photo has intense light and intense shadows, you can slide the "Contrast" slider to the left to decrease the intensity and add a little more middle. You might want to then increase the "Black Point" a wee bit.
  5. If the photo looks pretty good, but is a little dull, try moving the "Highlights" slider to the right. If that's not enough and you want colors enhanced, move the "Saturation" slider to the right too.
  6. Experiment with these tools and all the other tools too, just for fun, just to see what they can do for you.

Note: Photos can be edited even after you've set them up to be screensavers, so don't worry about it if it's not perfect right away. I do it all the time. Also, once you get used to using these tools and seeing the results, it will be easier to see what a photo needs before you even start. That will make the editing time shorter.

Photo Editing Before & After

This is the original shot. You'll notice the extraneous stuff around the edges that I took out by cropping. And you'll notice the general shape of the photo does not lend itself to showing fullscreen on the desktop.
This is the original shot. You'll notice the extraneous stuff around the edges that I took out by cropping. And you'll notice the general shape of the photo does not lend itself to showing fullscreen on the desktop. | Source
Here is the cropped and edited version. Colors are enhanced a bit and the shadowed portion is a little lighter, so you can see the patio. The vines, bay window, and patio are features I like in a house, which is why I'd include the photo.
Here is the cropped and edited version. Colors are enhanced a bit and the shadowed portion is a little lighter, so you can see the patio. The vines, bay window, and patio are features I like in a house, which is why I'd include the photo. | Source

4—Connecting the Screen Saver to Your Photos Folder

Now that the photos in your new screen saver folder are all formatted and edited, it's time to tell your computer to use them as the official screen savers:

  • Open up your computer's System Preferences.
  • Click on "Desktop & Screen Saver" (top left). Then click on "Screen Saver." You'll see a window with a slowly moving photo in it (your current screen saver).
  • Click on the "Source" button beneath. At the bottom of the list you'll see "Photo Library." Click on it and, in the column on the left, you'll see all the folders you've set up in your photo library.
  • Find the new screen saver folder you just created and select it. Now it's set up to run your photos whenever the screensaver goes on.
  • The slow-mo window should be showing your photos now, one by one. They will go in order of how they are in your folder. If you want them to show in random order, click the button beneath that says "Shuffle slide order."

You may have noticed a certain pattern in the way your old screen savers rotated. Did you know you can change that pattern? That's next.

Here are some visuals to help you with the steps above. First System Preferences, then the desktop/screen saver icon, then the screen saver window itself.
Here are some visuals to help you with the steps above. First System Preferences, then the desktop/screen saver icon, then the screen saver window itself. | Source

5—Changing the Rotation Pattern of Your Screen Saver

To the left of the screen saver window you will have noticed a column of bright green shapes with different labels. Each of those shapes represents a different way of moving photos in and out of the screen saver. Click on one and you'll see your photo in the screen saver window start to move differently. Click on another one and the type of movement will change again. Try them all to see which works best for your photos and your goal in choosing them.

Also note the little time menu under that column. Mine is set for 20 minutes, which means my screensaver will start automatically 20 minutes after I've stopped using the computer (while taking a break or whatever).

If you want the screen saver to start whenever you tell it to, but without opening System Preferences, check the "Hot Corners" button on the far bottom right. That lets you select one of the four corners on your screen to start the screen saver with. When you need to leave your work for awhile—to walk around, eat, rest your eyes, go to the restroom—you just push your mouse up to that corner and the screen saver starts.

Examples of Photos to Use for Different Purposes

Each of the photo collections below represent different reasons for using your own photos as a screen saver. You can, of course, set it up just because. For your screen saver to influence you in a constructive direction, though, it would be wise to be more selective. The themes suggested above were: Goals, loved ones, parties/holidays, and seasons.

There are a myriad of choices within each of these themes or completely separate from them (of course). You'll choose what's important to you. The following are just samples to trigger your creative juices.

Sample Goal: Write a Book About Peacocks

If my goal were to write a book, a great motivator would be photos about the book's topic—in this case, peacocks. Peacocks can fly, they have chicks, the male's tails are part of mating rituals. Watching the photos scroll would motivate me to write.
If my goal were to write a book, a great motivator would be photos about the book's topic—in this case, peacocks. Peacocks can fly, they have chicks, the male's tails are part of mating rituals. Watching the photos scroll would motivate me to write. | Source

Sample Family Photos

My family can be goofy, which I like a lot. In this kind of collection I would Include people I love and the best of people I want to love better. Over time they'll all mesh into being people I love.
My family can be goofy, which I like a lot. In this kind of collection I would Include people I love and the best of people I want to love better. Over time they'll all mesh into being people I love. | Source

Sample Holiday Photos

Holidays and parties are great motivation themes for screen savers, especially if I were to I include myself in some of the photos. The first photo in this collection is of Pasadena's annual Rose Parade.
Holidays and parties are great motivation themes for screen savers, especially if I were to I include myself in some of the photos. The first photo in this collection is of Pasadena's annual Rose Parade. | Source

Sample Seasons Photos

Living in Southern California, I choose different photos for the seasons than would someone living in a four season climate. For me winter is about rain, spring is blooming of bushes and trees, summer is flowers and bees, fall is seeds and leaves.
Living in Southern California, I choose different photos for the seasons than would someone living in a four season climate. For me winter is about rain, spring is blooming of bushes and trees, summer is flowers and bees, fall is seeds and leaves. | Source

I started this whole process, ten years ago, by changing my desktop photo to one that reflected a goal I had—to enhance my income. I chose a desktop photo of three mailboxes, one of which I invented as being only for incoming money and the most active of the three.

At the time I was working for a water conservation consultancy, so it wasn't long before I was taking photos of drought tolerant plants. Then I got interested in neighborhood gardens and how they changed with the seasons, so I set up folder to reflect the seasons. When I got too many of those, I organized them by month. Now I go to System Preferences to change my desktop and screensaver folders at the beginning of each month.

Here's the thing. You don't have to stick with just one folder. In Photos you can create a file folder called Screen Savers, and under that create a bunch of other folders with their own names. Then when you go to System Preferences and the Screen Saver chooser, you select your new folder in the same way. You just have a greater number of folders to choose from.

I'll end this by showing you a screenshot of my setup the way it stands now. Hopefully you're seeing the possibilities for yourself and are excited about developing your own process. Have fun!

Screenshot of My Photo Collection

My desktop folder is set up the same way as the screensaver one. While the screen saver photos rotate continuously, the desktop photo changes once a day at midnight. I have a whole collection of photos for each.
My desktop folder is set up the same way as the screensaver one. While the screen saver photos rotate continuously, the desktop photo changes once a day at midnight. I have a whole collection of photos for each. | Source

Questions & Answers

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      • bhattuc profile image

        Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

        4 weeks ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

        Useful article. Well presented.

      • Miebakagh57 profile image

        Miebakagh Fiberesima 

        4 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

        Sue, this is a good and wonderful creative venture. Thanks for sharing.

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