The new Photos for OS X application may lead users to think differently about how they work with personal digital images.

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Practical Mac

Apple’s new Photos for OS X application is turning out to be an interesting look at how people adapt to change.

Change isn’t new to Apple, of course. Its customers have weathered plenty of shifts as the company pushes against the edges of the future. From the introduction of USB ports and the removal of floppy drives in the original iMac to the disappearance of all ports except one USB-C slot on the latest MacBook, Apple doesn’t stand still.

But Photos for OS X is different, I think, because it represents a change to how people work with digital photos, which are extremely personal, impermanent objects. Need me to buy new cables or adapters for the latest Mac? Fine, whatever. Change how I store and work with years’ worth of memories? Whoa, hang on.

The Photos application converts existing iPhoto and Aperture libraries, making some notable changes that will affect how you interact with your photos.

(I’m not trying to scare you. I’ve had no reason to suspect that my photo library is at risk in Photos for OS X or its optional online component iCloud Photo Library. Still, I also maintain multiple backups, just in case. You should, too.)

For example, iPhoto and Aperture emphasized rating photos on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, a step I find invaluable for identifying promising photos and ones that I’ve edited into better shape. Photos for OS X, however, eschews star ratings in favor of a single Favorite button; a photo is either a favorite or it’s not.

That binary approach has the advantage of simplicity, and Photos makes it easy to view all favorited photos in an album. The existing star ratings are converted to keywords, such as “1 star” that you can still apply if you’d like. But I wonder how long it is before people abandon the stars in favor of favorites. I’m betting it will be a quick transition.

The biggest change I’m noticing is what iCloud Photo Library brings to the experience. The capability to sync your entire library to iCloud and have it appear on your mobile devices and other Macs makes all of our efforts at syncing and tracking multiple sources seem archaic.

ICloud Photo Library is an optional feature, and one that surely will require that you spend money for Apple’s comparatively pricey storage tiers (you get 5 GB free to use among all your devices and data, and can pay up to $20 per month for 1 TB of data).

And yet I’ve noticed that I get annoyed when photos I’ve imported onto my Mac don’t show up on my iPhone in a timely manner. Where before I’d have to think about how to move photos between devices, now they just show up everywhere. That creates an amazing expectation in people, one I hope Apple can maintain and keep up with on their side of the cloud.

I don’t want to stray too far from the practical nature of this column, so let me leave you with a few tips for using Photos for OS X. Remember, the application is actually a 1.0 version, so it’s still rough around some edges. But it’s also fast and promising.

• Switch libraries: You may have just one iPhoto library, or you may have accrued several over the years. Hold the Option key when you launch Photos to choose which library to load, or to create a new library.

• Photos for OS X shares the same design approach as the Photos app on the iPhone and iPad, but coming from iPhoto or Aperture, the difference can be jarring. Choose View > Show Sidebar to view all of your shared libraries, albums, and smart albums.

• iPhoto pioneered Events, special groupings that gather photos chronologically. Events don’t exist in the Photos application in the same way, but your existing Events aren’t discarded. In the Albums view, look for an iPhoto Events folder that contains all of your library’s Events as albums.

• If iCloud Photo Library is turned on, the application may swamp your bandwidth uploading and downloading photos to the cloud. (Oddly, I’ve not seen this behavior, but I know plenty of people who have.) If that’s happening to you, open the Photos preferences, click the iCloud heading, and then click the Pause for One Day button.

• I like the editing tools found in Photos for OS X. They’re not as extensive as those in Lightroom or Aperture, but they’re still well done. If your camera captures Raw+JPEG images, you can choose which image to use for editing. With a photo selected, click the Edit button and then choose Use Raw as Original or Use JPEG as Original. An icon at the lower left corner of each photo thumbnail indicates whether the JPEG (J) or the raw (R) version is considered primary.

• It’s not immediately apparent, but you can view geotagged photos (such as those shot by the iPhone with the help of its GPS chip) on a map. In the main Photos view, click the heading — which lists a location — above each group of photos to switch to the Map view.

• When you delete images in Photos for OS X, they’re not immediately expunged. Choose File > Show Recently Deleted to sort through and optionally recover photos you’ve trashed. You can also permanently delete them from there to gain back some hard disk storage.