I just downgraded my MacBook Pro from macOS 11 Big Sur to macOS 10.15 Catalina. While on macOS 11 I opened the Photos app which altered my photo library. Now on 10.15, the Photos app cannot open my library because it was changed by a newer version and tells me to update the app.

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How do I get my photos back? Installing macOS Big Sur isn't an option, though I can install it on an external drive if needed.

  • 2
    All your photos are still in the photoslibrary package. But you have likely lost any names, categories, albums, etc. Do you have a backup from before you upgraded? Feb 3, 2021 at 21:36
  • 1
    How old is the backup you made of Catalina? Perhaps it's a non-issue. Feb 4, 2021 at 2:24
  • 1
    Thanks for the help everyone. My situation lead to me discovering that my one backup is hosed. Lesson learned: keep more than one backup.
    – Dillon
    Feb 4, 2021 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


You cannot downgrade a photo library, since downgrading overall is unsupported. Your files are not lost, however, since the Photos library is a bundle that still contains your originals. You have the following options:

  1. If you use iCloud Photo Library, create a new Library and configure it with iCloud. It will pull down your photos.

  2. If you have access to a machine with Big Sur you have two routes:

    1. Configure that machine with your iCloud and set up iCloud Photo Library. The photos can be uploaded, then your Catalina machine can download them.
    2. If you don't want to set up iCloud Photo Library, use that machine instead to export the files. Reimport them to a new library on this machine. Verify the process with a small batch to ensure quality.
  3. If you cannot do either of these and must be on Catalina, you must open up the photo library and extract the originals manually. If you locate the library in Finder (Usually located in the Pictures folder) and right click it, click Show Package Contents. There is an originals folder that contains all your unmodified images. You should be able to import this folder.

These options are listed in order of best to worst. Only use approach 3 if none of the other approaches are viable. Even if you don't have a second laptop, considering installing Big Sur on a second volume (here are instructions for the beta, but they apply for the regular release as well) and using that to upload to iCloud Photo Library or Export.

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