How to export an image and a video out of a HEIF Live Photo via macOS

It’s a neat trick if you want the moving portion of the Live Photo.

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A secret to why Apple’s Camera app on iOS produces great photos is that whenever the app is active, it keeps the camera active, not just when you press the button to capture an image. This helps it create fantastic high-dynamic range (HDR) images and produce a better photo when you tap that button by gathering information beyond that precise second.

It’s also how Live Photos works, when you have that feature enabled. The Camera app retains a few seconds of lower-resolution video at all times, and when you tap to take a picture, the resulting Live Photo has a few seconds before and trailing, as well as audio. It’s a little bit of a gimmick, but it also lets you get the sense of a moment in time better than a static shot.

If you want to extract the movie portion of a Live Photo, you can export them out of Photos and get a JPEG file plus a MOV file. I wrote about this two years ago, before Apple introduced HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format) in iOS for taking photos (along with HEVF, or High Efficiency Video Codec, for videos). If you have High Efficiency set in iOS (Settings > Camera > Formats), you’ll capture HEIF and HEVC media, which Photos, Preview, and QuickTime for macOS can all display and manage, as well as a few third-party apps, like GraphicConverter.

And you can still export Live Photos, although the results are a little different. As with the previous Live Photo package, which Apple managed with some behind-the-scenes trickery, you can still separate the high-resolution still image and the lower-resolution video. Either hold down the Option key and drag a Live Photo to the Desktop or into a Finder window; or in Photos choose File > Export > Export Unmodified Original for X Photo[s]. (You can have one or more Live Photos selected for either option.)

Instead of extracting a JPEG and a MOV file, these options export a HEIF file (which Apple gives an .heic extension to) and a MOV. The MOV is standard and you can use in any app that supports it. The HEIC opens in just a few programs. You can certainly open it in Preview: select File > Export, and pick JPEG as the output format (or one of a few other image formats).

But you can do a two-part export to get the JPEG and MOV directly from Photos:

  • Option-drag or Export Unmodified to get the MOV.
  • With the same image or images, select File > Export > Export X Photo[s]. You can opt for JPEG, TIFF, or PNG.

Oddly, there’s no way yet to export the original HEIF with both the image and video inside it. Apple may be waiting to advance its tools (and encourage others to do so) to support direct management of that sort of package.

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