Extract iOS Device Photos from an iTunes Backup

There may come a time when you lose the photos on your iOS device, they haven’t been synced and your only recourse is to extract the photos from a backup file created by iTunes. Here are two quick and simple tools that can do that on a Mac.

Recently, I had to do a complete restore of my iPad 2. I sync my apps, Address Book, calendars, and a few movies, so I was confident that I could do a complete restore and get back to where I was. What I forgot was that I don’t sync my iPad photos to the Mac. So after the restore, my camera roll was empty.

Quickly, I realized that all those 200+ photos were imprisoned in the last iTunes backup I did, but it’s not a trivial matter to extract those photos, en masse , by hand. So I looked for an app on the Mac that could do that, and I found two from supercrazyawesome.com where Padráig Kennedy as actually developed two separate apps*.

  • iPhone/iPod Touch Backup Extractor. I’ll call it IPBUE for short. A simple quick app that pulls the photos of an iTunes backup file and drops them into a folder. It’s a free app.
  • Picturescue. A more advanced app that lists all your backup files and displays all the photos for each backup in a thumbnail fashion, something like iPhoto. Then you can extract the photos singly or as a group. It’s priced at US$4.99

iPhone/iPod Touch Backup Extractor

1. This is a simple app. After you download it and put it your Applications folder, just launch it. You’ll see:


Click on “Read Backups”. As an aside, the app is looking in this directory:

/Users/YOUR_USERNAME/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/ 

The directory names there reflect the unique 40 character identifier for the device’s UDID plus, possibly, an additional string after a dash that differentiates the date. By the way, to see your iOS devices’s UDID:

  • Connect it to iTunes
  • Select your device from the “Devices” list on the left.
  • Click on the Serial Number text next to the device’s icon. iTunes will display the UDID. Apple packs all the backup data into this directory.

IPBUE - 1a

2. Back in IPBUE, pick the named backup file listed that you want. Unfortunately, this simple app doesn’t distinguish between two backups on the same date, so for that, you’ll either need to guess and use trial by elimination or use Picturescue. (See below.)


Here’s what IPBUE shows, for example.


3. Next, scroll down to the botton until you see “iOS Files”. At that point, you can click on “Extract.” You’ll be asked where you want to send the output.

4. Inside the destination folder you’ll see some nested folders. Your photos are in:



Now you can copy those photos to wherever you like for archiving. For example, you could import them into iPhoto and then sync them back to your iPad or iPhone.

iPhoto: File -> Import to Library...


This is a slightly more advanced app that allows you to see all your named and dated backups for each device. By selecting one of them, you can actually see thumbnails of all the photos in the backup and use the slider at the bottom to resize.


There are buttons at the bottom left to export all or export selected photos. This is a much nicer app, but if all you’re doing is a one-time recovery from a mistake, as in my case, the IPBUE app will probably do the trick.


* Note: these apps were tested in both Snow Leopard and Lion.