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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Quick Tip: Convert high-efficiency iPhone images to JPEG

I shared this tip in the Six Colors member Slack 1 not long ago, but it occurred to me as I used it again this morning that others might find it helpful.

Prior to iOS 11, all Apple devices with cameras shot images as a bog-standard JPG. But after, most of Apple’s modern devices have offered a new option: the High-Efficiency Image Format or HEIF. 2 HEIF’s advantages are clear: they take up about half the space of a commensurate quality JPEG and they support animation, like a GIF, but at better quality and smaller file sizes. 3

However, HEIF is not as widely supported as JPEG, which has been around forever and is the de facto image format. In fact, iOS often automatically converts the pictures to JPEG if you upload them to some websites, including social media platforms.

But if you, as I occasionally do, AirDrop these photos to the Mac, they come across as HEIF files rather than JPEGs. 4 And trying to upload them to websites or share them with people may thus lead to problems.

To solve this issue, I whipped up the smallest Automator workflow ever to let me easily convert these files to JPEGs. Follow the below steps to recreate it, or, if you’d rather, just download the version I made.

Convert to JPEG workflow
Probably the simplest Automator workflow ever.

Fire up Automator and create a new Quick Action workflow. At the top, choose “image files” from the “Workflow receives current” drop-down menu, and “Finder.app” for the application. Then, in the search box above the actions section, find the “Change Type of Images” action and drag it into the main workspace. (Automator will offer you the option to add an action retaining the original HEIF images—that’s up to you, but I chose “Don’t Add” because the originals are usually still on my phone.)

In the Change Type of Images dropdown, choose JPEG from the dropdown menu. Save the workflow and give the Quick Action a name like “Convert to JPEG”.

Quick Action menu

Now, in the Finder, whenever you have an HEIF file (or any image file) you can right click on it and go to Quick Actions, then choose the new “Convert to JPEG” action you made, and, voilĂ ! A JPG version of the same file will appear near instantaneously. (You can also click the Quick Action button in the preview pane, if you have that displayed.) You can then go ahead and upload that image wherever you’d like.

You can, of course, avoid this by switching your iOS device’s default to shooting in traditional JPEG instead, by going to Settings > Camera > Formats and choosing “Most Compatible”, but be aware that it means you will be taking up more space. Apple also doesn’t offer granular options for changing formats for still photos vs. video—it’s an all or none proposition.


  1. One of the many perks of being a Six Colors subscriber!  ↩

  2. Apple has also at times referred to this format as HEIC, and confusingly, the suffix used by those files on the Mac is .heic. The ‘C’ stands for…cool? [It’s Container, because a HEIC file can contain multiple items, including HEIF images. —j.s.] ↩

  3. There’s also an equivalent for video, HEVC.  ↩

  4. Sometimes, anyway? I’ve noticed that occasionally they transfer as JPEGs—I think if you edit them on device, including simply rotating them, they’re converted to JPEGs. And if the device you’re AirDropping to doesn’t support HEIF or HEVC, it’ll automatically be converted to a compatible format.  ↩

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, and podcaster. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]