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Access your Photo Stream without iPhoto on OS X

If you'd rather not open iPhoto to access photos in your Photo Stream on a Mac, you're going to want to read this.

Apple Inc.

Regardless of your feelings for iPhoto on OS X, having to launch and wait for it to load your photo library only to access a screenshot or a single photo in your Photo Stream can be annoying. The good news is, after following the steps laid out below, you'll be able to access your Photo Stream at any time, without even having iPhoto running. The process comes courtesy of a post by Ben Ward (which originated from a Mac OSX Hints thread) earlier this year. It looks more complicated than it really is, but as always, proceed at your own risk.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET
  • To begin, you'll need to launch Finder, then bring up the "Go To Folder" dialogue. You can do so by clicking on Go > Go to folder in the menu bar or by pressing Command-Shift-G. Enter ~/Library/Application Support/iLifeAssetManagement/assets/sub into the text box and press return.
Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET
  • Finder should then take you to a list of folders under the "sub" directory. In each folder, you'll find your Photo Stream photos. You don't need to do anything with these folders and/or photos. In fact, I discourage you from altering any of them at all.
Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET
  • Open the search box by pressing Command-F on your keyboard, or open File > Find in the menu bar. It's important to make sure the "sub" option is selected, and not "This Mac" before you proceed. Then change the file Kind to Image. Last, select either JPEG or PNG from the list of options.

    The first option (JPEG) will present you with all of the photos on your Photo Stream, with the second option (PNG) returning only screenshots taken on your iOS device. You can also opt for the All setting to return both photos and screenshots alike. It's your choice, and it can be changed at any time.

Click to enlarge. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET
  • Once you have decided the type of files to reveal, save your search by clicking the Save button in the upper-right corner of the Finder window. Enter a name for the search and select where you'd like to save the smart folder it creates. Leaving the Add to Sidebar box checked will add a Smart Folder to Finder's sidebar. You can then launch Finder and select the newly created smart folder to view your Photo Stream photos at any time. With or without iPhoto open on your Mac. 
Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET
  • You can also place the folder in your Dock by right-clicking the folder in Finder and selecting Add to Dock. Should you want to change the search criteria, you can do so by selecting Show Search Criteria and making the appropriate adjustments.

Keep in mind, this isn't anywhere near an officially sanctioned way to use Photo Stream. If you're deleting photos from any of the folders, instead of through iPhoto (especially if iPhoto is open) you might run into some issues. Hopefully this will help to speed up your workflow, and eliminate the need to open iPhoto "real quick."