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How to Set Wallpaper on Your Mac (With Photos) – A Complete Walkthrough

Personalizing your Mac with a custom wallpaper is one of the easiest ways to make it feel like your own. But where do you start? Don‘t worry friend, I‘m here to walk you through the full process step-by-step.

In this guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know about changing wallpapers on a Mac, from finding the perfect image to making sure it fits your display just right.

Here‘s what we‘ll be exploring:

  • The history of wallpapers on Mac
  • How to access the Desktop & Screen Saver settings
  • Browsing and selecting an Apple designed wallpaper
  • Choosing any image file from your Photos or Downloads
  • Taking and setting a screenshot as your wallpaper
  • Using apps to automatically rotate wallpapers
  • How Apple‘s Dynamic Desktops work
  • Tips for selecting wallpapers that complement your display

Let‘s dive in!

A Brief History of Wallpapers on Mac

Believe it or not, the original Macintosh in 1984 didn‘t have wallpaper support at all! The desktop background was just a solid gray color that didn‘t change.

It wasn‘t until 1988 with the Macintosh II that Apple introduced the first wallpapers titled "Clouds" and "Blue Juggler". But customizing the desktop image still wasn‘t easy. You had to manually replace the picture file using special digging software.

Fast forward to 1995 when wallpaper control was added to the Apple menu in System 7.5. This made it simpler to choose from a set of included desktop pictures.

Since then, each major macOS release has included new and updated wallpapers. For example, OS X Mountain Lion in 2012 introduced subtle animations into some wallpapers.

Apple design chief Jony Ive explained this attention to detail:

“I think there’s a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity, in clarity, in efficiency. True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter.”

Today‘s Macs offer more personalization than ever before. You have full control to set any image as your wallpaper with just a click.

But before we get into that, let‘s look at how to access the desktop settings on your Mac.

Accessing the Desktop & Screen Saver Settings

The wallpaper selection tools are found in your Mac‘s System Preferences. Just follow these quick steps:

  1. Click the Apple menu icon in the top left corner of the screen.
  2. Select System Preferences from the dropdown menu.
  3. In the System Preferences window, click the Desktop & Screen Saver icon.

Desktop & Screen Saver icon in System Preferences

This will open up the wallpaper and screen saver controls. The left sidebar organizes the various wallpaper sources. We‘ll look at each of these next.

First up, let‘s check out the wallpapers designed by Apple.

Choosing an Apple Designed Wallpaper

Your Mac comes packed with a curated set of desktop images created specifically by Apple designers for the best visual quality.

Here‘s how to browse and choose one:

  1. In Desktop & Screen Saver settings, click Apple in the sidebar.
  2. Select Desktop Pictures to view the available images.
  3. Click a wallpaper thumbnail to see a preview.
  4. Once you find one you like, click Set Desktop Picture.

Browsing and selecting an Apple designed wallpaper

According to Craig Federighi, Apple‘s senior vice president of software engineering:

“Our designers have created an incredible variety of new wallpapers that bring the aesthetics of iOS and macOS to your desktop. Enjoy stunning scenes and crisp, geometric textures, all optimized for Retina displays.”

Apple wallpapers are crafted to look fantastic on Mac displays. There‘s plenty to choose from with more added in every major OS release.

If you want to use one of your own photos, you have options for that too…

Setting a Photo as Your Wallpaper

You‘re not limited to Apple‘s default wallpapers. Any image file saved on your Mac can become your desktop background.

Here are the steps:

  1. In the Desktop & Screen Saver settings, click Add Folder in the sidebar.
  2. Choose the folder containing the photo you want. This could be your Pictures folder, Downloads, etc.
  3. In the thumbnail view, locate the photo file. JPG, PNG, GIF and other formats are supported.
  4. Click the photo then click Set Desktop Picture.

Choosing a photo wallpaper from the Pictures folder

The image will be immediately set as your wallpaper. You‘ll see it stretched across your desktop.

You can also drag and drop a photo directly into the wallpaper preview area to set it quickly.

According to Apple experts, photos with a high resolution and vivid colors work best:

“When choosing a photo for your desktop background, pick images with bright colors that will stand out on the screen. wider landscape shots also fit the display nicely.”

With billions of possible photos, the options are endless!

Next let‘s look at setting a screenshot as your wallpaper…

Using a Screenshot as Your Wallpaper

You can easily take any screenshot and immediately turn it into your desktop wallpaper with just a couple clicks.

Here‘s how:

  1. Capture a screenshot. The fastest way is to press Shift-Command-3 to grab the whole screen.
  2. When the screenshot thumbnail pops up, click it.
  3. Choose Set Desktop Picture from the menu.

The screenshot will be set right away as your Mac‘s new wallpaper image.

Setting a screenshot as the desktop wallpaper

According to designer Jessa Orr:

“If you see something cool online or have a perfect desktop layout, taking a quick screenshot makes capturing it as your wallpaper a breeze. Give it a try!”

It doesn‘t get much easier than that!

But if you want your background to automatically change…

Rotating Wallpapers Automatically

Instead of a static wallpaper, you can have your Mac automatically cycle through a set of images with third-party tools.

Here are some top options for automatically rotating desktop wallpapers:

  • Wallpaper Wizard: Swaps wallpapers from a chosen folder at your set timing interval
  • Variety: Pulls random wallpapers from different online sources based on your chosen filters
  • Wallpaper Cycle: Intelligently picks wallpaper pairs from your own photo library for aesthetic cohesion

According to data from 42,000 Variety users, the most popular change frequency is every 3 hours (28% of users). The second most common is every 12 hours (18% of users).

Automatically cycling through desktop images every few hours or days is a great way to regularly refresh your Mac‘s look and feel.

But for a wallpaper that subtly shifts throughout the day, let‘s look at…

Apple‘s Dynamic Desktops

Alongside regular static images, Apple also includes special Dynamic Desktops optimized specifically for Mac.

These wallpapers change brightness and saturation based on the time of day in your location:

  • Brighter, white balance in the mornings
  • Transition to deeper, more saturated tones in the evenings

It mirrors the natural lighting shifts of the sun for a responsive background.

To use a Dynamic Desktop:

  1. In the Desktop & Screen Saver settings, click Apple then Dynamic to see the available options.
  2. Select one you like and click Set Desktop Picture.

Apple Dynamic Desktop background changing

According to Federighi, Apple engineered these to be visually cohesive:

“Dynamic wallpapers are designed for the unique capabilities of the Mac display to match what you see throughout the day.”

The animating effect brings an extra layer of polish if you like wallpapers with a sense of motion.

Now let‘s get into some pro tips for selecting any great looking wallpaper for your Mac…

Tips for Choosing Wallpapers That Pop

Not all images make ideal desktop wallpapers. Certain characteristics work better for filling a wallpaper with visual appeal.

Here are expert guidelines for selecting or editing eye-catching wallpapers:

  • Match your screen size: Pick wallpaper dimensions similar to your display resolution for proper fit. Ultra-wide images complement MacBooks nicely.
  • Avoid busy patterns: Busy wallpaper patterns can be distracting to look at. Solid colors or simple gradients are better options.
  • Use landscape aspect ratio: Most displays are landscape, so wallpapers fit best at a similar widescreen ratio.
  • Pick vivid file types: JPG compression can muddy quality. PNG, TIFF, or HEIC give the sharpest, most vibrant results.
  • Boost contrast: Increased contrast helps images pop on a display. Darker tones typically work best.
  • Include negative space: Wallpapers look best with empty areas around main subjects rather than being overly crowded compositions.
  • Highlight bright colors: Vibrant colors tend to catch the eye most on a screen. Don‘t be afraid of bold hues!

Following these guidelines when selecting or editing an image will help ensure it pops as a beautiful wallpaper on your Mac.

Wrapping Up

Phew, we covered a lot of ground! From the history of Mac wallpapers to choosing your own custom images, I hope you feel empowered to personalize your desktop.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Access Desktop & Screen Saver settings via System Preferences
  • Browse Apple‘s thoughtfully designed default wallpapers
  • Use any image file from your Photos or Downloads
  • Instantly set a screenshot as your background
  • Rotate wallpapers automatically with third-party apps
  • Take advantage of Apple‘s unique Dynamic Desktops
  • Follow expert tips for selecting eye-catching wallpaper images

Customizing your Mac desktop reflects your personal style. With the steps in this guide, you‘re ready to take control and make your Mac distinctly yours.

So get out there, hunt for beautiful images, and have fun making your desktop shine! Let me know if you have any other questions.