Copy the subject from photos using Spotlight on the Mac

The things we can do with photos these days is amazing. Objects or the subject of photos can be recognized and even lifted from an image. Here’s how to copy a photo subject with Spotlight.

On its simplest level, Spotlight on the Apple Mac is a search tool, but it actually does much more than just find files. It is a multi-function tool that can perform many tasks. Combine this with Quick Look, which shows the contents of many file types, and you have a powerful feature.

In this article I will show how to copy the subject from photos found in Spotlight searches and then paste it elsewhere. When using Finder to browse image files, you can copy the subject from photos without opening any app. Everything you need is built in to macOS.

Search with Spotlight

Spotlight search on the Apple Mac.
Search with Spotlight in macOS

The easiest way to use Spotlight is to press Cmd+spacebar and then type what you are looking for, but you can also click the magnifying glass at the right side of the menu bar if you prefer. (Go to Settings > Control Center to enable/disable the menu bar search icon.)

Select a photo

Find subjects in photos with Spotlight search in macOS.
Spotlight finds objects in photos

I searched for our popular furry friend, the cat. Many types of results are displayed, including photos on the web, documents containing the word, and so on.

Scroll the results until you see the Photos From Apps section. These are photos in the Photos app. There is a Show More link on the right, but if the image you are looking for is displayed, click it to select it.

Copy the photo subject

Use Quick Look to view photos in Spotlight searches.
View photos with Quick Look and copy the subject

Press the spacebar and the selected photo appears in the Quick Look window. Ctrl+click the subject in the photo and a menu appears. Either the whole image can be copied or you can copy just the subject. Select Copy Subject and it is copied to the Mac’s clipboard.

Switch to another app

Apple Notes app menu.
Paste option in Apple Notes app

You now have an image on the clipboard and it can be pasted into any app that allows you to paste images. This includes photo editing software, Pages, Keynote and other document editors, and more.

I will use the Apple Notes app, but you can use anything. Create a new note and either Ctrl+click in the note and select Paste on the menu, or just press Cmd+V, the universal shortcut for paste, (at least on the Mac, elsewhere it is Ctrl+V).

The pasted subject

A copied photo subject pasted into a note in Apple Notes.
Paste the subject copied from the photo

Here is the result of copying the cat from the photo. Furry creatures with fuzzy edges are very difficult to cut out of photos and I probably could not have done this manually in a photo editor. The Mac has actually done a good job of copying the subject. Objects with clean lines are much easier to copy from photos.

Quick Look photos in Finder

Viewing a photo in Finder using Quick Look on the Apple Mac.
Press spacebar to Quick Look a photo and copy the subject

While browsing files in a Finder window, select a file and press the spacebar to view it in a Quick Look window. Here is a horse and cart. As before, Ctrl+click the object you want to copy from the photo and a menu appears with Copy Subject as an option.

There are many shades of brown in this photo, and will it copy just the horse or will it include the cart as well? You might expect these things to confuse the algorithm.

Before you click Copy Subject, look at the photo. A white highlight moves around the subject to show you what will be cut out before you go ahead. You can see this on the top edge of the horse and it moves around the whole shape.

Paste the copied subject

A pasted subject In Apple Notes copied using Quick Look on the Mac.
Paste the copied subject into an app like Notes

Here is the copied subject pasted into a Notes note. It can be pasted into any app that can insert images of course, not just Notes.

This can be a very useful feature and one that could save you a lot of time and effort in a photo editing app. Just a few clicks and the job is done.

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