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How to Change Your Desktop Picture in macOS Catalina

Catalina Quick Tip

My wife’s Mac’s desktop is so cluttered with files and folders that it’s impossible to see the desktop image. Mine isn’t. If yours isn’t and you want to change the desktop picture, it’s easy to do.

In the Desktop & Screen Saver preferences, you can change the image displayed on your desktop. Your Mac comes with dozens of desktop pictures to choose from, but you can also use your own pictures, or choose a solid color. Here’s how:

Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click Desktop & Screen Saver.

Click Desktop.

Then find the picture you want to use. To use a picture that comes with your Mac, select Desktop Pictures below Apple. To use a solid color, select Solid Colors below Apple. To use your own picture, select a location below Photos. 

You can also select Pictures below Folders if the image you want is in your Pictures folder. 

If your image is in another folder, click Add the plus sign, navigate to and select the folder, then click Choose. Click the picture you want on the right.

You can also choose to have a screen saver start when you aren’t using your Mac.  To do so, choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click Desktop & Screen Saver, then click Screen Saver.

Click the screen saver you want on the left. Previews are shown on the right.

Set any screen saver settings below the screen saver preview on the right. If necessary, click Screen Saver Options. For example, click the Source pop-up menu to choose the location with the pictures you want to see in the screen saver.

Click the “Start after” pop-up menu, then select an amount of time. The screen saver starts automatically after your Mac has been inactive for that amount of time. 

Select “Show with clock” to show the time when your screen saver is on. Click Hot Corners to set a shortcut for starting your screen saver. 

To stop the screen saver and return to the desktop, press any key, move the mouse, or touch the trackpad.

You can give your desktop a darker look by setting your menu bar and Dock to be dark. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, then click General. Select “Dark Still” to use a static photo in “Dark Mode” or Dynamic so the desktop picture will change throughout the day.

These instructions apply, for the most part, to other versions of macOS besides Catalina. However, I’m using Catalina on a 16-inch MacBook Pro for this tutorial.

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Contributing Author
Dennis has over 40 years of journalism experience and has written hundreds of articles. For the past 20-plus years, he's been an online journalist, covering mainly Apple Inc. He's written for MacCentral, MacWorld, MacMinute, Macsimum News, Apple Daily Report, and is now contributing editor at Apple World Today.
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  • I have a 2019 Mac with Catalina installed. The problem I have had is that when going to set the Screensaver & Desktop pics, I am able to access and set up screensaver pics. However, the Desktop portion of the menu is blank and I cannot select pics for the Desktop.
    A 1-1/2 hour call to Apple support fixed the problem so I could select pics. However, the desktop pics have again disappeared and several old random ones show up.
    When trying to set pics again for desktop, the menu is blank except for the Screensaver half.

  • I can’t run Catalina as yet. My Mac is a mid 2011 that OWC just helped out with a maximum memory upgrade. What are my options for a screensaver to use with Zoom etc? I’m maxed out with High Sierra 10.13.6