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Remote Webcam Surveillance With Back to My Mac


Imagine a scenario where you leave your home for an extended period of time, but want to check in occasionally. Maybe you have pets you need to look in on.  Maybe you just want to keep on eye on things. Whatever your reasons, the ability to see a live video feed of your home while you are away has an incredible value.  

Dropcam saw that need and created an amazing product to fill that niche. But with a price tag of $149-$199, a Dropcam may not be financially prudent. Especially if you already have another webcam enabled device just lying around. Another Mac or iDevice perhaps?

At the conclusion of my recent tutorial, Back to My Mac Master Class, I mentioned that you could use Back to My Mac as a form of pseudo Dropcam, if you were feeling creative. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to:

  • Setup the monitoring and connecting computers
  • Use Back to My Mac to connect and live stream
  • Take pictures and record video
  • A creative alternative using and old iPhone, iPad, or other iDevice


The Setup

You will need two Mac computers. One Mac will be used to access the other. Leave the monitoring Mac pointed wherever you prefer to monitor in your home.

From System Preferences, click on iCloud. Make sure both computers are signed into the same iCloud account and have Back to My Mac enabled as shown below:

Enable Back to My Mac from the iCloud menu in System Preferences
Enable Back to My Mac from the iCloud menu in System Preferences.

Ensure the receiving Mac has Screen Sharing enabled. Click back to return to System Preferences. Click on Sharing and ensure that Remote Management has been enabled.

Enable Remote Sharing
Enable Remote Sharing

NOTE: Both computers must have an active internet connection and be awake. In other words, make sure your receiving computer doesn't go to sleep because of a power saving setting.

Connecting to a Live Stream

Now that the receiving computer is placed and setup for remote connections and screen sharing, you may connect to it via Back to My Mac.

Launch Finder and look for your monitoring computer to be listed in the sidebar under the Shared category. Click on your computer, then click on the Share Screen button in the top right of the new Finder window that appears. If you are prompted to login, either check As a Registered User then input the username and password you would normally use to log into the computer or check Using an Apple ID and enter in those credentials.

Connecting to your monitoring Mac using Back to My Mac
Connecting to your monitoring Mac using Back to My Mac

Now you will be able to see and control your monitoring Mac remotely. To enable the live stream, launch Photobooth from your Applications directory. This will immediately turn on the webcam and start broadcasting everything your monitoring Mac sees back to the receiving Mac.

Monitoring the situation using photobooth
Monitoring the situation using Photobooth

I can now keep an eye on her even when I'm away from home!

Taking Pictures

Because you are using Photobooth to turn on your webcam and see a live feed, you also have an easy way to capture pictures. At the touch of a button you can capture both single frame pics as well as full video.

To capture a picture, make sure Photobooth's dial is set to picture mode, then click the red camera button. To begin capturing video, set Photobooth's dial to video mode then click the red camera button.  

Switching between video and picture mode in Photobooth
Switching between video and picture mode in Photobooth

If you start shooting video, be sure to stop the recording before closing the screen share. Failure to do so will result in an infinitely long recording that will max out the hard drive on your Mac.

Creative Alternative

Maybe you don't have a spare Mac lying around, but you do have a spare iPhone, iPod, or iPad? You can do something very similar using one of those devices and an app called Presence.

Download Presence onto the iDevice you would like to use as the monitor. Ensure that device is plugged into a continuous power source. Open the app and click Register.  Complete the requested username and password fields. Now choose that you want to use this device's camera as the monitor.

Accessing an old iPhone from my iPad using Presence
Accessing an old iPhone from my iPad using Presence

You can now access that camera from anywhere in the world. Just download the Presence app to the iPhone, iPad, or iPod you would like to monitor from. Login with the very same username and password you used to register. You will instantly be able to see the live stream from where ever you are.


Dropcams are awesome.  They are an amazing way to keep an eye on the things that matter most when you can't be there.  

But before you go out and spend money on them, you should see if either of these solutions are a better, more economical fit. Not only will you be saving money, but you may be re-purposing an old device that would have otherwise ended up wasting space in your home or, even worse, in a landfill.  Enjoy!

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