How to setup Apple’s Photos and iCloud Photo Library with external storage and Time Machine backups

“Using iCloud Photo Library lets you shoot or import photos and videos from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or the web and have them all go to a single library that you manage,” Zac Hall writes for 9to5Mac. “Delete a photo or video from any signed-in device and it goes to a trash folder for 40 days and can be recovered from any device before it’s fully deleted. Edit a photo’s color or light or crop it and apply a filter and the changes appear everywhere and can be reversed.”

“Create an album from any signed-in device and it appears everywhere else without syncing with iTunes. Select the heart icon on any photo or video and it appears in a Favorites album on all your devices,” Hall explains. “This is how I find the 200 photos that I really like the most out of 13,000 that I’ve taken over the years, which comes in handy when it’s time to make a Christmas calendar at the end of the year.”

“iCloud Photo Library (with a subscription to a proper storage tier) lets you access huge sets of photos and videos from iPhones and iPads (and Macs) which would otherwise have too low storage. Using the ‘Optimize Storage’ option lets you see thumbnails of your whole library and selectively download only the photos and videos you open,” Hall writes. “My iPhone 6s Plus is 128GB and it can’t comfortably store my photo library plus apps and offline music; even using the free Photo Stream feature on a 16GB iPad Air meant installing very few apps to accommodate the storage needs. Turn on iCloud Photo Library and you may still see the occasional low storage warning, but Photos will respond in the background by removing full images and videos stored in iCloud to free up space.

“But any number of things could go wrong with iCloud Photo Library or your iCloud account in general. So I do not recommend using Photos and iCloud Photo Library with Optimize Storage turned on anywhere without a Mac using the Download Originals option somewhere,” Hall writes. “Having at least one Mac with Photos setup to download original photos and videos that backup to Time Machine greatly minimizes the risk that something will get hosed in iCloud Photo Library.”

How to set it up and stop worrying about your photos — recommended — here.

MacDailyNews Take: This is how we do photo management, too.

Keep in mind that we use 100% Apple devices, of course — Macs, iPad, iPhones, and Apple Watches — which makes everything “just work” with backups (when you set it up correctly).


  1. I value content like music, photos, and self-created documents so much that they are stored on a 14 TB redundant RAID device called a Drobo AND also Time Machine-d to an external 4 TB drive. I had data loss from the weirdness of iPhoto and iTunes once each, but now the serial storage of custom data prevents either software or hardware causes of data loss.

  2. My data is on a Drobo with Time Machine backup for all devices. My iTunes library is on the Drobo which is the biggest downside since time machine won’t back up the iTunes share.

  3. I just put my Photos library on an external SSD and it’s super fast. Regular backups on my NAS for security and this is the ideal setup if you have a laptop without a super large hard drive.

  4. I also have Drobo and internal and external backups (vaults, clones, and time machine backups) for iPhoto/Aperture libraries. I like the hot-swap and drive-size-independence redundancy of the Drobo, although the threat of Drobo failure remains (which becomes a problem when the short warranty expires).

    Still haven’t made the switch to Photos. I appreciate the complementary feature sets of iPhoto and Aperture, which can each run and manipulate the same library (I do lots of EXIF and metadata manipulation on scanned photos and images from multiple cameras). Also not a fan of its project/album organization and browse/search functions. I’m sure I’ll be forced into migration to Photos one day, but not before I have to.

    1. Why would anyone ever switch to Apple’s Photos. It’s horrible. The only reason Apple released it was to force people to start renting server space. To the user who already has a large library, it’s garbage. Yet one more market Apple has abandoned without warning.

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