iCloud Photo Library for Mac

The Photos app for Mac, included with the latest OS X, is the best place to keep all your precious digital pictures and videos. With the optional iCloud Photo Library feature, all your photos & videos are kept safe on Apple’s servers. Every picture stored on your Mac, iPhone or iPad is compared to the ones already in your iCloud Photo Library. Any new images are copied to the cloud, and the photos already in the cloud are added to the Mac or device. You might think you’ll run out of space… but iCloud Photo Library can help there, too. You have the option of optimizing storage on your Mac & devices. And you’ll never need to plug your device into your Mac to import or sync photos.

Enabling iCloud Photo Library on Mac

  1. Open the Photos app. If you have more than one Photos library, be sure to select the library you want to be the main library. See Using multiple iTunes & Photos libraries.
  2. If you want to import images & videos, you may drag images (or folders of images) to the Photos icon in the dock, or attach an iPhone, iPad or camera card and choose Import from the File menu.
  3. Sign into iCloud if you haven’t already. You’ll need to use the same iCloud account on all your Macs & devices to sync photos.
  4. Click the Photos menu and choose Preferences.
  5. Click the iCloud icon and check the box to turn on iCloud Photo Library. If you see an error message, see tips below.
  6. Choose Optimize Mac Storage. You’ll still have access to all your photos & videos, but you’ll use far less space. Lower-resolution copies are stored on this Mac, and when you enlarge or edit a photo, the high-res version is downloaded as needed. The original high-res images are stored safely in the cloud.
  7. Or choose Download Originals to this Mac. If you have enough space, the full-quality images are stored on your drive.
  8. You may close the window, but keep the Photos app open and your computer turned on, plugged in and awake to upload photos as quickly as possible.

iCloud Photo Library tips

  • Connect to the fastest internet available and plug laptops into power. Uploading & downloading takes a lot of power.
  • Pictures on your Mac will be compared to the photos in the iCloud Photo Library. Although no duplicates will be added to your library, you’ll probably need extra iCloud storage before Apple can check your images. You may need to purchase more iCloud storage, at least temporarily. You can always downgrade your storage and save money after your photos are merged.
  • Your photos will be uploaded to the cloud in the background, as long as your computer is turned on. Images in iCloud Photo Library from other Macs & devices will only download to this Mac while the Photos app is open. Of course, if you close Photos or put the computer to sleep, it will pick up the next time it’s on. It simply takes longer.
  • You can check the upload & download progress anytime. Open the Photos app and choose Preferences, then click iCloud.
  • There’s no need to wait for sync to complete on one Mac or device before enabling it on another.
  • If you have more than one Photos library on your Mac, only one of them can be synced with iCloud. This is called the System library, and you select it in the Photos Preferences. But be careful: setting a different System library means the images in the first library will no longer be kept in sync with iCloud. And if Photos was set to optimize storage, images may be removed from the first library on this Mac. Don’t worry… they stay in iCloud and will be added to the new System library, but switching System libraries isn’t something you’ll want to do often because it involves a lot of internet traffic.
  • Can you combine photos from different Photos libraries? Yes… with some help. See merging libraries.

Learn more about the Photos app and enable iCloud Photo Library on iPhone & iPad. See also iMore’s iCloud Photo Library Ultimate Guide.

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