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I have 60 GB of photos on an external hard disk.
I also have a MacBook Air with an empty iPhoto app. The MacBook has 15 gigs left of HD space.

Can I import these photos directly into the iCloud Photo Library?

I can only find articles which explain how to upload your complete library to iCloud, after which it starts optimising for storage. However I don't have enough space to fit all my photos on the internal hard disk.

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First, you will have to update to Photos app on OS X, as iPhoto is not compatible with iCloud Photo Library. Activate iCloud Photo Library and subscribe a storage plan that accommodates your pictures and anything else you have there (iOS Backups, for instance). Select the "Optimize Mac Storage" on the Photos app Preferences > iCloud pane.

Then import batches of 10 GB or so of your pictures to the empty Photos app library; given you will have only 5 GB left I assume it will start optimizing right away. When you regain some space, you can add another batch.

  • It sounds a bit cumbersome, but also seems like a safe way to try it. thanks – Toad Aug 17 '15 at 21:08
  • Pretty cumbersome, I agree... – Jaime Santa Cruz Aug 17 '15 at 21:09
  • I can already comment on this: It is really painful. It's completely unclear when files are being uploaded to iCloud, how many are uploaded, how much is still needed. It's also unclear how many folders you can import, without it complaining that it won't fit. – Toad Aug 20 '15 at 19:35
  • Unless I get another comment on how to do this, I'm inclined to close the question as: can't be done – Toad Aug 20 '15 at 19:36
  • I'm sorry to hear it's so complicated. Maybe you can temporarily move other data out of your disk while the pictures are uploaded? – Jaime Santa Cruz Aug 20 '15 at 22:13
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There is another way to get around this, if you are ok with having your Photo Library on the external disk too.

Requirements:

  • External HDD (Formatted in HFS+ or Journal) and connected directly (network storage doesn't work).
  • Photos App

Open Photos App, this will create a Photo Library in your Pictures folder.

Close Photos App.

Move the Photo Library to external disk

Open Photos App, and when shows an error for missing library, select the old library which is now moved to the external disk.

Go to Photos->Preferences->Set the library as Primary

Enable iCloud Photo Sharing, Optimise for Mac storage

Import Photos

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My work around is:

 - Add an extra user on an apple mini we have which has enough space. 
 - Add the user's iCloud credentials there. 
 - Start Photos app and enable iCloud photo library
 - Import everything

After importing turn on iCloud photo library on the macbook air (optimised) and voila.

Of course, this solution only works when you have a spare Apple computer with enough harddisk space.

Now that I think about it, this solution might also have worked with adding a new user to the macbook air, attach an external disk, make the photos app store it's library on the external disk and go through the same motions. If that actually works, I don't know. But might be worth a try for someone else having the same problem

I won't tag this solution as 'accepted' since it too is a work-around.

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