I recently ran out of space on my MacBook Pro because I have a lot of pictures saved to it, so I went out and bought an external hard drive (2 TB).

I moved every single photo on my MacBook hard drive to the external hard drive and deleted all the photo copies remaining on my macbook drive. Currently there are 0 photos on my MacBook drive, yet I keep receiving a message saying my disk is critically low on space. When I check what is taking up that space, its all photos, about 49.83 GB to be exact.

This is really frustrating as I searched my entire MacBook drive for any remaining photos, yet I can't find a single one even though it says that Photos are taking up about 50 GB of space on my MacBook hard drive. I am a photographer if you are wondering why I have that many photos, and keeping that in mind I also thought maybe it's my Lightroom catalogs thats taking up space. I moved my entire catalog folder into my external hard drive and deleted the original from my MacBook to make space, but that only created about 2.98 GB of space.

Someone told me I should turn off my Time Machine and delete all my backups, but I can't seem to find where the turn off button is.

  • 1
    Could you edit the post to explain what steps you took to "delete the photos"?
    – bmike
    Dec 19, 2015 at 18:46
  • I am having the same problem. I had a 250 Gb "iPhoto Library.photolibrary" under Pictures in my account, and I needed space. So I copied it to an external drive (drag&drop in Finder). After I made sure the copy was fine by opening it in iPhoto, I moved the original from my Pictures directory to the trash can and I emptied the trash can. However, the space hasn't been reclaimed. Did you ever find a solution? Jul 2, 2016 at 16:33

5 Answers 5


Photos has its own Photos trash, so when you remove pictures, they don't go to the normal trash bin, but to the Photos trash within the app. So as you delete pictures you don't reduce the size of the app until you empty the Photos trash.

This was making my crazy until i figured it out!

On the current Photos app, the Recently Deleted folder is available from the left-hand folders pane. On earlier versions it's available from the File menu, under "Show Recently Deleted".

  • 1
    This is such helpful, concise and time saving answer!
    – Evgeny
    Dec 4, 2020 at 10:34

Images or videos in Photos are firstly moved to folder Recently Deleted once deleted. Photos will automatically delete it permanently after 30 days. It is indeed an application level trash bin in Photos. There is a button, which allows you to delete items without waiting for the 30 days count down.

However, Photos does not reclaim disk spaces immediately after you empty the Recently Deleted folder. Keep Photos opened. It will reclaim disk spaces slowly. I believe that they are the image caches, thumbnails, indices for searching and all other metadata files being cleaned up in the background. So, if you are on a MacBook, connect to the ac power and just don't put your MacBook and hard disks on sleep.

Alternatively, if you have already moved the entire library and just clean up the whole, close Photos first. Hold down key option and invoke Photos again. Choose Create New... to create a blank Photos library. Then close Photos. With Finder, delete the old "Photos Library.photoslibrary" and rename your blank library with that directory name.

I'm running High Sierra and having Time Machine backups. This works for me.


Did you empty Trash (Recycle Bin for Mac) (After moving your files to the external HDD?

If you have Time Machine setup on your primary HDD (where your OS X is setup), setup it up on another HDD (External HDD).


If you're running against a wall thinking it's photos, instead find the folders with the largest usage:

  • Open Finder
  • Go to Computer (Command + Shift + C or use the Go menu)
  • Sort by List view (Command + 2)
  • Open preferences (Command + J)
  • Check the Calculate all sizes control at the bottom of the preference window and close the pref window
  • Click on the size column in the window to have the largest items at the top of the finder window
  • Then use the triangles next to the folder to see where the disk storage is actually being used.

You can focus on folders with 20 GB or larger and make a list of things - perhaps asking a follow on question if you have things in ~/Library that need clearing up. Those generally come back or break things, so don't just trash them directly without doing some research on what exactly you are deleting.

Also, the calculation can take some time, so once you have enabled that, maybe go make a cup of tea or coffee while Finder crawls the filesystem to add up the files in your home folder and elsewhere to show you what's taking up the storage.

Also, your library folder is normally hidden so perhaps open a second finder window to show the sizes there:

  • hold option and command and use the go menu in finder to choose Library
  • repeat the preferences to calculate all sizes

It wouldn't be unusual to have 25 GB of containers and caches for iTunes, iBooks and Xcode if you are using those applications on this Mac or with iCloud storage.


The Photo application moves all pictures in a special folder called "Recently Deleted". They will be kept on your computer for 30 days. After the 30 days period the pictures will be deleted and the space freed. If you want to free space earlier you will have to click on that folder and deleted again.

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