I have a MacBook Pro running Yosemite and my Photos Library is taking 235G of space so I want to back it up into an external hard drive and delete it from MacBook Pro. I am kinda new to Mac OS systems and never really understand how the Photos application works.

I have my iPhone backups on this same MacBook Pro and have also done picture/video imports via the Photos Library application.

The Photos application shows my pictures / videos from 2007 up to 2016.

But I am confused that when I get into Show Package Content of the Photos Library and then the Masters folder, I only see year folders of 2015 and 2016.

So, my question is: From where is the Photos Library pulling together all of my media files? As you know, the Photos Library software does not allow us to right click a picture or video and reveal in finder, which is very annoying.

The bottom line question is: If I drag and drop the Photos Library package to an external drive, will I have successfully backed up my media and safe to delete them from my macbook pro? enter image description hereenter image description here

2 Answers 2


You can move the entire Library if you first Consolidate it from Photos' File menu.

This will pull all externally referenced files into the Library, after which you can move it in its entirety to a new drive. Next Launch of Photos it will ask you where it went & you tell it.

If you then keep the 'Copy items to Photos Library' checked, then in future it will always ensure they are kept within the Library & you can delete any & all external files, should you wish.

  • Thanks. I don't have my MacBook Pro with me right now. So you are saying there is a Consolidate menu under the File menu of the Photos Library application? Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:16
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    Yup, that will attempt to pull any external files into the Library, making it self-contained. once you've ensured that is successful, any photo outside of the lib can be discarded.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:17
  • That's great. I'll try it out tonight. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:18
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    Btw, that method isn't really 'backing it up'. It's actually moving the only copy to another drive, which isn't quite the same thing. You still only have one copy, it's just somewhere else now.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:20
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    If I could up-vote your comment about it not being really backing up 100 times I would... I would up vote it as many times as possible! That's something that is far too misunderstood. Much to disaster for so many people. Same without testing backups.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Mar 1, 2020 at 21:50

I notice from your screenshot of the Preferences window that "Copy items to the Photos Library" is not checked. If that were checked, yes, you could back up the whole library once and for all by copying the .photoslibrary package. But since you're not using that, unfortunately you're kind of on your own for everything except the 235 GB that's inside the package.

  • Thanks. So, given my current settings, the 235GB of media files are self contained inside the Photos Library package? I ask because I wonder if it is symbolically linking to other physical locations like in a unix/linux system. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 13:57
  • That's correct. Some, but probably not all, of your library is self-contained. If you drill down farther into the Masters folder, you should be able to actually see the photos in there. That should help give you a clue as to what to look for outside the .photoslibrary.
    – Bob
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:04
  • Hmm, then why I don't see folders for years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014? Yet the photos library GUI does show media from those years? Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:05
  • That would probably indicate that those years' photos are kept outside the .photoslibrary. Photos just keeps references to those external files so that it can show them in the library. Do you remember where you keep those photos on your internal storage?
    – Bob
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:33
  • I have no idea, because Mac system does lots of things for us without letting us decide, such as choose a folder to import to. That's why I am suspecting that the Photos application will check iPhone's backup folder and referencing media files in iphone backups. Kinda like Google's picasa which basically search the entire hard drive for media files. But I am not able to find any documentation on this for the Photos Library application. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:38

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