I’ve recently purchased a new Mac Mini, and I’ve been importing my old pictures into the Photos app.

I want to have these photos backed up to iCloud, along with the photos currently on my iPad. I then want everything synced to my Mac Mini, but not to my iPad, which has limited storage capacity.

Is it possible to have the Mac Mini and iPad set up to backup to iCloud, but only download backed-up photos to the desktop?

1 Answer 1


By default, iCloud Photo Library only downloads thumbnails of your photos onto each individual device. When you view a photo, a device-optimized version is downloaded. Higher-resolution versions may be pulled down as you zoom in. The full-resolution version isn’t downloaded until you try to Edit or Share the photo.

This default setting is best on space-limited devices such as an iPad or iPhone. As I mentioned, only thumbnails are downloaded by default, so you will not fill up your iPad’s storage. As your device runs out of space, iOS/macOS will automatically purge local copies and retain only thumbnails, as needed.

When you enable iCloud Photo Library, make sure Optimize iPad Storage is checked under SettingsPhotos & Camera:

Optimize iPad Storage

On your Mac Mini, open Photos and make sure Download Originals to this Mac is selected under PhotosPreferencesiCloud:

Download Originals to this Mac

The above configuration will cause your Mac Mini to keep a full-resolution copy of all your photos, with only thumbnails downloaded to your iPad by default, and everything backed up in iCloud.

Be aware that these photos will consume your iCloud data allowance. You may need to subscribe to an iCloud storage plan.

  • 1
    This is a great answer, thanks. I was unaware that the photos from iCloud did not take up space on the iPad. It is still annoying having thousands of photos clogging up the Photos app on the iPad, though. Is there any way to hide thumbnails of photos from iCloud or another device?
    – woemler
    May 22, 2017 at 13:31
  • You can select certain photos to hide in Moments/Collections/Years view, but that will hide them from all your devices. iCloud Photo Library is a syncing service, so changes anywhere will propagate everywhere. Management otherwise becomes very complex quickly for the average user.
    – user11633
    May 22, 2017 at 14:46

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