I would like to use iCloud only for pictures synchronization, but not for storage (Privacy concerns + too large pictures library - I don't know if Apple's security for pictures storage is that good, plus no desire to pay for additional iCloud storage.).

Currently, most pictures appear to be stored locally on the MBP (not in iCloud), though new pictures snapped on iOS do appear in this list (not reliably, though).

The requirements:

  1. All the iOS devices should show the complete library, and only download a larger resolution picture on-demand, so as to always keep the maximum amount of storage available.
  2. A picture snapped using any iOS device must be synced to all other devices, without waiting for a manual synchronization through iTunes.
  3. Only MacBook Pro should be storing the full, high-resolution pictures and videos locally, but I wouldn't mind if the MacBook also had one. Just wanted to avoid having this older computer having to periodically download such a large amount of data.

The setup: iOS devices:

  • iPhone 3GS, iOS 6.1.3
  • iPhone 5c, iOS 10.3.3
  • iPad 2, iOS 9.3.5
  • iPhone 6, iOS 12


  • MacBook, Mac OS OX 10.11.6
  • MacBook Pro, Mac OS X 10.11.6


  • Synology NAS for backups. HDD-based, it's noisy, so not usually powered on. I would prefer not to leave it open to the Internet for security reasons.
  • LaCie Cloudbox, fvdw-sl firmware. Usually powered on. Can take OwnCloud / NextCloud, but seems too low-powered for this purpose.


  • LibreELEC media player based on Raspberry Pi 3. Currently stores a local copy of iTunes songs on an external SSD. Issue: since it's only 100Mbps connectivity, it is painfully slow to list all files.
  • Shared web hosting with NextCloud installed.

How do I achieve this goal, considering my setup? For some reason Apple's terminology in regards to iCloud settings for photos isn't crystal clear to me.

Edited for clarity

  • 1
    You can't achieve this through iCloud Photo Library since it's a storage solution. The setup you depict with your three requirements is basically a server-based solution (I don't know much about servers, correct me if I'm wrong) where your Mac acts like the server and your other devices access the remote data. That implies a permanent internet connection for your Mac and a good throughput.
    – Louis Lac
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 8:56

2 Answers 2


IMHO, you can't accomplish this.

You're describing iCloud Photo Library, except you don't want to use iCloud Photo Library or iCloud storage.

Consider requirement #1: in order for all iOS devices to have access to the complete library, it has to be somewhere that's permanently available. The MacBook Pro can't be the answer to that requirement, because if you're away, the MBP will either be on a different network and/or be asleep. Or rebooting. Or updating. The only resource that's always available is online. This is why iCloud Photo Library stores the complete library in iCloud storage.

Consider requirement #2: in order to sync, each picture must be uploaded to a readily available resource and then each device needs to be alerted to that fact and download it. Again, this is exactly what iCloud Photo Library and/or PhotoStream do.

Here's what I do, which might help. I also have multiple Macs and iOS devices. All of them use my Apple ID and I have turned off iCloud Photo Library, but turned on PhotoStream. I have personally designated one of my Macs as the Master Photo Library (MPL). Any pictures I take with any device automatically show up in my MPL. Those pictures are also available on other iOS devices within the limits of PhotoStream (PhotoStream only keeps the last 30 days and a max of 1000 photos). Once a picture is no longer in the PhotoStream (31 days later, or 1001 photos later), the picture is still available on the device that took the picture, but, it's also permanently saved in my MPL.

Videos are of course another thing. It's called PhotoStream, after all. So, every time I take videos I care about, I connect the iOS device with a cable to the MPL and offload them.

This does not accomplish exactly what you want, but it gets very close. It's the best answer I can come up with. The only thing "better" is using iCloud Photo Library, which I don't use only because of the monthly cost, not because of security.

  • How do you enable MPL on a Mac? It looks like a reasonable option since my MBP is usually online.
    – P. N.
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 20:13
  • It's not an on/off switch, but rather you making a conscience decision and effort to use the Photo Library one one Mac as the primary Photo library. Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 20:46

As others also have said, in order to do that your MBP has to act like a server, which is not generally what it's suited for.

So you would need at least something like iCloud.

I think the option with the best privacy, security and cost combo is Home NAS + OwnCloud + real IP. It requires some manual setup and upfront expenses though.

But any "push the button" solution would require you to trust third-party with your privacy same as iCloud.

So in order to do that:

  • Choose hardware. Can't really help you with that. I would try LaCie first, file storage is not too cpu-intensive if that's what you mean by low-powered. Depends on usage of course.
  • Choose software. There is plenty "nextcloud vs owncloud" info on the web. Let's say NextCloud for now.
  • Install NextCloud server on your NAS. Finding "NextCloud on [yourNAS]" guide shouldn't be a problem either. Depending on this step you may decide to change your software choice ) or hardware for that matter.
  • Expose the NAS to the Internet.
    • Check if your ISP provides you with public IP address: either ask them, or login to your router and check what IP is assigned to WAN interface. Private IPs (as opposed to public) look like this: 192.168.##.##, 172.16-31.##.## or 10.##.##.##. Others are public.
    • If you have public IP address, set up port forwarding on your router: [publicIP]:[NextCloudPort] to [IPofNAS]:[NextCloudPort]. You can benefit from buying a domain name, but it is not strictly necessary.
    • If you don't have public IP, you have a couple of options:
      1. Request one from your ISP and go for port forwarding described above. Some ISPs provide it as a paid option.
      2. Setup "Dynamic DNS" on your router if it supports the feature.
      3. Setup "reverse tunnel" from NAS to some VPS as a last resort.
  • Install NextCloud client app on all macs and IOS devices and login to your server.
  • Configure partial sync in NextCloud client apps so everything is not copied to client devices.
  • Configure automatic photo upload in NextCloud client app on IOS devices.

With this setup all your files will be stored on the NAS. Any device would be able to list the files and download only what is needed. Photos will be auto-uploaded to the NAS.

  • Added some clarifications in the original post. Can you please clarify what setup would be based on OwnCloud?
    – P. N.
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 20:11
  • @P.N. expanded the answer with some sort of a guide.
    – mikst
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 22:39
  • @P.N. also if I may ask, what do you do for living? XD
    – mikst
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 23:03

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