I love the iCloud Photo Library. Formerly an Aperture user, I enjoy having my entire library available on every device and now use it as my master repository. I upload raw files into it, taken from my DSLR, and of course the photos my iPhone takes. It's great. None of the devices I have, carry sufficient storage to download the entire library and so I have them all set to 'optimize'. Which is fine for day to day use, and even while editing as it downloads when needed. But I keep reading horror stories about libraries getting wiped out through bugs in Apple's software, and just generally speaking am getting increasingly worried I have just 1 copy of my entire library: the copy in iCloud.

So, I want to back up my library. But my drive is too small to make a copy of the library onto it. So, how?

"Attach an external drive" ... I tried doing this. And while I can store the library on the external drive, this then means I no longer have ANY photos on my laptop when I'm not at my desk.

"Create a second library with different sync settings" ... It's not possible to have 2 different libraries both sync down from iCloud, it turns out.

What other options do I have?

3 Answers 3


A possibility could be to have two users on the computer, and having one of them setup with the library on the external disk and enabling "Download originals to this Mac", and having your main user with the library locally and the previously mentioned setting disabled.

That way you would only sync your photos to the external drive when logged in to the second user. Take a couple clicks to do the "backup", but it would work.

  • Ooh I like that solution! Thanks for the suggestion. Might try this out. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 10:54

Can you set your library to be on the external drive, turn on the setting to keep originals locally, then download everything.

Then take a copy of that library on the external drive, turn off the setting to download originals locally, and move the library back to the internal drive?

I can't see why that would not work ...

  • I agree, that would work. But that is one hell of a process to go through every time I want to make a backup! I was hoping for something that 'just works'. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 2:18
  • It answers the question as asked - if you want to do regular ongoing backups , I don't see how that can be possible without using an additional device, say a new computer with more storage? ;) Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 2:23

There is an option to make sure that your Mac has download originals selected (if it can bear the space) and then once all of the iCloud Photos have been downloaded to the Mac, you can go to File -> Export All and then make a folder on your external hard drive and then you will be able to save the photos to your external drive directly.

If you need step by step directions let me know.

  • 1
    The internal drive isn’t big enough to accommodate the entire download. That’s why I’m struggling. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 1:18
  • How big is the internal drive? How big is the external drive? How big are your iCloud Photo size? Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 1:22
  • The internal drive doesn’t have enough space to accommodate the library. The external does. Please read the post. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 1:24
  • I read the post. It lacks the actual sizes needed to determine a possible solution. I'm looking for size amounts. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 1:26
  • The iPhoto library is about 80GB in size. My internal drive is 256 and does not have 80GB available. My external drive does. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 1:28

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