I have around 1700 photos that I've discovered are missing from my iCloud storage. (These are family/baby photos that we desperately don't want to lose.)

When I try to download the photos from iCloud to Photos I get the following error:

iPhoto Download Error

I can see full-screen thumbnails in the Photos app (and they mostly look to be a decent resolution) but when trying to export/share the file it must be looking for the original and gives this error:

iPhoto Export Error

Is there any way to export the thumbnails from the Photos app? I've had a look through the SQLite database file and can't see any blob data that could be thumbnails, although I may have missed it.

I'm hoping someone has a better idea than just taking screenshots of each photo individually, which is the only option I can think of right now.

  • I would encourage you to check icloud.com if you haven't already to verify that it's lost from the cloud. I would also reach out to Apple support since they can sometimes revert photo libraries.
    – Ezekiel
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 3:56
  • Thanks. I'll also contact Apple support today.
    – mmldrm
    Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 12:15

2 Answers 2


Unfortunately you are looking in the wrong place.

By default the Photos.app (macOS Catalina) stores everything in redundantly named "Photos Library.photoslibrary" usually kept in the ~/Pictures folder.

If you right(or control) click on the .photoslibrary file and select Show Package Contents it will open a new finder window. I have my Finder set to display columns but the thumbnails are all stored in one place:

Thumbnails location

Once inside the .photoslibrary package file they are in:

iPod Photo Cache/FXX/T####.thmb

As above. There are not real big or very high resolution but they are something.

  • Thanks. Unfortunately when I check the contents of my .photoslibrary package, I can only find three .ithmb files, at ./resources/derivatives/thumbs/*.ithmb. This is despite there being 22,000 photos. Presumably the structure has changed over the years.
    – mmldrm
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 23:52
  • Interestingly, if I find . | grep jpeg | wc -l I get 49000 files found. That at least gives me hope that I might find and extract the individual thumbnails.
    – mmldrm
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 23:57

To add to the above answer: In Catalina and later, the unmodified original versions of photos and videos can be found in the Originals folder. The lower resolution versions are in the Resources folder, within 'Renders' and 'Derivatives' sub-folders. Finding specific photos is a bit difficult since the images are seemingly randomly stored in folders named A, B, C...1, 2, 3 etc. and their original file names (e.g. IMG6407.JPG etc.) are also changed to long character strings. This article explains in more detail.

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