What happened

  • opened my fairly big (1TB) photos library (stored on an external drive, backup/copy on a different external drive)
  • Photos started to update the library (no problems, took about half an hour or less)
  • Browsed through the photos, realized that there were many blanks: Blank browsing view

In full screen mode, the images appear blank: Blank full screen image

This is the same for all media, i.e. Live Photos, videos and portraits. However, all media is still in the library package (opened the files in Preview, no problem there) and all metadata (location, tags, lens info, date) is fine, too. Further, these photos are not camera-, location-, face-detection- or file name-specific. They seem to be totally random, however all photos taken before march 2015 are fine (I am probably reading into this, but Photos.app was introduced April 2015).

What I have tried so far:

  • Repair the library
  • Restart the Mac
  • Reset SMC and NVRAM/PRAM
  • Run first aid on both external disks
  • Copied the backup onto my work drive, opened it and it was updated as well. No change there (the blank images seem to be the same for both libraries)
  • Waited about half an hour to display a blank image, no change
  • Tried to export the original image and video, both fail with unknown error (4), yet some Portraits seem to be exporting fine
  • Tried to export (not the original) fails with The process couldn't be finished. (Cocoa-error-1), this time including Portraits

More info about the system

  • MBP 15" from 2017 with macOS BigSur 11.2.1

  • Both external drives have about 1TB of free storage, their total size is 4TB

  • I have opened a library after the Big Sur update without problems, but I am not sure if I have opened this library on Big Sur

  • The backup I have copied has definitely not yet been opened on Big Sur

  • iCloud is not enabled on this library and it is not the system library

My question is: Does anyone know how I can effectively get these blanks to disappear, without having to manually reimport all photos?

I have a couple more options/ideas up my sleeve, however, they will take a lot of time, so maybe someone here already knows a better/faster fix/idea than the following:

  • Copy my currently not-updated backup to an older Catalina Mac, hope it can be opened there
  • As suggested in this thread delete the corrupted libraries, then copy them back (really unsure how this would help though)
  • Update macOS to 11.2.3

  • Update #1

I have updated macOS to version 11.2.3 to no avail.

  • Update #2

I have talked to Apple support. Further things that we tried, all to no avail:

  1. Change the library to the system library
  2. Create another admin account and open the library there
  3. Start into safe mode
  4. Imported problematic images into a new library, there they show up as normal
  • Update #3

It seems like I actually have already opened this library on BigSur as I just tried to open it with a Catalina Mac, which resulted in an error message, saying I would need to update the OS.

  • Update #4

I talked to Apple support again. The engineers didn't come up with anything/they don't really offer database repair. Their "advice" was to manually rebuild the library and use TimeMachine so that there is not only one backup but the history included. I had issues with TM and external drives a couple years ago, thats why I didn't use it. This is one of the unfortunate cases where investigating the issues took so long, it would have been much faster now for me to rebuild it right away.

FYI, I have looked into the following posts:

However, none of these posts helped.

  • Do you think the thumbnails are blank or the masters are gone?
    – bmike
    Mar 22, 2021 at 22:13
  • when viewing the files in the photos library it seems like both are gone, yet in the library package both are still there and viewable with preview.
    – X_841
    Mar 22, 2021 at 22:18

2 Answers 2


I hate to answer the obvious, but now that you are updated on the OS, I would try once to repair again and open a case with Apple. Worst thing is you spend a little time and someone here has a better answer in the mean time.

In the past there was a repair and a rebuild, but it seems Apple has streamlined their advice before you seek their help. I would hate for you to take more drastic action if there is a bug they have to fix on the rendering and processing side. What if your library is (and was) intact and the code needs fixing?

  • Yes, repair and rebuild seems to be only repair now, however this includes rebuilding the library which took in my case more than 3 hours, while the repair part finished within 20 minutes. Thanks for your answer, I will wait and see what the engineers come up with, the "normal" support guy couldn't help me.
    – X_841
    Mar 23, 2021 at 16:09
  • Agreed - the normal tier is to validate quick fixes and collect data for escalation in this case. Fingers crossed.
    – bmike
    Mar 23, 2021 at 20:20
  • Interestingly a different support guy now told me that they "don't offer database repair". I will wait and see what/if the other guy from the last call comes up with anything.
    – X_841
    Mar 25, 2021 at 10:22
  • Some people expect service so if “database repair” is you send them the files I would be surprised if they offered that. I expect they have engineering check server side if you sync data and then offer you specific commands to do the repair. They provide the knowledge, you perform the labor.
    – bmike
    Mar 25, 2021 at 17:16
  • Their "knowledge" was what I added as updates above. So IMO their knowledge support was rather small, yet I fear that even the guys who wrote that code wouldn't be able to help too much...
    – X_841
    Mar 25, 2021 at 20:36

What's the file format of the missing thumbnails and images?

If JPG or PNG, try this: In Photos view, select a few blank thumbnails > in top toolbar, click Image > rotate clockwise > rotate counter clockwise. See if this force-recreates the thumbnails.

Photos for Big Sur uses reduced-size JPEG versions of photos and videos to display the thumbnails and full screen image views. These versions are stored in the Photos Library package (Right-click Photos Library icon > Show Package Contents > Resources folder. See this article for some more details). The reason for missing thumbnails might be some problem with these.


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