I'm looking free space in my iCloud storage my moving images to local storage only.

I know I can export the full size images, delete them from Photos.app, then re-add them to Photos as referenced photos. But doing this will lose all the metadata in Photos (albums, tags, etc), not to mention moving them to the top of my recently added all-photos list.

My beloved and lamented Aperture had the Relocate Originals command which would move a managed photo to external storage, but Photos doesn't seem to have this. Is there any AppleScript or Swift-accessible system api command that can?

Any way to do this short of writing my own migration tool to save all the possible metadata, then re-add it to the deleted-then-reimported-as-referenced photos?


2 Answers 2


Assuming your photo library is complete ("Download Originals" is checked), I'd recommend the following process:

  1. Close out Photos
  2. In Finder, navigate to the Photos library (~/Pictures/Photos Library.photoslibrary)
  3. Duplicate the library (Right click > Duplicate), then open it by double clicking
    • This shouldn't double the amount of space used by the device since the system will link the original files together until one is modified
  4. You will be able to confirm disconnection from iCloud.
  5. Delete photos from the non-iCloud copy that you want to keep in iCloud.
  6. Delete photos from the iCloud copy that you want to keep local only.
  7. Empty the recently deleted on the local copy to save space

Unfortunately, you cannot repeat this process and merge local libraries. If this is for archival purposes, I'd recommend planning on using a new target library for each period of time or event you're archiving.

iCloud features are only available for the System Library

  • Interesting approach! I don't quite see a way to get to the point where my library has all the photos in all the albums, but some of them locally referenced. But maybe I don't need exactly what I was looking for... I think I can see a way to temporarily move the photos out of iCloud by splitting the library. Then when I want to merge them again, I can turn iCloud Photos back on for the local library. This will re-upload the local assets (messing up the date added), re-download the assets left in the cloud, hopefully with all albums/metadata. Not sure if they would sync back to the same albums.
    – MrTemple
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 16:10
  • @MrTemple You can merge them by turning iCloud on for the new album, that should work well. Not sure whether the albums will merge or be different, but it wouldn't be too much work to mesh that together manually.
    – Ezekiel
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 17:45
  • 1
    Yeah, the merging of the albums wouldn't be super convenient over hundreds of albums that I'd be looking at, but it would be non-destructive of the edits/metadata... And I think the import date could be retained, as it looks to only be screwy if you re-import a file (and apparently if you change the file creation date to the capture date, even that will be alright). This isn't a solution to the question I'm looking for. But as a temporary hack it might work. Assuming there's no other solution to do better, I'm happy to award the bounty. 👍
    – MrTemple
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 18:20

Assuming that your Photo library syncs with iCloud: Why does (within the Photos.app on the Mac) "File > Export > Export .... photos" and activating the checkmark to include all metadata not work for you?

Or you use e.g. “Photos Takeout”.

  • I suppose it's implicit and not 100% explicit in my question, but the need isn't to export the originals, but to change the assets in Photos.app from stored in iCloud to stored locally. This while still retaining the edits and metadata such as Albums, Date Imported, Keywords, etc. The edits (which are non-destructive in Photos) and metadata such as Albums and Date Imported are only available to an asset that is managed in Photos, and are not exported in EXIF. Exporting as you say loses a lot of the edit/metadata tied to the asset, so re-importing to Photos loses all that.
    – MrTemple
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 18:13

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