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I have gobs of photos in iCloud, automatically uploaded from two different phones. Most/all of them are redundant, as I've also imported them into Photos on my Mac. I need the iCloud space to back up those phones. I feel certain it should be possible to mount the iCloud storage as a virtual drive from my Mac, or access my iCloud photo storage from Photos, so that I can check the photos are duplicates and delete them, or download any I don't already have on the computer — and delete them.

But the photos don't appear under iCloud in Finder. I tried enabling Photos under iCloud in Settings, thinking that might let the iCloud photos show up in Photos, but evidently that tries to sync my local photo library up to iCloud, which of course fails because iCloud is full.

I've read I should be able to access the photos by going to icloud.com with a browser, but that doesn't seem to be working, either.

I know I could pay to get more iCloud storage, but I don't want to do that, because I have no desire or need to keep all those photos in iCloud anyway.


Update: Maybe I'm going about this the wrong way. I eventually managed to get in to iCloud.com, and I see that if I delete photos there, it's also going to insist on deleting them from all devices, which is not what I want. I guess I have to tell my phones to stop synching photos to iCloud, and then maybe worry about expediting their deletion from iCloud. [But I'm having trouble doing that, too.]

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but evidently that tries to sync my local photo library up to iCloud, which of course fails because iCloud is full.

I know I could pay to get more iCloud storage, but I don't want to do that, because I have no desire or need to keep all those photos in iCloud anyway.

Assuming that

  • all your iPhones have sync with iCloud photos turned on,
  • and Photos.app on mac has sync with iCloud turned off,

if you only use iPhones for shooting and do not need to access all your photos on iPhones, then you can download all photos of iCloud with third party tools.

After downloading those photos, you can make backups of them and import them into Photos.app on Mac. Then you can delete all already downloaded photos from iCloud (either via browser or iPhone), making room for photos taken on your iPhones in the future.

This way, iCloud is used as a cache to upload new photos taken on iPhones to mac, and for reducing the risk of photo lost if your iPhone get stolen or broken before photos imported to Mac, but not for storing all your photos. Thus, the free quota should be sufficient.

The downside is you cannot access all your photos on iPhones through iCloud. You can only access recent photos not imported to Mac yet. You can access all your photos on iPhones via other means, for example, Dropbox or your own NAS. If you choose to build your own NAS, then you may consider using Nextcloud, which is open source and supports live photos.

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  • Thanks, and I think I understand most of that, but one of your assumptions is false: all your iPhones have sync with iCloud photos turned on. I think I want to turn that off. I don't want iCloud to continuously fill up with pictures. I'm happy to download pictures from my phone directly to my Mac, using Photos. Sep 22, 2022 at 12:05
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    If you just transfer photos from your phone directly to your Mac and turn off iCloud sync on your iPhones, then things will be simpler. You just need to download existing photos from iCloud for once and never need to deal with iCloud photos again.
    – weakish
    Sep 23, 2022 at 13:01
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    If you do not want to use third party tools to download photos from iCloud, you can just export all photos from Photos.app to other directory, then delete them from Photos.app. After that, turn on syncing with iCloud on Photos.app, syncing/downloading all photos from iCloud. When finished sync, turn off syncing on Photos.app, then import previous exported photos back. Since the download is a one off process, exporting and importing again is not very inconvenient.
    – weakish
    Sep 23, 2022 at 13:08

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