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I have a friend who is an Apple-only user; just iPhones and MacBooks, both new from 2022 or 2023.

They have about 1.5TB of photos stored on an external drive; I told them they should have them backed up somewhere else other than that one place.

Can they upload them to iCloud without it trying to sync all these files to their iPhones and MacBooks, and taking up tons of room?

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  • Is the goal to back them up, share them or something else?
    – Allan
    Feb 13, 2023 at 19:41
  • They're non techie users that want to just browse all their photos easily, but also not have only a single copy of them. They can spend some money on a cloud solution, so maybe doing that is the best option
    – Brad Parks
    Feb 13, 2023 at 20:07
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    Check out a Synology NAS. They have a Photo Album feature that will do what you want plus it has external and cloud backup capabilities. .
    – Allan
    Feb 13, 2023 at 20:13
  • How are the photos stored now: as individual picture files under regular folders on the external drive or as uploaded to the Photos app on the Mac with the Photos database being on the external drive? How do they take these photos usually: using an iPhone or another mobile phone or a camera?
    – Alper
    Feb 13, 2023 at 20:44
  • They are currently stored as separate pictures, which they took with a nice canon camera, I guess. So lots of jpegs in folders, by date. They take their pictures mostly on the iphone(s), but for special occasions pull out the nice camera, which doesn't sync to icloud of course, and is where all the big events of their life have piled up into this huge bunch of photos that's not backed up anywhere
    – Brad Parks
    Feb 13, 2023 at 23:45

2 Answers 2

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iCloud/iCloud Photos is more a syncing than a backup solution. It mainly protects against big failures like damaged drives or lost devices, but if you delete a photo by accident, the deletion will sync across all devices resulting in a photo lost. Syncing of course also requires adequate storage on all devices. Also, the maximal storage you get with iCloud is currently limited at 2 TB (extensible to 4 TB if you also purchase Apple One), so depending on the number of additional photos per day you may run into problems rather soon.

So

  • get one or several additional drives (>= 2 TB) and use software like SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner to regularly backup the master drive to the clones. Store at least one clone off site (e.g. at the office) and rotate with each backup cycle.
  • install Backblaze or Arq and schedule regular backups to a cloud storage provider like AWS, Google or Microsoft.

The first option obviously needs more manual work, so if you are looking for a "install once and let it run" solution go with a cloud backup.

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    The maximal storage with iCloud is 4TB. One can purchase Apple One and the 2TB package separately. However it does introduce the problem that, if you want to integrate it into iCloud Photos you cannot back it up unless it all easily fits on your computer (without going through hassle of running an external photo library)
    – Ezekiel
    Feb 13, 2023 at 19:53
  • @Ezekiel Thanks, wasn't aware of that.
    – nohillside
    Feb 13, 2023 at 19:54
  • Thanks for the feedback! So if they had the 2TB uploaded to iCloud, would it only sync some of them down to their iphones? How does that work?
    – Brad Parks
    Feb 13, 2023 at 23:47
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    @BradParks Both the Mac and the phone support either "Download Originals" (the entire library must fit locally, and all data is downloaded to the device) or "Optimize Storage" (all thumbnails and metadata is downloaded locally, but original full resolution images are downloaded on-demand). The latter is not suitable for backing up because it doesn't actually download the data onto your device
    – Ezekiel
    Feb 14, 2023 at 2:51
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    @BradParks iCloud Photos can be enabled per device, so if you just want a cloud „backup“, you can enable it on the master Mac only. Still think that iCloud isn‘t the best solution here.
    – nohillside
    Feb 14, 2023 at 5:04
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iCloud is not the right tool for this. Instead, I suggest you use a NAS like Synology or TrueNAS*. Both products have Photos (and full media organization) feature sets:

  • Synology. They have a built in tool for media organization that allows for uploads from iDevices, centralized archiving and backing up to external USB drives and to the cloud. If you're looking for something that's easy to configure and with no monthly cost - this is your best bet. I have used this to create slideshows from locally stored photos that could be displayed on any TV in the house. Synology also supports 3rd party apps like Plex Media server that can host photo galleries.

  • TrueNAS mainly uses third party apps. Two of them are PhotoPrism and Piwigo. I've seen PhotoPrism implemented and liked the interface. I haven't personally implemented either of these apps on a TrueNAS (yet).

iCloud is good, but you're limited to what you can do. It's main function is giving you a place to put photos and share them. While Apple backs up their servers, you can't really consider it a backup for you. By that, I mean if Apple goofs up and loses data, they can restore it. If you goof up and delete a bunch of photos, you might be able to get Apple to restore it - nothing is certain.

The benefit of going this route is you bypass monthly fees, load only the photos you want on your iPhone and have a central repository for all your photos and multimedia with offline backup capabilities.


* I am a longtime user of Synology and only recently started with TrueNAS because of their ZFS support and better ability to host VMs. I still wholehartedly recommend Synology.

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