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Hopefully this will serve as a more focused and generalisable version of this question and this question.

  • This isn't my system photos library so the photos aren't in iCloud.
  • About half the 12,620 photos in the library fail to export (Unknown error: -1), can't be edited (Cannot Start Editing: Photos can't load edits for this image.) and have no corresponding file in the Originals subfolders within the .photoslibrary package.
  • The photos aren't thumbnails, or at least Get Info reports full resolutions.
  • Like other people who've asked for help for this problem, the problem photos seem to fit a date range. In my case this is from the start of 2011 to about mid-way through 2015.
  • The same issues occur with my oldest Time Machine backup of the library so restoring from Time Machine isn't an option.
  • I tend to always keep my media libraries consolidated and, if the file creation date is reliable, I created the library in 2021. So it's unlikely the problem photos were simply never copied to the library in the first place and subsequently lost their references.

I might be able to recover some or all of the originals from the people who took them. But, needless to say, I'm looking for a technical solution here.

Edit: Merging duplicates brought the total number of photos down to about 6,500, but unfortunately nearly 80% of those are "problem photos".

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    To clarify something, a full resolution photo can exist without an original file if it was ever re-rendered for an edit, etc. Then the image should exist in the Photos library just not in the originals folder.
    – Ezekiel
    Commented May 26 at 23:54
  • @Ezekiel There's a Revert to Original command in the Image menu. So does the original get deleted on editing, with only the changes retained along with the new image? Commented May 27 at 2:50
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    It shouldn't be, in proper operation. But if an edit is made then a new version is created, so just being able to see the full resolution picture does not mean the original exists in the database if a malfunction occurs.
    – Ezekiel
    Commented May 27 at 2:52
  • This question sounds like a good reason for periodically removing original photos from the .photoslibrary file/folder, and storing them somewhere else. IOW, you should Apple-proof your photographs!
    – Seamus
    Commented May 27 at 22:07
  • @Seamus I think it's a bad idea to deliberately dig into the .photoslibrary package to remove originals, but a belt-and-braces approach would be to export photos periodically to a different backup location along with running regular Time Machine backups of the photos library. Commented May 28 at 0:24

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