I'm cleaning up my iPhoto folders since I am short on HD space. Looking inside iPhoto, I see four folders that consume a lot of space: Masters, Modified, Originals, Previews. Which of these are must keep and which can be deleted or recreated?

For example, I did do some editing but I would rather have the original since I can reproduce it.

PS: I do use an app called PhotoSweeper to help me clean up my iPhoto library. I used it to remove duplications and photos that look alike.

  • All of them are important.
    – Shane Hsu
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 8:39

4 Answers 4


Before any of these, I would check your iPhoto's trashcan. Most people don't realize that the iPhoto trashcan is completely separate from the systemwide trashcan. Depending on how many photos you take, this can sometimes amounts to GB of space quite easily. I would otherwise leave those individual folders alone, as iPhoto uses those to generate the pictures that are in your iPhoto library. Depending on which folder you target (such as originals), you may end up with a bunch of question marks in your iPhoto library where images used to be. The best way to get rid of pictures is to manage them from within the iPhoto application itself.

  • I already emptied the thrash can inside iPhoto. This is a last resort thing. I have literally 2GB left and I need to delete stuff just to download something.
    – oky_sabeni
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 0:00
  • The folders you're talking about are all working in conjunction with the iPhoto application. Taking the contents of one to the curb will likely lead to undesirable results. If you really wanted to clean house, you could duplicate the "originals" directory to an external drive, fire up iPhoto and trash everything. Then, when you get more space freed up on your HDD you can re-import the pics you want (by the way, 2GB remaining on a HDD is far too little space to efficiently run any Mac made in the last 7 or 8 years - hopefully you have 20GB of pics to unload).
    – soxman
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 3:18
  • I'm not sure I understand what you are suggesting. Copy the 'originals' to an external HD and then thrash everything? You mean use iPHoto and delete all the pics? How is that different from deleting the other foldersa nd keeping the originals folder? BTW, my mac runs well even with less than 1GB. I have the retina mac.
    – oky_sabeni
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 4:56
  • Copy the "originals" folder to an external HDD. After that, open iPhoto, select all images you just backed up to your external HDD, and delete them. This frees up space. You can re-import those pictures whenever you'd like. As far as the performance to HDD space issue, 10% of your Mac's HDD full capacity is the recommended minimum to keep your Mac lean and fast. There are four Retina MBP models, so "the retina mac" doesn't tell me anything about your system. What are your specs?
    – soxman
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 7:30

I use a commercial app called CleanMyMac 2 which can scan your iPhoto libraries and safely remove many gigabytes of files that you don't need. It does this by, among other things, looking for pictures that you have cropped, and identifying the uncropped originals and asking you if you want to delete them.

From their web page:

Find what you can’t see

Your iPhoto library is a lot larger than you think it is. Every time a photo is cropped, rotated or changed, its modified file is stored in the iPhoto library, while the original is kept hidden. CleanMyMac 2 locates all of those hidden originals.

Auto or manual cleaning

You can let CleanMyMac 2 automatically select which invisible originals are safe to remove. Or you can manually review each image and remove only those you no longer want. How much space you clear is up to you!

CleanMyMac costs US $40. It can also free up a great deal of space on your hard drive by cleaning up and deleting many other kinds of files besides iPhoto files. You can set it up to run automatically at regular intervals and report to you what files it has found that you can choose to delete.

Update: CleanMyMac 2.1.0 now supports iPhoto 9.5 and Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks.

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  • 1
    It's worth bearing in mind that CleanMyMac destroys data. It replaces the original file with the Preview. This is a lower quality version of the photo, missing lots of metadata. If you're content with destructive editing it begs the question... why use iPhoto at all, an app designed to do exactly the opposite of what you want?
    – terrydev
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 19:48
  • 1
    It does not destroy any metadata. You make the decision to keep only the cropped and edited version of the photo and to discard the original unedited version. The only question begged is: if you went to the trouble to crop and edit it carefully, why would you want to retain the original unedited version? It does just what I want it to, and I like it.
    – user9290
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 2:50
  • I'm delight that is does what you want it to do. My point is that if something destroys data then you need to warn people when you recommend it. As Clean My Mac replaces the Original with the Preview, it loses metadata because the Preview does not have the same metadata as the Original. Seriously, compare the exif on the two sometime. That's losing metadata. As for the question begged: that's quite the point of non-destructive editing. You don't want that. iPhoto is for people who do. Why use an app that works in exactly the opposite way to the one you want?
    – terrydev
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 9:17

It's really simple. They are all required. All. There is no spare or unused material in the library. Don't change anything in the iPhoto Library Folder via the Finder or any other application. iPhoto depends on the structure as well as the contents of this folder. Moving things, renaming things, deleting them or otherwise making changes will prevent iPhoto from working and could even cause you to damage or lose your photos.

So, none of the named folders can be deleted.

Move the library to an external formatted Mac OS Extended (Journaled).

I would caution against using iPhoto with the Masters on one volume and the library on another. If the path to the library changes at any time you could find yourself re-connecting with every file in the library, one at a time.


Many files can be "cleaned up" to recoup space. Previews is one of them and will be recreated as needed. A blanket statement of "Don't delete anything or it will break" is silly. Do some simple testing with copies of libraries and try to break it by deleting educated guess directories like thumbnails and such...

  • With 2GB of free space left on the HD it might be difficult to run tests with a test library.
    – nohillside
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 4:47

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