Archive photos from the Photos app on MAC

alex110109 used Ask the Experts™

We have a graphics designer who is using Macbook pro laptop.

She stores all her photos from her iPhone (because she takes a ton) in the Photos app.

The photos app currently has photos going back 5 years and it is filling up space on her hard drive of the laptop.

Can someone recommend a solid solution to archive her photos from the Photos app?

Here are the requirements in the order of priority.

1. Easiest way to export/archive so a normal user can do it.
2. Preferably cloud destination but export to external HDD should be fine.
3. The exported/archived data should be readable from anywhere i.e. even from a PC.
4. Import back at a later date should work properly in the sense that the imported photos should appear as they did before they were exported/archived.

Ask any questions if you need more information on the environment.
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Item 3 is going to cause a few issues.

Starting from the top .. I'd recommend you to get a large  2Tb+ external USB and start by backing up the entire iPhoto Library to an external drive before you start working on anything.

In Photos you can sort photos by YEAR creating a smart album and then open that and SELECT ALL and in the FIle menu choose EXPORT - Unmodified Originals .. save them into a folder on the External HD

You'll then have a number of folders on the External HD which you could then put onto Cloud Storage if you wish .. and they will be readable by any device and can be re-imported

HOWEVER .. if your designer edits and crops and adjusts images in the Photos app .. then exporting the Originals may not be what is required .. and exporting the edited images may be preferable.

Where it gets messy is if the user wants to retain both versions and all the nice albums and tags and favourites that Photos app supports but will be lost when you export to simple images.

In this case what you want is to create multiple Photos libraries .. ideally one for every year or one for every major category ..then you can use a program like PowerPhotos  ( .. this will allow you to move photos between libraries and tidy them up .. what remains will be several Photos libraries for recent years .. on the external HD and maybe just one small one for 2018 on the hard drive of the laptop itself ... the others can be opened at will.
This option is my preference but it breaks your REQUIREMENT 3 .. the Photos Library file is not easily read by anything other than OSX Photos application and definitely not Windows.  Now the photos are all extractable from the libraries but not without a bit of effort or EXPORT from Photos itself.


Hi Eoin

Thanks for the response.

I had guessed as much about the export but thought there might be a better way.

Backup before export - yes, that's just a common sense.

Can I ask you to explain a bit more about the "unmodified originals"? From what you are saying, it looks like, Photos app store the file when it is imported in the Photos app for the first time (from iPhone etc), as unmodified original. Then when a photo is edited, the Photos app stores another version?

If so, we are basically looking at multiple versions of the same file (original i.e. unmodified and then later versions which as basically modifications made to the file).

If this is true, is it possible to like mark one of the version as Final so that all previous versions are deleted?

This will make life much easier because for older files, we can mark one of the versions to be final and then export.

My primary concern is to delete the photos once it they are exported to create free space. If we were to export unmodified originals, does the process delete the exported photos or do we have to manually delete it?
The Export works to either export the ORIGINAL imported version of every file or the current visible version of every file .. there is no option to choose any in-between stage.

You have to delete the photos manually afterwards .. the EXPORT does not impact on the photo album itself .. so you EXPORT and then delete the photos you exported and then go to the RECENTLY DELETED album and re-delete the for good to finally remove them and free up space.

Apple decided to treat deleting photos as a 2 step process as many users accidentally deleted photos and wanted to recover them.  Photos in the Recently Deleted folder will be automatically deleted after 30 days anyway .. but why wait!!


Thanks Eoin for your help.

The user haven't been around for me to do this but can't keep this open for too long.

I am sure this will be fine because I tried it on a test mac and it worked fine.


Thanks for your help !!

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