How to restore your photos using iCloud Photo Library

Whether your hard drive crashed or you’re setting up a new Mac, you can use iCloud Photo Library to restore your collection.

icloud photo library hardware

Kare Morken’s external drive took a tumble and died, along with all the images and videos stored in the Photos library.

I would like to restore/make a new Photos library to store locally from my iCloud Photos but I have not been able to find out how to do this.

It’s only non-intuitive to find the answer, because it’s usually described in terms of adding a computer or iOS device.

  1. Make sure you’re logged into the same iCloud account as your iCloud Photo Library. (Log in via a web browser to make sure and that the photos and movies are still there.)
  2. On your Mac, hold down the Option key while launching Photos.
  3. Create a new library (click Create New Library) and save it at whatever drive location you want.
  4. Once the new library appears, choose Photos > Preferences, and then in the General tab click Use as System Photo Library.
  5. In the iCloud tab, you can now check iCloud Photo Library, and opt between optimized and full-resolution media.
mac911 choose new system library photos IDG

You can choose a new library for Photos at launch.

That’s it. Syncing can take a long time over a modest broadband connection if you have tens of gigabytes stored in your iCloud Photo Library. But it’s the only way to proceed if you want to have a full-resolution local copy, which I recommend, as you can then back that copy up elsewhere—to a local drive or to a hosted Internet backup service, or, preferably, both.

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