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.

Ask Mac 911

We’ve compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions we get, and the answers to them: read our super FAQ to see if you’re covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to mac911@macworld.com including screen captures as appropriate. Mac 911 cannot reply to email with troubleshooting advice nor can we publish answers to every question.

To comment on this article and other Macworld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon