How to load a massive amount of data into Photos on a Mac set to Optimize Mac Storage

Your Mac has 128GB of storage and you have 600GB of photos. What to do?

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iCloud Photos lets you keep full-resolution versions of your images and videos in iCloud storage, while letting you choose to store just optimized versions—thumbnails and low-res video previews—on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. That’s great, especially when you have more media than storage. When you need the full image or video, you can double-click it within Photos to retrieve it for local use.

The conundrum can come when you want to load a massive amount of media data into Photos on a Mac set to Optimize Mac Storage (in Photos > Preferences > iCloud) all at once instead of adding to it over time. The trick is to stagger your import. Let’s say you have—as one Macworld reader did—600GB of media data and a 128GB disk drive in your Mac.

After setting Photos to optimized storage, import batches of data and wait for them to upload. You can follow upload progress at the bottom of the Photos window in the Photos view. You may have to bump the scroll a little to hit the very bottom where the library size is shown and the iCloud upload status displays.

Once each chunk has uploaded, you should be able to import another tranche. As new media is imported, Photos should automatically delete the local full-resolution copy of your image and video as long as it’s been uploaded to iCloud.

The thumbnails and previews take up some space, but it’s typically so much less than the originals that with tens of gigabytes available on your Mac, you should be able to store a 600GB library that contains mostly high-resolution images and videos. You could run into trouble only if you have a massive number of relatively low-resolution photos, but it’s unlikely you would with a collection of images that require that much storage.

Now, I’ve argued previously that iCloud Photos shouldn’t be your sole backup. If you only use optimized storage on all your devices, that’s what iCloud turns out to be! You may instead want to import photos onto an external drive first, then import from there to Photos, so that you always have a second local copy, even if the organization of the images into albums or folders isn’t the same in both places.

You can also use a technique I described a while back, too, and occasionally do a time-consuming but useful full-resolution download using an external drive connected to your Mac.

Apple hasn’t yet fully embraced cloud storage as a “one tool in the arsenal” approach. While it does store data with redundancy, making its own multiple geographically dispersed backups of your data, it still doesn’t provide a simple way to download all your stuff directly from iCloud.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Andreas.

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