How to switch from iCloud Photos to just plain Photos

Some folks don’t want to the recurring cost of iCloud. They can go local.

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iCloud Photos provides a great service. Deeply embedded into iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and iCloud, with the feature enabled, every photo you take and every video you record is automatically uploaded to your central iCloud account and then synchronized as a thumbnail or full-resolution image to all your devices linked to the same iCloud account that also have iCloud Photos enabled.

As photo collections grow, some people balk at paying Apple for increasing amounts of iCloud storage, however, and they don’t need or want synchronization across all their devices in quite this way.

You can shed the iCloud part of iCloud Photos and stick just to Photos if you like. You can then opt to sync a different way if you still want that feature—and at no cost.

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Photos for macOS can let you know the status of your iCloud Photos sync.

Before starting, make sure you have enough storage to hold all the media if it’s not all currently downloaded. Then follow these steps to make sure you have full-resolution images and videos downloaded to your Mac and then disable iCloud Photos:

  1. In Photos for macOS, select Photos > Preferences > iCloud.

  2. Select Download Originals to this Mac if it’s not already selected.

  3. Check that the downloads have completed. In Photos with the Photos option selected in the Library list in the sidebar, scroll to the very bottom—it may be just behind the current visible bottom if you think you’re at the end. The count of photos and videos should match what you see on other devices and you should see no progress bar. The text “Updated Just Now” or at a given time may appear.

  4. Once downloads are complete, in Photos > Preferences > iCloud, uncheck the iCloud Photos box.

  5. macOS may provide a warning or it may simply immediately uncouple the library from iCloud.

Apple notes that media isn’t deleted from your account for 30 days in case you’ve made an error or something’s gone wrong.

As for the free trick? Google Photos has apps for macOS (part of Google Drive) and iOS/iPadOS that can automatically upload images as you take or import them. If you can stand to limit your images to 16 megapixels (4,920 by 3,264 pixels in the standard camera frame ratio) and 1080p for videos, Google charges nothing for an unlimited number of images and videos. Any media sized above that is downsampled. (You can also use Google Photos to share an entire library with another person. See my recent column, “Why you should use Google Photos over iCloud Photos: Sharing photos and movies.”)

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

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