How to properly download your iCloud Photo Library

There’s no macOS issue I hear about more than iCloud Photo Library. It’s a service that answers many users’ needs, but there are some not-quite-outlying demands that fall through the cracks. This often revolves around being able to get a full set of your s and movies in iCloud Photo Library if you don’t have enough storage on your Mac startup volume.

Macworld reader Shai wrote in with such a concern recently. They have a 300GB media library synced with iCloud Photo Library and a modest disk drive on their MacBook Pro, so Photos for macOS is set to optimize media. The full-resolution versions of s and video are thus only held in iCloud.

Shai notes that competing cloud providers, Amazon and Google, offer programming interfaces that let a developer, like them, write software that would let them pull their data down even if there were no graphical interface or software provided. Apple doesn’t have an API for iCloud exposed to users. (macOS software developers have certain access mediated by Apple for individual user accounts that are logged into iCloud while using the app.)

Photos will now attempt to download all the media stored in your iCloud Photo Library to the external drive. You can interrupt the process by quitting Photos and ejecting the drive. The next time you plug the drive in, it should resume even without launching Photos, as Photos has a background agent that manages syncing. The iCloud tab in Preferences shows progress.

However, one note of configuration warning with Google Photos: its deletion behavior after your Mac has uploaded media has multiple settings. If you want to upload a set of media larger than your drive per above and then delete pictures and movies from your drive, you have to make sure that the Backup and Sync utility’s Removing Items preference is set to Don’t Remove Items Everywhere or Ask Me Before Removing Items Everywhere. If set to Remove Items Everywhere, deleting media from your drive also deletes it from Google Photos.

We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to [email protected] including screen captures as appropriate, and whether you want your full name used. Every question won’t be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.

How to download all photos from iCloud to your iPhone or iPad
  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap [your name] > iCloud > Photos.
  3. Select Download and Keep Originals.

How to download copies of your photos from iCloud Photos to your Mac or Windows computer

Download iCloud photos and videos

Remember, when you delete a photo from iCloud Photos, it also deletes from iCloud and any other device where youre signed in with the same Apple ID — even if you turned on Download and Keep Originals or Download Originals to this Mac. If you choose to download your originals, this also impacts your device storage. Learn more about how to manage your device storage. You can also learn how to AirDrop your photos and videos to another device.

How to properly download your iCloud Photo Library

Shai notes that competing cloud providers, Amazon and Google, offer programming interfaces that let a developer, like them, write software that would let them pull their data down even if there were no graphical interface or software provided. Apple doesn’t have an API for iCloud exposed to users. (macOS software developers have certain access mediated by Apple for individual user accounts that are logged into iCloud while using the app.)

There’s no macOS issue I hear about more than iCloud Photo Library. It’s a service that answers many users’ needs, but there are some not-quite-outlying demands that fall through the cracks. This often revolves around being able to get a full set of your s and movies in iCloud Photo Library if you don’t have enough storage on your Mac startup volume.

We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to [email protected] including screen captures as appropriate, and whether you want your full name used. Every question won’t be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.

Photos will now attempt to download all the media stored in your iCloud Photo Library to the external drive. You can interrupt the process by quitting Photos and ejecting the drive. The next time you plug the drive in, it should resume even without launching Photos, as Photos has a background agent that manages syncing. The iCloud tab in Preferences shows progress.

However, one note of configuration warning with Google Photos: its deletion behavior after your Mac has uploaded media has multiple settings. If you want to upload a set of media larger than your drive per above and then delete pictures and movies from your drive, you have to make sure that the Backup and Sync utility’s Removing Items preference is set to Don’t Remove Items Everywhere or Ask Me Before Removing Items Everywhere. If set to Remove Items Everywhere, deleting media from your drive also deletes it from Google Photos.

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