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How to save space by moving photos from a Mac to iCloud

If you find that your photo library starts to take up too much space on your Mac’s hard drive, it might be a good idea to start using iCloud to store them. This can help reduce the space those images take up, while ensuring that they are safe on Apple’s servers if disaster strikes your Mac, and it also means that you can view all those images on all of your Apple devices. Here’s how to upload photos from Mac to iCloud.

How to Store Photos in iCloud Photo Library

To store the photos on your Mac in iCloud, it is not a matter of copying them all and dragging them to a folder marked as iCloud. Instead, there is a much better way in the form of iCloud Photo Library.

This will not only keep your images on Apple’s servers, but it will also allow you to sync them with other Apple devices via iCloud.

Of course, you will need to have enough storage available in your iCloud account to be able to use the service. Apple gives you 5GB for free, but this won’t be enough, so you’ll want to explore some of the higher capacity tiers.

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ICloud prices are as follows:

  • 5GB – Free
  • 50 GB – € 0.99 per month
  • 200 GB – € 2.99 per month
  • 2TB – € 9.99 per month

You can read more about the benefits of each level and how to upgrade it in our guide How much does iCloud cost? Each of these chunks of iCloud storage can be shared with your family if you set up Family Sharing.

To activate the iCloud Photo Library feature, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Photos app on your Mac.
  2. In the upper left corner, click Photos and then select Preferences.
  3. Click the option on the iCloud tab.
  4. Check the iCloud Photos box.

Now, all the images in the Photos app will automatically sync to the iCloud servers (as long as you have enough iCloud storage).

Can I delete photos from my Mac once they are in iCloud Photos?

Syncing your images to iCloud Photo Library will not free up space on your Mac as it only backs them up to the cloud. So you wonder if you can now delete them locally while you have an iCloud version? The answer is no. Definitely not.

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iCloud is not a true backup, but rather a way to sync your library between devices. This means that anything you delete on your Mac will also be deleted in iCloud.

However, there is a built-in feature that allows you to have the full resolution versions safely stored in iCloud, while the much smaller versions are saved locally.

This won’t change your images at all, and you can always download the full-resolution version at any time, so it’s a great way to save space on your Mac while moving most of the storage to iCloud. We will explain how to use this function below.

How to reduce the space taken up by photos on your Mac

Once your photos are stored in iCloud, you can choose the Optimize Mac storage option to store low-resolution images on your Mac. Here’s how to do it:

Follow the steps above to activate iCloud Photo Library.
Once in the iCloud tab, you will see that there are two main options available: Download the originals on this Mac and Optimize Mac storage.


Select the ‘Optimize Mac Storage’ option and the existing full resolution images on your Mac will be replaced by the smaller alternatives.

This setting should lead to a considerable reduction in the storage space your photos occupy on your Mac, but without losing any of your images or sacrificing their quality (at least the original ones).

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It is worth re-emphasizing that if you delete any of these images stored in iCloud on any of your devices, the original will be deleted in iCloud. So do not do it!

How to backup your photos with software or external drives

While iCloud Photos is a great way to sync your pictures between devices and have copies in the cloud, if you want to make sure those precious moments stay safe and have a backup, then we advise you to also use a software to create dedicated backups not only of your photos, but also of documents and other data.

Of course, there’s Apple’s own Time Machine, which is a solid option, and you can use iCloud to back up certain things on your Mac (but not a Time Machine backup, sadly), but it’s also worth it. The wide range of third-party solutions you’ll find in our guide to the best backup software for Mac is worth exploring.

If you are desperate to save space on your Mac, you can move your photo library to an external drive. For our selection of current storage offerings, check out our guides on the best external hard drives for Mac and the best external SSD drives for Mac.

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