How to Back Up Your Mac’s Photos Library

By | October 17th, 2016

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A spilled drink was all it took to destroy Margaret’s only photos of her son’s high school graduation. She looked at me with disbelief as I told her the information might not be recovered. Without a backup, Margaret (not her real name) was faced with the very real possibility of either losing those photos or paying through the nose for forensic data recovery.

Margaret was a customer of mine at the computer store. Margaret had snapped the pictures on her phone then transferred them to her Mac to save space. She’d turned them into a slideshow which she shared with family members. Since the pictures were on her “computer”, Margaret thought the pictures were safe. After all, she’d never had a moment’s trouble with her Mac. A misadventure with a hurried dinner over her MacBook Pro’s keyboard ended that perfect run.

Your photos are precious memories that can’t be replaced. Make sure that no matter what happens your photo library is safe from disaster. The good news is that if you’re using Backblaze, we back up the Photos library for you. But forewarned is forearmed. Here’s how to make sure you’ve got all your photos backed up in one place, even if you aren’t using Backblaze yet.

Sync with iCloud Photo Library (if you use it)

iCloud Photo Library uploads and stores your photo library to iCloud. You can access photos and videos on every device connected using that Apple ID, or sign in to iCloud on the web to access your photo and video content.

iCloud Photo Library is limited by your available iCloud storage. Everyone gets 5GB for free. Any more than that, and you have to pay for it. That right there is enough for many of us not to use it, so if you don’t, feel free to skip to the next section. But if you do, here are a few salient points to consider:

There’s nothing permanent about iCloud Photo Library. Any change you make to your Photo Library on one device is propagated everywhere. Delete an image on your Mac, and that image will be removed from your iPhone, iPad or any other device connected via the same Apple ID, for example.

What’s more, if you find yourself offline for any reason, you might not have access to all your photos. The cloud might be the only place you have a full-resolution image, depending on how you’ve configured iCloud Photo Library settings in your Mac and iPhone.

iCloud Photo Library’s settings on Mac and iOS enable you to optimize downloaded files to avoid photos taking up too much space. That means the only full-resolution copy of that image might be in the cloud to begin with, and that’s a precarious situation.

So your first order of business should be to make sure that your Mac is set to capture all of your original photos.

  1. Open Photos
  2. Click the Photos menu.
  3. Select Preferences.
  4. Click the iCloud tab.
  5. Make sure iCloud Photo Library is checked.
  6. Click Download Originals to this Mac.
  7. download-originals

Photos will store the original photos and videos on your Mac – make sure you have sufficient disk space to accept all the files. (Photos will warn you if your drive is too full to manage this.)

With all of your photos now stored locally on your Mac in their full splendor, you can back them up using whatever means you prefer.

How to Back Up Your Photos Library

Using Time Machine? That’s Apple’s built-in backup software. If so, your Photo Library is being backed up already. And as we said, if you have Backblaze installed, we do that for you too.

If you’d like to back up your Photos library manually, here’s how to find it:

  1. Open Photos.
  2. Click the Photos menu.
  3. Select Preferences.
  4. With the General tab selected, look for Library Location and click the Show in Finder button.

For most of us, the Photos Library is located in the Pictures folder on the Mac’s hard drive. You can make a copy of that by clicking and dragging it onto another disk. Use an external hard disk, Network Attached Storage (NAS) device (like a Synology DiskStation) or other means to copy the library.

photos-library

For extra redundancy upload the Photos Library to a cloud sync service. Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, whatever you’d prefer. But it’s a good idea to have a local copy too.

Photos allows you to create multiple libraries. That’s handy if you take a lot of pictures or if you want to compartmentalize the photos you’ve taken. If you’ve created multiple Photos Libraries, make sure to copy each one for safekeeping.

Protect your pictures

Postscript on Margaret’s story: It took weeks and cost her a lot of money. Eventually Margaret got back most of her photos and other data, including her son’s high school graduation pics. Once bitten, twice shy as they say: Margaret learned her lesson and invested in a backup system for her replacement computer.

We’re shooting a lot more pictures than ever before. The days of sticking negatives in a shoebox are long behind us. Digital photography is by nature more ephemeral. So it’s much easier to lose track of your photos. Develop a workflow for backing up your photos that makes sense for you and stick with it. No matter what happens with the cloud or even with your computer or phone, your photos will be safe.

We’ve focused our attention on the Mac in this feature, but if you have questions about how to backup your iPhone, make sure to check out our Mobile Backup Guide.

Have questions about Photos, iCloud Photo Library or backing up your pictures that we didn’t answer? Let us know in the comments.

Peter Cohen
Peter will never give you up, never let you down, never run around or desert you. He also manages the Backblaze blog.

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Category:  Backing Up
  • Isabelle Dervaux

    Wondering how you do this: “For extra redundancy upload the Photos Library to a cloud sync service. Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, whatever you’d prefer. But it’s a good idea to have a local copy too.”

    Is this possible to drag the entire Apple Photos Library folder onto Dropbox, Google Drive or Box? Would you be able to open it from another computer on the web?
    Should you then export the individual photos into Dropbox, Google Drive or Box rather than copy the Apple Photos package?

  • J.D

    Not ONE article around the ENTIRE internet can answer ONE question: Where are the originals at from “download originals to mac”. Like seriously.. Its a simple thing to mention thats not..

  • Apple has come a long way with their cloud services. With that said, it’s been my experience not to rely solely on one service or backup solution. Hence my use of Backblaze, Amazon and Google. With the price of cloud storage as low as it is, there is no reason not to have multiple copies of your precious photos.

  • JeremyBechtold

    For anyone reading this article as their first introduction into backing up their photos/videos/data, might I also suggest a third layer of protection…

    Yes, I use BackBlaze for my online backup service and I love it. I’ve only ever tested it to ensure I’ll be able and know how to use it should I need to, but knowing it’s there is good enough for me now. Please don’t wait to confirm it’s doing all you think that it is though… be sure now.

    Otherwise, I use Apple’s Time Machine (TM) backups for all my local stuff. Once in a while I’ve used Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC), but the manual process required compared to TM isn’t worth it unless I’m duplicating an entire volume or series of volumes.

    I don’t trust TM (or any other process) to be perfect, AND considering the low cost of HDD equipment nowadays and the potential for mechanical failures, I recommend redundancy here as well. I’ve generally purchased two of every drive for the past 10 years or so, since I started using TM. I name them differently, and keep one connected for a week or so (with a calendar reminder to switch), and then bring it to the office for an offsite backup, just in case. The one that sits at the office comes home that same day, and gets used for a week or so with TM. This way, all three drives (the source, and both TM backup drives) are never all in the same place should disaster strike. AND, the version sitting offsite is never more than a week or so away from a completely up to date master.

  • JT

    Hi Peter. Isn’t Backblaze backing up my entire Iphoto library from my Mac? I put all of my picture onto my mac and with attached external devices and all of those library are synced to backblaze. Is there another step I’m missing for backblaze protection?
    thanks

    • whattheheck3650

      I have the same question. Why would Backblaze write this article without mentioning Backblaze as the easiest option of all?

    • JeremyBechtold

      I too thought it was odd that backblaze wasn’t mentioned at all—though it was incredibly refreshing to not be beaten over the head with it repeatedly. Kudos for writing an article that speaks to the common methods the average Mac user would have at hand, but for the times that folks might “borrow” some of the content, I’d still add it in amongst the other “free” services mentioned with dropbox, google drive, box, etc., perhaps just with an asterisk since none of those “free” services will handle more than a smattering of photos/videos at that free price point anyway.

      I just logged in and checked my system and from what I can tell, all files which I expected to be backed up are there in my backup list. I don’t think there are any worries about my photos and videos, but having BB just as my redundancy method, for emergency use only, makes me confident that I’ll be fine should something happen to my local versions.

  • Tim Woolf

    All very well but no mention of how blisteringly SLOW Backblaze is! After the initial backup, I have been trying for nearly 1 YEAR to get my photos backed up. I once tried to estimate how long it would take, and as Backblaze was managing to upload about 1 MB per MINUTE, it will take me about 27 YEARS. UTTERLY HOPELESS.

    • Daniel Koop

      Backblaze works fast here, it utilises the full 50 Mbit up when it needs to backup something, including pictures and small files. I did turn off the Automatic throttle, perhaps this solves your problem (assuming that you have a fast internet connection)?

      • Tim Woolf

        Well it doesn’t here! I don’t have a super fast internet connection, but its fast enough, and I do have Auto throttle off and all 10 backup threads in ‘action’. It says it manages .498Mbps. I left my mac on over the weekend while I was away (@ 60 hrs) and it had backed up less than 400 MB! I think I could do better with paper and glue!

        • Daniel Koop

          Do note that some later Mac models (perhaps also older models) suspend when you do not use them. For instance, I do not have the option to keep the Mac always on anymore. You can use something like http://lightheadsw.com/caffeine/ to resolve this.

          Hope this helps :-)

        • GentleGiant

          Your slow backups, while unfortunate for you, are not an indication that backups are slow for everyone that uses Backblaze and it is misleading for you to claim this is a general problem.

          • Tim Woolf

            May be misleading of you to claim that backups are OK for you when they’re not for everyone.

          • GentleGiant

            I made no such claim, that backups were okay for me, in my comment. I merely pointed out the error in your logic when you stated that your slow backups implied that slow Backblaze backups were a general problem.

        • Ed Melchior

          Tim, .498Mbps sounds as if it might be an upload cap on your ISP. I’d try using a tool like speedtest.net to see what your ISP allows. It’ll give you a full bandwidth test, not depending on any application such as Backblaze (try to make sure nothing else is transferring during the 30 seconds or so the speedtest takes). My TimeWarner home connection had a .5Mbps upload cap while allowing 15Mbps down. My newer connection with TimeWarner has 25Mbps down and 2.5Mbps up. Not nearly fast enough for my 60,000 image Aperture library. I bring my Mac laptop to work for Backblaze backup, since we have an unthrottled Internet2 connection.

    • Mo

      As others have said, the speed of the service is limited by your connection. I have the same problem (and probably also had the problem that Daniel Koop mentions below, before I replaced my old Mac in July), which is why I continue running the backup throughout my work day, albeit at a slower rate. It helps.

      • Tim Woolf

        Yes and I had the same problem when I had super fast 100MB virgin broadband. No matter how you try and argue it, I have noticed a LOT of people mention of how achingly slow Backblaze is.

        • teryan2006

          Looking up your “100Mbps” on Virgin Broadband, it has an upload speed cap of 6Mbps. That really bit slow to be using online backups.

    • Hey Tim. Sorry it’s not working as quick as you would have liked. We tend to be pretty quick for a lot of our users. If you ping support they might be able to take a look, but if you’ve maxxed out your threads and speedthrottle, it might just be that your ISP is slow and/or latency to our servers is too high. Sorry Tim :-/

    • Allister Jenks

      There are many links in the chain that affect the speed of your backup. Your computer, other software on your computer, your local network, other traffic on that network, your cable/DSL/fibre router, your ISP, your ISP’s backhaul, other traffic on your local circuit, other traffic on your ISP’s backhaul and THEN you get to “the internet” where there’s a whole lot more.

      I can confirm Backblaze is not slow by design because I was previously using a competitor’s product which, no matter what I did, would only ever use 3MBit of bandwidth. The day I installed Backblaze, it was using 9-10Mbit of my 10Mbit bandwidth if I let it.

      So please, rather than lash out at Backblaze, consider doing some troubleshooting or paying someone to do that.

  • Manu

    Peter, this is interesting but I guess the problem for most people including me is that they have a larger library than available disk space, which forces them to use “Optimize Storage”. Then there is actually no backup of the pictures, they are only on Apple Server. But as I said MacBook Pros come with rather small HDDs so I don’t see any solution.

    Is there a way to solve that with Backblaze ? Thanks a lot !

  • Well, this will be useful, cause I just got my first Macbook Pro :)