Do your trust your Photos only in iCloud with no local copy/backup?

Hey all,

About to upgrade my MacBook Pro & debating storage size; the main reason I’d need to go large (1TB or 2TB) is because of my Photos album. I keep all photos on my Mac & use Backblaze, so they’re all backed up in Time Machine & Backblaze.

I’m debating using “optimize photos” on my Mac so that they’re only in iCloud—that would save me $800-$1600 on my Mac configuration, but it would mean my photos are only in iCloud: no local copy, no Time Machine backup, & no Backblaze backup.

I’ve had no issues with Photos in iCloud, but I’m not sure I trust it so much that I have no other copies or backups. Am I just being paranoid? Is it worth paying $800-$1600 more just so I can fit them on the Mac for a few more years? Have any of you gone iCloud only for Photos? What’s been your experience?


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I’ve never had any issues with iCloud Photo Library, but I still follow Apple’s advice (from its Set up and use iCloud Photos page) and back up my library elsewhere:

Back up your photos and videos

When you turn on iCloud Photos, your photos and videos automatically upload to iCloud. They’re not duplicated in your iCloud backup, so you should keep backup copies of your library.

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I keep a separate backup. Not because I don’t trust iCloud, but because they’re the most valuable files that I have. I keep mine in iCloud, in Dropbox, on backblaze, on external copied drive, and every few months bring a drive to the safe deposit box. For most of my files I don’t really care as much, but for photos I want to be completely sure I have them.

I would not rely solely on the cloud backup. For the cost of that upgrade, you could buy a cheap Mac mini with an external drive and keep local copies on that. Or some variant thereof.

What is the old saying, “Where is the cloud?”
Answer: “On someone else’s computer.”

I trust cloud services only so far. Sure, they have backups and redundancies, but accidents happens.

Back in 2009, the social bookmarking site Ma.gnolia lost both it’s primary data and it’s backup. All data was lost, and it killed the company and user trust. (See Wired story)

Take Dave and Katie’s advice on MPU, backup your data, especially your photos.

In the pre-cloud era I’ve always heard it’s best practice to keep 3 copies of any files you don’t want to lose like photos or important documents. Having two copies at the same place is the norm, like your Mac, and an external backup in the same home/office, the 3rd copy should be kept off site.

So I’m not sure it that rule has changed now that we have cloud services. How many copies of your data are kept on different servers in the cloud incase one fails, and are the servers in different locations just incase of a major disaster at one location? As consumers we just don’t have a clear answer to that, so I’d always advise keeping at least one complete copy locally. Even though it was the early days, I lost data to google drive when it first came out and learned my lesson early on trusting the cloud.

I’d suggest buying a used mac mini, or just repurposing an older laptop you might have laying around already, and installing a cheap 2 TB sata drive in it. You won’t need a blazing fast SSD or a ton of ram/processing power since this machine is just there for keeping a local copy of your expanding photo library. Better yet having an external that runs frequent backups of that machine solves the 3 copies rule.

The only thing I know for certain, is the cloud isn’t 100% reliable. It’s close, but not close enough for me to take such a huge risk, when the alternatives to risk can be so easily achieved.

“…that would save me $800-$1600 on my Mac configuration…”

Buying extra Mac storage just for photos seems like a huge waste of money to me. Would it be feasible to put your photo library on a cheap external spinning disk? 4 terabytes is around $100 these days.

The down side would be that you’d need to connect the drive to work with your main photo library. The up side would be that you’d have enough storage for your photos and a clone backup of your main boot drive.

Or if you needed the “optimized” versions on your laptop without connecting an external drive, maybe it would be possible to have a second user account with the photo sync to the external drive when you were at home.

Just some thoughts. :slight_smile:

Just put your photos on an external drive. This has been possible for many years. And these days you can buy an 8Tb drive for under $150 on sale.

That last iMore link even explains how to create multiple libraries, and how to switch between them.

Thanks everyone for the advice—so useful. I’m gonna buy a Mac mini & move my Photos library to a connected external storage, then run Backblaze on that mini. Which is gonna save me a LOT of money. Thanks for the advice!!

Just in case you still want to use iCloud photos. This will NOT work with the library on an external drive.

I would still like to use iCloud Photos, so that stinks if it doesn’t work if they’re on an external drive. Can you explain that more? I would keep the Mac & drive plugged in at all times, so I’m not sure why it wouldn’t work. Thanks!

Joe Kissell, owner of TakeControl Books, which has a book on the Photos app, by the way, has noted:

Photos can have just one library open at a time… but you can have as many different Photos libraries on disk as you like. You can switch to another one either by double-clicking it in the Finder, or by holding down Option when you launch Photos and choosing a different library for that session. But note that only one library at a time can sync to the cloud using iCloud Photo Library namely, your System Photo Library… the library Photos considers primary, which means, for example, that it’s the one iCloud uses (for iCloud Photo Library, My Photo Stream, and other purposes) and the one iCloud-enabled apps can access. If you have only one Photos library on your Mac, that is by definition your System Photo Library.

I cant quickly find the KB article. But I have run into this with a clients machine who has a very large Photos library on an external RAID. When I tried to setup iCloud photos there was a warning that this only works with a Photo’s library stored on a local drive.

Hmm, this Apple support doc - Move your Photos library to save space on your Mac - says

If you use iCloud Photo Library, designate this library as the System Photo Library.

That sounds like an external Photos lib CAN use iCloud, if it’s designated as the System Photo Library.

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I can confirm this - I closed Photos, moved the library to an external 10Tb, opened up and pointed Photos to the external drive’s library, redesignated as the System Photo Library and am good to go.

I generally dupe everything in Google Photos


Simple…a month or so ago I had to rebuild a section of my Apple Music library due to an apparent ‘glitch’. This confirmed my worst thoughts that clouds cannot be your ‘only’ back-up. I don’t mind admitting having 8 copies of my photos, across 5 hard drives (both types) at two locations!!!

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I have never connected my music library to the cloud, I have 36,000+ songs in my library (plus a few hundred boxed-up CDs I’ve been too lazy to rip), much of it live or bootleg, and I’ve heard too many stories about music being matched in the cloud but returning at a later date as a different version or a different song entirely. Not worth the potential trouble, even if I do have a copy of my music library sitting in a closet.

I’ve gone all-in on Apple Music these days and I’m really enjoying using it, and these days I hardly touch my music library anyway. But with Catalina’s break-up of iTunes (I’m still on Mojave), and with a lifetime Pro PocketCasts account for podcasts, I’m thinking of extracting my music from the grasp of iTunes entirely, and using a 3rd-party player like Musique, Nightingale, Clementine, Vox or Plexamp.