Growing photos library, storage and potential Mac upgrade

Hi all,

I’m having problems figuring out what the best long term solution for the following problem is.
I have a 2012 MBA which I Upgraded to 500gb of internal storage. Since our son was born this year our photo and video (4K, 60fps needs a lot of space) usage went through the roof and the local and iCloud storage is melting away - already bumped it to 2TB shared storage as 200GB didn’t cut it anymore.

What I absolutely want is a local backup of my wife’s and my Mac photos library on our mac. I don’t want to trust iCloud alone as only “backup” by activating “optimize storage”. The libraries get backup up to an external 2TB SSD and also to backblaze B2 cloud backup.

So far the situation.
As our MacBook Air is quite old I think about upgrading to one of the new M1’s. But I can’t figure out a long term and low maintenance solution for the photo management situation.

  • an BYO upgrade of the ssd would be out of budget and the cheapest 512GB option wouldn’t last a long time anyway - I want to increase RAM to 16GB for longevity btw
  • as it is a laptop I’m not keen on relying on an external drive to put the photos libraries on since that always has to be connected in order to download the newest photos and videos in order to be backed up. And I would need another drive for that since the external ssd is the time machine target and I want redundancy of the data.
  • in the ATP podcast there was a suggestion to keep any old Mac around and run this tucked away only for backup purposes. That is an interesting idea since I also have several external HDDs and speed wouldn’t matter at all. One downside besides physical space would be that I would have to decide which Mac gets to backup to backblaze B2 via arq - or can I just create a second bucket in B2 and make both macs back up? Another downside would be that I want to run all of this as simple and low maintenance as possible - if that is somehow possible since i do understand that my requirements are high. In this case i could would buy the new Mac with 256gb and run this one with optimized storage option and not have to worry about photos’ backups on that machine.
  • I read in this forum that creating a second Mac user with its own photo library (located on external drive and set to download originals) would be a workaround to set the other user to optimize storage - both on the same Apple ID. Does anybody have experience with that setup?

Am I missing something?
Do you have a suggestion for me?

Thanks a lot.

I think the second Mac is your best solution. As far as Backblaze goes, you don’t need B2 for it. Just the regular Backblaze account for a computer will back everything up you are worried about.


Yes, I agree. Go with the second Mac.

Buy a NAS with suitable storage. I use Synology and I’m satisfied.

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A second Mac that has ample storage and is “always on” is the best solution. Managing a NAS (most likely a Linux computer with its own set of quirks and UI and package management system, etc) is additional mental “overhead” that you neither want nor need — especially when you have a newborn.

You already know how to use a Mac. Use a Mac. Have that Mac contain all of your photos and important files.

For your new Mac, I recommend keeping all of your files online (Dropbox, iCloud, whatever) and making sure what your old Mac also has all of those files downloaded locally and backed up as well.

With that system, all you have to worry about is backing up the one “old” Mac, as it has all of your files/photos/etc.

You could then back up your new Mac to your old Mac via Arq if you wanted to, but you would not need to, because even if that computer spontaneously combusted, your files would be on the old Mac and backed up off-site as well.

BTW as the parent of an 18-year-old looking at colleges, let me assure you: you will never regret having a lot of pictures and videos. The videos especially when they get a little old, one day you’ll love to watch and hear their little-kid voices again.


+1 for this - I have a 2010 iMac backed up to Time Machine & Backblaze, and everything on my cloud services syncs to it. I barely use it directly but it works fine in the background. I replaced the internal DVD with a 2 TB HD and the internal HD with a 256 GB SSD. It’s stuck on High Sierra but that works fine for my needs and has still been getting security updates.

I’d recommend you get a more recent used iMac and replace the storage.

If you want to use two Mac you should make sure that all photos are saved outside Photos - you don’t want photos accidentally deleted somewhere else to disappear from the backup back.

So, I would strongly suggest that you use some service that automatically saves all new photos to some other site. I’ve used Synology Moments, Smugmug and Flickr, depending on what you want to do they might be alternatives (these three can also work for presenting the photos to friends/family). Other alternatives are Dropbox, etc.

Thank you so much for the multiple replies, really appreciate it.

Using the existing Air for the backup would indeed be easy and cost effective - although I was planning to sell if for maybe 200€ or something like that.
One question regarding the procedure. I thought about it and in my eyes it would make sense to schedule wake and sleep times at that machine. It would suffice to just let it run for maybe 1-2 hours a day. If it then wakes, it would be stuck at the user login screen, right?! Does it then automatically sync the photo libraries of both user profiles? Or do they have to be logged in?

On the other hand I’m not so keen on handling two macs in my household. Does anybody have experience with the suggestion to have another user profile for each user with an additional photo library on an external drive?

Although I prefer the laptop lifestyle, being able to take it from the office in our house to the couch or bed, I also thought about a Mac mini instead. That would solve the external storage problem and it could run as a backup server in and of itself. The machine would be cheaper and I currently have two dell monitors from work (COVID induced home office), so that would be appealing right now. In the hopeful future that times will be getting better, I would then have to buy my own monitor which would make the cost advantage disappear, I guess.
So many options :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Thanks for the advice on appreciating old photos and videos. Right now it feels like I will never manage the daily flood of videos and photos, but on the other hand I am happy that they exist :blush: and will more so be in the future.

Take care and thanks again.

What do you mean by backing up the new Mac to the old? So arq can use it as a target? Would it then be an encrypted file like in my backblaze b2 that only arq can read?
Don’t know if that would be so practical.

I’m not sure I understand.
If two macs use the same library content, one is using a library with optimized storage, the other one with download originals option, deleting one photo should also delete it in the other library and vice versa, shouldn’t it?

For accidental deletions there would be the time machine and/or backblaze backup.

Thanks for your input.

:yum: auto spelling made it fun, should be “the backup Mac”. So yes, some kind of external backup where the missing photos can be found. My preference is to get it out from Apple’s data storage (not that it’s bad, I just prefer to use different solutions as an extra safety - I don’t actually use Photos as my main storage)

I stumbled upon the following solution to download the iCloud content via a python script to a local path. Does anybody know about this?

I’m not really familiar with all this scripting stuff but would eventually give it a shot.


I’ll bite, I was looking into used Mac Mini’s for a second computer used to back up and such. It seems there’s a 2014 and a 2018 or 2019 model. Would it not be advised to get the 2014 one used as compatibility will go away?

Couldn’t you just get an external hard drive?

I have been working to find a solution to this problem for years as my photo library has grown. One of the questions I had about the above ‘second mac user’ was whether or not you created a new user or simply created a second user account using either your wife’s or your account. Theoretically, I could create a second account on my wife’s laptop using my iCloud account and then she would have access to all my photos - not an issue for me but then it would have access to ALL my photos including screen shots, miscellaneous photography experiments I like to try, etc. Likewise, I don’t want to weed through her stuff if she shared her library. This led me to thinking about creating a third user and using my family sharing account in iCloud but I think that adds unnecessary cost and complexity so I’m dumping the idea of trying to share photos through a cloud service.

Since Photos has gotten better over the years at managing large libraries I am now experimenting with combining all my separate yearly photo libraries into one giant library which will live on an external drive on my Mac Mini. I will periodically export my own photos to this library so they will effectively exist in 2 places but anyone can safely delete unwanted items (duplicates, etc) from the shared library. This library will not be synced to an iCloud account but will be on a drive that gets backed up to Backblaze and eventually to a local backup.

If you have a second user on the mac, would that user need to be logged in and active for the photos to sync and download? Or would it download in the background when you’re not logged in or or not active?