Creating a Photos archive

I have been using the Powerphotos app to occasionally move photos from my main Photos library to an archive library. A colleague wants to reduce the size of her library in the same way. I would like to know if this can be done with the built in macOS apps.
I have looked at the contents of “Take control of photos” and it doesn’t seem to cover this task. Have I missed something? If not, are there tips elsewhere?

No, there really isn’t a good of doing this and keeping up with it. PowerPhotos is the only thing I know of that will do this.

The question is, what benefit does doing this provide, since it’s going to be a lot of extra and ongoing work and will reduce the efficacy of things like facial recognition? The only thing I can think of is that if you have iCloud Photos but a very small iPhone or iPad, even the thumbnails might overwhelm the iOS device’s available storage.

I’ve seen no indication that Photos behaves differently with more or fewer photos in it, at least to the 35,000 photo level that I have.

My colleague takes lots of photos when doing charity work in East Timor. Her Macbook Air is running out of storage. She wants to have archived photos on an external drive (preferably SSD). She should be able to access the archived photos by pressing the Option key when opening Photos and selecting a library from the external drive.

BTW - the Photos library on my iMac is just over 100Gb with 22,000 photos. I have a similar amount archived. I did have to convert them from iPhotos format a few years ago and that could be on ongoing issue. Most of the computer “apps” that I have developed over the decades have included archiving functions - partly because of storage limitations but also because it is good housekeeping.

Is she using iCloud Photos? If so, she could set Photos to Optimize Mac Storage, which would store only thumbnails locally when space is low. Or, if she’s willing to have an external SSD anyway, she could store her entire Photos library on it instead of on the main drive. (At that point, I’d really recommend iCloud Photos since an external SSD might be even more prone to damage or theft than the MacBook Air. And I hope she has good backups in general!)

Photos does support multiple libraries, as you note, but there is no official way to move photos between them, so maintaining the archive will always be hard. The same was true of iPhoto, back in the day. So there are ways to archive photos manually, but it’s just not something Apple recommends, and it’s likely to come with potentially unwanted side effects like losing the ability to revert edited photos to their originals.

iCloud in East Timor? She is lucky to get phone reception (and electricity)!

Thank you for your advice. I think that spending $29 on Powerphotos might be worthwhile for her situation. ( )

I was afraid you were going to say that. So yeah, I think you’re right, and PowerPhotos is the best option. The only other real solution, if money wasn’t a concern, would be more internal storage, which would likely entail a new Mac.

But regardless, backups are going to be essential.

Adam, this relates to a problem I’m having. Photos has slowed down so much that it may take minutes to open an album or simply delete a photo. I have about 60,000 photos and am trying to go back and remove dupes or bad shots and it takes so long that nothing gets accomplished. I’m trying to figure out what the issue is. I have a 2015 27" iMac. It has 3.2 GHz and only 8GB 1867 MHz DDR3. I’m wondering if the small memory is causing the problems or what else can be done to troubleshoot the issues.

Hi Lynda
As it happens, Powerphotos has a duplicates function:

Find Duplicates feature in PowerPhotos consists of three main steps.

  1. Searching for duplicates The first step is to tell PowerPhotos what libraries you would like to search for duplicate photos, and how you would like it to compare photos to determine whether they are duplicates or not. …etc

I haven’t used this function yet but it does seem to minimise the manual effort. As Adam says, always backup first.

There appear to be several other apps that also assist in managing duplicates but you might find the other features of Powerphotos useful.

Thanks, I’ll look into it. I don’t think that is going to solve the spinning ball problem, but it might help me reduce the photos.

Does your iMac have an SSD, a hard drive, or a Fusion Drive? If it’s anything but an SSD, that’s where I would look for performance issues.

Also, I’m not at my Mac right now to check this, but there are several modifier key start up combinations for Photos that will help you rebuild the Photos library files. It’s not inconceivable that you have some database corruption that’s causing the performance problems.

The iMac only has a 1TB hard drive. I also have couple of multi T external drives.

I can’t guarantee that the hard drive is the only problem, but I can guarantee that it is a major problem. If you can upgrade it to an SSD (tricky, but possible), or put your Photos library on an external Thunderbolt SSD, that will help tremendously.

We strongly recommend against buying Macs with internal hard drives (only the iMac can have one anyway) and I personally would recommend against Fusion Drives too. The performance of SSDs is simply unbeatable.

Lynda – Adam is absolutely correct. My Photos library is 752GB on an external 1TB SSD connected via Thunderbolt to my 13-inch MacBook Pro. That’s 105,521 photos and 3,394 videos. No performance issues at all. The drive gets backed up via Carbon Copy Cloner every night, plus it gets backed up by Time Machine, plus it gets backed up by BackBlaze. Photos is the most important app on my Mac!

One of my Macs has a small capacity HD, so periodically I use Time Machine to backup everything. Then I erase much of what I am not currently working on to clear up space. Reviewing and restoring data, video, multi track GB files and Photos
is exceptionally easy with Time Machine. I have at least a dozen backup drives filled with images, video and multi-track audio projects that I often retrieve needed files from. You may want to try that method.

I suggest that having only 8GB of RAM might be a problem, too. Replacing RAM in an iMac is easy to do; in fact it’s the only easy upgrade on an iMac. Your iMac will take up to 32GB of RAM. You should upgrade to 16GB at least. If you leave the original 8GB of memory in the fist two slots, you can install two 8GB modules to bring your total up to 24. That’s what I did originally when I got my 2013 iMac because third party RAM is much less expensive than Apple BTO memory. I have subsequently upgraded to 32GB, just because I can. But running a Mac with any of the recent versions of OS X on 8GB of RAM is asking for trouble—which you have found to be the case. Admittedly the hard drive may be a problem, but the specs for the 2015 iMac say that the 1TB drive runs at 7200 RPM, which isn’t all that bad. Though there could be a problem with file and in particular free space fragmentation, which on a drive as full as yours apparently is might be an issue. I use iDefrag on my drives to periodically clean them up. TechTool Pro and Drive Genius will also defragment a drive. I like iDefrag because it provides a schematic of what files are where and you can easily see if the drive needs to be defragmented. Some people say that OS X doesn’t need to be defragmented because if prevents file fragmentation. But this is only true for small files. I think you’ll find that your pictures are broken up all over the place, and your free space as well. Of course rebuilding your database can help, too, as it does all the bookkeeping for the Photos app. But more RAM should be your first priority, IMO.

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Thanks for your suggestions. I actually started my call to Apple asking how to reindex the Photos files, and away we went. No answer to that questions, but it led to 3 days of additional consultations, which may have resolved some OS issues, but not the Photos problems. I wondered about the 8GB of RAM being at fault, but you’re the first to suggest it. My last contact at Apple told me to reinstall the OS, but I won’t do that until I know the HD itself is not an issue. I’ve attempted a couple of times to run Disk Utility to check the drive, but it will not complete the process. During one of the consultations with Apple we did a Safe reboot and it worked fine, but since them I’ve not been able to get a Safe boot. None of this makes me comfortable about doing a reinstall. My next step is to get back with Apple and have them set up a Genius Bar appointment, and have them run their diagnostics. I’m prepared with a current backup plan, so if they have to delete, I’m OK. Thanks for your feedback.

You can try running Apple Diagnostics without visiting a Genius Bar:

I would leave reinstalling the OS as a last resort since that won’t necessarily identify hard disk problems.

Phil Seymour wrote “periodically I use Time Machine to backup everything. Then I erase much of what I am not currently working on to clear up space”

Backups of any kind are a dangerous way to archive files:

  • TM will delete those files as the backup disk gets full.
  • Backup drives fail.
  • Three years from now, are you going to remember which files on the TM disk are mere backups, and which are your only copies?
  • If you need to restore from the TM backup, it won’t restore your ‘archived’ files, and in the confusion of needing to restore at all, they’re even more vulnerable.

Archives should be separate from backups, and treated similarly - three copies, at least one off site, maybe different media. Archiving software includes cataloging to make it possible to figure out where your files are without having to mount the archives and hunt.

For home systems, if you need more space for files, use an external drive for the files that don’t need to be on the fast internal SSD, and make sure that drive is included automatically in your regular backup strategy, not as an extra step.

TM is exceptionally easy to navigate through timeline and specific data. You should try it. BTW it will ask if you wish to over write the oldest files should your backup 6TB drive become full.

I have plenty of space on my back up drives, because I only hook up Time Machine every couple of months for a backup. If you leave it plugged in all the time it will fill up rapidly with every keystroke you tap. Use it sparingly and discover what a marvel it is. (Don’t let Apple know it works really well, or they will mess it up with “improvements”.)

Phil Seymour wrote some things about Time machine

The real point is that archived data and backed up data are not at all the same thing, and they need different procedures to avoid losing your stuff. Hiding archived data in the midst of a general backup is just asking for trouble.

“TM is exceptionally easy to navigate through timeline and specific data. You should try it.”

I’ve used TM on numerous machines and system versions since it was released, which is how I know it’s not trustworthy. I’ve had some occurrences of TM backup drives getting corrupted, numerous occurrences of TM saying that the backup is now a mess and it has to start again from scratch, and it often stops backing up with no notice so you have to keep a close eye on it. Sometimes it does give notice - after a month of no backups.

“BTW it will ask if you wish to over write the oldest files should your backup 6TB drive become full.”

Maybe its behavior has changed on the most recent systems which I don’t use as much. At least through Sierra it says something on the order of “I just deleted 90% of your old stuff because you reorganized and moved some really big folders. Okay?”

TM is a better-than-nothing-backup for many users who can’t be convinced to buy and use something reliable. But for real backups that can save your bacon, I strongly prefer Chronosync and/or Carbon Copy Cloner. In practice I use TM plus Chronosync at home (four 4TB drives not counting system drives), and TM plus CCC at work (Only about 4 TB on two drives). The TM versioning is sometimes useful, but I never count on it going back very far.

Extra hard drives, and even NAS boxes for wireless backups, are quite inexpensive compared to trying to recreate a month or more of work, and/or mourning a year or more of lost ‘archived’ photos.