Photos on macOSSource: iMore

Apple's iCloud Photo Library service works seamlessly to sync and back up your images and video across all of your Apple devices to iCloud — but if you're serious about keeping your irreplaceable photos and video safe, you'll want a redundant (second) backup. Because as they always say, you can never have too many backups! And it's better to be safe than sorry, honestly.

Backing up your photos can take the form of a local backup on your own drive or an external source, a secondary online backup, or both. Here's how to do it all.

How to back up iCloud Photo Library to your Mac's hard drive

The best way to back up the images and video in iCloud Photo Library is to make sure you're downloading all your content onto your Mac.

Note: If you plan to back up your entire digital library to your Mac's hard drive, you'll likely want to do it on a desktop Mac with a 1TB drive or higher. Otherwise, consider backing up to an external drive.

Best online learning tools for kids: ABCmouse, Reading IQ, & more

  1. Launch the Photos app on your Mac.

    Launch PhotosSource: iMore

  2. Click Photos in the App menu in the upper left corner of your screen.
  3. Select Preferences from the drop-down menu.

    Optimize iCloud Photo LibrarySource: iMore

  4. Click the iCloud tab.
  5. Click Download Originals to this Mac.

    Click iCloud, click Download Originals to this MacSource: iMore

Your Mac will now download full-resolution copies of all your images to your Mac's hard drive, stored inside your Photos app library.

How to back up your iCloud Photo Library content to an external drive

There are two ways to back up your iCloud Photo Library to an external drive: by backing up your Photos library automatically, or manually. (You can also export sections of your library if you don't want to back up the whole thing.)

Back up your Photos library automatically

If you've turned on the Download Originals option for your Photos library, you can back up your Photos library as part of your regular backup routine. Whether you use Time Machine or clone your hard drive using SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy, your Photos library (and all images and video automatically downloaded from iCloud) will be backed up as well. (And if you don't currently use a backup service, well... now's a good time to start!)

Back up your Photos library manually

If you've turned on the Download Originals option for your Photos library but don't want to back it up automatically, you can always copy your Photos library to an external drive at regular intervals.

  1. Connect an external drive to your Mac via USB, USB-C, or Thunderbolt.
  2. Open a new Finder window on your Mac.

    Click the Finder iconSource: iMore

  3. Click on Pictures in the sidebar.

    Click Pictures in the Finder side barSource: iMore

  4. Drag your Photos Library to your external drive.

    Click and drag your Photos Library to your external hard driveSource: iMore

  5. Wait for it to copy.

Create an external library for backing up iCloud Photo Library

How to use your Photos library with an external hard drive

I recommend setting a bi-weekly reminder for these steps, so you keep your Photos library regularly backed up.

How to back up portions of your iCloud Photo Library

Don't want to back up your entire library? You can export individual images and videos to your external drive.

  1. Connect an external drive to your Mac via USB, USB-C, or Thunderbolt.
  2. Open the Photos app.

    Launch PhotosSource: iMore

  3. Select the photos and video you want to back up.
  4. Go to the File menu.
  5. Hover over the Export option.

    Hover over the Export optionSource: iMore

  6. Select either Export # Photos or Video or Export Unmodified Original for # Photos or Videos.

    Select to Export Unmodified Originals or as-isSource: iMore

  7. Select an option for File Name and Subfolder Format, and then input your text as desired.

    Input a file name and subfolder formatSource: iMore

  8. Press Export.

    Click ExportSource: iMore

  9. Choose your external drive.
  10. Press Export Originals.

How to make an online backup of your iCloud Photo Library

Even though your entire iCloud Photo Library is (as the name implies) stored online in iCloud, it's worth considering a second online backup as one of your redundancies.

If you store your entire iCloud Photo Library on your Mac

Good news: If you already use a service to back up your hard drive and you've synced your full iCloud Photo Library to your Mac, it's easy to back it all up. (If not, consider it a good time to start!)

If you don't store your iCloud Photo Library on your Mac

If you don't store your iCloud images locally, this is a bit trickier: you can use the external drive method to export portions of your library to an external drive, then sync that drive to your preferred online backup service, but it's a bit more labor-intensive. In general, this is why I tend to recommend backing up your full library to your Mac or storing a library on an external drive.

Any iCloud Photo Library backup questions?

Have any questions about how to back up your iCloud Photo Library, or about backups or iCloud Photo Library in general? Drop them in the comments below!

March 2020: These are still the proper steps to back up your iCloud Photo Library

Serenity Caldwell contributed to an earlier version of this guide.

iCloud Photo Library: The Ultimate Guide

Main