How to set up iCloud Photo Library on Mac

iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library (Image credit: iMore)

If you want your Mac's photos to wirelessly sync to all your other iOS devices and computers, you want to set up iCloud Photo Library: Apple's photo sync service lets you back up your images on all your devices, as well as access them — online or offline — on said devices. If you're willing to pay for the extra iCloud storage space, you can store an incredible amount of photos and videos, all accessible at the touch of a button or multi-touch screen. Here's how to set up iCloud photo library on Mac!

Using a PC instead? Here's how to set up iCloud Photo Library on Windows

Here's how to set it up on your Mac and get everything configured to your liking!

How to set up iCloud Photo Library on your Mac

  1. Launch the Photos app on your Mac.
  2. Select the Photos menu in the upper left corner of your screen.
  3. Go to Preferences.
  4. Click on the iCloud tab.

  1. Check "iCloud Photos." This will begin uploading any and all images you have stored in the Photos app to iCloud.

iCloud Photos (Image credit: iMore)

How to optimize your photo and video storage

If you routinely shoot 4K video or high-quality images on your iPhone, iPad, or DSLR, you may run out of storage space fast. (I have a 1TB iMac, but also have almost a terabyte of 4K video stored in iCloud — it gets unwieldy, fast!) This is especially true if you have a Mac laptop with limited hard drive space: It's nice to look at your iPhone's gorgeous Portrait mode photos, but not necessarily always practical to store all of them locally.

Thankfully, Apple offers an Optimize Storage option, which lets you store full-resolution photos and videos of only your most recently shot and accessed imagery; all older photos and videos are available to download via iCloud and are stored as low-resolution previews on your device to save space. You can switch between optimizing your Mac's photos storage or storing your full library locally: Here's how!

Note: If you plan on using Optimize Storage, we suggest having at least one device that stores your entire library locally (usually a Mac with a large local or external hard drive), so you have multiple backups of your photographs and video.

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

Back up iCloud Photo Library to Mac HD by showing: Click Photos, Click Preferences (Image credit: iMore)
  1. Click the iCloud tab.
  2. Click Optimize Mac Storage.

Full-resolution versions of your photos and videos will be uploaded to iCloud.

How to share photos with iCloud Photo Library

Apple's photo service doesn't just provide online backups and sync for your images and video: The company also offers a free sharing service that allows you to send shared albums to friends and family (or create a publicly-shared website). Here's how to turn it on for your Mac.

How to set up and use iCloud Photo Sharing


Do you have any questions on how to set up iCloud photo library on Mac? Let us know in the comments below.

Updated September 2020: Refreshed.

IM Staff

Your source for all things Apple

1 Comment
  • I am trying to move an album of photos from the Photos app on my mac OSx Yosemite desktop to iCloud because iCloud for some reason didn't transfer it automatically eventhough I have the iCloud library enabled. My question is, if I select all the photos in the album and follow your instructions above, will all my photos in the album be deleted from my Mac? Thanks