October 30, 2023

How do I move my Photos library to an external drive?

Christopher Nice

Moving your Photos library to an external drive can free up valuable space on your Mac’s internal storage.

Moving your photos library to an external hard drive can offer several benefits, depending on your specific needs and circumstances. Here are some reasons why you might consider moving your photos library to an external hard drive:

  1. Free Up Space on Your Internal Drive: Photos and videos can take up a significant amount of storage space on your computer’s internal hard drive. Moving them to an external drive can help free up space for other applications, files, and activities.
  2. Storage Expansion: If you have a large collection of photos and videos that exceed the capacity of your computer’s internal drive, an external hard drive provides additional storage space to accommodate your growing library.
  3. Backup and Redundancy: Storing your photos on an external hard drive provides an extra layer of backup and redundancy. In case something happens to your computer’s internal drive, your precious memories are still safe on the external drive.
  4. Portability: An external hard drive allows you to carry your entire photo library with you. This can be especially useful if you’re traveling or need to access your photos on different devices.
  5. Organization and Management: If you prefer to keep your photo collection separate from your computer’s main storage, an external drive can help you organize and manage your photos more effectively.
  6. Performance Improvement: Moving your photos library to an external drive can potentially improve the overall performance of your computer. This is especially true if your internal drive was almost full, as it can lead to a slowdown in system performance.
  7. Long-Term Storage: External hard drives are designed for long-term storage, and they often have better durability and resistance to physical damage compared to internal drives. This makes them a suitable option for archiving your photos over the years.
  8. Collaboration: If you’re working on projects with others and need to share your photo collection, having it on an external drive can make it easier to collaborate and share files.
  9. Privacy and Security: By keeping your photos on an external drive, you can have more control over who has access to them. This can be particularly important if you have sensitive or private images.
  10. Easier Upgrades: When it’s time to upgrade your computer or switch to a new one, having your photos stored on an external drive simplifies the transition process. You won’t need to worry about transferring a large amount of data.

Before moving your photos library to an external hard drive, make sure to back up your data and follow best practices to ensure a smooth transition. Keep in mind that while external drives offer many benefits, they are also subject to potential risks such as drive failure or loss, so maintaining regular backups remains important.

Blank External Hard Drive or Solid State Drive
5-10 Minutes set up time, move time depends on size of library
How do I move my Photos library to an external drive?

How do I move my Photos library to an external drive?

To move your Mac Photos library to an external drive, follow these steps:

  1. Prepare the External Drive: Make sure your external drive is formatted in a compatible file system for macOS, such as APFS or Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Also, ensure the external drive has enough space to accommodate your Photos library.
  2. Quit Photos App: Before you start the process, ensure that the Photos app is closed on your Mac.
  3. Copy the Photos Library:
    • Open a Finder window.
    • Locate your Photos library. By default, it’s in the “Pictures” folder on your Mac. It’s named “Photos Library” or “Photos Library.photoslibrary.”
    • Drag the Photos library to your external drive. You can place it directly in the root of the drive or within a specific folder on the drive.
  4. Option 1: Use the Library on the External Drive:
    • To use the Photos library on the external drive, connect the drive to your Mac.
    • Hold down the Option key on your keyboard and then launch the Photos app. A dialog will appear asking you to choose a library.
    • Click on the “Choose Library” button and navigate to the Photos library on the external drive. Select it and click “Open.”
    • The Photos app will now use the library on the external drive.
  5. Option 2: Set Library Location (Advanced): If you want to make the external drive’s library the default and move the original library from your Mac to free up space, follow these additional steps:
    • After copying the library to the external drive, make sure the library is functional by using the “Option 1” steps above.
    • Once confirmed, you can delete the original library from your Mac’s Pictures folder. Be absolutely certain that the library on the external drive is working as expected before doing this.
    • To set the external library as the default library for Photos, open the Photos app with the external drive connected, and then go to “Photos” > “Preferences.”
    • In the Preferences window, click on the “Use as System Photo Library” button.
  6. Confirm the new library before deleting the original:
    • Confirm that you have opened in to the new library by following the steps in step 4 or 5 above. This can be verified in the photos app by going to “Photos” > “Preferences.” and checking the “Library Location:”
    • Make sure the photo count at the bottom of the Library window matches with the count in the original library.

Remember that using an external drive for your Photos library means that you need to have the drive connected whenever you want to access your photos in the Photos app. Additionally, make sure to have a backup strategy in place to safeguard your photos in case of any data loss.

Always be cautious when moving or deleting files, especially when dealing with important data like photos. It’s a good idea to back up your Photos library and important files before making any major changes.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of moving my photos library to an external drive?

  1. Dependency on External Drive: You’ll need to have the external drive connected to your Mac whenever you want to access your Photos library. If you forget the drive or if it malfunctions, you won’t be able to view or manage your photos.
  2. Speed: Depending on the connection type (USB, Thunderbolt, etc.) and the speed of the external drive, accessing and editing photos might be slower compared to using an internal drive.
  3. Data Management Complexity: Managing photos across two different storage locations (internal drive and external drive) can become complex. You’ll need to ensure that changes and additions are correctly synced between the two locations.
  4. Risk of Data Loss: While an external drive can act as a backup, it can also be susceptible to failures, damage, or loss. It’s important to have a backup strategy that includes regular backups to a different location or cloud storage.
  5. Library Integrity: Moving the Photos library can sometimes lead to issues if not done correctly. If the library structure is altered or if files are moved improperly, it can result in missing photos, broken references, or corruption.
  6. Compatibility: If you plan to use the external drive with different computers, you might encounter compatibility issues if those computers use different macOS versions or have different software configurations.

In conclusion, moving your Photos library to an external drive can be a practical solution to manage storage space and improve portability. However, it’s important to carefully consider the trade-offs and plan accordingly to avoid potential issues. If you decide to proceed, ensure that you follow best practices for moving and managing your library to minimize the drawbacks and maximize the benefits.

What is the best type of external drive to move my Photos library to?

External Hard Drive

The best type of external drive to move your Mac Photos library to depends on your specific needs and preferences. Here are a few considerations to help you choose the right type of external drive:

  1. Connection Interface: Choose an external drive with a fast and compatible connection interface. Common options include:
    • USB-C/Thunderbolt 3: Offers high-speed data transfer and is commonly found on modern Macs.
    • USB 3.0/3.1 Gen 1: Provides good data transfer speeds and is backward compatible with older USB ports.
    • Thunderbolt 2: An older interface, but still faster than USB 3.0. Requires an adapter for newer Macs.
  2. Speed: For optimal performance, consider an external drive with solid-state drive (SSD) technology. SSDs are faster than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) and can significantly improve data access and application launch times.
  3. Storage Capacity: Choose a drive with sufficient storage capacity to accommodate your Photos library and future growth. Keep in mind that photo and video collections can quickly accumulate, so it’s better to have extra space.
  4. Portability: If you plan to carry the external drive with you, consider a compact and portable design. Some drives are ruggedized for added durability, which can be beneficial if you’re on the move frequently.
  5. Backup and Redundancy: Opt for a drive that is reliable and offers data protection features, such as hardware encryption or backup software. This can add an extra layer of security to your valuable photo collection.
  6. Budget: External drives vary in price based on factors like capacity, speed, and brand. Set a budget that aligns with your needs and priorities.
  7. Future Compatibility: Choose a drive that will remain compatible with your Mac’s ports for the foreseeable future. For example, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 is becoming more common, so investing in a drive with these interfaces can offer good longevity.
  8. Manufacturer Reputation: Stick with reputable brands known for producing reliable and high-quality external drives. Well-known brands often provide better customer support and longer warranties.
  9. Cloud Integration: Some drives offer built-in cloud integration for automatic backup or synchronization with cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive. This can provide an extra layer of backup and access flexibility.

Based on these considerations, an external SSD with a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection would likely be an excellent choice for moving your Photos library. SSDs offer fast performance, durability, and compactness, making them suitable for both performance and portability. Just ensure that the drive’s storage capacity meets your needs and budget.

Remember to research specific drive models, read user reviews, and consider your own usage patterns before making a final decision.

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