You are here

17 posts / 0 new
Last post
Photos - System Photo Library Management #1
john's picture
by john
September 7, 2015 - 10:19pm

Hi, I started using Photos with my complete set of photos from Aperture, so I have about 70,000 photos stored in my library. I have Optimize set to save originals to the Mac.  

Now, I want to change up my management of the System Photo Library & iCloud.  I want to only keep my current year photos in this library. I’ll still have my original library of 70,000+ photos.  My process would be in January I would export all current year photos and import them to my original library. Then I would use an empty System Photo Library to start collecting all the photos for the new year.  This will keep my use of iCloud down as most of my activity to date on my mobile devices, has been related to the current year photos.

I’ve looked around and cannot find a clean way of switching from year to year using the System Photo Library & iCloud with an empty library. In the documentation, I’ve read  it states that the new library being designated as the System Photo Library will have the photos stored in iCloud merged into it.  I don’t want this to happen. I want to start new each year.

Is there an easy way to accomplish this type of library management?

Thomas Emmerich's picture
by Thomas Emmerich
September 11, 2015 - 8:14pm

It seems to accomplish your goal, at some point you will need to purge the iCloud Photo Library or it will sync back to any new library you set as the System Library.

I don’t know what the best way to do this would be. One way I can think of is to create a new empty library and make it the System Library. Set it to be an optimized library so that it doesn’t immediately begin downloading full-size originals from iCloud. Then as soon as it downloads all the thumbnails, start deleting last years photos and it will also delete them from iCloud and all devices. Keep in mind it actually only moves them to the deleted items section where a 30 day timer is set before they are completely deleted. If you enable the deleted photos view in Photos, you will be able to immediately delete them before the 30 day window elapses.

There may be other ways to do this.


john's picture
by john
September 11, 2015 - 9:30pm

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for your response. 

I decided to test this out and see how it goes…  What I found is that, I have to go into preferences for iCloud and purge the iCloud Photo Library.  I ensured that the iCloud Photo Library was deselected on all my mobile devices. It requires the deletion of photos on the mobile device as well. Once you do the delete, It deletes the photos and frees up the space right away; However, I received a notice that I can recover my photos over the next 30 days.  If I try to use iCloud Photo Library on an empty library, before the 30 days are up, it will start the download of photos I just deleted and re-establish my original set of photos. This is not what I wanted.  It looks like I have two options.

1) Your option, using an empty library and the optimize option…. just download the thumbnails and purge those. Next, import just the current year photos.  I’ll have to see if this works.  It looks like it will get me past the 30 day wait period.

2) Purge the iCloud Photo Library, wait 30 days until my photos are permanently deleted and then import my current year photos.

I wish Apple would allow immediate deletion as an option when purging the system library.  Waiting 30 days to swap iCloud Photo Libraries is a bit much.

Thomas Emmerich's picture
by Thomas Emmerich
September 11, 2015 - 9:37pm

They are trying to protect you from yourself. 


john's picture
by john
September 13, 2015 - 4:12pm

I agree; however, there should be a way if you want to permanently delete your library without the 30 day restriction.

The latest on my library deletion….

I created an empty library on my MacBook Pro, so that the originals will not download, I set the preferences to “Optimize…”, and I made this the system library.  After the process finished downloading the 70,000 photos, I deleted them all, and then went to the ‘recently deleted’ folder and permanently deleted them from there.  The library shows it as empty; however, when I look in preferences at the second tab where it gives you library status updates…. mine has shown “Updating…” for 36 hours now.  I’ll call Apple on Monday to see why this is so.  Also, the iCloud Photo Library, still states that I have 27 days until my photos are permanently deleted.  I’ll bring this up to with Apple support to see if this is valid as well.

john's picture
by john
September 18, 2015 - 6:27pm

Well, I worked with Apple on two separate calls this week. Neither call produced a solution. No matter, how many times I try deleting them, the same result occurs…  My iCloud Photo Library is labeled as being deleted in 22 days…  I can download the photos, but I cannot delete the photos in the cloud.  My Photos library on my MacBook is empty, my mobile devices are empty, but in the browser Photos shows all my photos and if I select them there is no delete ability. It is greyed out.  I’m going to wait the 22 days and see what happens.   

As it stands now, I don’t see how I can switch iCloud Photo Libraries in January of each year.  My plan was to carry ‘current year’ photos in the cloud and in January, export the prior year photos into my ‘off-line’ main photo library and start with an empty library in the cloud to capture all my new years photos.

Philippe's picture
by Philippe
September 20, 2015 - 9:50am

I read this thread twice. I think you’ll need to do the following:

1. Backup and test that backup by restoring. This is my standard opening line, since I don’t think people shopped simply trust advice from others over the Internet. May be considered a lame opening, but I just want others to feel save when fiddling with your files/photos/data.

2. Create a New Photo Library (hold down the Option key while opening OSX Photos and choose New Library). Give it an appropriate name, in your case I’d name it “2015 photos and videos”

3. In Preferences, set it to System Library. Close OSX Photos.

4. On all your iOS devices, go to /Settings/Photos & Camera and turn off iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream. It’ll prompt you to delete photos from your device. Say yes to that by tapping Delete (safe because you made working backups in step 1)

5. In Safari, go to (Albums, All Photos), and click on ‘Select Photos’ in the top menu bar. Select (click on) the first photo, scroll down, hold down the Shift key and Select (click on) the last photo. Click on the Delete button in the top menu bar.

6. Open OSX Photos. Wait, see if it somehow downloads any photos and/or videos. If so, let it do its thing by waiting, and delete it all afterwards. You should have an empty photo library now, both on your Mac, iPhone, iPad & iCloud.

7. Export all Photos & Videos made on Jan 1st, 2015 and newer from your 70k lib and import those into your new ”2015 photos and videos” or whatever you named it.

john's picture
by john
September 20, 2015 - 2:40pm

Hi Harry,

Thank you for your response…. 

Looking through the steps you outlined… I see that the one step I did not do, was go to and delete the library from there.  My assumption was that would be done when I was in Photos for OS X and deleting them from there.

I cannot test this now as my iCloud Photo Library is in disabled mode for the next 21 days (I cannot delete photos from Safari iCloud Photo Library).  Once this period is over, I will test this out.  This could very well be the missing step which caused my issue.

Once I test this out, I’ll post back here my results.

Thank you,


Philippe's picture
by Philippe
September 20, 2015 - 2:48pm

21 days? Oh dear. Well, I certainly hope it’ll work out, so yeah, please post back. Always nice to read some issues resolved successfully.


john's picture
by john
October 19, 2015 - 9:57am

Well, my 30 day period passed and I checked in the browser at the iCloud Photo Library and it contained no warning that my library was to be deleted and it showed the default screen before any photos are loaded into the library.  Therefore, I went to Photos for OS X, pointed to my current year library, made it the system library, and did the same for my iOS devices.  Photos on all devices was showing the new library photo count, they were displaying the current library photos properly… so I thought I was done.  However, the next day, I opened iCloud Photo Library in the browser to see its status and was shocked to see my original library displayed with its photos and all, even the record count reflected the original deleted library.  It did have a status message of ‘Updating…’, so I checked in Photos for OS X and my iOS devices and they showed my new library and its record count.  At this point, I could see that whatever iCloud Photo Library was doing in the browser did not reflect in my OS X or iOS version of Photos.  Therefore, I left the browser version run its course of ‘Updating’ as it was not changing the other libraries content.  After about 12 hours, the iCloud Photo Library in the browser stopped updating and switched to the new library set of photos and record count.  Everything is in sync now.  Not sure why iCloud Photo Library switched to an empty version, then after turning iCloud Photo Library back on, it showed the prior deleted library, and then corrected itself to showing the new system library.  

In January, I’ll try this again with the list of steps you provided and see if switching system libraries works better for me then.  

Thanks again to everyone that responded and provided help.



Philippe's picture
by Philippe
October 19, 2015 - 10:17am

As long as everything is in sync in the end, we should be happy.

Confused Mac Fan's picture
by Confused Mac Fan
January 9, 2017 - 12:28am

Hi John, I have been searching and searching online for some sanity for managing large libraries. My main library is nearly 200Gb and I want to move it to an external HD and start afresh, as it is getting too big for a Macbook. The starting afresh seems incredibly difficult when you are syncing everything to iCloud. I’ve found this thread and it seems to describe what I want to do. My question: did you try again with this process a year later (as planned) and did it work better this time around? And if so would you mind saying what steps you took in what order – did you this time use the Safari interface to delete the files? Thanks!

john's picture
by john
January 9, 2017 - 2:57am

Hi Mac Fan,

I have two libraries, a Main one and a Current Year (system library).   I use a MacBook Pro as my main computer.  From my preferences, I have the iCloud Photos Library set to keep originals on my Mac.  I also have an online backup of all photos in Backblaze (excellent service), another backup on my Synology NAS, all while maintaining both Main and Current Year libraries on my external drive. If I travel, I would create another empty system iCloud Photo library on my MacBook which contained those photos that were taken/downloaded while not connected to the external drive.  When I returned home, I would export these, delete this temporary library, import them to my Current Year library, and return to using the Current Year library as my system iCloud Photos Library.    

Regarding switching years, this year, I’m trying Power Photos application to create a Merged library of my Main and Current libraries and am reviewing it for correctness. If this works, I will use Power Photo’s merge function each year and create a new Main (merged library).  After merging, I delete all the photos in my Current Year library (I excluded shared photos) and start with an empty (other than shared) library as my Current Year (system library).  The prior year merged Main library will be put on my NAS for safekeeping.  Not sure that I need them, but I have plenty of space, so it doesn’t hurt to hold them for now if they might prove helpful later.  

Without Power Photos, my steps were:

1) In January, I would create a smart album of the prior year photos in my Current Year library.

2) Export the photos (unmodified) from the Current Year library smart album created in step 1

3) Import the photos into my Main library

4) If the photos imported properly in step 3, I deleted all the photos in my Current Year library from the smart album created in step 1 and I would delete the exported photos from step 2

5) In the Main library, I make any adjustments to my folder/album structure for the newly imported photos. 

Current Year library structure, is to have 12 folders, each representing a month of the year. In each of these folders, I have a smart album set for that month of the year (in January I adjust the year for each of these smart folders).  For special events, during the year, I create an album for each of these in the respective month the event occurred.  In January, i will remove these event albums.  

Main library structure, is to have a folder for each year, followed by a subfolder for the month of that year, followed by  a month album which contains general photos of that month.  At this same level, I have albums for each event of that month.

So I have folders (name within apostrophes) and albums as such.  -> denotes subfolder/album

‘2016’ (year folder) -> ‘01 - Jan’ (month folder) -> ‘201601 - Jan’ (album)  other month event albums are at the same level as ‘201601 - Jan’ album but are created for each event so, I would have event names for albums like:  ’201601 - event description’.

The albums I keep with the year and month as part of the names, so the grouping of photos would have the full description of the period they were associated with.  I guess its overkill, but if my folder structure ever got messed up, I would at least have the year/month in the album name for clarity.

I hope this helps… If you have any other questions/comments, I would love to hear from you.

Confused Mac Fan's picture
by Confused Mac Fan
February 8, 2017 - 1:03am

Thanks John – really detailed and helpful. 

My situation is a bit simpler but nonetheless I guess still not considered normal by Apple, given how difficult it is to manage. Here’s what I did:

In Finder, duplicate the entire ~200Gb master System Library, which is currently sync’d over iCloud. Move the duplicate to an external HDD. This will be my future ‘master’ of all my photos up to a recent date (I chose 31 Dec 2016 for convenience). Rename it “Photos 2013-2016” or whatever. Then back on my main drive, duplicate the System Library a second time, move this to a separate HDD: this is the future backup of my master photos. 

Open each of these new libraries and check that everything is there. To do so I need to click past the terrifying warning message that pops up - the one that makes no sense and doesn’t seem to do anything. (See here…). For the sake of paranoia, lock the backup file in Finder and then unplug and put the second HDD it sits on in a desk drawer.

Now go back to the System Library and within the Photos app take the truly scary decision to delete all the photos up to 31/12/16. I would have done this within the iCloud web interface, but it turns out you can’t do a mass-select in that interface, for some reason best known to Apple (they removed that functionality). So instead I do it in the System Library and then wait for it to sync to the cloud and other devices. This is the key step that I frankly wanted to avoid, because I’m always nervous about deleting what is essentially the “master”, Cloud-based copy of files. But it seems to be the only way to do this.

Everything is now in the bin for 30 days so I can spend the next month checking everything is working OK and reverse if necessary. I now have my old photos in a separate library on an external HDD, and a slimmed-down 2017-and-onwards System Library which syncs over iCloud. In a year or so when that Library gets around 200Gb I will repeat the process and as a bonus try to merge the two libraries together with a tool like Power Photos.

Of course, Apple could just create a function under the file menu called “Split Library”. But that would be too easy, right?

AdreL's picture
by AdreL
October 10, 2015 - 12:25pm

Now that El Capitan works with Macphun extensions I am quite keen to move my Aperture database to Photos 1.1, even though I understand Aperture works with El Capitan.  If there is any difference, in what order should I make my moves?  Upload Aperture database to Photos and then upgrades to El Capitan; or upgrade to El Capitan first and load the Aperture database second?  What are the pros and cons of each method?


Philippe's picture
by Philippe
October 11, 2015 - 7:23am

Doesn’t really matter, but if you first upgrade to 10.11 you’ll have Photos 1.1 which in turn means it won’t have to upgrade your Photos v1.0 Library should you first migrate to Photos.

But it’s no biggie. What is a biggie is the migration from Aperture to Photos; a lot of things are broken in Photos, and I cannot believe Apple let this inadequate product out the door. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that I am happy that I made a wise decision: I migrated a *copy* of my Aperture Lib and can make that my ‘System Library’ with the flick of a switch. Photos simply has too many bugs and design flaws.

AdreL's picture
by AdreL
October 11, 2015 - 8:03am

Harry, thanks.  I was at least going to wait until the Macphun PRO suite of programs is listed as plug-ins before I upgrade to OS X 10.11.  Since it appears that Aperture is still working with OS X 10.11, I may migrate a copy of that database post OS X upgrade as you suggest, but will continue to use Aperture as my primary photo editing and photo management tool.


You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
Passwords are case-sensitive - Forgot your password?