How to safely move your Mac's iPhoto library onto an external drive

Posted:
in Mac OS X edited October 2015
Today's digital cameras and advanced smartphones like the iPhone 6 take stunningly detailed photos, but all that extra resolution comes at the price of larger image files. Moving part or all of your iPhoto Library to an external hard drive is one of the most effective ways to free up precious space.




Before starting the process, we suggest making an up to date Time Machine backup of your computer to an external hard drive or Time Capsule. Be sure the external hard drive you use to perform this backup is a separate unit from the one you will move the iPhoto Library to should anything happen.

If you have an account with a cloud storage service, such as Dropbox, Google Drive or even iCloud Drive, you can also upload the iPhoto Library to these services for extra redundancy.




To begin moving your library, open iPhoto, click File in the Menu Bar and select Switch to Library.




A new window will appear listing any and all iPhoto Libraries detected on your computer. If you're not sure where the iPhoto Library file is located, look at the (Default) listing and the file path will be listed underneath. This should be located in the Pictures folder of your Home directory.




Quit iPhoto by going to Quit iPhoto in the iPhoto Menu Bar or pressing Cmd+Q. Connect the external hard drive that you will use to copy the iPhoto Library. You should see it appear on your desktop.




Open a new Finder window and click Pictures in the left sidebar. Click and drag the iPhoto Library file onto the external hard drive icon on your Desktop.




Depending on how large your library is and the connection speed of the external drive, it may take several minutes or longer to complete the copy process.

Once the copy is completed, hold the Option key on your keyboard and open iPhoto from the Dock or Applications folder. A new window will pop up asking you to Create a New Library, Choose the Selected Library or Other Library. Click on Other Library.




In the browser window that appears, navigate to your external hard drive, click the iPhoto Library file you've copied and click Choose.

iPhoto will open and as long as the external hard drive is connected, will reference the library on the external drive and not on your computer's drive.

Quit iPhoto once again and eject the external hard drive holding your new iPhoto Library. Open a new Finder window and navigate to the Pictures folder in the left sidebar again.

Right click or Ctrl+click on the iPhoto file and move it to the Trash.




Finally, to free up the space on your internal hard drive, open the Trash from the Dock or Finder window and click Empty Trash in the upper right corner.




Your iPhoto Library has officially been removed from the internal drive. You can now reconnect the external hard drive you used to copy the iPhoto library, open iPhoto and use it as normal.

If you open iPhoto without your external hard drive connected, iPhoto will give you an error message saying the "Library cannot be found." Quit iPhoto, connect the external hard drive and reopen to fix.

For those looking to expand their beyond their Mac's internal storage HDD or SSD, AppleInsider recommends having at least 1TB of extra space at the ready. A few high quality external and portable hard drive options from Seagate, HGST and Western Digital are listed below.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 33
    mrtotesmrtotes Posts: 759member
    External drives can be excluded by TimeMachine if not available when the backup runs or if they haven't been removed from the exclude list in System Preferences.

    Anyone who uses TimeMachine and plans on doing this should check their settings carefully.
  • Reply 2 of 33
    nick29nick29 Posts: 111member
    Wow, talk about a headache. I don't remember how I moved my iPhoto library several years ago, but I decided to defnitely no allow my photos back into that convoluted mess. Hopefully the Photos app is a lot better, but I still think I'll selectively add photos rather than dump everything into the app. Simple folders and dates on several external hdds works fine for me.
  • Reply 3 of 33
    In the UK the Western Digital My Passport Drive for Mac cost a lot more than the standard My Passport drives - the only difference is they are pre-formatted for Mac so you can save money if you know how to launch Disc Utility and format a drive for Mac OS Journaled.

    They also come in a range of colours which is handy if you have several. For example Carbon Copy Cloner often prompts "Blue backup has not been run in a while" so I just plug in the drive and away it goes.
  • Reply 4 of 33
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,292member
    This is one of the reasons I use Aperture. You can use a referenced or managed library, on a per photo basis, I also would not just make a backup and call it a day, I would test that backup before continuing. Lastly, I wouldn't empty the trash without first backing up, and testing, the library from its new location.
  • Reply 5 of 33
    xixoxixo Posts: 409member
    Right click the iPhoto library, show package contents, navigate to the "Originals" folder.

    That's where your actual photos are, including some of your naked wife that you thought you discarded but remain obscured (but not forgotten).
  • Reply 6 of 33
    chabigchabig Posts: 604member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Quit iPhoto by going to Quit iTunes in the iPhoto Menu Bar or pressing Cmd+Q.

    Obviously a typo...

  • Reply 7 of 33
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,488member

    Thanks for the process but as @chabig mentioned making sure every step is correct helps a lot. I also had to look very closely to see that the iPhoto Library was actually dragged on top of the LaCie drive. What confused me was this drive icon wouldn't show up to the left of the menu unless the desktop was full and the drive mounted to the middle of the desktop. This isn't being picky, I would rather have had a visual more realistic to show what was going on.

     

    You also talk about moving part of your iPhoto library in the opening paragraph but don't describe how to do this. Your instructions only talk about moving the entire iPhoto Library bundled database. How do you split your main library into various sub libraries or can you only view one library at a time? It appears only one library is available at a time.

  • Reply 8 of 33
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,409member
    Moving your iPhoto library is pretty much computers 101, ain't it. It's about as difficult as moving a folder.

    @nick29 - manually selecting and placing individual photos in a folder hierarchy is what sounds convoluted, imo.

    I have several iPhoto libraries. I'll create new ones for specific projects, and then I keep work stuff separate from family stuff, all except the family one a separate HD.
  • Reply 9 of 33

    I didn't see anything about making sure the external HD is formatted as Journaled.  So is that no longer necessary?  You can simply move the iPhone Library regardless of the formatting of the external drive?

  • Reply 10 of 33
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by citivas View Post

     

    I didn't see anything about making sure the external HD is formatted as Journaled.  So is that no longer necessary?  You can simply move the iPhone Library regardless of the formatting of the external drive?


    Most external drives and USB flash drives come formatted as Fat 32 which is a Windows format but OS X can read and write to it just fine. If you want better performance, you can use Disk Utility to format the drive as Mac OS X Extended (journaled). Just make sure there is nothing already on the disk that you want to keep. If there is, you should back it up somewhere because formatting erases all data.

  • Reply 11 of 33
    What if your external drive goes to sleep, will iPhoto wake it up? And can several computers/devices share the same library?
  • Reply 12 of 33
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Nick29 View Post



    Wow, talk about a headache. I don't remember how I moved my iPhoto library several years ago, but I decided to defnitely no allow my photos back into that convoluted mess. Hopefully the Photos app is a lot better, but I still think I'll selectively add photos rather than dump everything into the app. Simple folders and dates on several external hdds works fine for me.

     

    A headache???  The steps involved in moving your iPhoto library come down to "move your iPhoto library".  It's a package and can be moved on your drive or copied to another drive just like any other folder or file. 

     

    As far as simple folders with dates... that's fine if you don't have many photos or don't do any serious editing with them.   Otherwise, how do you do things like, "Find every photo with 'Mary' in it" or "Find every photo taken in Paris", etc...

     

    Personally, I keep all of my photos backed up as simple folders with dates, and then import them all into Aperture where they're properly organized, tagged, and edited non-destructively.

  • Reply 13 of 33
    I don't work for them, but I have to recommend this $30 program, iPhoto Library Manager, for dealing with unwieldy photo libraries. It does a ton of stuff that iPhoto should let you do, like merge libraries, create custom libraries, etc. It does stuff that iPhoto should know how to do, but doesn't.
  • Reply 14 of 33
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member

    What the…??

     

    1) Drag the file in question (Your iPhoto Library) onto an external HD.

    2) Delete the old original.

    3) Hold Option key while launching iPhoto, and then choose your iPhoto library on the external HD in the resulting window.

    Done.

  • Reply 15 of 33
    Has anyone try to do this on a network storage ? I have one synology and it does not work...

    Regards

    Jorge
  • Reply 16 of 33
    nhtnht Posts: 3,416member

    I've debated getting iPhoto manager for $40 or just plunking down another $40 for the now dead aperture.

     

    $40 for features iPhoto should have seems a bit much especially since it's potentially as dead as Aperture with the move to Photos later this year.

  • Reply 17 of 33
    MacProMacPro Posts: 16,189member
    nick29 wrote: »
    Wow, talk about a headache. I don't remember how I moved my iPhoto library several years ago, but I decided to defnitely no allow my photos back into that convoluted mess. Hopefully the Photos app is a lot better, but I still think I'll selectively add photos rather than dump everything into the app. Simple folders and dates on several external hdds works fine for me.

    What headache? That entire process is move the Library (s) where you want it (them), and use Option when opening iPhoto to select the new location. What on earth could be simpler? I think my cat could manage that. ;)
  • Reply 18 of 33
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,292member
    What headache? That entire process is move the Library (s) where you want it (them), and use Option when opening iPhoto to select the new location. What on earth could be simpler? I think my cat could manage that. ;)

    I think he means that he doesn't like all photos to reside within an app; the OSX package, which as we know is still browsable from the Finder. Still, people who prefer folder by date and time, Aperture is the way to go, as that app allows you to simply leave the photos in place with a Referenced Library.
  • Reply 19 of 33
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mstone View Post

     

    Most external drives and USB flash drives come formatted as Fat 32 which is a Windows format but OS X can read and write to it just fine. If you want better performance, you can use Disk Utility to format the drive as Mac OS X Extended (journaled). Just make sure there is nothing already on the disk that you want to keep. If there is, you should back it up somewhere because formatting erases all data.




    Is it Fat32 that has a limit on the maximum file size? You cannot copy files > 4 GB on it right? I can't seem to remember if that was a Fat32 limitation or an NTFS limitation.

     

    If it is a Fat32 limitation, can your iPhoto library grow to more than 4GB? Will it recognise it as a folder with multiple files, or treat it as a single file?

     

    My iPhoto library is currently 315 GB and I have it on a Journaled 4TB drive. I am just curious about Fat32 options.

  • Reply 20 of 33

    How do I make a backup of my NEW iPhoto library in the external disc? Can Time Machine make backups of external discs?

    What if the external disk crashes? :-( I don't want to lose my photos.

    Thank you very much for your time and GREAT solution for my Macbook Air running out of space due to a LARGE iPhoto Library. :-)

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