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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Photos for Mac isn’t a long term photo library option

Bradley Chambers, writing for 9to5Mac, about his photo library backup strategy:

If there is one thing I am obsessed with when it comes to technology, it’s my pictures. I keep them extremely organized and culled.

He then goes on to say, regarding his use of iCloud Photo Library as a sort of backup:

This service puts a copy of all of my media on Apple’s servers, and that means if I lose my iPhone, iPad, or MacBook Pro, I can sign into a new device using my iCloud account, and all my media will be there. One thing to remember is that iCloud Photo Library is a sync service. Syncing means that if you delete a photo on one device, it’ll be deleted elsewhere. For that reason, I don’t consider iCloud Photo Library a true backup.

If you want to use iCloud Photo Library to sync your photos between devices, and even use it as a way to have a full backup of your photos, I suppose you can. However, after doing that for a few years and then wanting to move away from it – I would not recommend Photos on Mac or iCloud Photo Library as a long term photo library solution.

The problem is a few fold, but here are the main points:

  • does not store photo metadata in a readable format or with the individual files at all
  • does not store photos in a directory structure that is human understandable
  • bloats your library’s size dramatically

I have well over 350GB of photos and videos. When I migrated away from Photos for Mac I thought that it must store these in a sane directory structure. When you view the Package Contents of your Photos Library file, it appears as though it does but it does not. Each photo is kept within layers of directories by date within directories by the date they are imported not taken. For me, a huge portion of my library was stored in the 2013 directory, even though most of the photos were not taken in that year. Using various Windows 10 tools I was able to read the file’s metadata to create a sane directory structure and put those files into their proper locations based on when they were taken. Even with automated tools it took me a few weeks to do this.

In addition, all the work you do tagging, face tagging, etc. of photos could end up being for naught. That hard work won’t leave Photos for Mac onto another platform. Perhaps you’re not worried about moving from Mac to Windows or from Photos to another library manager, but you should be. Apple has already killed iPhoto in favor of Photos for Mac and lost a lot of functionality when they did. Who is to say they won’t do that again? Or discontinue the Mac altogether some day?

I still have more work to do before I’m able to share my full workflow for storing, searching, syncing, and backing up my photo library – but this experience has taught me that I always want my library to be future proof, human readable, platform agnostic, and not be locked into any one company’s ecosystem. I’m close and I look forward to sharing my strategy in the near future.