Find Where Your Pictures are Stored – Windows and MacOS

I recently helped a friend set up backups on his computer. He uses a Mac and subscribes to iCloud. The level of subscription includes a few hundred GB of storage that more than enough covers his important documents and photos. I ensured that everything is stored in iCloud folders and we confirmed that all the files are showing up on a second Mac and also on his iPad. He also subscribes to another online backup service. As I frequently talk about, it’s important to have multiple types of backup so that you are protected in case something happens to one or more of the backup copies. It was no problem to point to the iCloud files on the computer to ensure that the backup service backed them up. The problem I had was finding the pictures that are managed by the Apple Photo Library.

The benefits of photo management software

Apple Photos Library on MacOS is a great way to view and manage your photos. You can view them by date or put them into albums. There’s also integrated tools for doing minor photo editing. Another alternative is to keep the photos in a regular folder structure similar to what I have written about before. My example is from Windows but this can also be done on MacOS. The problem arises when you go to back up these photos that are managed by Apple Photos Library.

Just exactly where are those photo located?

I had a look at my friend’s computer to see where the photos are located in Apple Photos Library. The backup software that he uses, Zoolz, works by either setting it up to backup all photos, documents or specific files types or to browse for specific folders. I was able to browse to his iCloud document folders but could not find the Photo Library. Then I did a bit of digging around through the folder structure. I opened Finder and went to his home directory. I browsed through the folders and then I saw Photos Library

here is where the Photos Library shows up in the MacOS file system

Double clicking on Photos Library just opens up the Photos Library program. By pressing CTRL and click, that opens the menu option where you can select Show Package Contents

This took me to the actual files and folders, looking quite similar to the system that I use for managing photos and videos.

Now I could copy or view any photo in the folder structure. But here is the big question. How can I access these photo folders from other software like Zoolz backup? I did some research and it looks like that since these are folders completely managed by Photos Library, your only option is to let iCloud back them up. For me, this goes against my practice of keeping multiple copies of important files such as photos and videos. Am I missing something? I there some other way to access these files, even from a back up only option? I understand that nothing except Photos Library should be able to change these folders.

If this is truly the case, then I cannot recommend using Apple Photos Library to anyone who is serious about effectively protecting their photos and videos. If you put these files in their own folder structure that you manage then you have control. In future, I will look at other options for managing photos and videos that does not involve Apple Photos Library. Or maybe there’s a way to sync files from Photos Library to another location. Do you have any suggestions for managing photos and videos on MacOS? If so, let me know in the comments.

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Review: Apple iCloud Photo Library

On a recent vacation to visit family in Montreal, I decided to turn on Apple iCloud Photo Library so I could give it a proper test. With my system for storing photos, I wasn’t so sure that iCloud Photo Library was for me but I get asked about systems like it all the time so I decided a test was in order. Let’s take a step back. When iPhones first came out, all photos and videos were stored on the phone. When you wanted to do something with them off the phone, you plugged your iPhone into a computer and transferred the photos. As we move to a more phone-centric world and always connected, having the ability to automatically have pictures stored in the cloud is an option. With iCloud Photo Library, as you take pictures and videos, they are uploaded to your personal Apple iCloud online space. You can decide whether or not to do this through cellular or only on WiFi. Let’s walk through how this is set up and some important settings.

Enabling iCloud Photo Library

First, when I mention iPhone here, it also applies to iPads. If you have a cellular enabled iPad, then all the cellular considerations apply to. For WiFi only iPads, it’s only going to upload when it has a WiFi connection. On your phone, go to Settings-> Photos and tap on iCloud Photo Library. If you expect to take many photos and don’t want to have to manage space, choose Optimize iPhone Storage. This will reduce the size of photos on the phone but the full sizes remain online. enable iCloud Photo Library That’s all there is to enable iCloud Photo Library. Now when you take photos and videos, they will get uploaded to your iCloud account. If you have several Apple devices, you’ll be able to view and even share these photos and videos from anywhere. And even from any web browser you can log in to icloud.com to see and manage your pictures from there. As time goes on, you’ll have all your photos easily available. So in summary, these are the pros for enabling iCloud Photo library:
  • backs up automatically to the cloud
  • becomes available on all devices including any web browser
  • easy to share pictures with others

The Other Side of iCloud Photo Library

When the great features of systems like iCloud Photo Library are talked about, it’s always about the convenience and protection of your photos and videos. The questions I always ask about any system that stores my precious memories include:
  • How easy is it to get my photos and videos out in the future in case I want to change to a different cloud provider?
  • What happens if they go out of business?
  • What happens if the system is hacked and I lose everything?
  • If they do stick around, how can I ensure that I can give these photos and videos one day?
So let’s look at the “cons” to iCloud Photo Library. First, if you use Microsoft Windows, like I do, then it’s not as tightly integrated with your computer as it would be with a Mac (more on that analysis when I get my hands on a Mac)

Hard to sync photos between iCloud and your computer

It’s not easy to sync up pictures to a computer if you use “my” method of storing photos. You can install iCloud for Windows which gives you some tools for synchronizing things like web browser bookmarks, email with Outlook and photos. As you can see here, you can both upload and download photos from your computer. In this case, I have 80 photos and 13 videos from 2018 that I can download to my computer. There’s no way to say only download photos that I’ve added since last time or a specific range.

It would be very easy with this download method to lose track of what is in folders on your computer vs what is in iCloud. If you keep your photos in organized folders by year, month and event, a much better choice is something like Dropbox or OneDrive.

Managing photos in iCloud web site

If you log into icloud.com, you can browse through all your photos. There is no easy way to delete multiple photos – no ctrl-click, to select multiple, all you can do is select a “memory” which is photos on a certain date or album. Otherwise it’s one by one.

Long term existence of the service

At the time of writing this, 2018, Apple is in excellent financial shape and show no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. Having your photos in iCloud Photo Library works great as long as Apple keeps the service going, but what happens if in 20 years Apple discontinues the service or makes such a drastic change that you don’t want to keep using it? If you care about the long term ability to keep these photos, then suddenly having to move all of them can be very difficult. If you create “albums” or any other proprietary structures in iCloud Photo Library, all you’ll likely get in a download is every single photo.

Summary and Recommendation

As I have said before, never rely on only one service. Because of the way that Apple traps you into their ecosystem without the ability to sync to other services, I am unable to recommend iCloud Photo Library for anyone who is relying on it as their sole source to store their photos and videos. In future posts, I will talk about how to effectively use different methods to both have access now to your photos and videos and protect them for long term. Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail