How Do You Move Apple Photos to Dropbox or an External Hard Drive in OS X El Capitan?

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A good question.

I recently needed to move my iCloud connected Apple Photos library to an external hard drive as it was taking up too much space on my laptop. Since I was doing that anyway I decided to also put it in my Dropbox so that I could get an extra backup of it as well.

If you just move the library and then delete it, Apple Photos tends to not like you too much. Apple has made it possible to move the location fairly easily though, you just need to do the steps in the right order. Here is the process I used.

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2 thoughts on “How Do You Move Apple Photos to Dropbox or an External Hard Drive in OS X El Capitan?”

  1. I wanted to THANK you for putting time into explaining your experience with this.
    As an old timer – I really take issue with Google, Microsoft and Apple offering NEW and IMPROVED Cloud offerings, and making photo organization a pain, and even losing images (Apple) during the transition to newer cloud storage.

    Dropbox Pro is great for this, since you have the ability to keep your catalog divided up, on the cloud, and away from a single catalog file (all pictures remain individuals) giving you more control of it.

    Having iPhoto makes you create a GIGANTIC BLOB file of all your stuff, that is difficult to backup and maintain.

    Google’s Picasa Web albums were convenient but the transition to their Photos cloud has been difficult, at best. With everything in the default settings, you could easily have it always PUSH UP photos automatically and make organization a pain.

    Microsoft OneDrive – well there is no reason to go into their storage plan. Lets just say – since it changes all the time, and since they have a history of pulling products with little warning, their cloud storage products are not reasonable.

    Amazon Prime gives you free photo storage, which is a good deal.

    To avoid these problems, I have commonly allowed thea physical sync with my iPhone, and allow Dropbox to insert them into the default Camera Uploads folder
    Then I divide up the immediately wanted photos from the archive only photos on two external hard drives.

    Then I organize them. and perform what little post edits I need. I still use Picasa v3.9 for basic edits, it has teh utilitarian ability to yank ALL the photos from the iPhoto Libraries (this is helpful when you want to extract photos from that library.)

    Anyway – keep up your work flow blog posts and let us know how you cope with newer photo apps, what photo apps you use, and problems you encounter day to day with photo workflows.

  2. Hi Ari,

    Thanks for your comments and sharing your experiences. I thought I might be able to clarify a misunderstanding you have about iPhoto/Photos.

    iPhoto/Photos doesn’t give you a gigantic blob file, it gives you a package. You can navigate inside that package just like you would any other folder on your Mac. The only difference is it has an application associated with that package. So if you just click on it like normal it will open the application. If you right click on it you can then click “Show Package Contents” and it will open the package in finder for you to navigate. Obviously the package contains files associated with the Photos library, eg there is a database folder. However if you go into the Master folder you will find all the photos sorted by year/month/day which is very simple to navigate and is a huge improvement on simplicity over the old iPhoto folder structure.

    For my own workflow I use Lightroom for my DSLR camera with annual libraries stored in my Dropbox folder on an external drive and backed up locally.

    Photos stores everything from my iPhone, which makes sense because the same library is used as the screensaver across multiple computers, an Apple TV and as a digital photo frame on our iPad when it is docked. Obviously anything not relevant to that gets removed once its done with, and anything I want to edit I export the originals from Photos and pull them into Lightroom instead.


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Matt works sort-of full time running his digital marketing business, TerraMedia. In his spare time though, he loves to travel with his wife, so they usually end up doing a lot of it.
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