Using the iCloud Photo Library on Your iMac

By Mark L. Chambers

Yes, Apple has decided that everything except the kitchen sink should be stored online in iCloud instead of directly on your iMac. First, it was your iTunes music library; then your Pages, Numbers, and Keynote documents; and now it’s your photographs and video clips! To turn the iCloud Photo Library feature on, choose Photos→Preferences, click the iCloud tab, and click the iCloud Photo Library check box to enable it.

With iCloud Photo Library, your entire Photos Library is actually stored online, and everything in your Library is also accessible from other Macs and iOS devices like your iPad and iPhone. (Think “central storage house for everything visual that you can reach from anywhere with an Internet connection.”) If you take a photo with your iPhone, for example, you see it appear automatically within Photos, and if you’ve recently cropped and edited a photo to perfection with Photos, you’ll be able to retrieve that photo on any of your iOS devices or another Mac.

From the same iCloud pane in the Preferences dialog, you can choose to

  • Store copies of the full-size images and full-resolution videos on your iMac’s local hard drive (allowing you to edit or view the originals even when you’re not connected to the Internet)
  • Store smaller images and lower-resolution videos on your iMac, with the ability to retrieve the originals from the iCloud at any time (if you’re connected to the Internet)

Naturally, if you’re a photographer who needs constant, instant access to your original images, the first option is preferable. (Choose the Download Originals to this Mac option in the iCloud pane.) If your iMac’s drive is nearly full and you’d like to conserve space, however, the second option is very attractive. (Choose the Optimize Mac Storage option in the iCloud pane.)

All this goodness is handled automatically, but there’s a catch: Your entire Photos Library needs to fit within your free 5GB of iCloud storage, or you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription to get additional elbow room! (Currently, storage subscriptions range from 99 cents a month for 50GB of space to $9.99 a month for a whopping 1TB of space.)

If you have only 3GB of photos, you may be able to use iCloud Photo Library without spending anything extra. However, you may need to upgrade if you take lots of pictures. The choice is yours, dear reader. If you decide not to use the iCloud Photo Library, rest assured that Photo Stream will still work as it did in iPhoto.