Using iCloud Photo Library on Your MacBook with El Capitan - dummies

Using iCloud Photo Library on Your MacBook with El Capitan

By Mark L. Chambers

Yes, Apple has decided that everything except the kitchen sink should be stored online in iCloud and accessed on your MacBook, or anywhere else you have access to iCloud: 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, click 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’ll 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 MacBook’s local hard drive (allowing you to edit or view the originals even when you’re not connected to the Internet).

  • store smaller size images and smaller-resolution videos on your laptop, but 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 that 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). However, if your MacBook’s drive is nearly full and you’d like to conserve space, 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! (Storage subscriptions range from $0.99 a month for 20GB of space to $19.99 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, but if your Photos Library is nearing 10GB in size, you would probably need to subscribe to take full advantage of the feature. 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.