One of the more interesting features of Photos for Mac is its ability to not store my entire photo library on my Mac’s drive.1 It does this by syncing the entire library to iCloud Photo Library2 and then dynamically loading and unloading photos as you use it.
Mac's built-in Automator can reduce image sizes. Open Automator (inside /Applications). Choose Application as the document type. Click 'Photos' in the Left Column. My Photos library is over 300 GB, and there are no performance issues. There is no published maximum library size. As already noted, the library is made up of individual files. It's the size of those files that matters to performance, not the size of the library as a whole.
In true Apple fashion, Photos protects the user from thinking about managing storage — everything happens automatically, with absolutely no intervention from the user. That’s as it should be, but a few optional controls for the control freaks among us wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
This thought occurred to me when I was fishing a file out of my Pictures folder and noticed that my Photos library takes up 46GB of my precious iMac SSD storage space.
That’s a lot, especially when you’re supposed to render an HD video in Final Cut Pro, but you can’t because you’re out of disk space. There’s no button for me to press to put Photos in Austerity Mode, no interface to force it to slim down what it’s using. In fact, there’s no communication at all from the app about how it manages its own storage space.
Plumbing the depths of the Internet, I found this pretty great post on StackExchange that charts the size of the Photos library and a Mac’s disk usage. Photos is definitely optimizing the size of its library, though it’s still not entirely clear to me whether it only does this when it’s running, or if there’s some background process that might do it all the time. (My guess is that it’s the former.)
What that post does clarify is that Photos apparently has an optimization target: 10 percent of free disk space. So on my 467GB partition, it’s trying to free up roughly 47GB of free space. (At the moment that drive has 42GB free, so I guess it’s working?)
I’m also a little surprised at the 16GB of thumbnails in my Photos Library. That’s 240K in thumbnail data for every one of my 67,782 photos. It turns out that the Photos library actually generates two thumbnail files for each image: one “1024” image (roughly in the ballpark of 1024-by-768 pixels, though it varies based on aspect ratio) that’s 200K-300K, and a standard thumbnail that’s more like 480-by-360 and 50K-75K.
Those thumbnails are what make the Photos interface so pretty and responsive, even at Retina resolutions. At the same time… 135,000 thumbnail files on my SSD taking up 16GB of space. I guess that’s the trade-off of having a huge cloud photo library, but… wow.
Xplode pro for edius 7.1. I’m so happy that this feature exists, but in a future update I’d love to see a bit more transparency about how the storage is being optimized, and perhaps even a user option to blow out the cache or reduce the library size by some amount. Or, failing that, it needs to be much more aggressive in pruning its library in low-disk situations.
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If you’re using the new Photos app on your Mac instead of the older iPhoto app, you most likely have a duplicate photo library floating around on your hard drive. For a lot of people, that could mean gigs and gigs of wasted storage space, especially on shared Macs with multiple migrated libraries.
Here’s how to check for multiple libraries and how to delete them…
While the Photos app should have imported all your photos and videos just fine, I always recommend having backups handy. Perhaps you’ll delete an old photo by accident at some point and want it back later. If you have a copy of your old iPhoto library still handy, you can pull it form there as a last resort.
I saved my old iPhoto library to my Dropbox account. You can of course use any service of your choice, or just drop it onto an external hard disk you have laying around. Regardless of how you do it, I’d highly recommend saving a copy before deleting it.
Once you’ve backed up your old iPhoto library (if you chose to do so), you can proceed with deleting it:
Check the storage space on your Mac, you should notice that you have more storage space available. If you are on a shared Mac and have multiple user logins, everyone using the new version of Photos on that Mac should make sure they don’t also have duplicate libraries.
I’m not sure why Apple doesn’t create a process to delete old versions of libraries after migrating to Photos, but they should. Until that happens, you’ll have to delete your old library manually.
Give this tip a try and see how much storage space you were able to clear up. As you can see in the screens above, my old iPhoto library was over 30GB, which was definitely a healthy chunk of hard drive space that I now have back.
This is one of many ways to regain storage space on your Mac without having to sacrifice losing data. But we know there are lots of others. What are some of your favorite Mac storage tips for recapturing space? We’ve love to hear them in the comments!
A follower on Twitter referenced to me an article written on Six Colors pointing out that the library is actually hard-linked between versions. While this may be true when you first migrate, it seems that if you make any changes to any files and the libraries become different, splicing can and will occur.
To test this theory, I deleted my iPhoto library on my other Mac to see how much storage was freed up. For those wondering, my iPhoto library was 35.99 GB and my Photos library was 41.16 GB. You can see the before and after results on my hard disk space below. I was able to free up over 20 GB of space. So I’m not sure what I think about hard linking or how well it’s actually working between Photos and iPhoto.
Bottom line, if you’re short on storage space and you want to free some up, there’s really not much point in having two photo libraries floating around on your Mac. Hard linking or not, deleting the old library will free up space in almost every case.