If you find that your photo library is beginning to take up too much room on your Mac's hard drive, it might be a good idea to start using iCloud to store them instead. This can help reduce the space those images occupy, while also ensuring that they are safely on Apple's servers if disaster befalls your Mac, and also meaning you can view all those images on all your Apple devices. Here's how to upload photos from Mac to iCloud.

How to store photos on iCloud Photo Library

To store your Mac's photos in iCloud, it isn't a matter of copying them all and dragging them to a folder marked iCloud. Instead, there's a much better way in the form of iCloud Photo Library. This will not only keep your images on Apple's servers, but also allow you to sync them with other Apple devices via iCloud.

Of course, you'll need to have enough storage available in your iCloud account to be able to use the service. Apple gives you 5GB for free, but this won't be enough, so you'll want to explore some of the higher capacity tiers.

These cost as follows:

  • 5GB – Free
  • 50GB - £0.79/US$0.99/CA$1.29/AU$1.49 a month
  • 200GB - £2.49/US$2.99/CA$3.99/AU$4.49 a month
  • 2TB - £6.99/US$9.99/CA$12.99/AU$14.99 a month

You can read more about the benefits of each tier and how to upgrade in our how much does iCloud cost? guide. Each of these chunks of iCloud storage can be shared with your family if you set up Family Sharing.

To enable the iCloud Photo Library feature, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Photos app on your Mac.
  2. In the top left corner, click Photos then select Preferences.
  3. Click the iCloud tab option.
  4. Tick the iCloud Photos box.

How to move Mac photos to iCloud: Enabling iCloud Photo Library

Now, any images in the Photos app will be automatically synced up to the iCloud servers (providing you have enough iCloud storage available).

Can I delete the photos on my Mac once they're in iCloud Photos?

Just syncing your images with iCloud Photo Library won't free up any space on your Mac, as it just backs them up to the cloud. So, you may ask yourself whether you can now delete them locally while having a version in iCloud? The answer is no. Definitely not.

iCloud isn't a true backup, but more a way of syncing your library across devices. This means that anything you delete on your Mac will also be deleted in iCloud.

There is a built-in feature though that enables you to have the full-resolution versions stored safely in iCloud, while much smaller versions are kept locally. This won't change your images at all, and you can always download the full-resolution version at any time, making it a great way to save space on your Mac while also moving the bulk of the storage to iCloud. We'll explain how to use this feature next.

How to reduce the space taken up by photos on your Mac

Once your photos are stored in iCloud you can choose the Optimise Mac Storage option to store low-res images on your Mac. Here's how:

  1. Follow the steps outlined above for enabling iCloud Photo Library.
  2. Once in the iCloud tab, you'll notice there are two main options available: Download Originals to this Mac and Optimise Mac Storage.

    How to move Mac photos to iCloud: Optimise storage

  3. Select the Optimise Mac Storage option and the existing full-resolution images on your Mac will be replaced with the smaller alternatives.

This setting should result in a hefty reduction of the storage space your photos take up on your Mac, but without losing any of your images or sacrificing their quality (at least of the originals).

It's worth emphasising again that if you were to delete any of these image stored in iCloud on any of your devices the original will be deleted in iCloud. So don't!

How to back up your Photos with software or external drives

While iCloud Photos is a great way to sync your images across devices and have copies in the cloud, if you want to ensure that those precious moments stay safe and are backed up, then we advise also using software to create dedicated backups of not only your photos, but also documents and other data.

Of course, there's Apple's own Time Machine, which is a solid option, and you can use iCloud to back up certain things on your Mac (but not a Time Machine backup unfortunately), but it's also worth exploring the wide range of third-party solutions you'll find in our guide to the best Mac backup software.

If you're desperate to save space on your Mac, then you could move your photo library to an external drive. For our pick of the current storage offerings, see our guides to the best external hard drives for Mac and best external SSDs for Mac.