Why you should not rely on iCloud Photo Library as your only media backup

Glenn Fleishman, Macworld:

iCloud Photo Library, when it fits your needs, is a great way to avoid having to manage where your images and videos wind up. You capture video on your iPhone or drag an image into Photos in macOS, and it just syncs everywhere while making a central copy at iCloud.


However, there’s one configuration I can’t advise, and Macworld reader Eric writes in with a question that prompts a discussion. He’s wondering if he could rely on iCloud to be his “main backup of images.” The short answer is no, but it’s not about distrust in Apple’s technical abilities. Rather, about the frailty of all material things, and the risk of putting all one’s digital eggs in one basket, no matter how firmly the basket-storing company is holding that basket.

Interesting read, some good insight on iCloud Photo Library.

  • I have my Mac set up the way he does: store full resolution images locally on the Mac. That said, the new Photos is flakey enough that I don’t fully trust it (yet) although I do think it seems to be getting better in each iteration.

    My issue is a bit tougher: I absolutely HATE Adobe and would like to move images out of Lightroom and into Photos but given Glenn’s concerns, it frightens me to do that. What I’ll have to do is export all the Lightroom images (both RAWs and JPEGs) and burn them on DVDs, then take my chances in Photos knowing if things mess up I can go to the DVDs for originals (pain in the ass).

    • rick gregory

      Why do that? Backup everything, Lightroom, etc etc on you drive. Do that to a local backup AND a cloud backup (not iPhotos Library) and then use iPhotos Library if you need to/want to.

      • I do that. I have multiple local backups. But, I don’t keep images outside of the Lightroom and/or Photos libraries: once dragged in, I process them and keep them in their respective libraries. What the piece is talking about is how Photos (not iPhoto) is dealing with local storage of original resolution images. It’s a checkbox in the first prefs screen of Photos: Download originals to the Mac or Optimize Mac Storage (radio buttons). I have the first checked as Glenn recommends.

        • rick gregory

          Ah, does LR store the originals in a database etc so they’re not accessible once imported? If you need to do the export to RAW, I’d not burn to DVD but copy to an external drive and back that up to the cloud. Not sure what other backup solutions do but Backblaze will backup any volume attached to your Mac. Slow the first time probably but if you can incrementally add images that are new since the last time, wouldn’t be too bad on upload (presuming you have good upload bandwidth).

          • Lightroom puts the originals in dated folders in the Pictures folder in the Finder. Those are the RAWs or original JPEGs. The processed files (the differences) are in the Lightroom catalog.

            I back all of this stuff up and have been doing fine for years. But, as I said, I’m attempting to move away from Adobe and am considering Photos for storing everything. I’m no fan of High Sierra but the tools in the new version of Photos are actually pretty good and I’ve processed lots of decent images in it. So, my conundrum going forward.

            Thanks or considering my comment, your recommendations are excellent.

  • Box of Cotton Swabs

    I had an issue activating iCloud Photo Library on my iPhone X where it claimed to be done (some 55,000 photos and videos) but most thumbmails were blank and trying to zoom in on any photos that were visible resulted in a download error (maybe actions that require heavy iCloud access aren’t the best to undertake on launch day 😁).

    After many attempts to get things running again, I decided to start over. I turned off iCloud Photos on the phone and tap-drag-deleted all the photos in groups of 1,000 (since there’s no longer a way to do it all at once). It wasn’t letting me delete all the Photos in “Recently Deleted” at once, so I did the same process to get that down to ~9,000 photos, at which point “Delete All” was able to work. I was then left with an empty photo library and folders full of empty albums. In the interest of having a clean slate, I deleted those empty albums too.

    I turned iCloud Photo Library on again, and this time it worked normally, populating the thumbnails on the iPhone and loading higher-res photos when requested.

    A couple days later, I went to Photos on my Mac — where I keep all originals — and noticed that all my albums and folders were gone. I was disconnected from iCloud Photos when I deleted them from my phone, so I have no idea how the deletion synched back (and consider myself lucky it was just albums and not photos). Fortunately I was able to pull my 350GB Photos Library from a recent Time Machine backup that restored my albums. It also, like when I replaced the external drive the Library is on, caused the Mac to spend a couple days apparently re-uploading photos.

    Now everything is working fine (except this week I see it slipped a dozen photos from a year ago into chronological order a year later at the end of the “All Photos” album 🙄). I love iCloud Photos when it works. It’s great having access to all my photos from any device and not having to worry about synching. But I don’t trust it.

  • Sigivald

    “The cloud is not a [primary] backup” is an eternal truth.

    Someone Else’s Computer shouldn’t be trusted as the only repository of anything important; arguably even if they’re a dedicated backup company, though that’s much more plausible than iCloud services, which aren’t.

  • Apple’s similarly advising users. It’s spelled out in Photos’ Help documentation:


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