Move your Photos library to save space on your Mac

To save storage space on your Mac, you can move your Photos library to a different storage device.

Prepare your storage device

Make sure your external storage device, such as a USB drive or Thunderbolt drive, is formatted for Mac: either APFS format or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format.

You can’t store your library on a storage device used for Time Machine backups. And to avoid possible data loss, don't store your library on a removable storage device, such as an SD card or USB flash drive, or on a device shared over your network or the internet, including over a cloud-based storage service.

Move your Photos library to the storage device

  1. Quit Photos.

  2. In the Finder, open the folder that contains your Photos library. By default, the Photos library will be stored in the Pictures folder of your home folder. You can open your home folder by choosing Go > Home from the Finder menu bar.

  3. Drag the Photos library to a location on your external storage device. Find out what to do if you receive an error.

  4. After you’ve finished moving it, double-click the Photos library in its new location to open it.

  5. If you use iCloud Photos, or to access the library via the Photo Picker in other apps, designate this library as the System Photo Library.

If you want to delete the original Photos library to save storage space on your Mac, you can drag it from its original location (the Pictures folder of your home folder) to the Bin. Then empty the Bin.

Always make sure your storage device is turned on and available before opening Photos. If Photos can’t find the device, it will stop using the Photos library stored there and will create a new empty library at the default location (~/Pictures).

If you want to open a different Photos library

  1. Quit Photos.

  2. Press and hold the Option key while you open Photos.

  3. Select the library you want to open, then click Choose Library. Photos will use this library until you open a different one.

macOS Photos app Choose Library window

If you've received an error when moving your Photos library

  1. Select your external storage device in the Finder, then choose File > Get Info.

  2. If the information under Sharing & Permissions isn’t visible, click the triangleNo alt supplied for Image to see more.

    External Drive Info window with “Ignore ownership on this volume” selected
  3. Make sure the “Ignore ownership on this volume” box is ticked. To change it, you may need to click the lock buttonNo alt supplied for Image first to unlock the setting. If the storage device hasn’t been formatted correctly for Mac, or was used for Time Machine backups but hasn’t been erased, this tickbox won’t be present or won’t be selectable after unlocking. In that case, erase the storage device first.

If you’re experiencing any other permissions issue with your library, you may be able to resolve the issue with the Photos library repair tool.

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