How-To

How to download photos from iCloud to your Mac


Once you activate macOS’ ‘iCloud Library’ feature, every photo you take using a linked device will be uploaded to the cloud, and then synced across all your connected devices automatically. Similarly, every image you import into your Mac’s Photos application, will be synced across all your linked devices.

While this automatic sync ensures you always have easy access to your photos, it can pose a few problems. If you’re snap happy, then uploading your photos to iCloud can quickly burn through your iCloud storage allowance, or you may discover that private or potentially embarrassing photos have been synced to your work laptop!

In these scenarios, the most obvious solution is to delete the photo(s) from your iCloud account, so you’re left with only the original, local copy. However, if do ever try to delete a photo that’s synced with iCloud, then you’ll receive a warning that this action will cause the photo to be removed from all your synced devices.

Essentially, deleting a photo from iCloud is equivalent to deleting it from all your devices – chances are this isn’t quite what you had in mind!

If you want to remove a photo from iCloud without deleting it completely, then you can download a copy to your Mac first. In this article, I cover all the different ways that you can download a photo from iCloud and store it locally, leaving you free to delete that photo from iCloud, without deleting it completely.


Enable iCloud Photo Library

If you’re using iCloud Photo Library, then you can download synced media using the Photos app.

If you’re unsure whether you’ve enabled iCloud Photo Library, then launch the Photos application and select ‘Photos > Preferences… > iCloud’ from its toolbar.

If this feature is enabled, then there should be a checkmark alongside ‘iCloud Photo Library.’

Once iCloud Photo Library is enabled, simply:

  • Launch the Photos application, if you haven’t already.
  • Find the photo(s) you want to download, and then drag them to a new location on your Mac.

You now have a local backup, and can safely delete the synced photo from iCloud.

Download photos from your iCloud account

You can download images from iCloud, by logging into your iCloud account. This technique is particularly useful if you want to download photos to a device that isn’t synced with your iCloud account, such as a friend or family member’s computer.

  • Head over to iCloud.com on any supported web browser.
  • Log in using your Apple ID and password.
  • Select the ‘Photos’ app. You should now see all the images that are synced with your iCloud account.
  • Select the photo that you want to download.
  • In the toolbar, select the download icon (this is the little cloud with the downwards-pointing arrow).

This image will now be downloaded to your local ‘Downloads’ folder. Rinse and repeat for every photo that you want to save locally.

Download your entire iCloud library

By default, iCloud Photo Library stores the full-resolution version of all your photos, and syncs a low-res version across all your connected Apple devices, to help prevent these photos from clogging up memory on your Mac, iPhone, and other Apple devices.

If you want a high-res, local copy of the majority, or even all of your iCloud photos, then you can download the original, high-res version of every single photo that’s currently stored in your iCloud account. Just be aware that this can seriously eat into your local disk space!

To download your entire iCloud library, in glorious high-resolution:

  • Launch the Photos app on your Mac.
  • Select ‘Photos > Preferences’ from the Photos menu bar.
  • Select ‘Download Originals To This Mac.’

About the author

Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Sheffield. She writes about Android, Java, Kotlin and all things Apple. She is the co-author of O'Reilly's "iWork: The Missing Manual," and the author of "Android UI Design," from Packt Publishing.

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