The Right Way to Archive Photos from the Photos App

If you're using a Mac, there's a very good chance that you are using the built-in Photos app to manage your precious photos and videos. It's a great, easy-to-use tool for those countless photos and videos that you take on your iPhone, iPad, SLR and even scanned photos.

Over time, your Photos library is likely to grow, and if you're like me, it will get pretty large, pretty quick. These growing libraries are like trees... they need to be pruned every so often to keep them at a manageable size. There's the wrong way to do this pruning (a.k.a.: archiving) and the right way. In this post, I will walk you through the steps I take to archive my photos the right way.

I use Dropbox as the cloud storage solution of choice to permanently archive my photos. I will explain why later.

Everyone archives their photos differently, and there's no one right way of doing this. It's a personal preference. I prefer to archive mine by year. I have a folder on Dropbox called "Archived Photos". Inside of that folder, I have a series of folders called "2014", "2013", "2012", and so forth. Inside of each of those folders... photos and videos that were taken in that respective year. This system makes it simple and fast for me to find my old photos and videos. Because I am arching my photos to Dropbox, it still means that I can access those photos anytime, from any device. Not only that, but it makes sharing those photos with others quick and easy!

I typically leave about 2 years worth of photos in my Photos library. The rest are archived to Dropbox. The timing of when you do this is entirely up to you, but I make it a habit that each January, I archive photos from the year 2 years ago.

Step 1) Select a range of photos to archive

In order to archive photos for a given year, we first need to find them. The easiest way to do this is by using a Smart Album. A Smart Album is a special album that auto-populates its contents based on a set of search criteria. In this case, we will search for dates.

To create a new Smart Album, we'll go to File > New Smart Album...

Next, a window will open allowing us to set our search criteria. In this example, we want to search for every photo and video that was taken in the year 2012.

Before clicking "OK", we can see how many files will be part of this Smart Album based on our criteria in the lower left corner. In this case, I have 2,977 photos and videos that were taken in 2012.

Step 2) Export photos to destination

Now that we have our Smart Album for our 2012 photos, it's time to export them for archival. To do this, we first need to select them. The quickest way to do this... press Command + A (A for All). This will select all photos and videos in that Smart Album.

Next, it's time to export them. We don't want to simply drag and drop, because doing so will compress the photos. Yuk! No, we want the unmodified originals. With the files highlighted, we'll go to File > Export > Export Unmodified Originals...

This will then prompt us for a location to save our exported files. This is where we will select the year folder within Dropbox to save our files. Depending on the number of files, this process may take some time.

Step 3) Delete archived photos from the Photos app

Once the export process has completed, it's time to delete the files from our Photos library. Before doing this, you want to navigate to your Dropbox folder where the files have been exported and just verify that the number of files actually matches what you expect it to.

Next, let's delete the files from our Photos library. To permanently delete the files from our library while in the Smart Album, we press Command + Delete. You will receive a prompt asking if you are sure you want to permanently delete these files. You're safe to do this with the files safely archived to Dropbox.

Step 4) Modify selection and repeat steps 2 and 3

Now that 2012 is archived and removed from my Photos library, it's time to work on 2013. Since we already have a Smart Album setup, we simply want to modify the range and reuse it for 2013. To do this, we right-click on the Smart Album and choose Edit Smart Album...

This will re-open the window that allows us to change our Smart Album search criteria. We adjust the dates accordingly, which will adjust the contents of our Smart Album. Next, we repeat steps 2 and 3 to archive our 2013 photos and videos.

That's it! Not only will this free up hard drive space, but it will allow you to export your photos and videos in an uncompressed method... great for long-term archival.

It may take a minute to completely digest this, so take your time. The key is to do it right. After all, you don't want to lose any of those precious memories!!

Posted on May 18, 2016 and filed under How To, Mac, Opinion.