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How To Delete Photos On Mac Without Deleting From iCloud

Do you want to delete photos from the Mac to free up storage space, but you want to keep the photos on iCloud? Here’s how you can do that.

iCloud automatically syncs photos between your Mac and the cloud, automatically downloading the most recent photos to your Mac. Going to System Preferences, Apple ID, iCloud, and deselecting Photos will stop this syncing and allow you to delete photos from your Mac without deleting them from iCloud.

Unlike other cloud platforms, like OneDrive, iCloud doesn’t allow you to remove individual photos from local storage. This is because Apple wants to keep things as simple as possible for most users, so iCloud has efficient storage management features.

Unfortunately, these features are not always as effective as we would like them to be, and we often have to find workarounds.

Turning Off iCloud Photo Sync On Your Mac

In order to delete photos from your Mac without deleting them from iCloud, you must first deactivate iCloud Photo Syncing on your Mac.

This is activated by default when you log in with your Apple ID on your Mac to simplify the process of sharing photos among your devices. Still, everything you delete on one device will be deleted all over the ecosystem. So you must first turn off syncing.

Here are a few simple steps for you to follow:

  1. On your Mac, go to the System Preferences app,
  1. At the top of the screen, where it shows you Apple ID information, click on the Apple ID button.
  1. There will be a list of services linked to your Apple ID listed on the left-hand side of the screen. Select “iCloud” from this list.
  1. You will see a list of different services that are currently syncing with iCloud. Photos should be right at the top, with a tickmark in the checkbox.
  1. Click on the checkbox next to Photos to remove the tick.

After following these steps, your Mac will give you the option to either download a copy of all photos to your Mac or delete all photos from your Mac. If your goal is to clear up local storage space, and you won’t be needing the pictures on your Mac, option two is perfect.

However, if you want to delete some photos but you also want others to be available, you can opt simply to download copies of all photos to your Mac.

Once the download is complete, syncing between your Mac and iCloud will be terminated, and you can safely delete any photos that you don’t want to keep on your Mac without losing them on iCloud.

One Important Exception

There is a possibility that, even after turning off iCloud photo sync, you may lose photos when you delete them from your Mac (or any other Apple device). This happens when your iCloud storage is full. 

All iCloud users get 5GB of storage space for free. This isn’t much, and with the incredible photo quality of modern-day iPhones, it can run out very quickly.

When your iCloud storage is full (whether you’re on the free 5GB package or a premium package makes no difference), your photos won’t be saved on iCloud anymore and only on your device. 

This means that, even after turning off your iCloud photo syncing, any photos that you delete from your Mac will be permanently deleted and no longer available on iCloud since they were never stored on iCloud in the first place.

You will know that your iCloud storage is full because your devices will tell you so. There are plenty of notifications to inform you when your iCloud storage is running out or has run out already. Pay attention to this, and be extra careful if you delete photos when you have these notifications.

What If I Already Deleted A Photo From iCloud?

iCloud will generally store your photos in a type of Recycle Bin for around 30 days. If you find that you’ve deleted something that shouldn’t be deleted, open the Photos app on your Mac. On the left, you will see a “Recently Deleted” option. When you click on that, you should see all of the photos that you deleted recently.

Simply click on the photo that you accidentally deleted and choose “Restore.” The picture will be put back where it was before you deleted it.

Alternatives To iCloud That Allow For Easier Deletion

As great as iCloud is, with its affordability and integration with Apple devices, it’s not always the easiest to work with. Apple never bothered to copy other cloud services when they developed iCloud.

In the process, the interface and inner workings of iCloud can be confusing for those of us who are used to working with other cloud services.

One case in point is how complicated it is to just delete a photo locally from a Mac. Other cloud platforms offer a convenient per-file way to manage this.

For example, Microsoft OneDrive allows you to right-click an image (or collection of photos) and select “Free up disk space” to delete the local files while keeping the copy on the cloud. 

With this in mind, a possible solution is to use an alternative cloud storage service for your photo management instead of iCloud. One often-mentioned option is Google Photos, which is also seen as the biggest competitor to iCloud’s Photos app.

Google Photos is fully cross-platform. Though there is no native macOS app for Google Photos, there are third-party apps developed for Macs that fully support Google Photos integration.

A good example is an app called Phoebe for Google Photos, available from the App Store on macOS. (Note that this app is not free, even though Google Photos itself is free.)

Google Photos compares favorably with iCloud in many aspects and even offers some improvements over iCloud in some, including:

  • Full cross-platform support. Google Photos is freely available on all platforms and on the web, whereas iCloud is limited mainly to Apple devices with limited support on platforms like Windows.
  • More free space. iCloud’s free storage is limited to 5GB, whereas Google Photos has a 15GB free plan.
  • Google Photos allows you to delete only specific files from your local device while keeping them in the cloud. Simply right-click on the photo or album that you would like to delete from your Mac and choose “Remove local copy.” (Note that the process may differ a bit, depending on the Google Photos app or interface you use.)

When you install Google Photos on an Apple device, it allows you to automatically transfer all of your iCloud photos over immediately. This means that you don’t even need to do any complicated file transfers.

After installing Google Photos and syncing all of your photos from iCloud, you can then safely turn off the iCloud photo syncing feature and delete your photos from your Mac.

One Important Problem With Google Photos

Apple caused quite a lot of concern when it announced that all photos would now be scanned by iCloud. These scans are AI-powered, and no private information is saved or shared with Apple, but people still feel that it is an extreme violation of our privacy.

However, whatever we can say about Apple’s privacy violations pale compared to those of Google. Google is one of the most notorious violators of users’ privacy, along with Facebook (interestingly, two of the most popular platforms for keeping photos). 

Whenever you choose to use another cloud photo service, be sure to check its terms and conditions and user reviews. Some cloud solutions even offer unlimited photo storage, but on the condition that they may sell any of your photos as stock photos without any remuneration for you.

Know what you’re getting yourself into before going for any cloud photo management solutions.

Ultimate Control Over Your Photos

Cloud photo storage like iCloud offers excellent advantages, like the automatic backup of your photos, sorting them into albums, great search features, and syncing over multiple devices.

Unfortunately, you also give up a lot of control, like sacrificing the ability to easily choose which photos are available locally on your devices and which ones aren’t.

This is precisely the reason why many people choose not to use a cloud storage solution at all. They will turn off iCloud Photo syncing on all of their devices, opting to manually transfer photos between their phone and desktop or laptop computers.

This solution means you have ultimate control over which photos you have available on which devices. You can opt to use an external hard drive as your permanent photo backup (which is an unreliable option at best) or a non-photo-specific cloud storage solution like Microsoft OneDrive (or even iCloud Drive). 

Using the latter (a cloud storage option) gives you access to all of your photos on all of your devices. Still, you have the freedom to download or delete specific photos from certain devices without affecting the files that are available on your photo backup.


There we have it. Despite not having a highly-controllable option to delete certain photos from your Mac without deleting them from iCloud, we can effectively delete all images from a Mac but keep them safe on iCloud.

There are alternatives, too, for those who want a little more control over the photos that they have on their devices.