How To Safely Move Your iPhoto Library to Another Hard Drive (Video Tutorial)

by Curtis Bisel
updated: January 17, 2024
Curtis Bisel
January 17, 2024
iPhoto Library Folder and icon

Sometimes your scanned or digital camera’s photo collection is just so massive it takes over your entire hard drive. Maybe even to the point where now it’s completely full!

If you don’t want to replace your current hard drive with a larger one, moving your photo collection to an emptier secondary hard drive is always another option.

A Real World Example

The other day, I overheard two friends of mine discussing how one of them wanted to move her iPhoto collection off her packed Macbook Pro laptop. They were looking for the solution in the most obvious place, the iPhoto “Preferences” menu option. But they couldn’t seem to find an option to point her collection’s storage location to her external hard drive.

It took me a moment, but thankfully I was able to remember on the spot this seldom needed secret trick. (There was a little pressure on me)

Because Apple wanted to make iPhoto so easy for someone to use, it only makes sense they also want to protect their users from doing anything that would accidentally ruin their collection. And one quick way to do that would be for you to make iPhoto lose the connection with the correct library and database and not know how to fix it.

Thankfully Apple lets us change which photo library loads and where we store it, they just didn’t go out of their way to make sure we would know how to do it!

My Very First Video Tutorial

So it occurred to me this is a situation a lot of iPhoto users will probably face at one time or another and would therefore be a perfect topic for my very first video tutorial on this website.

Oh, by the way, this technique will also work if you just want to move your library to a new folder location on your current drive.

Now go easy on me here! I haven’t recorded my voice (on purpose) in a long time. And it certainly wasn’t as easy as I had hoped! (I’m man enough to admit serious editing was involved)

(Problems playing video? Click here)

For anyone who is unable to watch or listen, I have provided [CC] captions in the video as well as a full-text transcript below.

Additionally, if you have an extra moment, I would love to hear what you thought of my first video tutorial down in the comments below. You can give me the bad as well as the good, of course!

Thank you so much!

Whether it’s all of our scanned or digital camera photos or our huge collection of movies we seem to be downloading, it seems like we’re all running out of hard disc space. 

Hey, it’s Curtis from Scan Your Entire Life. If you use iPhoto for Mac, I would like to show you how to fix this problem. 

By default, iPhoto likes to store all of your photos in a single file called the iPhoto Library.  This is actually a good thing for most people.  It makes it easier; more of a hands-off approach to managing all of your photos. 

So what we’re going to be doing to free up hard disc space, is actually moving this iPhoto Library file to a separate hard drive. 

It’s very important that you have a backup copy of your iPhoto Library file, before you do what I am about to show you. Your photos are irreplaceable so please make a backup. 

So, the first thing we need to do is make sure we close out iPhoto. I’m going to close out that window (Command-Q), or you can go to the iPhoto menu option and hit “Quit iPhoto.” 

Next, we need to find our iPhoto library, and for most people, you will find that on your hard drive, and in your user home folder. And then, I will click here on my pictures folder. And you will see right here at the bottom is my iPhoto Library.  It looks like a single file, but it’s actually a folder. And if you look over here, you will see that my iPhoto Library is 1.33 gigabytes, which is actually really small. You might find that your iPhoto Library is 20, 30, 40, 60 gigabytes – and that’s why your hard drive is so full. 

So even though my iPhoto library is really small, and you can see I have 205 gigabytes free on my hard drive, we’re going to pretend like my hard drive is actually empty, and we’re going to move this iPhoto Library to an external hard drive. 

Especially for laptop users, I wouldn’t really recommend having your iPhoto Library on an external hard drive for a very long time. It’s a good temporary solution but your best decision really is to replace your small hard drive with a larger one, and then use your external hard drive as a backup.  Because what this means is, anytime you load up iPhoto, you’re gonna have to make sure your external hard drive is plugged in. But, for certain circumstances, this might be the best solution for you right now. 

And it’s simply a matter of going over to your iPhoto Library, left-clicking and dragging the iPhoto Library over to your external hard drive. 

Because my test library is so small, it’s only going to take a couple of minutes for it to finish copying.  But don’t be surprised if yours takes 20 minutes, 30, 40 – even an hour to copy, depending on how large it is. 

[“Ding” sound effect] 

It’s important to note right now that we have 2 copies of our iPhoto Library. One is right here in the pictures folder, and another is in our external hard drive. If I move this down you can see both copies – here and right here.  This is important because we don’t want to delete the original version before we have tested out the new version to make sure everything is working correctly. 

So what I am going to do is go up to my pictures folder here, I’m gonna single click here where it says iPhoto Library – so that it’s highlighted with all blue. I’m going to right cursor over, and add word “old” to the end of the filename.  And I’ll show you in a second why that’s important. 

So what we wanna do now is boot into iPhoto, but we want to tell it to load from the new iPhoto Library and not from the one we just labeled “old.” And the way you do that, is you hold down the option key, keep it held down, and them move down to your dock, and click on iPhoto. And now a window will pop up and say, “What photo library do you want iPhoto to use?” And because we labeled the old iPhoto Library “old,” it’s a lot easier now to find the new one by clicking on the one that is obviously not labeled “old.” 

And for users with the latest iPhoto, you’ll be able to see a path description here on the bottom that will help validate that we have selected the correct external hard drive. 

So now we click on choose. And now iPhoto will launch using the newest iPhoto Library. 

And now we can quit out of iPhoto. I’m going to hit (Command-Q). 

So now it’s safe to delete the old iPhoto library. So I’m going to right-click on it, and then select “Move to Trash.” 

[Sound effect paper hitting trash can] 

Now if you are paranoid like me, maybe not Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets” kind of paranoid, but just a good healthy case of paranoia, you will load up iPhoto one more time just to make sure everything is there and loads fine. I mean, I am just saying, this is your entire photo collection here! 

Everything seems good. Let’s empty that trash! 

[Sound effect paper being wadded up] 

So I hope you found this to be useful. Enjoy scanning the rest of your life! Cheers!

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