Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Photos, Spotlight, and iCloud

Nick Heer:

So I assumed this message would disappear after my Mac figured out I had moved its library. A week later, it has not disappeared and images from Photos are, indeed, not searchable in Spotlight. Apple’s documentation implies Spotlight will work for whichever library is the system one, but the message in Photos implies that libraries stored on external drives will not be indexed.


My Mac has been dutifully downloading tens of thousands of original media files from iCloud until earlier this week when it decided to stop. The only information I have is a message in Photos, saying there are 42 originals not yet downloaded — but which ones are missing is anyone’s guess. Photos has Smart Albums but, unlike Music, it does not have a filtering criteria for whether the original file has been downloaded. There does not appear to be any logging, nor any status window. While writing this paragraph, I can see the library file slowly increasing in size; however, the number of original files remaining to be downloaded has not budged.


Happily, after repairing my library and waiting for it to reconcile with iCloud, it seems there were only 21 missing original media files which needed a local copy, and they seem to have downloaded. I still do not know what they were. I only have myself to blame for getting to this point. Even so, the lack of any way for me to figure out which items are only in iCloud and not on my local drive is a baffling omission. It is not quite a silent failure but it is in the spirit of one, where Apple seems to have assumed that its software will perform correctly and users should never need to intervene. In the real world, I just wanted to know what it was waiting on.

Like Josh Hill, he was using optimized photo storage. I think this is really common, even among people who know better, because it’s so much easier. Apple continues to use expensive and relatively low capacity SSDs, so many photo libraries just won’t fit on internal storage.

External storage is then the only way to download originals and, thus, back up your library, but it’s a pain, especially with a portable Mac. Even if you do get external storage and figure out how to use it with Photos, it doesn’t work the way you would want. Aside from the potential Spotlight limitation, having your whole photo library on the external drive is not ideal. That drive is then required to do anything with Photos, and performance is worse because you can’t keep the photo database on your fastest storage.

With Lightroom, I can keep metadata and thumbnails on the internal SSD, while offloading older originals to secondary storage. Apple’s Aperture could do stuff like this, too, but it’s not possible with Photos.

Scott Gruby:

You would think that Apple would put something in iCloud Photos that would warn you if 15K pictures were deleted. I went to look for a photo today and found out that I no longer had my full library. On disc, it was down to 85GB from 185GB. Luckily I had a separate backup from mid February and was able to import the photos.

Daily backups that overwrite your data only protects against hardware failure. Time Machine to a local drive (TM to a network sucks) or rotating external drives are key.


4 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

One thing most folks who are doing regular backups via TM or Backblaze, etc. should consider is using osxphotos to export on a scheduled basis every single item from the Full PhotosLibrary into a folder structure on the same disk as the Full PhotosLibrary. If that disk is APFS based it will take no additional storage space BUT will ensure you have a seperate copy that is getting backed up outside of the "Photos Library"

For more details see the following and STEP 2 in particular.

Glenn Fleishman

“rajs” advice is good. I tell people the same thing all the time: you have to have a local copy on a Mac that you can back up to your own drives (Time Machine, cloning, whatever) and to a cloud-based highly secure backup server because otherwise you are relying on Apple getting everything perfect for an account you have to pay for continuously. A glitch in payment…heck, what if you wind up in the hospital for 2 months and someone helping out misses updating a credit card at Apple?

1. I often split my large photos lib into small ones that store specific events, such as vacations. I use the app PowerPhotos to split and merge the libraries.

2. Glenn: In my experience, if you stop paying for extra Apple storage space, Apple won't delete your previously stored picture in the cloud. Instead, it'll only prevent you to store any more photos or even allow modifications until you've either paid for the storage again or deleted enough to meet the lower space requirement.

My friend ran into an ugly situation with this, though: She had optimized storage enabled, so that the orignals were only in the cloud, then she stopped paying for extra cloud space. Now she can't even download all the originals to her Mac for some reason. I appears that she must pay for the space again in order to get her pics back. Here, Apple apparently holds her pictures hostage, and illegally, in my opinion.

For anyone else looking to find what exactly which pictures missing from local storage but iCloud believes it has them - you can utilize osxphotos [ ] to have it detail out exactly what is missing via the following command (once you've installed osxphotos)

osxphotos query --missing > missing_photoandvideo_listing.csv

There are many other potential queries you can also run. Quite a powerful tool to dig into your Photos Library.

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