How to Create Multiple Photo Libraries in macOS Photos

Reduce iCloud storage costs with separate libraries

Apple's Photos app was introduced with OS X Yosemite, replacing iPhoto and creating a one-stop photo-management shop, with the ability to store, edit, and share your pictures. One useful feature of Photos is the ability to work with multiple image libraries. Here's a look at why multiple image libraries can be useful, how to set them up in Photos on your Mac, and how to designate a System Photo library to be used with iCloud.

The information in this article applies to the Photos app on Macs running OS X Yosemite and later.

Why Multiple Image Libraries Are Helpful

It's easy to organize your Photos library into albums and folders, and Photos also intelligently groups your photos into moments, collections, and years.

If you're using iCloud Photos, your photos are accessible and up to date on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad. But while Apple offers 5 GB of free iCloud storage, photos can quickly eat up that space, leaving you with a pricey iCloud storage plan.

With multiple image libraries, you can choose which photos get backed up to iCloud in your System Photo Library, and create other libraries for photos that will remain local on your hard drive.

The System Photo Library is the only image library that can be used with iCloud Photos, Shared Albums, and My Photo Stream.

How to Create a New Photos Library

Your Photos app was likely set up with only a single library. To create a second Photos library:

  1. Quit the Photos application on your Mac, if it's running.

  2. Hold down the Option key on your keyboard and then double-click the Photos icon on your desktop or Dock. Release the Option key when you see the Choose Library window.

  3. In the Choose Library window, select Create New.

    Screenshot of creating new library in Photos
  4. Name your library, and then select OK.

    Screenshot of naming new Photos library
  5. You'll see a Welcome to Photos screen, with options available for moving images into this new library.

    Screenshot of a new library in Photos

Move Photos Into Your New Library

To move photos into your new library, you'll need to export them from another Photos library and then import them into the new library.

Export From Another Library

  1. Go to the desktop and right-click anywhere. Select New Folder, and then name it Exported Pictures, or whatever you like.

  2. Quit the Photos app if it's open.

  3. Hold down the Option key on your keyboard and then double-click the Photos icon on your desktop or Dock. Release the Option key when you see the Choose Library window.

  4. In the Choose Library window, select the desired library from which you want to export images, and then select Choose Library.

    (In this example, we're choosing the original library because we want to add photos to our new library.)

    Screenshot of exporting images to new Photos library
  5. Select one or more images to export. Use the Photos, Shared, Albums, or Projects tabs.

    Screenshot of selecting photos to export to new Photos library
  6. From the File menu, select Export.

  7. Choose Export (number) Photos (the photos as they currently appear, with any edits) or Export unmodified originals.

    Screenshot of exporting images to new Photos library
  8. Fill in the information (photo type and file name) and select Export.

    Screenshot of exporting images to new Photos library
  9. In the Save dialog box that appears, select the desktop folder created earlier called Exported Pictures, and then select Export.

    Screenshot of exporting pictures to new Photos library
  10. The pictures are now in the Exported Pictures folder on your desktop. They're ready to be imported into your newly created Photos library.

Import the Exported Photos Into the New Photos Library

  1. Quit the Photos app if it's open.

  2. Hold down the Option key on your keyboard and then double-click the Photos icon on your desktop or Dock. Release the Option key when you see the Choose Library window.

  3. In the Choose Library window, select the new Photos library we created earlier. This is the library to which we want to add pictures. Select Choose Library.

    Screenshot of importing images into new Photos library
  4. When the Welcome to Photos window opens, select File > Import.

    Screenshot of importing photos to new Photos library
  5. Navigate to the desktop folder where you stored your exported pictures. Select the pictures and then choose Review for Import.

    Screenshot of importing pictures into new Photo library
  6. You'll see your pictures in a temporary folder for you to review. Select individual images by choosing Import Selected or import the entire group by choosing Import All New Photos.

    Screenshot of importing photos to new Photos library
  7. The pictures you imported now reside in your new library.

Choose Your System Photos Library

You can designate only one Photos library to be your System Photos Library. The System Photo Library is the only library that can be used with iCloud Photos, Shared Albums, and My Photo Stream. If you'd like to change your System Photos library to your newly created Photos library, it's an easy process.

  1. Quit the Photos app if it's open.

  2. Hold down the Option key on your keyboard and then double-click the Photos icon on your desktop or Dock. Release the Option key when you see the Choose Library window.

  3. In the Choose Library window, note that one of the photo libraries is already designated as the System Photo Library. 

  4. To change the System Photo Library, select another library and then select Choose Library.

    Screenshot of importing images into new Photos library
  5. Select Photos > Preferences from the menu bar.

    Screenshot of setting another Photos library as System Photos library
  6. Select the General tab and choose Use as System Photo Library.

    Screenshot of designating new System Photos Library
  7. Your new System Photo library has been set.