Apple has finally taken the wraps off its iPhoto successor: Photos. It’s great so far, but we’re not sure everyone is going to be thrilled about its iCloud integration. Here is how to make adjustments to Photos’ iCloud features, or turn them off completely.

Photos has been a long time coming. Development on iPhoto, which used to be Apple’s go-to photo-editing and library app of choice since 2002, ceased in 2014. To be honest, iPhoto had grown long in tooth and was in dire need of a some kind of refresh but stopping development meant that Apple had a noticeable photos app gap between its desktop operating system and the millions upon millions of iOS devices out there.

Never fear, however, Photos, which not coincidentally shares the same name and icon with its iOS counterparts, closes that gap in Apple’s OS X photo library/editing/sharing repertoire.

Photos is meant to sync across all your devices, meaning if you have an iPad or iPhone, you’ll be able to take a picture on one of those, and it will automatically appear in your Mac’s Photos library, and vice versa.

That said, if you only use a Mac and don’t own an iOS device, or you have stuff on your Mac that you don’t want to share to iCloud, then you probably will want to turn it off, or make changes to Photos’ iCloud options.

Turning Off or Changing iCloud Photos Sharing in OS X

There are two ways to turn off or at least lessen Photos iCloud sharing. First, open the “System Preferences” and click the “iCloud” icon.

The iCloud options allow you to disable any number of features that are hooked into and syncing to your iCloud account. To disable iCloud syncing outright, uncheck the box next to “Photos.”

Alternatively, click the “Options…” button for finer control over iCloud Photos syncing.

Here we see your choices. You can turn off automatic uploading and storage, turn off your Photo Stream (in case you’re using a device without iCloud Photo Library), and you can disable iCloud Photo Sharing, so you can’t share your photo albums with other people.

The iCloud Photo options have explanations attached so you know what each one does.

You shouldn’t have too much trouble figuring this stuff out and Apple does explain each option fairly well. We suspect quite a few users will make it an all-or-nothing affair (on/off).

You can also access these options from the actual Photos app (in the Preferences, “Command + ,”), with one additional option that is actually going to be of interest to a lot of Mac users with crowded hard drives.

Under the “iCloud Photo Library” option, you can decide how items are stored on your Mac. If you want to store original photos and videos (full resolution) on your Mac, you want to select “Download Originals to this Mac.”

If you want to “Optimize Mac Storage,” your full-resolution items will be stored in iCloud while originals will be only stored on your Mac provided you have enough drive space.

Note, if you want to pause iCloud photo library syncing, click the “Pause for one day” button.

That’s all there is to understanding how Photos shares and syncs photos and videos to iCloud, and it means you can keep your photos on your Mac and share them via other means if iCloud doesn’t strike your fancy.

While turning it off obviously lessens the convenience of having your photos library sync across all your devices, if you’re only using a Mac laptop or desktop, then you may not see the need for having everything stored on iCloud (or maybe you want to back them up to a different cloud storage provider). In any event, if you do one day add an iPhone or iPad to the mix, you can always turn iCloud syncing on again.

We hope this article has been helpful to anyone getting started with Photos on OS X. If you have any questions or comments you want to share with us, please take time to leave your feedback in our discussion forum.

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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