How To Download To External Hard Drive

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Your Mac Photos Library is bursting with images from every photography adventure, family gathering, and random internet tutorial going if you are anything like us.

Whilst having an organised, searchable catalogue of your most outstanding work is handy, it can leave you with little or no space on your Mac. This article will take you through a few easy steps to move your Photos Library to an external Hard Drive, both freeing up space on your computer and improving its performance.

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What You Will Need

A Photos Library

How To Download To External Hard Drive

Photos Library is the folder where the Photos App stores the images you import, either directly from a camera or device or your iCloud photo library. Mac OS creates the library the first time you open Photos on your machine. It is considered good practice to keep large media type files on something other than your system drive.

An External Hard Drive or SSD

I use and would recommend an external Solid State Drive (SSD) such as the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD. Available in sizes up to 4TB, these drives are super-fast, reliable, rugged and portable – perfect for your camera bag.

Time to Complete the Transfer

If you are transferring an extensive Photos library, it can take some time. A few Gigabyte can transfer in a matter of minutes, but if your library is nearer 1TB (1,000GB), be prepared to leave it going overnight!

How to Copy Your Photos Library Files

Step 1: Connect Your External Storage Device

Connect your external drive to your machine. A USBC port will give you the fastest data transfer. Any APFS or Mac OS Extended format drive will work, but you cannot copy to a drive used for Time Machine Backup.

Step 2: Navigate to Your Pictures Folder

If your Pictures folder is not listed in your Finder window, you can use Finder Preferences to select what you see in your sidebar. Click on Finder > Preferences from the menu bar, select the Sidebar tab and check the folders you want to be displayed whenever you open a new Finder window.

Step 3: Drag Photos Library to the External Drive

Make sure you have quit Photos, then click and drag the Photos Library icon to your external drive, either in the sidebar or on the desktop. Wait for the data transfer to complete. This will copy, not move your Photos Library.
If you encounter an error popup, select your external drive in the finder window, then choose File > Get Info (command + I). Under Sharing & Permissions: check the box that says then try again.
Just wanting to backup your Photos library to an External Storage Device? Stop here!
Repeat steps 1-3 whenever you want to backup. Renaming the copy of the library each time is an excellent way to know which backup is which.

Step 4: Open Your Copy of Photos Library

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Browse to the created copy of your Photos Library and double click the file icon to open it.

Step 5: Set Your Photo Library Preferences

You can use many Photo libraries from external drives. Only one, however, can be set as your System Photo Library. This library shows up in other apps like iMovie, iCloud Photos, Shared Albums and Photo Stream (a fantastic screensaver on your Apple TV). This library will also synchronise with your other devices, so when you take a shot with your iPhone or edit on your iPad, the pictures automatically store themselves in iCloud and show up on your computer.

  • Choose Photos > Preferences from the menu
  • Select ‘General’
  • Click ‘Use as System Photo Library’

You can further optimise your storage in the iCloud tab, choosing whether to store imported photos in the cloud and if you want to share with or subscribe to albums by other people.

Now your copy is set up and working, and you can delete the original Photos Library file from your pictures folder. Drag the file to the bin, right-click and select empty bin. It is worth stating that you must connect your external hard drive each time you use the Photos App. Once you have deleted the library file from your pictures folder, your pictures will no longer be on your Mac.

Whenever you want to add more images or edit existing pictures in your library, plug in your external drive and open Photos – Any iCloud based images will automatically appear and download if you select them to edit. When you connect a camera or phone, you will import the photos straight to the external device, so you still save space on your Mac.

If you hold the option key and click the Photos app, you can select the library you wish to open from a list.


Now you know how to move your photos library to an external hard drive, you can start managing your shoots like a pro.

I have a desk drawer full of external drives, each major shoot or event in its own library, each drive dedicated to a different kind of shoot (weddings, events, theatre…). My family album synchronises through my iCloud photo library and updates with each new adventure. This way, I do not have to wait for thousands of other shots to load or wade through hundreds of headshots to get to those images most important to me.

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'Hello all, I have photos on my iPhone 12 and want to know how to transfer photos from iPhone to external hard drive. I know I'll have to go through my computer for this, but is there an easier way to accomplish this other than exporting them from the Photos app?' -- from Apple forum

Taking live photos on an iPhone is a great enjoyment for many Apple users. Although the latest iPhone 12/11 comes with a maximum capacity of 256GB, it's nothing compared to an 8TB external hard drive. With the alarmingly increasing number of photos on your device, it is smart to transfer photos from iPhone to an external hard drive to speed up your iPhone.

Haven't got a satisfactory solution to do that yet? Just keep reading, and you'll find everything you need.

Way 1: How to Transfer Photos from iPhone to External Hard Drive via Assistant for iOS

As the best program to transfer photos from an iPhone to an external hard drive. MobiKin Assistant for iOS (Win and Mac) can quickly scan out lots of photos after the connection between the computer and your iDevice. Then it'll clearly display all sorts of your iPhone photos on the computer according to their types. This lets you browse and select the items easier. It serves as a great iPhone file Explorer/Manager and does well in work efficiency and security.

Some features of MobiKin Assistant for iOS

  • Transfer all kinds of photos from iPhone to PC/Mac and then external hard drive fleetly.
  • Process data like Photos, Videos, Notes, Contacts, SMS, Books, Safari Bookmarks, Music, Voice Memos, Podcasts, Playlists, etc.
  • Back up and restore content between iOS devices and iTunes easily.
  • Manage iOS data on your computer directly.
  • Apple to a full range of iDevices, covering iPhone 12/12 Pro (Max), iPhone 11/11 Pro/11 Pro Max, iPhone X/XR/XS/XS Max, iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone 7/7 Plus, iPhone 6/6S/6 Plus, various iPods, iPads, etc.
  • It never tracks its users' privacy.

To copy photos from iPhone to external hard drive with Assistant for iOS:

Step 1. Connect your iPhone to a computer

Install and launch Assistant for iOS on your computer after the download. Connect your iPhone to the computer via a USB cable. Next, follow the pop-up directions to have your device recognized.

Step 2. Transfer iPhone photos to the computer

Choose 'Photos' from the left sidebar to preview and mark whatever you want. Subsequently, tap 'Export' from the top menu to save them on the computer.

Step 3. Move photos to the external hard drive

Plug your external hard drive into this computer and send all the iPhone pictures to it from your computer.

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Way 2: How to Transfer Photos from iPhone to Hard Drive with Photos App

To accomplish the task in this way, you should check the following requirements first:

  • For Windows users, make sure your PC is working with Windows 10 or Windows 8.
  • For Mac owners, please ensure your Mac is running macOS X 10.10.3 or later.

Then, take the steps below to transfer photos from iPhone to hard drive:

- How to Import Photos from iPhone to External Hard Drive on Windows?

  • Connect your external hard drive to your computer.
  • Unlock your iPhone and connect it to the PC with a workable USB cable.
  • Click 'Allow' on your iPhone as prompted to trust this computer.
  • Open the 'Photos' app on your computer and click Import > From a USB device.
  • Choose the iPhone photos you want to transfer and tap 'Continue'.
  • Tap 'Import setting' > 'Change the import destination'.
  • Locate a folder on your external hard drive and click 'Done'.
  • Click 'Import Selected' to start moving photos from the iPhone to the external hard drive.

iPhone pictures don't show up on your PC? Here's the real fix!

- How to Move Photos from iPhone to External Hard Drive on Mac?

  • Connect both your iPhone and the external hard drive to your Mac.
  • Run the 'Photos' app on the Mac computer.
  • Go to the 'device' section to select your iPhone.
  • Click 'Import to' and choose to save the imported pictures to your external drive.
  • Hit 'Import All New Photos' or select the photos you need to transfer to the Mac.
  • Press 'Import xxx Selected' to save the items on your hard drive.

Way 3: How to Back Up iPhone Photos to External Hard Drive with Image Capture (Mac Only)

Image Capture is the exclusive feature of Mac computers. It can transfer photos from iOS devices or DCs to a Mac easily. Yet sometimes, Image Capture doesn't show up in your iPhone photos. To fix this, you can update your Mac and try again.

How to store iPhone photos on external hard drive with Image Capture?

  • Connect your iPhone and hard drive to a Mac computer.
  • Open the iPhone and trust the computer.
  • Open 'Image Capture' on the Mac and choose your iPhone from the 'Devices' tab.
  • Click 'Import To' from the pop-up menu.
  • Choose to store the images to your external hard drive.
  • Opt for 'Import All' to select the images you want to move and click 'Import'.

Way 4: How to Import iPhone Photos to External Hard Drive with File Explorer (Windows Only)

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File Explorer in Windows 10 (termed Windows Explorer in Win 8/Win7) helps transfer data from iPad/iPhone to external hard drive. But it only works for pictures from the DCIM folder. So, if you want to transfer iPhone photos from other sources, please turn to other methods.

How to export photos from iPhone to external hard drive with File Explore?

  • Unlock your iPhone and connect it to your PC via USB cables.
  • Plug the external hard drive into the same computer.
  • A prompt should pop up on your iPhone asking you for permissions.
  • Click on 'Allow'/'Trust' to go on.
  • On you computer, go to This PC > Apple iPhone > Internal Storage > DCIM > 100APPLE.
  • You will see all the pictures in your iPhone Camera Roll.
  • Copy your iPhone photos and paste them to your external hard drive.

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Way 5: How to Transfer Pictures from iPhone to External Hard Drive via iCloud

To transfer iPhone photos to external hard drive via iCloud service, you should first turn on 'iCloud Photos' on your iPhone, log in to iCloud for Windows on your PC, do some settings, and then get the items onto your external hard drive.

How to save iPhone photos to external hard drive via iCloud?

  • On your iPhone, go to its Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Photos > enable 'iCloud Photos'.
  • Download, install, and open iCloud for Windows on the device.
  • Sign in with the Apple ID you are using on your iPhone.
  • Click 'Options' next to 'Photos'.
  • Check 'iCloud Photo Library' and 'Download new photos and videos to my PC' options.
  • Attach the external hard drive to this computer.
  • Tap 'Change' under 'Download new photos and videos to my PC'.
  • Set the default location as your hard drive.
  • Click on Done > Apply.

Way 6: How to Move iPhone Photos to External Hard Drive via iTunes

To do this, you should first sync your iPhone to iTunes and then import them to the external hard drive. For the process to go smoothly, please run the latest version of iTunes, or you may encounter iPhone not syncing with iTunes.

How to download photos from iPhone to external hard drive via iTunes?

  • Open iTunes on your PC or Mac.
  • Connect your iPhone to the computer with a lightning USB cord.
  • Select your device icon on the iTunes window.
  • Click 'Photos' on the left menu.
  • Tick on the box nearby 'Sync Photos'.
  • Select 'Pictures' from the drop-down menu under 'Copy photos from'.
  • Choose the options listed below and click 'Apply'.
  • Connect your external hard drive to the computer.
  • Copy your wanted photos to the drive.


In brief, if you only want to transfer a small number of photos, you can choose any of the methods above. However, some may have a large number of iPhone photos for migration, and they are housed in different folders. Given this, you probably take some factors into consideration, such as the preview, search, selection, and transfer efficiency.

As such, it is recommended that you go for MobiKin Assistant for iOS, which makes your transfer journey safe, simple, and smooth.

Additional Tips:

Do you know how to transfer photos from iPhone to external hard drive without computer? Well, this can be done through some potable hard drives like SanDisk. Yet it is a bit pricey and works for iOS 8 and up.

After you get it, just do the task as follows:

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  • Connect your iPhone to an external hard drive.
  • Click the Files app > Browse to confirm if your device is connected.
  • Open the Photo app > select the photos you want to transfer.
  • Click the 'Share' option to transfer the pictures to the Files app.
  • On the Files app, select the hard drive you need to save your iPhone photos there.

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