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How to bypass the iCloud Photos sync limit of a single photo library

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Photos for macOS makes it easy to set up multiple libraries. You may want to separate projects, travel, work and personal media, or you have so many images and videos that a single library seems unmanageable. With multiple libraries, you can also have a specific library wherever you want – they don’t have to live on your boot volume. You can store them on other partitions, other mounted volumes or external drives that you keep offline for archiving. (To create an additional library, quit Photos if it’s running, hold down the Option key while launching Photos, click Create newand choose a location.)

However, there is a significant limitation if you choose to use more than one library: You can only set up a single library at a time to work with iCloud Photos and get all the benefits of multi-device sync and cloud storage and access. . Apple has never signaled any desire to change that, and I assume we wouldn’t see any movement until late 2023, even if the company wanted to allow more iCloud Photos libraries.

However, you can pursue one of several alternative strategies:

Merge your libraries: The simplest course of action is to have a monolithic library if you want all libraries to be synchronized. If you have reasons to keep them apart, that’s not an answer, obviously. And Apple doesn’t offer library merging. For this, please contact PowerPhoto 2 ($29.95), recently reviewed.
Create multiple accounts: While you may only have one Photos library synced with iCloud Photos, this is a limitation of your macOS account and Apple ID. You can create multiple macOS accounts and Apple IDs and register each of your additional macOS accounts in different Apple ID accounts. In each macOS account, choose a different library to sync. Management here would be difficult but it would work. Downsides? You have to switch between macOS accounts or iCloud.com logins to view pictures; you don’t get automatic syncing from your iPhone, iPad, or other Macs to each account; and you may need to pay for iCloud+ storage tiers for each Apple ID if you have more than 50GB of media in each library.
Use other cloud-based photo libraries: If you commit to using Photos as a media front end, this won’t work. But you could turn to Google Photos. Google also doesn’t allow multiple libraries. But since it handles all your settings via a web app, you can tag images to create large albums or album sets that could function as library separators.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Greg.

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