How to Stop Photos Copying Images & Creating Duplicate Files in Mac OS X
Photos app is a great app to manage and browse large collections of pictures on a Mac, but some users prefer to manually sort their pictures using the file system of OS X, which means that if you add those pictures into Photos app they will be copied into the Photos library. That’s the intended behavior, but essentially that means Photos app defaults to creating duplicates of pictures that are manually added through the Finder or Import function, as the original picture stays in it’s origin location, but then a copy of the image is duplicated into the Photos Library.photoslibrary package in the user Pictures/ directory. By disabling the Importing feature, you will be able to use Photos app as a front-end photo browser to an existing folder hierarchy of images.
It is not recommended for most users to turn this off, Apple leaves this feature enabled by default for good reason. This is really aimed at more advanced users who like to manage their pictures through the Finder or another file system based approach, and who simply want to use Photos app as a means of browsing through a complex existing hierarchy of pictures, perhaps as a new and separate library. Understanding this feature is important, as the copying image file function does not occur when importing from an iPhone or digital camera, nor does it happen when migrating an iPhoto or Aperture library into Photos app.
This has no impact on duplicates of pictures found within the actual Photos app, it simply prevents copying the image files at the file system level.
How to Stop Importing (Copying) Pictures to the Photos Library in OS X
- Open Photos app in OS X as usual
- Pull down the “Photos” menu and choose “Preferences”
- Under the “General” tab, look for “Importing: Copy items to the Photos library” and uncheck that box to disable image copying
- Close Preferences
With Importing turned off, you’re now free to add pictures to Photos app with the import function or drag and drop as usual, but the newly added images will no longer be copied to the Photos Library. Instead, the only things stored in the Photos Library directory will be alterations to images, thumbnails of pictures, and iCloud data.
This means the picture will stay in it’s origin location but basically have an alias in the Photos app (with thumbnails generated too, of course), rather than being copied into Photos Library files. For example, if you have a picture file located at /Volumes/Backups/Images/Sample1.jpg, then Sample1.jpg will stay in that location and the Sample1.jpg file will not be copied into a Photos app library. This contrasts with the default option of Importing (copying) the picture, where the Sample1.jpg image will not only stay in that original location but also be copied into ~/Photos/Photos Library.photoslibrary/ (or whatever the library is, if you make a new library in Photos it would be the active selected library).
If this sounds confusing, then chances are good that the setting is not intended for you, so you should not change the setting at all, keep the default Importing choice enabled. It’s hard to overstate that, because this is really aimed at users who manually manage pictures through other means and simply want to use Photos app as a means of browsing through those files. Thus, if you don’t understand what this does and why you’d want to use Photos app this way, don’t make the settings change, as you may inadvertently delete, alter, or remove your pictures. Given that photos are perhaps some of the most important personal data many users have, it’s always a good idea to store a backup of all of your photos and personal pictures, at the very least through Time Machine, if not a cloud provider (or even iCloud Photo Library).