iPhone Photos Not Syncing to Photos in macOS Catalina via iCloud

After upgrading to macOS Catalina (10.15) I realized that on two of my three Macs my Photos library was no longer updating to add new photos from my iPhone 11 Pro. Essentially my Mac photos library was frozen in time from the day I upgraded. After searching the web for a solution and finding nothing, I decided to see if creating a new System Photo Library might do the trick. It did!

In this post I’ll show you how to create a new photos library and set that library to be your System Photo Library.  Only your System Photo Library will sync your photos that are stored in iCloud. Before doing this, make sure you have a current Time Machine backup that includes your current Photos Library just in case anything goes wrong:

  1. Quit the Photos app. Hold down the Option key and relaunch Photos. This will open a window where you can either select an existing Photos library or create a new one. You want to create a new library.
  2. Give your new library a name (I used Catalina), and it should be highlighted after you create it. Click the Choose Library button.
  3. This will open your new, empty Photos Library. Now you need to set this new library as your System Photo Library so it can sync with your iCloud photos. Select File/Preferences to open the following dialog box and click on Use as System Photo Library.
  4. When you select this you’ll get the following warning referencing your current System Photo Library. No worries, as you will be resyncing everything in the iCloud Photo Library to this new System Photo Library. All of your photos and videos will remain in your previous System Photo Library.
  5. Now click the iCloud button at the top of the Preferences window and turn on iCloud Photos and, if you wish, Shared Albums.
  6. Close the Preferences window and watch your photos sync to your Mac, starting with the most recent. This may take some time to complete, depending on how many photos & videos are in iCloud Photos and the speed of your internet connection. Just keep Photos open and let it do its thing!
  7. Once all your photos have synced from iCloud, you may want to delete your old Photos Library to free up local storage on your Mac. You can find the old library easily by quitting the Photos app and relaunching it while holding down the option key, just as you did in step #1 above. Here you can right-click on the old library to easily find it in the Finder.
  8. This will open a Finder window and your old Photos Library will be highlighted. Simply right-click on this file and move it to the Trash. Another option would be to copy it to another drive as an archive before deleting it from your Mac. This way you’ll have it as a backup for all your photos and video as of the last time it synced. Probably not a bad idea.

I hope this has been helpful. I suspect that this apparent bug in macOS Catalina will be addressed in future updates. But for now, this should get everything back in sync.


Comments 1

  1. This worked. I upgraded (loose term) to Catalina and Photos would not sync new photos from my iPhone. Photos imported to my MacBook would go up to iCloud but nothing on iCloud would come down. I tried all the tricks of the past and nothing worked. I was scared that iCloud would not have everything. So, I made 3 backups of my iPhoto library and followed your instructions and everything worked out. Pictures (60,000+) are still downloading from iCloud, but so far so good. Thank you.

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