It is impossible to delete RAW files from iCloud Photos

730 words, 4 minutes.

“Try deleting RAW files and keeping the JPGs!”

I decided to try and save some space in my iCloud drive. Looking at the usage, 160gb was being taken up by Photos. I thought that was ridiculous. This turned out to be nowhere near as ridiculous as the ensuing saga to try and delete some files.

Just delete the files

Naturally I started by deleting every single video in the library. Photos at least makes it easy to find particular types of file, with the ‘Media Types’ album link on the left.


Next came the realisation that I had hundreds of photos that were JPEG+RAW, with the RAW files being many times the size of the JPEGs. I wondered if you could separate the two, deleting just the RAW files. A bit of searching revealed it wasn’t that easy โ€” you have to delete the JPEG+RAW combo. So I exported all the photos, using the “Export unmodified originals…” menu option, and deleted the actual RAW files on the file system. Then simply re-imported the JPEGs back into Photos.

I thought that would be the end of it.

They’re back!

Later that day I noticed on my iPhone that the RAW ‘Media Type’ still existed โ€” and couldn’t quite believe it when I saw that the JPEGs I’d re-imported earlier appeared to be back attached to the RAW files I thought I’d deleted! WTF?!

So I contacted Apple Support. Naturally the chat bot was no help, so I took a phone call. The very polite chap on the phone went through all the steps with me, again, watching what happened. Oddly, the RAW files would reappear first on iOS, so we wondered if there was something odd going on there โ€” and opted to remove my iPad and iPhone from iCloud Photos, along with an Apple TV that had access too. I deleted all the files again, checked in the web version of iCloud, looked into the Photos Library; all gone. Emptied the ‘Recently Deleted’ folder in Photos. No RAWs anywhere. So the support guy signed off and left me to it, saying I could reopen the case if this hadn’t solved it (note to self: Apple’s support path is terrible. You just start from scratch again).

“Ain’t no RAW files here”

Dragged the JPEGs back in.

The RAWs started reappearing… ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

“RAWs reappearing on iOS”

If at first you don’t succeed

Not one to accept defeat, I’d thought I’d give it one last, possibly drastic, attempt. Sigh.

By this point, the only device I had sync’ing with iCloud Photos was the Mac. So I exported the files. Deleted them in Photos. Emptied ‘Recently Deleted’. Deleted the RAWs from the export folder. Emptied the trash. Checked in the Photos Library โ€” all gone. Then made the drastic move. Turned off iCloud Photos on the Mac, and deleted every single photo in the web interface.

I now had no iCloud Photos library anywhere.

It had started to occur to me that despite iCloud drive having no history, I wondered if Apple keeps the files ‘just in case’. Maybe there’s a legal reason that they don’t talk about (I’m not going through those T&Cs to find that clause; it might well be documented, I don’t know). Anyway, I thought I’d give it a few days, then turn iCloud Photos back on to see what would happen.

Which I did, this evening, January 30th. Only on the Mac, nowhere else. There were no photos on iCloud web, the iPad, iPhone and Apple TV were all ‘disconnected’ from iCloud Photos.

The RAW files came back…


Doing an ‘Export unmodified original’ does indeed pull two files out on to the local filesystem, so the raw files have definitely come back from iCloud. Despite being deleted. Umpteen times.

“Now how did they do that?”

All the iCloud shared albums I had also recreated themselves, but with no photos in. Which leads me to believe the photos are deleted, but clearly some ‘pointer’ is not.

“Shared albums are back, with no content”

I’m at a loss now. I’ve no idea where they come from or how to delete them ๐Ÿ˜‚ It’s infuriating. It also begs some questions about the trustworthiness of Apple. But that’s a pondering for another time. It would seem though, that I am not alone.

Final thought

OK, I’ve turned iCloud Photos off again.

“Wait 30 days”

I’ll give it the 30 days, then turn the library sync back on (without RAWs in!) and see if that finally de-links them. If it doesn’t, I might just have to scream.

“Wait 30 days”