Tackling ‘Photos Agent’ Heavy CPU & Resource Usage on Mac


Photos Agent using huge amounts of Mac CPU and system resources

“Photos Agent” is a little Photos app helper process that often runs on the Mac, it’s for Photos app users and it handles background tasks like downloading and uploading to iCloud Photo Library, downloading and updating Photo Streams and shared streams, and other related iCloud Photos and Photos app tasks.

For users who don’t use Photos app on the Mac, nor any of the iCloud Photos or iCloud Photo Library features, you may find it annoying or problematic if the “Photos Agent” process appears and starts taking up a large amount of system resources, from CPU, to bandwidth, and disk I/O, and you may want to attempt to stop Photos Agent from consuming resources in such a matter.

This tutorial aims to resolve the Photos Agent CPU and resource usage problem by disabling related features that trigger the Photos Agent process in Mac OS. This involves disabling all iCloud Photos abilities, and while it will tackle the CPU usage by Photos Agent task it will also obviously disable any ability to use iCloud Photos or related abilities on the Mac too.

Important: this should be fairly obvious, but do not disable Photos in iCloud if you use Photo Streams, shared streams, iCloud Photos, iCloud Photo Library, or any other related Photos app iCloud features. The approach here aims to completely disable and remove the Photos Agent process from appearing or using any system resources, but this is accomplished by disabling all iCloud Photo features on the Mac. If you use those features you would not want to disable them. Also note that by disabling Photos in iCloud preferences on the Mac, any locally cached iCloud Photos files will be removed and purged from the Mac, and thus would need to be re-downloaded from iCloud again if the feature is later enabled. Toggling these iCloud Photos features off and on from iCloud settings has been known to sometimes cause other strange behavior as well including data loss and permanent loss of photos and images from iCloud, so you will not want to do this or adjust any of these settings if you do not have a backup of the pictures. Only do this if you have a specific reason to want to disable Photos Agent and do not use the related iCloud Photos features, otherwise if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Stop “Photos Agent” CPU and Resource Usage on Mac OS

This aims to disable Photos Agent and related iCloud Photos tasks on the Mac. Back up your Mac before going any further. Toggling these settings off will also delete any iCloud Photos, iCloud Photo Library, or Photo Stream photos from your Mac.

  1. From the  Apple menu choose “System Preferences” and then go to ‘iCloud’
  2. Uncheck the box next to “Photos” in iCloud preferences (you can also click on “Options” next to Photos in iCloud settings and disable each option individually)
  3. Disable all Photos iCloud features on Mac

  4. Exit out of System Preferences

This prevents all iCloud related Photos activity from occurring on the Mac, whether in the background or not. Again, do not do this if you use any iCloud Photos features, and do not make this adjustment if you have not backed up your pictures and files.

Do not casually toggle this setting off and on. If you turn this off and then turn it back on again, your Mac will have to download all iCloud Photo Library, iCloud Photo, Photo Stream, and related iCloud Photos items again (assuming they did not vanish and that get the curiously complex iCloud Photo Library to begin with).

Photos Agent is part of Photos app on the Mac

Turning off all iCloud Photo related functions on the Mac is the only way I have found to completely disable Photos Agent from showing up on the Mac and hogging excessive resources. This process is a necessary part of iCloud Photo and Photos app features, but if you don’t use those features then you may find it can contribute to battery drain in macOS Sierra along with sluggish performance. Simply killing the Photos Agent process does not work as it will relaunch and start running again momentarily.

If you know of another method to stop Photos Agent from running that does not involve disabling every iCloud Photo feature in Mac OS, and that does not remove locally stored iCloud Photos data, do let us know in the comments.

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