iCloud Photos: What You Need to Know

iCloud Photos, formerly known as iCloud Photo Library, is an Apple service that moves the user's entire photo and video library into the cloud. It's part of Apple's push to make it as easy as possible for users to switch among Mac and iOS devices throughout the day, making sure the user's photos are available on all of their devices and ensuring any changes get quickly synced across devices.



Turning on iCloud Photo Library


- iOS: Open the Settings app and head to account section and tap on your iCloud account. In the "Apps Using iCloud" section, tap on Photos and you'll find a toggle for iCloud Photos. This option can also be accessed through the Photos app section of Settings.

- macOS: Open System Preferences and head to the iCloud pane. If you're logged in, you'll see a list of the various iCloud services. Hit the "Options..." button next to Photos, and you'll see a window where you can turn on iCloud Photos. You can also manage settings within the Preferences section of the new Photos app directly.

- Apple TV: On a fourth-generation Apple TV or Apple TV 4K, head to the Accounts section of Settings, then choose iCloud and turn on the iCloud Photos option.

- iCloud.com: Photos stored in iCloud Photo Library are also accessible through Apple's web-based iCloud.com service. Through the web interface, users can upload or download photos, browse via Moments and Albums view, print or email photos, and mark individual photos as favorites.

iCloud Photos Settings


The Photos apps for Mac and iOS are built to work with iCloud Photos, although users can opt to use local photo libraries on their devices if they prefer. Users opting for iCloud Photos have the choice of storing the original photos on their Mac or iOS device, which is ideal for offline access, or a more flexible optimized arrangement that stores originals locally if you have enough storage space but uses lower-resolution versions if local storage is tight and only downloads the full-resolution versions from iCloud as needed.

iCloud Photos settings on Mac (left) and iOS (right)

Similar settings are available on iOS, where users can choose between storing full-resolution photos right on their devices or saving some space by storing lower-resolution versions onboard and keeping the full-resolution versions in iCloud.

On iOS and macOS, users may also continue to see an option for My Photo Stream, which is Apple's separate service that allows users to automatically sync their last 30 days' worth of photos (up to 1,000 photos) between devices. Users who recently created their Apple IDs may not see the My Photo Stream option, as Apple is phasing out the feature.

On devices where iCloud Photos is active, there will no longer be a separate My Photo Stream album as there was prior to the rollout of iCloud Photos, as all photos are now included in the main library stored in iCloud. My Photo Stream doesn't count against your iCloud storage limits, but edits made to photos in My Photo Stream don't update across your devices.

The My Photo Stream setting does, however, offer some level of integration between devices where iCloud Photo Library is enabled and those where it is disabled. Turning on My Photo Stream on a device with iCloud Photo Library is enabled allows the device to import Photo Stream photos from other non-iCloud devices and also send new photos out to My Photo Stream for display on those devices.

Using iCloud Photos


Once you understand that iCloud Photos stores and syncs photos across devices, usage is very straightforward and it behaves very much like a local photo library stored on the user's machine. Users can freely manage, edit, and save their photos as they have always done, with the added bonus of that work automatically appearing wherever they have iCloud Photos enabled. The original photos always remain stored in iCloud, making it easy to revert any edits made on a device.


As with a local photo library, users can include photos from any source, making iCloud Photos more than the alternative Photo Streams of images taken on their devices. Photos and videos of a wide range of types from any source can be added to the user's library on one device, and they will sync to all other devices.

One important consideration when deciding whether or not to use iCloud Photos is that it is an all-or-none proposition on a given device unless the user chooses to use multiple photo libraries on macOS. With a single photo library, there is no option to sync only some photos while the remainder is stored only locally. For example, users can not opt to have only their iOS device photos synced to their Mac via iCloud Photos but not have their full library of photos in the Photos app for Mac synced to iCloud and the user's other devices unless they want to manage multiple libraries.

Photos are stored in iCloud Photos at their full resolutions and in their original formats. Common formats like HEIF, JPEG, RAW, PNG, GIF, TIFF, HEVC, and MP4 are all supported, as are special formats captured on iOS devices like slo-mo, time-lapse, and Live Photos.

Pricing


iCloud Photos taps into a user's iCloud account storage, which is also used for iCloud Drive document storage, device backups, and more. iCloud users receive 5 GB of storage for free, but users who wish to back up their devices to iCloud frequently find they need more than that, and iCloud Photo Library will only increase the need for additional storage.

Apple offers several paid storage tiers for iCloud, priced on a monthly basis and ranging from 50 GB to 2 TB. The lowest paid plan at 50 GB costs $0.99/month in the U.S., with Apple also offering a 200 GB plan for $2.99/month and a 2 TB plan for $9.99/month. Even the high-end 2 TB plan may not be enough for some users who have a lot of photos, requiring them to either archive some photos outside of the service or simply opt to not use iCloud Photos at all.

If you fill up your iCloud storage allotment, new photos and videos will no longer be uploaded to iCloud, and libraries will no longer be synced across devices. In order to restore iCloud Photos functionality, users will need to either upgrade to a larger storage plan or reduce storage usage by manually deleting certain photos or other files from iCloud.

Turning Off iCloud Photos


So what if you've turned on iCloud Photos and later decide you don't want to use it anymore, either for a specific device or across all devices? On a specific device, iCloud Photos can be disabled the same way it was turned on, through the iCloud portion of the Settings app on iOS device or System Preferences or Photos preferences on a Mac. If you are currently storing optimized versions of your photos, your system will give you the opportunity to download the full-resolution photos from iCloud, at which point you will have a complete local photo library on your device.

Disabling iCloud Photos entirely in iCloud settings on Mac

If you prefer to turn off iCloud Photos entirely, you can head to the Manage Storage section of iCloud settings either in the Settings app on an iOS device or System Preferences on a Mac. In that section, you can choose to Disable and Delete iCloud Photo Library, after which point you will have 30 days to download your library to at least one device before it is removed entirely.

Wrap-up


iCloud Photos represents one of Apple's key efforts to streamline the experience of using multiple devices, many of which have been bundled under the "Continuity" umbrella. Many of these Continuity features tap into iCloud as a method for linking various devices, and iCloud Photos takes that one step further to ensure the users' photos are available regardless of which device they are currently on.



Top Rated Comments

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53 months ago

Great - apart from the price of storage....


Dropbox's sole 1TB plan costs $0.12 per GB per year.

Google Drive costs $0.24 per GB per year for 100GB plan and $0.12 per GB per year for 1TB to 30TB plans.

Apple's iCloud costs whopping $0.59 per GB per year for 20GB plan and $0.24 per GB per year for 200-1TB plan.

Apple does not necessarily have to become cheapest, but I would like to see some pricing innovation, such as flat $9.99 per year for each 64GB increment ($0.16 per GB per year) consumed beyond free storage, with ability to share storage with family members.
Rating: 14 Votes
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53 months ago
Great - apart from the price of storage....
Rating: 13 Votes
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53 months ago
Well, since the topic says "all you need to know" I can't help but commenting on one major lack of feature in the new photos app.

Currently me and my wife share the same photos, since 90% of all photos we take are family related. But for this to work currently we have a single iPhoto library shared among us. Sadly apple doesn't let you share one iCloud plan among family. And therefor they won't support one photos library shared by a family.

I would like my family album (which is the big library) to include mine and my wife's pictures. And that would be my default library. And we could pay for a 200gb iCloud storage. Instead we both have 20gb and cannot share any data. The whole system just feels halfway complete. And it's an important feature mentioning.
Rating: 11 Votes
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53 months ago
Great, it immediately starts uploading my existing (iPhoto) photo's to the cloud, and my iPhone starts syncing. So what is the use of the cloud if my 16GB iPhone tries to sync with the 20GB cloud that has now been filled up by the photo app? :eek:
Rating: 8 Votes
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53 months ago

What happens if the size of the library is such that it cannot fit on my iPhone even with optimized mode on?
I mean... I'm ok to pay for extra iCloud space and upload my entire photo library from the Mac. However, there are no doubts that at some point the size of the library will be larger than what can be squeezed on my iPhone. What will be the behavior at that point?


Exactly my point, I expect the cloud to save space on my devices, not fill them to the rim from my iMac/Book
Rating: 6 Votes
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53 months ago
Here we are, 15 years since the launch of iTools (which became .Mac, then MobileMe, and finally iCloud), and Apple still can't seem to figure out how to make an online service that "just works."
Rating: 5 Votes
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53 months ago

W
Currently me and my wife share the same photos, since 90% of all photos we take are family related. But for this to work currently we have a single iPhoto library shared among us. Sadly apple doesn't let you share one iCloud plan among family. And therefor they won't support one photos library shared by a family.


Just use iCloud Photo Sharing. You can share as many photos as you want between as many people as you want; you can give people permission to add their own photos to the shared albums, and best of all, the shared albums don't even count towards your iCloud storage limit, so this is basically free.
Rating: 5 Votes
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53 months ago
Not enough memory on iPhone

What happens if the size of the library is such that it cannot fit on my iPhone even with optimized mode on?
I mean... I'm ok to pay for extra iCloud space and upload my entire photo library from the Mac. However, there are no doubts that at some point the size of the library will be larger than what can be squeezed on my iPhone. What will be the behavior at that point?
I was really hoping for the new Photo application to let the user decide which part of the library to upload and which part to keep local on the Mac. Was that really too complicated!?!?
Rating: 4 Votes
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53 months ago
Sharing (not streams or social notworking)

I must be missing the point ... I do not want to access so many photos anywhere ... But what I would like is to share all my photos and their tagging (faces etc) with my wife.

Is this possible? We both have separate Apple IDS separate documents and calendars etc. but we want just one photo collection that we can both add to from our respective phones, and both tag when we fel like it etc.
Rating: 4 Votes
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52 months ago
I was reluctant to use the IPL until this weekend and finally bit the bullet.

Well I have to admit I was wrong. It does work extremely well and I like the whole process. I like the recently deleted photo feature as well. It gives you 30 days to correct a mistake.

It's easy to move photos anywhere you want them. Once I hit "view sidebar" life got a whole lot easier.

Still learning a lot but am now confident this will work well!!
Rating: 3 Votes
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