Simple Tips to Help You Get to Know (and Use) iCloud Photo Library

Not sure what it means when someone says, “Oh, I saved it to the cloud”? You’re not alone.

There’s a lot of confusion about what the term “in the cloud” actually means these days – and your uncertainty may be holding you back from harnessing this important and useful technology.

The “cloud” is simply another name for the network of computers that use the internet to receive, send, store, and share information outside of our own local machines and devices.

iCloud is Apple’s version of cloud-based storage. It’s an ecosystem that merges and syncs all content on all devices into one account. If you’re using Apple devices, you’re probably already using iCloud to back up data like mail, contacts, calendars, notes, and messages.

But if you feel like you really don’t know iCloud, how it works, or how it can help you manage your photos, then this post is for you!

iCloud Photo Library Basics

When you enable iCloud Photo Library, all of your images and videos are sent from your Mac, or a device like your iPhone, to the cloud. Apple then sends the same image files back to your other devices.

This comes in handy especially when you add a new computer or change the model of your iPhone. If you have your photo library on iCloud, all photo and video files in iCloud will download to your new computer or device.

We recommend our clients enable iCloud Photo Library because:

  • It stores original versions of anything in your library (i.e. photos, videos, screenshots, bursts, etc.).
  • You can set each of your devices to compress (optimize) files and save storage space.
  • When you select a particular file on any device, the Photos app will automatically open the original, higher-quality version.
  • All photo changes and edits show up on all devices where you have iCloud Photos Library enabled. You can make quick and easy edits to every photo in your library. Brush up on editing tricks in Apple Photos in this post.

How to Set Up iCloud Photo Library
It’s simple to enable iCloud photo library on your computer and other devices. The following directions assume you have iOS11 or 12 on your devices, operating system Yosemite 10.10.3 or High Sierra on your computer, and version 3.0 of Apple Photos.

You have to enable iClould Photo Library on each individual device where you want to view your library.

On your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Photos, then turn on iCloud Photos.

On your Mac, go to System Preferences > iCloud. Click Options next to Photos, then select iCloud Photo Library.

Keep your Apple ID and password handy, as you will use them often in iCloud Photo Library.

Depending on the number of your photos and video files, the initial sync can take a long time, so it’s best to plug your computer or device into a power outlet before you start.

If you have a big collection of photos and videos, we recommend you connect your computer to the ethernet with a cord, rather than sync via WiFi. It’s also important to keep your computer “awake,” otherwise the sync will pause until you wake up your computer.

To change your device’s “Sleep” settings, go to System Preferences > Energy Saver. In the Power Adapter tab, check “Prevent computer from sleeping automatically when the display is off.”

This site gives helpful answers to questions about iCloud Photo Library.

Why You Should Purchase More Memory
Apple’s free iCloud account gives the user 5 GB of memory. That might not be enough if you have a large number of photos and videos.

If the majority of the photos you want to keep in your library are high resolution (i.e. from high quality DSLR camera), you may need to add more storage, because your photos will take up more space. If you enable iCloud Photo Library, you will be notified if you need to purchase memory to make room for your entire collection.

Purchasing additional storage is affordable. You’ll pay a monthly fee of $0.99 for 50 GB, $2.99 for 200 GB, or $9.99 for 2TB.

Even the lowest price option gives you a lot of storage!

Optimizing Photo Settings to Save Space
Apple gives you the option to store compressed versions of your photos on your devices, saving valuable storage space. This is called “photo optimization.”

If you have your devices set to sync photos with iCloud, then iCloud always keeps your full-resolution originals.

To optimize your images on your Mac, open the Photos app. Under the Photos dropdown, choose Preferences > iCloud, then click “Optimize Mac Storage.”
Mac Photos Optimization Settings

To do the same on an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Photos, check “Optimize iPhone (or iPad) Storage.”
iPhone Photos Optimization Settings

What is “My Photo Stream” and How is it Different?

When you set up iCloud Photo Library, you will also notice another option in the preferences window titled My Photo Stream.

My Photo Stream is similar to iCloud Photo Library. It’s another way to sync and access your most recent photos across devices. However, there are limitations.

This option limits the number of photos shared between your devices to the newest 1000 photos for 30 days.

You can’t access as many kinds of files, such as High Efficiency or MP4 videos, or GIF images.

Your edits won’t update across devices, and you can’t optimize photos to save storage.

This free option is handy for those who don’t have very many photos and just want to see the most recent images on all of their devices. However, we generally advise our clients that if you are using iCloud Photo Library, then you don’t need to enable My Photo Stream.

Learn more about the differences between My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Library here.

Sharing Albums and Photos with iCloud Photo Sharing

Regardless of whether or not you enable iCloud Photo Library, you can enable iCloud Photo Sharing in your Photos app preferences, or on your device Photos settings. This allows you to create albums to share with friends, family, or co-workers.

To share an album with another Mac user, click on the album you created, then click on File > Share.

You can also share an album on any other Apple device. Once you create the Album, tap the three small dots in the top right corner and select “Share Photos.”

Besides creating and sharing your own albums, you can also accept album invitations from others, and participants can like and comment on shared photos and albums. Many people like iCloud Photo Sharing more than Facebook or Instagram because it provides a private place to view photos and comments.

Photos and videos in your Shared Albums are technically in iCloud, but they don’t count against your iCloud storage limit.

Clarifying Backups and Security

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, iCloud is NOT a backup system. Copies of original photos are not stored in iCloud, rather, it’s the same library in another location. Synchronizing devices is not a backup, but rather just an extra copy.

In addition to iCloud, we recommend you use Time Machine to back up your Photos library file. Read more about backing up photos in this post.

As a personal preference, I like to save space in my Photos library and keep only the last one to two year’s photos synced with iCloud. The rest of my collection is always backed up on a hard drive with Time Machine.

We also have clients who have all of their photos on a hard drive and then sync the hard drive with iCloud.

Apple keeps your photos and the information they contain private and secure. They use what is called “end-to-end encryption,” meaning when your photos are in transit to or stored in iCloud, they are encrypted. Even Apple doesn’t have access to your photos!

Getting a Grip on “The Cloud”

In the world of technology, “the cloud” is a challenging concept to grasp. It may be a little scary to think of our personal data traveling around the cyber universe!

Apple took a part of that universe and created their own iCloud, giving Mac users a confined place to connect and store their information. They also created a very affordable cost structure should users need to add storage space.

If you would like easier access to your photos when away from your computer, we recommend you take advantage of iCloud Photos Library. Once you set up this powerful tool, we think you’ll appreciate the simplicity of having your entire library “in the cloud.”

2 thoughts on “Simple Tips to Help You Get to Know (and Use) iCloud Photo Library

  1. iCloud Photo Library is important for your backup data. We can share the data on iOS devices by using iCloud Photo Library. This blog is very informative for iOS users. Keep posting!

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