iCloud Photos: How To Sync Photos Across Your Devices

Apple’s new iCloud Photos feature allows you to seamlessly sync and store your photos across all of your devices. Whether you’re using an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or a Mac with the new Photos app, enabling iCloud Photos means that you’ll always have access to your entire and most recent photo collection. You can even use iCloud on a Windows PC. In this article you’ll discover how to use iCloud Photos to access all of your photos, no matter which device you’re using.

iCloud Photos

How iCloud Photos Feature Works

You may already be familiar with iCloud if you use it to back up your iPhone’s data (including photos). iCloud is Apple’s cloud-based storage facility that allows you to store your files remotely and access them from a variety of devices via Wi-Fi.

With the new iCloud Photos, every photo and video you take is now automatically stored in iCloud and synced to all of your other iCloud-enabled devices. This allows you to access your entire photo collection at any time, and from any iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPod touch) or computer (Mac or Windows PC).

Apple iCloud Photos

iCloud Photos is available on iOS devices running iOS 8.3 or later, and on Mac computers running Yosemite 10.10.3 or later. With this version of the Mac operating system you’ll have a new Photos app which works in a similar way to the Photos app on your iPhone. You must of course have enough available iCloud storage to save your photos (we’ll look at storage options later).

On a Windows PC you can download the iCloud software to access similar facilities. Alternatively you can access your photos at iCloud.com from any web browser.

Changes Are Visible On All Devices

Your iCloud Photos is organized in the same way across devices, making navigating your images a familiar experience no matter what device you’re using. Your photos are organized into Moments, Collections and Years across all of your devices, and even on the web.

iCloud Photo Library 8

Whenever you make changes on one device, those changes are automatically updated on all of your other iCloud-enabled devices. So if you create a new album in your iPhone’s Photos app, that album will appear in the Photos app on your other iOS devices and Mac.

If you delete a photo from the Photos app on your Mac, that image will also be deleted from your iOS devices. You can create albums, mark images as favorites, and organize your photos whether you’re on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac. And when you edit a picture using Photos, your changes are automatically uploaded to iCloud and will be visible on your other devices.

Free Up Storage On Your Device

iCloud Photos can help you to free up space on your iOS devices and Mac. But first you need to ensure that you have enough iCloud storage to store your images. You get 5GB of free iCloud storage to start with, and then as your library grows you can upgrade to a different plan to get more storage as you need it.

iCloud Photos Storage Options

To check your current iCloud storage, open the Settings app on your iPhone, then go to iCloud > Storage. You’ll see the total amount of iCloud storage on your current plan, together with how much is available. If you need to upgrade to more iCloud storage, tap Change Storage Plan and select the option you want.

You pay for iCloud storage on a monthly basis, and payment is taken automatically using the same method that you use for purchasing apps from the App Store. Price plans start at $0.99 per month for 20GB of storage. 200GB is $3.99, 500GB is $9.99 and 1TB is $19.99 per month.

To automatically upload and store your entire iPhone’s photo library in iCloud, so that you can access all of your photos and videos from all of your devices, go to Settings > Photos & Camera, then switch on the iCloud Photo Library option.

iCloud Photo Library 6

You’ll see a progress bar telling you how many photos have been uploaded to iCloud. This may take a considerable amount of time depending on how many photos you have on your device and the speed of your internet connection. Make sure you’re connected to Wi-Fi and that your phone has enough battery – keep the iPhone charging if possible.

Beneath the progress bar you’ll see two options: Optimize iPhone Storage, and Download and Keep Originals. The first option allows you to upload your full resolution images to iCloud, and then replace the images on your iPhone with optimized versions that take up less space. This is great if your iPhone is running low on space.

If you choose to Optimize iPhone Storage, full resolution images are automatically downloaded from iCloud onto your device whenever you want to view, edit, email them, etc. Obviously you have to have a Wi-Fi or cellular internet connection to be able to download them from iCloud in this way.

If you’d prefer to keep the original full resolution images on your iPhone, select Download and Keep Originals. The benefit of this is that you’ll have access to the full resolution images stored on your iPhone even when you don’t have an internet connection. However, be aware that your iPhone’s storage capacity will fill up more quickly if you select this option.

These same options are available on the iPad and iPod touch, so if you have any of these devices, ensure you switch on iCloud Photos on these devices to take full advantage of being able to access all of your images from all of your devices.

iCloud Photo Library 9

When you next open the Photos app on your iPhone (or other device) don’t panic when you notice that your Camera Roll has disappeared! When you have iCloud Photo Library switched on, the Camera Roll album is replaced with an All Photos album.

This is because it no longer only contains photos taken with the camera on that particular device – it now has all of your images from all of your other devices that have iCloud Photos enabled. Photos and videos in the All Photos album will be organized by the date you added them.

Activating The Photos App On A Mac

If you have a Mac running Yosemite 10.10.3 or later, you can switch on iCloud Photo Library so that all of your images from your iOS devices will appear in the Photos app on your Mac.

iCloud Photo Library 10

Just click the Apple menu at the top left of the screen, go to System Preferences > iCloud > Options next to Photos, then select iCloud Photo Library.

To specify the storage options for Photos on a Mac, open the Photos app then go to the Photos menu at the top left and select Preferences. Go to the iCloud tab where you’ll be able to choose from two options: Download Originals To This Mac or Optimize Mac Storage.

iCloud Photo Library 5

You can now use the Photos app on your Mac just like you do on your iPhone. Clicking on the Photos tab at the top of the screen will display all of your photos in either Years, Collections or Moments. Use the back and forward arrows at the top left to switch between these different views.

iCloud Photo Library 15

The Albums tab allows you to view the albums that you’ve created in the Photos app on your iPhone or other iOS device. You can create new albums and organize your photos, just like you can on your iPhone.

iCloud Photo Library 13

The Photos app on the Mac even allows you to edit your photos in the same way as the Photos app on your iPhone, including filters, lighting and color adjustments, cropping, and even a retouch tool.

iCloud Photo Library 4

Simply double click on a photo, then click Edit at the top right. Remember, all of your edits will automatically appear on your other iOS devices. Edits are non-destructive so you can revert back to the original at any time.

If you have photos in folders on your computer that you’d like to store in the iCloud Photo Library, you can import them into the Photos app. Once imported, they’ll automatically appear in the All Photos album on your other iOS devices. To import photos, go to File > Import, select the images or folders you want, then click Review For Import, then click Import All New Photos.

If you want to copy the full resolution images from the iCloud Photo Library into a folder on your computer, select the images in the Photos app on your Mac, then go to File > Export. You can choose to export the photo as it is (including any edits), or the unmodified original. In the next dialog box select your preferred options, then click Export. Select the folder you want the images to go into, then click Export.

iCloud Photos For Windows

The iCloud Library is designed to work seamlessly between Apple devices, so if you have a Mac computer you simply use the Photos app to view, organize and edit your images in the same way as you do on your iPhone.

If you have a Windows computer, you can still take advantage of the the iCloud Photo Library, although you don’t get a Photos app like you do on the Mac.

To enable iCloud on your Windows PC (Windows 7 or 8 required), first set up your iCloud account on your other iOS devices or Mac, then download iCloud for Windows from the Apple website and install the software on your PC.

iCloud Photos Windows

Once installed, open iCloud for Windows and sign in with your Apple ID. Select the iCloud services you’d like to enable, including Photos, and click Apply.

When you enable iCloud Drive and Photos, iCloud for Windows creates new folders for those files in Windows Explorer. When you save new files into those folders, the files will also automatically appear on your iPhone and other iOS devices.

Another option is to access your entire photo library from the Photos app on iCloud.com. Simply sign in with your Apple ID, then click Photos on the control panel as shown below.

iCloud Photo Library 12

You can access this from any web browser, but you might not be able to play MP4 videos with Firefox. If you experience problems, try using a different browser (Safari 8 or later, or Google Chrome 28 or later).

Share & Print Your iCloud Photos

With iCloud Photo Library it’s easy to share your photos with other people. Simply open the Shared tab in the Photos app on any device, then create an album, add photos to it, then invite friends to join the album. You can even allow them to add their own photos to a shared album, and people can like and comment on the photos.

Sharing iCloud Photos

With the Activity view in the Sharing tab of the Photos app, you can see all the updates and comments in your shared albums, no matter which device you’re using.

Printing iCloud Photos

If you’re using Photos on a Mac, the Projects tab allows you to create professional-looking photo books, cards, calendars, prints and slideshows with your images.


As you can see, the new iCloud Photo Library and Photos app make it much easier to access all of your photos from all of your devices. It ensures any changes you make to photos or albums are automatically reflected on every iCloud-enabled device, no matter where you made those changes.

If you have a Mac, the syncing and storage of photos works seamlessly between this and your iOS devices. So you no longer have to worry about transferring your iPhone photos to your computer – they’ll automatically appear in the Photos app on your Mac via iCloud.

If you struggle with editing your iPhone photos on a small screen, the ability to edit them via the Photos app on your Mac will be of great benefit. Add to that the ability to organize, share and create printed projects, and you’ll probably agree that the Photos app for Mac is a seriously great addition.

I’ve been using iCloud Photo Library and the new Photos app on my Mac and iOS devices, and I’m hooked!

Even if you have a Windows PC, the iCloud for Windows software and the Photos app on iCloud.com make it easy to access and sync photos between your iOS devices and computer.

  • This is great but missing a troubleshooting paragraph. Important note that if you’re devices cease sharing for some reason it might be because the battery on your devices is too low to share.

  • owotaye

    If you have backed up the photos with iCloud, you can recover the photos with FonePaw iPhone Data Recovery to download photos from iCloud. If no backup, you also can scan the iPhone and get photos back, follow the detailed tutorial: step by step and you will get all your photos back.

  • yukimima

    If you have backed up iPhone data to iCloud, you can use FonePaw iPhone Data Recovery to view your photos and download photos from iCloud in 3 steps.

  • aung nann


    Its very clear that you have presented. I am in need of help at one point. I use windows PC as a main photo saving points. First, As I transfered my photos from my nikon slr camera to my windows PC, I use ViewNX2. But what I am looking for is; as I transfered the photos from the camera to the PC, at the same time I wish the photos upload automatically to the icloud photos and later will be availible to view on my ipad as well. But the one I use on windows ViewNX2 does not upload photos automatically to icloud. I have to upload them from the icloud apps for window, which is double jobs and annoyed. So is there any other windows photos transfer software or apps that can automatically upload to icloud? I appreciate your help!

  • suzy

    Hi – my Photo on my Mac has refused to download my photos today as storage is full. I need to free up 2GB. I have been subscribing to extra data storage on icloud and have 695GB available. I have tested deleting some images in Photo to increase storage on my Mac but it duly deletes from icloud too. Is there a way around this? Or do I resort to deleting from both and going back to downloading on portable hard drive storage? thanks Suzy

    • Laine Rudolfa

      That’s how the iCloud works – it syncs your photos through all your devices and if you delete a photo from a device, it’ll be removed from the iCloud as well. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this. I’d suggest to store some files in the hard drive to free up the space on your Mac. 🙂

  • Chez

    I like I cloud but I am having great difficulty trying to print my photos.When I connect to a kiosk at the store all the photos appear with a little cloud on them saying these photos cannot be printed out? Any ideas please help

    • Laine Rudolfa

      It seems that you have the “Optimize storage” option enabled. In this case, iCloud saves the full resolution photo in the cloud and leaves compressed photos in your Photos app. If you want to print these, you have to be connected to the Internet so that iPhone can download the original photo from the cloud. Hope this helps! 🙂

  • Amanda

    I would like to be able to store my photos in iCloud and then delete them from my phone in order to make room in my phone for new photos. If everything is uploaded into iCloud and I delete them from my phone, will they still be in iCloud?

    • Je-ann

      No, it will be deleted too. The iCloud only works as a synching device. You need a back up device for you to do this. Here’s our recommendations:

  • Elizabeth Barrasso Blackey

    When I turn on iCloud Photo Library button, I get this message: “Photos & videos synced from iTunes will be Removed. 253 photos will be removed.” I don’t remember ever putting photos in iTunes, but either way, will I lose these photos permanently? I’m afraid to go forward.

  • Reimon Andisuwa

    I edited a photo on my iPhone via app, and via Photoshop for iPhone (via “… > Photoshop” and save all my changes in the phone.

    the photo on iPhone is fine.. However those editing change doesn’t show on my iPad.

    is the sync feature only works if you edit it with build in photos app or what?

  • Willem

    I would like to store full-size photos on both my Mac and iPhone, but keep my iCloud storage free for other stuff (as 5GB is way too small to store photos). Is there a way to not save the photos on iCloud, but do let the devices sync via iCloud?

    • Hi Willem, the images need to be stored in iCloud for them to sync.

    • Willem

      So having a 128GB iPhone and 500GB Macbook Pro doesn’t help for storing pictures and keeping them synced, as long as you only have 5GB iCloud capacity?

    • Hi Willem. It helps for storing your pictures – the more storage capacity you have on your iPhone and Mac, the more pictures you can store on their hard drives. But the syncing happens via the iCloud, so the more photos you want synced between both devices, the more iCloud storage you’ll need. Just keep in mind that when you’re viewing your images via the Photos app on your Mac, these photos aren’t stored on the hard drive of the Mac – they’re actually in the cloud. To get them onto the hard drive of your Mac you have to export them from the Photos app.