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How to use iCloud Photo Library on iPhone


A guide to using iCloud Photo Library on iPhone

We live in a visual era. Why take one picture when you can take five, or ten, or a dozen? Sooner or later, no matter how much space your iPhone comes with, you are going to run out. Once you start struggling for space, you start looking to iCloud for extra storage — specifically, to iCloud Photo Library, which lets you take the strain off your iPhone and access photos and videos on all your devices. In this article, we’ll cover how to sync and upload images, download and delete them, as well as troubleshoot the problems you may encounter.

What is iCloud Photo Library?

A key component of every iCloud account, which anyone with an iOS device can have, is iCloud Photo Library. When enabled, this feature will automatically sync all photos, screenshots, and videos you take with your iPhone to iCloud. You can also use iCloud Photo Library to upload media from your macOS, tvOS, and even Windows devices for centralized photo storage.

Using iCloud Photo Library on your iPhone

To start with, let’s set up iCloud Photo Library on your iOS device. Here is how you do that:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap on your name at the top
  3. Go to iCloud
  4. Underneath the iCloud storage indicator, you’ll see a list of apps using iCloud
  5. Click on Photos (it should be the top option)
  6. Switch iCloud Photo Library on (iCloud Photos in iOS 12)
TIP: 

Before you sync your photo library to iCloud, make sure it’s free from clutter like unneeded similar pics or outdated screenshots. iCloud has only 5 GB of free storage, so you want to be smart about how you use it. An iPhone app like Gemini Photos will help you find and delete all the photos you don't need, so that only the good shots make it to iCloud.

How to access iCloud photos on an iPhone

All photos you’ve synced to iCloud Photo Library, whatever device you synced them from, will be visible in the Photos app on your iPhone. However, it's important to know that the originals are automatically moved to iCloud to save storage, and what you're seeing on your iPhone are lower-resolution previews. 

Alternatively, to view the images in iCloud, you can access them on iCloud.com. Here’s how:

  1. Log in with your Apple ID and password
  2. Here you’ll see a range of apps. Go to Photos.
  3. It may take some time to prepare your photo library, but once it loads, everything you see will be identical to the photos you see on your iPhone. If you delete, edit, or favorite a picture on iCloud.com, the changes made will appear on all other devices connected to this iCloud Photo Library.

Screenshot: How to access your iCloud photos

How to upload photos to iCloud

Uploading images or videos is easy with iOS or macOS. Providing the iCloud sync is switched on, it happens automatically. 

On a Windows device and when logged into iCloud.com, you should see an upload button (a cloud with an arrow pointing up). Use it to upload images from another device to iCloud.

How to download photos from iCloud to your iPhone

Before you download your photos from iCloud, make sure the iPhone you’re using has the correct iCloud account enabled and logged in. Then do the following:

  1. Go to Settings > Your name > iCloud > Photos, just like you did when you set up iCloud Photo Library
  2. Tap the setting Download and Keep Originals

That’s it! Now your photos should start downloading to your iPhone in full resolution.

Screenshots: How to download photos from iCloud to your iPhone

How to delete photos from iPhone, but not iCloud

When you want to delete photos from an iPhone but keep them in iCloud, there are two ways around the issue of automatic syncing:

  1. Log out of iCloud on the device you’re using to delete images. You’ll need to log in again when you want to resuming syncing data and pictures to iCloud.
  2. Switch off the iCloud library in Settings (see the instruction below), and then delete what you want removed from your iPhone

Keep in mind though that as soon as you log back into iCloud or switch it back on, your library will be automatically synced and the photos will reappear on your device.

How to turn off iCloud Photo Library

You can switch off the automatic syncing any time. Simply reverse the steps you took to switch it on:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Click on your name at the top of the list
  3. Go to iCloud
  4. Underneath the iCloud storage indicator, you’ll see a list of Apps Using iCloud
  5. Click on Photos
  6. Switch iCloud Photo Library off, and switch off any sharing and syncing settings you have enabled

Troubleshooting iCloud Photo Library

iCloud Photo Library is a reliable part of the Apple ecosystem. However, occasionally you might encounter problems. Here are some of the most common questions iPhone users have about iCloud Photo Library along with helpful troubleshooting tips.

How long does it take for photos to upload to iCloud?

It really depends on the size of your library and your Internet speed. Photos and videos should automatically upload when your device syncs to iCloud, which is usually when it’s connected to a power source and WiFi. If it’s taking too long, consider leaving your phone connected overnight so it can finish the job. If nothing happens, make sure iCloud Photo Library is switched on on your iPhone.

Why are my photos not uploading to iCloud?

If your photos aren't uploading, it’s worth checking the following:

  • Is your iOS updated to the latest version?
  • Do you have enough iCloud storage? You can purchase more if needed, or use an app like Gemini Photos to delete unwanted duplicate photos and free up some space.
  • Is your WiFi working and was it on when your iPhone was connected to a charger?
  • Have you deleted an image you want to sync? If it isn’t in your photo album, check the Recently Deleted folder, where you can find the pics you trashed within the last 30 days. Tap Restore, and when your phone syncs next time, it should upload that image too.

Assuming you’ve tried and checked everything and none of these apply, it might be worth contacting Apple Support or going to an authorized Apple reseller and repair shop.

Why are my photos not downloading from iCloud?

Again, with this troubleshooting issue, it’s worth checking your WiFi connection first, and then the amount of storage available on your device. Making sure everything is working can save a lot of headache. If everything looks as though it should be working, then it could be worth contacting Apple Support or an authorized repair service.

Why are my photos not loading on iPhone?

One thing you may not anticipate when syncing photos to iCloud is that you’ve got the Optimize Storage feature turned on. What this means is high-quality versions of your pics will be uploaded to iCloud, while low-resolution previews will be visible on your iPhone.

That means that when Internet connection is poor the previews don't load properly on your iPhone. To switch off Optimize Storage and keep the originals on your device, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings on your iPhone or iPad
  2. Tap on your name at the top of this list of menu options
  3. Go to iCloud
  4. Underneath the iCloud storage indicator, find the list of apps using iCloud
  5. Tap on Photos
  6. Switch Optimize Storage off

This should restore all of the original versions to your iPhone, which might mean you’re about to lose an awful lot of storage. But it does mean that the images and videos you wanted will be available on your iPhone, until you either switch this feature back on or move them elsewhere and remove them from your iPhone.


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