iCloud Photo Library: Do not delete photos from an iPhone to free up space

Last updated on May 3, 2017

Be careful when deleting photos or videos on your iPhone, iPad or Mac if you use iCloud Photo Library. Doing so may permanently remove the deleted photos from all devices. Plus, it is not even necessary in most cases as iOS manages storage space allocated to photos by itself. Continue reading to learn how that works.

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Until recently, the base models of Apple’s iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) only had 16GB of memory. At the same time, the iPhone became our go-to camera for taking photos and recording videos. As a result, many users ran out of available storage space and thus had to regularly delete or transfer photos and videos. Then Apple introduced iCloud Photo Library, which keeps all of your photographic memories in sync across all your devices. That’s great because a photo or video you took on your iPhone would automatically appear on your iPad or Mac. Even edits and changes would synchronize seamlessly. Gone are the days of manual synchronization!

iCloud Photo Library works seamlessly with the Photos app to keep your photos and videos securely stored in iCloud and up to date on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple TV, and iCloud.com.

iCloud Photo Library

To enable iCloud Photo Library, perform the following steps:

  • Mac with OS X 10.10.3 or later: Go to System Preferences > iCloud. Click Options next to Photos, then select iCloud Photo Library.
  • iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iOS 8.3 or later: Go to Settings > iCloud > Photos, then turn on iCloud Photo Library.
  • Apple TV (4th generation) with tvOS 9.2 or later: Go to Settings > Accounts > iCloud > iCloud Photo Library.
  • Windows PC: Follow these steps.

Despite all the performance issues I had when iCloud Photo Library was first released, I have used since ever since. It meets my requirements, fits into my photo editing workflow, and I have enabled it on all of my devices.

How iCloud Photo Library manages your storage

iCloud Photo Library has two settings that decide how it manages storage on your devices:

  • Download originals or
  • Optimize storage

As the name implies, the first option downloads and stores full-resolution photos and videos. If your device runs out of available storage space, iCloud Photo Library will stop synchronizing until space becomes available again. I use this setting on my iMac, but my photo library is stored on a LaCie Big5 Thunderbolt 2 Raid with plenty of disk space.

On all my iOS devices as well as on my 12″ MacBook, I use the Optimize Storage settings.

If you turn on Optimize Storage, iCloud Photo Library automatically manages the size of your library on your device. Your original photos and videos are stored in iCloud and space-saving versions are kept on your device. Your library is optimized only when you need space, starting with the photos and videos you access least. You can download the original photos and videos over Wi-Fi or cellular when you need them. You can use Optimize Storage on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.

As you can see, Optimize Storage virtually eliminates the need to manually deleting photos or videos for saving storage space. But what if you want to remove photos regardless?

Deleting photos in iCloud Photo Library

As we have learned above, iCloud Photo Library keeps all of your photos and videos in sync. That includes deleted images. As a result, when you delete a photo or video on one device, it will be deleted from all of your other devices as well! Technically, upon deletion, iCloud Photo Library moves the deleted image into a unique album called “Recently Deleted.” In there, it will remain for about 40 days before it will vanish forever. Of course, you can restore deleted images while they are in the Recently Deleted album. To access the Recently Deleted album, go to Albums and scroll down until you find the album on either iOS or macOS.

Recently Deleted and Hidden albums

Note that with iCloud Photo Library it is not possible to delete an image on only one device! Instead, the deleted image will disappear from all devices that have iCloud Photo Library enabled. As an alternative, you can hide selected images, which places them in a unique album called “Hidden.”

Do not delete photos to free up space

I hope this article clarifies some of the misconceptions when it comes to storage needs and how deleting photos but if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or send me an email.

Michael Kummer

Atlanta | Austrian | Blogger | Father of a preemie | Paleo fan | Traveler | Amateur photographer | CrossFit
3 Responses to "iCloud Photo Library: Do not delete photos from an iPhone to free up space"
  1. Great comments!! I recently upgraded to the iPhoto Cloud Library. My main iPhoto library was over 100gb. It resides in my iMac. It took over a week for it to complete the upload. It went really well, no glitches. Before doing the upload, I made two separate backups and also a time machine back up. After checking that it all went well, I then upgraded my MacBook Pro, followed by my iOS devices. Flawless!! Needless to say, I had to buy extra iCloud storage space, but it is worth doing so. The memories stored in this pictures are priceless.

  2. A little more than a week ago, I turned on the Optimize Storage in the iphone 6S because I have so many photos. Much to my dismay, several (on the order of hundreds) of my photos are now missing from my device AND my icloud. I did not delete them nor can they be found in the recently deleted file. I am totally freaking out. One trend I have noticed is most of the missing photos were taking one of the iphone camera filters (e.g., b&w). If anyone has the same issue and knows how, IF possible, to fix it, I would be most grateful for the help.

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