Apple Photos Housekeeping Tips

Taking pictures is easy with Apple iPhone or iPad. The ability to keep snapping away with little thought to what’s happening behind the scenes is exactly how Apple intended it. You don’t need to worry about how photos are being managed. Apple does this for you. But a few helpful tips about the Apple Photos app might keep you out of trouble.

Be aware of your storage capacity

By default on the free plan Apple gives us 5 GB of iCloud storage space. If you take a lot of pictures, this space can fill up very quickly, forcing you to upgrade to a larger storage plan and a monthly subscription fee. Sure, the dollar amount is nominal in the big scheme of things. But it seems like everyone has an online monthly subscription for their apps and subscription fees can start to add up if you aren’t aware of how many you have, why you have them and what they are actually doing for you. 

To find out how much iCloud storage you have (free) or paid, on your Apple device go to: Settings>Your Name>iCloud. The amount of storage you have will show there and the apps the storage is dedicated to will be outlined: Photos, Docs, Backups etc. If you click on “Manage Storage” you will be shown by line item how much storage is dedicated to Photos along with other items. Music tends to be the next storage hog. You can go up to 2TB of storage on the Apple monthly subscription plan which is a lot of storage, so you may be saying, “This is irrelevant to me, I can do what I want.” Maybe. You may not care about actively managing your storage on iCloud, but you should at least know where to find it and how much you are signed up for. So be aware. For the people who want to have control of their storage consumption, read on. 

Understand how iCloud sync works

iCloud is primarily a syncing function, not a photo backup. By default, iCloud backs up your photos in the event something happens to your iPhone or iPad, but primarily iCloud is meant to sync (all the same photos) to all of your devices. The backup part is a nice side feature if you aren’t exercising your rights to backup your photos in other ways. 

But be aware, relying solely on iCloud Photo Library for photo backup can be risky if something out of the norm happens. For example, you forget to turn on iCloud Photo Library and you aren’t sending up any data to the cloud and you drop your phone. Ooops! In the event, you turn off iCloud photos on one of your devices, that device is operating no differently than a stand alone 35mm camera does without any backup. If you drop that device and it becomes toast, you have lost those photos because they aren’t syncing up to iCloud ensuring you have a default backup copy. Understand that iCloud Photo Library is about syncing to other devices, not necessarily about backing up. Additional photo back up workflows are recommended. Other cloud apps like Google Photos or Dropbox Camera Uploads can work nicely as an insurance policy. 

What’s your camera input quality set at?

Your devices are synced to your iCloud Photos Library and everything is going great. You’re taking pictures like crazy and all of a sudden your iPhone pops up a message that your storage is running out. What’s going on? Well, you’re running out of storage space on your iPhone and there a few factors to address:

The first thing to check is the Camera Capture setting on your iPhone. Go to Settings>Camera>Formats. You should have 2 options: High Efficiency or Most Compatible. If you want to reduce your photo file size at the capture step, then make sure you have High Efficiency selected. Your photos will be captured using the HEIF/HEVC file format and the file sizes will be smaller. This is a proprietary format that has smaller file sizes without a reduction in quality. If you aren’t sure about HEIF/HEVC format, stay on Most Compatible and images will be captured using JPG file format but they may be slightly larger files. Larger file sizes take up more space. For screen viewing, especially small screen viewing like iPhones, you will probably see little quality differences between the two photo formats but it might start to impact your iPhone storage.

iCloud Photo Library means high resolution files

Every photo that syncs up to iCloud does so at the highest original resolution it was captured at. This means that all iCloud Photo Library photos are high resolution files. High resolution files are big. So if you’re storing big high resolution photo files on your iPhone, those big files are eating up your device storage.

On your iPhone or iPad you can choose what quality of photo you want to store on your device. Go to: Settings>Your Name>iCloud>Photos>Optimize iPhone Storage (a low res version of the image will be sent down from iCloud to be stored on the device so that it takes up less space on your phone. If you choose “Download and Keep Originals” (the high resolution original version will remain on your device taking up lots of valuable storage space on your iPhone or iPad.)

Why is this important?
When you keep your high res originals on your device you can quickly run out of storage space on the device itself enabling your iPhone useless eventually. Remember, if you are syncing to iCloud Photo Library, you always have the high resolution version of the photo in the cloud in the event you need it for enlargements or other purposes.

When you select “Optimize iPhone Storage” to save device storage, Apple will effectively start managing your photo workflow for you. iCloud Photo Library will only send the low res versions to your iPhone creating more device storage for you and Apple will start managing the photo workflow so you don’t have to by eliminating photos as needed to keep your iPhone or iPad up and running. All original photos will still be in your iCloud Photo Library if you have it syncing but you might not have access to every single photo on your iPhone. 

Optimize Phone Storage to keep going

When using Apple devices, I recommend thinking about a workflow related to storage capacity for your Apple photos. If you have a MacBook or an Apple iMac with lots of storage, you may think about keeping the high resolution originals from iCloud Photo Library on your computer or better yet on an external hard drive so you don’t clog up your computer. Set up your iPhone and iPad to maximize device storage by only keeping the low res versions on them by selecting “Optimize Phone Storage.”

In the future, we’ll continue on with these Apple Photo tips. If you have 50,000 photos or more in one library or are in excess of 80GB of photo data in your iCloud, we will be encouraging you to start thinking about your photo content differently and to start developing some other photo workflows to make life easier. Stay tuned!