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Photos and videos are some of our most precious digital data that we never want to lose. That’s why macOS Catalina includes the Photos app with a built-in service for backing up your photo library. iCloud Photos is the easiest way to manage your personal photo library.
How it works
iCloud Photos syncs photos and videos between all your devices including edits and albums. For example, you take a photo on your iPhone, it automatically appears on your iPad or Mac.
Apple’s cloud photo library manager isn’t just great for syncing one library between all your devices. It’s also a great backup feature too.
If you lose your iPhone in the ocean, all your photos and videos aren’t lost at sea. All your beach adventure shots are right there waiting for you when you replace your iPhone.
What you need to know
iCloud Photos works with your Apple ID so your identity is the same across all your devices. This is usually the same email and password that you use for the App Store.
The feature is part of Apple’s iCloud service. That means iCloud Photos uses Apple’s cloud storage and not on-device storage — although it can use both.
The important thing to know is that you need to have enough iCloud storage to hold your iCloud Photos library. When you start using iCloud Photos, your iPhone or iPad storage is no longer a limitation.
Most users will need to pay a monthly fee for enough cloud storage to use iCloud Photos. The right tier depends on the size of your photo library, and you can always change plans at any time.
iCloud storage plans and rates vary from country to country. In the United States, plans range from 99¢ per month to $9.99 per month. Here is each option, billed monthly:
- Free — 5GB
- $0.99 — 50GB
- $2.99 — 200GB
- $9.99 — 2TB
You can view plans from around the world here to see current plans and prices where you live. Don’t know how much storage you need? iCloud will alert you if you need more storage so it’s okay to start small.
Here’s how to turn on iCloud Photos on iPhone or iPad:
- Open the Settings app
- Tap your name at the top of the list
- Tap iCloud ? Photos ? Toggle on iCloud Photos
Repeat this process on each of your devices to start syncing your libraries. Be sure to have the latest software update and the same Apple ID for iCloud on each device.
iCloud Photos also works with the Photos app on the Mac:
- Open System Preferences
- Select iCloud
- Click options beside Photos
- Toggle on iCloud Photos
What if you don’t have enough space on your iPhone for your photo library? iCloud Photos has a feature for that too.
iCloud Photos includes an option to save each photo and video locally to your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. This requires more device storage in addition to iCloud storage.
The benefit is that you can access iCloud Photos instantly without an internet connection, but larger libraries will take up a lot of device storage.
If you don’t have enough iPhone, iPad, or Mac storage for your entire photo library, iCloud Photos includes an option to optimize storage. Photos and videos are still accessible from the Photos app anytime, but you need an internet connection to view full resolution images.
If you have a Mac that stays online and powered up, you can even save photos to external storage that backs up to Time Machine for an extra layer of redundancy.
What happens if you accidentally delete a photo? iCloud Photos will delete that photo on all your devices, but you have up to 40 days to recover the photo from the Recently Deleted section in the Photos app.
Personally, I’ve been an iCloud Photos user since the feature launched in 2014. I trust the service with nearly 35,000 photos and videos and growing — including memories of both of my kids, vacations, and more.
iCloud Photos doesn’t just sync and backup photos and videos captured from my iPhone. My library includes imported photos and videos from other cameras and video cameras. I trust iCloud Photos to be my one, true photo library over all other systems, and the iPhone, iPad, and Mac integration is unbeatable.
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