Up and running with Photo Stream

In our long look at iPhoto, we’ve covered the interface basics, along with importing and viewing images. During those two lessons I took pains to do little more than mention Photo Stream as an option for viewing images. I avoided getting into the details, but now it’s time to dive in.

Your photos: Here, there, and everywhere

Photo Stream is a component of Apple’s iCloud service. We can safely classify it as part of iCloud’s syncing services. The general idea is pretty simple. Once you’ve signed up for an iCloud account and configured it properly, you can sync any images on a device associated with your Apple ID with other devices that use that same ID. So, for example, if you’ve taken a picture with your iPhone, that picture can also appear on your iPad, your Apple TV, and (within iPhoto) your Mac. And it will do so without your having to select the image, tap a Share button, and choose to share it. It just happens in the background.

This sounds simple enough. The potentially confusing part involves configuring it properly. Let’s see how to do that on all your devices.

Setting up Photo Stream on your Mac

You begin by launching System Preferences (under the Apple menu) and selecting the iCloud preference. If you haven’t signed in to your iCloud account, do so now. (If you haven’t obtained an Apple ID, what are you waiting for? Click the link to do that.) In this window, enable the Photo Stream option. Then click the Options button that appears to its right, enable My Photo Stream and Shared Photo Streams, and click OK.

Step one: Enable 'Photo Stream' in iCloud's preferences.

The first option tells your Mac to automatically download new photos that are shared via iCloud and to upload to your other devices any images that you add to Photo Stream on your Mac. The second option allows you to share streams with other people, as well as subscribe to someone else’s stream. I’ll show you how each of these options works a bit later in the lesson.

Now launch iPhoto and select the Photo Stream entry in iPhoto’s Library pane. In iPhoto’s main window, click Turn On Photo Stream. If you’re already sharing Photo Stream albums from another device (or from someone else’s shared Photo Stream album),those images will appear in the main window.

To confirm that Photo Stream is configured correctly on your Mac, choose iPhoto > Preferences and click the Photo Stream entry in the resulting window. You’ll see four checked options: My Photo Stream, Automatic Import, Automatic Upload, and Shared Photo Streams. I’ve explained the first and last options. Let me continue with the second and third.

When you turn on Photo Stream in iPhoto, four options are enabled.

Automatic Import means that images that appear in your My Photo Stream album will be downloaded to and included in the Events, Photos, Faces, and Places albums. (On an iOS device, images are permanently downloaded to the device only when you add them to another album.) Because you've enabled the Automatic Upload option, any new photos that you add to iPhoto (up to the latest 1000 images) will be shared via your stream. These photos will remain in your Photos Stream for 30 days, after which they'll disappear (though they won't be deleted from their original source).

So now what happens? With these options activated, your iPhoto images will be shared over Photo Stream to any devices that use your Apple ID and have their Photo Stream options configured correctly. And how do you accomplish that? Follow along.

Configuring Photo Stream on other devices

Macs, iOS devices, Apple TVs, and Windows PCs support Photo Stream. We've already seen how to set up your Mac to use Photo Stream; here’s how to configure the other three.

iOS devices: On your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, tap Settings and then tap iCloud. In the iCloud screen, tap Photo Stream. In the resulting Photo Stream screen, enable the My Photo Stream and Shared Photo Streams switches. Your device will now share the photos its takes and let you see photos added to your Photo Stream or added to any shared streams you subscribe to. I’ll discuss sharing and joining shared Photo Streams shortly.

Apple TV: You’ll find Photo Stream on the Apple TV’s Home screen, about halfway down the screen on the left. Select Photo Stream and you’ll see any albums in your Photo Stream as well as those you’ve subscribed to. Choose an album and press the remote’s Select button, and you can view the images as you would any other picture on the Apple TV. To delete an image from a Photo Stream album of your own, just press and hold the remote's Select button until a window with a Delete Photo button appears. Press the remote's Select button again to delete the image from the Photo Stream album.

To turn off your photos streams, scroll to the bottom of the Photo Stream window and click Settings. The next screen offers three options: 'Turn Off My Photo Stream', 'Turn Off Shared Photo Streams', and 'Sign Out'. Each option does exactly what it says.

Windows: Yes, Windows users can take advantage of some iCloud features, too, which makes sense given that iOS devices work with Windows computers as well as with Macs.

To use iCloud, Windows users must have a copy of Apple’s iCloud Control Panel for Windows. After installing it, log in with your Apple ID, enable the Photo Stream option in the control panel, and click the Options button. You’ll be presented with a window that asks you to choose a folder where Photo Stream images will be downloaded and another folder where you’ll add images to be uploaded to Photo Stream. These preliminaries are necessary because Apple doesn’t make a version of iPhoto for Windows. So drag and drop, and you're Photo Streaming.

Sharing photo streams

As much fun as it is to share photos with yourself, there’s something to be said for sharing your photos with others (and, in turn, viewing their shared photos). This is all possible with Photo Stream. It works like this.

iPhoto: In iPhoto select an album, event, face, place, or group of selected photos and choose Share > Photo Stream. In the window that appears at the bottom-right of the iPhoto window, click New Photo Stream. A New Shared Photo Stream sheet appears. In the sheet’s To field, enter the email addresses (separated by commas) of others you want to share the photo stream with. Enter a name for the stream in the Name field if you like. If a person you want to share the stream with doesn’t have an Apple device (and that includes a Mac), enable the Public Website option so that they can view your pictures via a Web browser.

iOS: On an iOS device launch the Photos app. Select an album to open it, and tap the Edit button. Tap the images you’d like to share, and then tap the Share button. In the window that appears, tap Photo Stream. An Add to a Photo Stream window will appear. You can choose to add the selected images to an existing Photo Stream album, or you can tap New Photo Stream. As on the Mac, just add names to the To field and, if you like, give your Photo Stream a name. If you’d like to make the images available on a public website, enable that option.

Tap the Next button, and the window flips around. Add a comment if you care to, and then tap Post. The images will be placed in a new Photo Stream album and an invitation will be sent to those you’ve asked to join the stream.

In either case your images will be uploaded to iCloud, and the people you invited will receive an email notification. Those who have an Apple device can click the message’s Join This Photo Stream link. This action sends a message to iPhoto (or to the Photos app on an iOS device) alerting it to the fact that so-and-so would like to share a collection of pictures with you. Invitees click Join to participate or Ignore to tell you (virtually) to go soak your head. When they click Join, the Photo Stream will appear under the Web heading in iPhoto. If they view this email message on an iOS device, they just tap to accept; the Photos app then launches, and they find the shared stream by tapping Photo Stream at the bottom of the screen.

Others can easily join your shared Photo Stream.

Stop sharing your Photo Stream

You can add and remove people from your Photo Streams. On the Mac, select Photo Stream, choose the stream you want to work with, and click the Info button at the bottom-right of the iPhoto screen. In the Shared With area, you'll see the names of those who subscribe to the stream. To add subscribers, click this area and enter additional names. To remove individuals, highlight those you wish to delete and then press the Mac’s Delete key to delete them from the list of subscribers.

On an iOS device, launch the Photos app, tap the Photo Stream item, and (on an iPhone or iPod touch) tap the blue right-pointing arrow icon. In the resulting Edit Photo Stream screen, you’ll see the stream’s subscribers as well as an Add People entry. To add other subscribers, tap this entry and enter other email addresses in the To field. Tap Add when you’re done. To rid your stream of a subscriber, tap the person's name and in the resulting screen tap Remove Subscriber.

On an iPad, launch the Photos app, tap the Photo Stream tab, tap the Edit button, and then tap the Photo Stream album you want to work with. In the Edit Photo Stream window that appears, tap Add People (to enlarge your audience), or select a name and, in the next window, tap Remove Subscriber (to shrink it).

Tidbits

A few fine points about Photo Stream.

  • Although you can share a Photo Stream with other people, they can’t add images to that shared photo stream.
  • You can add or remove images from a Photo Stream you’re sharing. Simply select a Photo Stream album in iPhoto and drag images into it to add the photo to the stream. To delete photos, just select them and press the Mac’s Delete key. On an iOS device, select a Photo Stream album in the Photos app and tap Add Photos. In the resulting screen, tap the photos you want to add (or tap Add All Photos) and then tap Done. To delete images, tap the Edit button, tap the images you want to remove, and tap the red Delete button.
  • Photos uploaded to My Photo Stream or Shared Photo Streams don’t count against your iCloud storage.
  • Images that appear in iPhoto’s Photo Stream are at their original resolution. Smaller images are used with iOS devices.

And that’s Photo Stream in a nutshell (a coconut is a nut, right?). It’s a slick way to make photos on one device available to other compatible devices.

Next week: Editing your pictures

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