Don’t delete your photos after turning on iCloud Photo Library

With iCloud Photo Library on, clearing storage space isn't a trivial task.

icloud icon 2015
Credit: Apple

I recently wrote a Mac 911 column titled, “Yes, if you delete your photos from iCloud Photo Library, they’re deleted everywhere.” I thought that might close the door on the question. Instead, I continue to get perfectly reasonable variants on it.

If you have iCloud Photo Library enabled, and want to clear out space occupied by photos and other media:

  • Do not delete images or videos from iCloud.com.
  • Do not delete images or videos from the Photos app in iOS for any device logged into the same iCloud account.
  • Do not delete images or videos from Photos for macOS for any computer logged into the same iCloud account.
  • Do not go into the Recently Deleted album and delete media.

If you delete in any of the first three cases, your media will be put into the Recently Deleted album and deleted after about a month permanently. If you delete the contents of the Recently Deleted album, they’re gone forever.

With that out of the way, Christos Papage did have a unique twist on this question that comes at it from the other direction.

My iPhone’s storage space is full. I have bought 50 GB of cloud storage from Apple in order to upload all of my photos/videos to iCloud, and then delete them from my iPhone in order to have some free space available on my iPhone. My question is this; if I delete all my photos/videos from my iPhone will these still be remain in my iCloud account?

While this sounds like it’s easily covered by the above scenarios, it’s not necessarily so. You can use iCloud.com to store photos and, if you upload via iCloud.com and don’t enable iCloud Photo Library, you can indeed store the images there and delete them from your iPhone. However, that leaves you with just iCloud as your only backup, and you’re relying too much on Apple.

I’d suggest instead of using iCloud, you shift the photos to a computer and use Amazon or Google instead, as they’re designed around uploading images, rather than providing a combination of sync and cloud storage. And if you store your images on a computer, it’s easier to make a local backup or a backup to a secondary cloud storage space, like a hosted backup service such as Backblaze.

If Christos was really asking the question answered above, the correct course is to enable iCloud Photo Library and also set your iPhone to store only optimized images (Settings > iCloud > Photos > Optimize iPhone Storage). This will keep the full-resolution versions at iCloud.com and use just a fraction of the space for thumbnails in iOS, deleting the full-resolution files as needed to free up space for other iOS uses.

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