How to disable My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Sharing without erasing your photos

You might want to turn these features off, but you surely want to retain everything in them.

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Macworld reader PJ wrote in to ask about disabling My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Sharing without losing anything. He received dire warnings when he attempted to turn them off. In most cases, you won’t lose anything, but tread wisely.

First, let's go over the three different methods Apple has for sharing and syncing photos. It’s common for Macworld readers to get confused about how the many methods interact—especially in making sure that you retain images (and videos) if you disable a service. The three methods are:

My Photo Stream. My Photo Stream lets you push all the photos you take across your linked devices to all your linked devices, including Apple TV. It’s photos only (not even Live Photos!), not video, and images persist 30 days.

iCloud Photo Sharing. You can share images from your Photos library in iOS or macOS in a way that other people can view, either through their devices or using a web browser.

iCloud Photo Library. All new captures and imports on all connected devices with this feature enabled upload to iCloud and sync to all connected devices, whether as thumbnails or full-resolution images.

PJ in particular has over 1,300 photos in the Camera Roll on his iPhone, but his My Photo Stream has only 1,000 images. That’s because Apple limits iOS to the most recent 1,000 images. If all the images were captured on the iPhone, disabling My Photo Stream won’t remove any images.

If My Photo Stream assembles images from a variety of sources, turning it off will still retain them in all their source locations. However, if you have a Mac, you can use Photos in macOS and use Photos > Preferences > iCloud to check a box that lets you copy all images from My Photo Stream to your Mac, ensuring you have a locally saved copy.

iCloud Photo Sharing only makes a copy available from your or someone else’s computer. Disabling it turns off any photos you’ve shared in albums to other people, but it also deletes all shared images from other people that are on your iOS or macOS device. So disabling it won’t remove any images from your libraries or Camera Roll from your devices.

Finally, iCloud Photo Library syncs everything, and disabling it opens a can of worms depending on whether you store full-resolution or optimized media on each device. I’ve written many Mac 911 columns about this before, and you can read this one for some guidance, or search on Macworld for more.

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