How To Optimize Photo Storage On Your iPhone

If you are running out of storage space on your iPhone, you may think that removing some photos is a good way to free up space. But using iCloud Photo Library means that deleting a photo will delete it from all of your devices. The solution is not to try to delete a photo at all. You simply need to turn on Optimize iPhone Storage in your Photos settings. This will allow your iPhone to manage your photos so that only small thumbnails are stored for most photos. The original high-resolution photos will always be in iCloud, and can also be stored on your Mac. Optimizing allows you to get a lot of storage space back, while still having all of your photos available to you. You can do the same for your Mac or second Mac to save space.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: How To Optimize Photo Storage On Your iPhone.

A common question people have concerning photos on their iPhone is how can they remove photos from their iPhone because they are running out of space. They have a lot of photos and notice that they are running short of space on their iPhone and they want to remove photos from their iPhone but they want to keep them in their iCloud Photo Library. They don't want to delete them forever. They just don't want to have them with them in their pocket all the time.

So a typical setup that you may have is you may have, say, a Mac and an iPhone and you turn on iCloud Photo Library. This is great because say if you have ten thousand photos taking up 20 GB of space then you'll find that all the photos are on both your devices. However, you're starting to run out of space on your iPhone so you want to clear out some of those photos. Well, if you try to delete a photo, of course, it's going to give you warnings saying this is going to delete the photo from everywhere. Which isn't what you want. So what's the solution.

The solution is just a simple switch. You see if you go into Settings on your iPhone and then you go into Photos there's a switch there between Optimize iPhone Storage and Download and Keep Originals. Now if you have the checkmark next to Download and Keep Originals that means that every photo you take on your iPhone is going to remain on your iPhone full resolution. The full thing. As a matter of fact any photo that you then take from a camera and put onto your Mac or take from some other device like an iPad and store on your iCloud Photo Library is going to download and be on your iPhone.

Your iPhone is going to have a complete library of all your photos at full high resolution. But if you select Optimize iPhone Storage then what you're going to get is a mix. This is what you want. For instance, going back to this chart here you see you have 10,000 photos and they're stored taking up the same amount of space on your Mac as on your iPhone.

But if you turn on Optimize iPhone Storage you'll get this. You still get all your photos on your Mac but on your iPhone you may have something like this where you have 2000 photos taking up 4 GB of space are full high resolution and 8000 photos are only thumbnails. In other words you can still see them in there but the full high resolution versions aren't there anymore. As a matter of fact the versions you see on your phone are much smaller, much more compressed, so they only take up a fraction of the space. So now instead of taking up 20 GB of space it's taking up 4+ GB of space. It looks like you still have all 10,000 photos.

Now what happens when you want to view a photo. Well when you go to view a photo, and it's not one of those that you have on your iPhone that's already there as full resolution, then what you'll get is this thumbnail version of it. If you go to zoom in on it it's going to need the higher resolution version of it. It's going to try to download it and you'll see a little circle there at the bottom fill up as it downloads that photo. Then once you have the full one you can see the full resolution. Notice the trees here are much crisper now that I have the full resolution photo on my iPhone.

So when it's set like this how does it decide what 2000 photos you've got full resolution and what 8000 you don't. These are just sample numbers. The 2000 is going to represent your most recent photos. The ones you've just taken and the ones you've just viewed. So it's going to kind of use some sort of intelligence there to figure out which ones to keep. Say you want to view some photos. Say you view an album and you look at ten photos. It might change like this. You get ten more photos, right, stored full resolution. The rest are still not stored on the iPhone.

Now after time goes by you may find that it changes and you have even less stored. You don't see a number there. It's kind of doing this automatically in the background. It identifies photos that you haven't looked at in a long time and that you need space to store apps and other things so it's going to adjust that. It's all going to happen automatically. There's nothing you need to do. It's going to look at how much storage space you've got left. So someone with a ton of space, like 100 G available on their iPhone, may find that they have a lot more full resolution versions already on their iPhone because there is space there so it might as well store them. Someone who is running short on space may find there's only a handful of photos there that are full resolution and every time you go to look at an older photo it's going to have to download it in order for you to zoom in.

Now if you look here just to see this in action here is my iPhone storage. You can notice there that it shows under Photos that I've got 5.36 GB of photo storage. That's really something because if you look at my Mac there's the Photo Library. It's the same library. This is my iCloud Photos Library and you see it's 109 GB. That's the actual size with all the high resolution photographs. So you can see it has saved me quite a bit of space because if I had turned on to have the full resolution versions here then I'd have to store 109 GB on my iPhone.

Now you can also do the same thing on your Mac. You can go into either System Preferences and iCloud or it's easier if you just go to Photos Preferences and then iCloud you can turn on Optimize Mac Storage instead of Download Originals to this Mac. Why would you want to do this? Well, I like the idea of keeping all my photos on my Desktop Mac so I have all my photos here stored locally. You don't have to. All the high resolution photos are going to always be on iCloud.

So it is possible if you're short on storage on your Mac and your iPhone to have Optimize turned on both and high resolution versions only on Apple servers. But as it turns out I have two Macs. I have a Desktop Mac and a laptop Mac. My laptop Mac doesn't have a very big hard drive in it. So I've turned this Optimize Mac Storage on my laptop Mac and the Photos Library there, again, it's the same Photos Library. It's shared because it's all part of my iCloud Photo Library. You can see it's only taking up 24 GB of space. I probably view a lot more photos on my laptop than I do on my phone. There's a lot of extra space left over. So it's storing more there. If I was running out of space I bet you those 24 GB would go down closer to the 5 GB that I have on my iPhone.

Comments: 8 Responses to “How To Optimize Photo Storage On Your iPhone”

    4 months ago

    Hi Gary, I see the movies in Photos are handled the same way when you Optimize iPhone Storage. But why on older movies, when I try to play the video, I get a circled ‘ ! ‘ and the video will not play?

    4 months ago

    Rod: Hard to say. Could be due to the format of those particular videos.

    4 months ago

    Does iCloud store a high resolution copy of the photo taken?

    4 months ago

    Karl: Yes. If you are using iCloud Photo Library then the original photo is store on the iCloud servers.

    4 months ago

    Gary, I lease 50gb from Apple iCloud Drive. Does Apple charge for use of say 120gb for photos? Not sure how they can do that forever. Is it just away of having a solid support infrastructure for their devices?

    4 months ago

    Gene: Not sure what you mean. Apple charges for cloud data storage like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Dropbox, etc. It costs them money to maintain servers, so they charge for it.

    3 months ago

    My mac has 10’s of thousands of photos dating back to 2011. After updating to Mojave, those photos are now added to my iCloud storage and my other apple devices (iPhone, iPad). I do not want them on my phone or iPad as it takes up valuable iCloud space.(I don’t want to up my monthly fee) How can I go back to my phone and iPad syncing recent photos and those devices automatically storing to my mac? love the podcast

    3 months ago

    Dawn: First, you would need to turn off iCloud Photos for all devices. That will remove them from your iCloud Storage. When you do this on your Mac, be sure to choose any option that suggests that they stay on your Mac. But when you do it for your iPhone and iPad, you want them removed from those devices. Then you need to go back to syncing via iTunes for those devices. It will be quiet different as you’ll have to sync via Photos to get your new photos from those devices to your Mac, and then sync via iTunes to copy over an album or more of the older photos you want. I’m not sure how familiar you are with those techniques, but if you only just switched to iCloud Photos then that is probably how you were doing it until then.

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