I’ve been a complete Apple user since I got my iMac in 2011, followed by an iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air and AppleTV. The one thing no other company can provide quite like Apple is the seamless integration of its many products, through iCloud, to work as one huge personal computing system.
When Apple introduced iCloud Photo Library though, I sort of ignored it.
At that time, almost all my photos and videos were stored in my iMac, backed up to an external drive. All my iPhone pictures were synced via iTunes, and also available in My Photo Stream. It was simple, and worked beautifully.
The problem is, the office is never a good place to start organizing your photos. There’s never enough time to browse through them, and my Macbook Air just could not handle 230+ GBs of stuff. Although I could view the synced photos on my iPhone, I could not delete them.
So it was always a one-way transfer to my iMac, where all my pictures sat and waited for some tender loving care and attention.
Recently, when I bought my wife an iPhone for her birthday, I started to realize the need to have access to my photos when I was at home. I needed a better way to organize, clean up and share my photos.
That’s when I “rediscovered” iCloud Photo Library, and started reading how it works. According to Apple:
iCloud Photo Library stores every photo and video you take, and keeps them up to date on all your devices. Any edits you make are automatically updated everywhere. iCloud Photo Sharing makes it easy to share photos and videos with exactly the people you want to see them. Create a shared album and invite friends and family to add their photos and video clips as often as they want.
It was exactly what I needed. I already had a Dropbox account, but trying to manage photos in Dropbox was a bad idea, from my previous experience. So I decided to give iCloud Photo Library a spin.
How to Set Up iCloud Photo Library
Seemed easy enough. I just needed to check the option for “iCloud Photo Library” in the Photos app by going to Preferences > iCloud. There are two options – you can store originals or optimized versions of your images to save space.
Needless to say, I no longer qualified for the free tier, which allows up to 5G of stuff.
I ended up paying $9.99 a month for 500GB, but I felt that it was justified.
After all, there will come a time when most of my older iCloud photos were completely organized, and I can cancel the monthly bill. I might move the older photos out of iCloud Photo Library and the Photos app altogether, leave only the most recent ones in the cloud.
When I enabled iCloud Photo Library, I realized that you could not choose which folders or images you wanted to store and sync in iCloud.
As per the “Apple way”, everything in your Photos app will be sent to iCloud and synced from there to all your devices. The originals are always stored in iCloud, and you can choose to store originals or optimized versions of your images in every device you link to iCloud Photo Sharing.
How Does iCloud Photo Library Work?
How it really works is a complete mystery. Apple doesn’t give details beyond the “it just works” tagline, but one thing for sure, it’s not like Dropbox or other cloud storage options.
iCloud Photo Library starts with your most recent photos, and works backwards to older stuff. It also uploads your videos in original quality, so if you have lots of videos the initial process can take a very long time!
Once you enable iCloud Photo Library on the iPhone, all your synced photos will be removed, and you can no longer sync images via iTunes. “My Photo Stream” no longer exists. “Camera Roll” is now just “All Photos”.
On a device where you choose to store optimized versions of your image, you will download the original when you view or make an edit. The original will then be synced back to iCloud, while the optimized (lower quality) version remains on your device.
iCloud Photo Library also syncs all your albums, so you can easily organize your stuff on you iPhone on the go, which is exactly what I was hoping to do.
But of course, it doesn’t “just work” as you can read from the forums.
The larger your current library is, the longer it will take for your images to upload to iCloud and start syncing to your devices, The more devices you have, the longer it will take overall especially if all your devices are within the same WiFi network.
For a while, I thought I noticed my iCloud Photo Library not updating. After two days, less than 50% of my photos have been sent to iCloud.
When I deleted some photos on my iPhone, those images were still present in my iMac and other devices. It seems like iCloud Photo Library can’t handle simultaneous operations, at least until all my photos are uploaded to iCloud.
I will do some further tests in the next few days and try to understand exactly what’s happening with my iCloud account.
For now, it seems like iCloud Photo Library is a great way to access all your photos from anywhere, as long as you have an Apple device of course.
I re-discovered all my old memories, and photos that I’ve never even actually seen, after I enabled iCloud Photo Library. Plus, it serves as yet another backup for my photos, so it’s reassuring to know that even if my iMac and external drive were to blow up at the same time (how likely is that?), I will not lose all those precious moments.
There are some things about iCloud Photo Library that seem broken or weird, but I guess I will give it some time to get all my 200+ GBs of stuff into the cloud, before I can tell for sure.