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Apple's iCloud Photo Library: A Quick How-To Guide

Beta, shmeta: This is already a great way to back up iOS photos and videos in iCloud.


For a company that uses U2 and Coldplay to promote new software and hardware, Apple has been relatively low-key about its new iCloud Photo Library.

It’s still in beta, so we’ll forgive Apple for not yet basing a rock-star-inspired commercial on it. But don’t let the “beta” label fool you: This is already a reassuring way to see all of your automatically backed-up iOS photos and videos in one place on

Here’s a quick guide to how you can turn on iCloud Photo Storage, how it works, how it differs from My Photo Stream and what it costs.


Turning on iCloud Photo Library

1. Open Settings on any device running iOS 8.1.
2. Select iCloud (you need to have an Apple ID to use this).
3. Select Photos.
4. Move the iCloud Photo Library (Beta) switch over until it’s green to show that it’s on.
5. Tweak settings on this screen to do things like choosing to Optimize iPhone Storage, which stores smaller versions of photos and videos on your device, or to Download and Keep Originals, which stores full-resolution photos and videos on your device.
6. To avoid getting slammed with high data fees, your iCloud Photo Library updates only when you’re using Wi-Fi.

Once this is turned on, go to, log in and click on Photos to see your photos and videos all stored in one place.

How much will this set me back?

All Apple IDs come with a free five gigabytes of data. For more than that, you’ll have to pay for one of Apple’s four plans. The least expensive paid storage costs $0.99 a month for 20GB, while the priciest costs $20 a month for a terabyte of storage. Details on upgrading (or downgrading) can be found here.

This storage is shared in iCloud, including Mail, Backup, iCloud Photo Library beta and iCloud Drive. Any shared albums (Apple previously called them shared streams), purchased music, movies, apps, books and TV shows don’t count against your storage.

What will you lose with iCloud Photo Storage?

When you flick the switch to turn on iCloud Photo Storage, you’ll no longer see Camera Roll or My Photo Stream on your iOS devices. Instead, you’ll see an All Photos album. Don’t panic: My Photo Stream still works on devices that aren’t upgraded or can’t be upgraded to iOS 8’s iCloud Photo Library. But while My Photo Stream only uploads your last 30 days of photos (up to 1,000 of them), iCloud Photo Library automatically updates all photos and videos across devices.

Another thing missing on’s Photos are album titles. The album titles from your iOS device aren’t reflected in your iCloud Photo Library. An Apple representative said this omission is one result of the beta status of Photos on, along with other features that aren’t yet available. He noted that adding album names is a priority.

Where else can I back up my photos?

Numerous companies offer photo backup from mobile devices, including Amazon’s new automatic photo backup for Prime members. As I’ve written, I’m a fan of using multiple services to give myself peace of mind.

One of my favorites is Google+, which not only backs up your photos, but automatically edits them with Auto Awesome features. One example of Auto Awesome is when Google takes several photos of people and combines them to make one photo where all of the people in the photo are smiling. Other examples include GIFs, panoramas and collages that Google creates for you. It feels like magic.

Google offers 15GB of free storage, as well as five paid tiers of storage, starting at 100GB for $1.99 a month and ending at 30 terabytes for $299.99 a month. Now that’s a lot of photos.

This article originally appeared on

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