The various preferences in Photos for iCloud on iOS and macOS can be confusing to deal with. Let’s take a look at your choices when it comes to managing your photos and videos and what you should know about iCloud Photos.

iCloud Photos

There are three ways that Apple integrates its cloud service with Photos in iOS and macOS. The most popular and widely known is likely iCloud Photo Library. The other two are iCloud Photo Sharing and My Photo Stream. Follow along as we deconstruct each of these features to figure out which ones you’d like to use.

iCloud Photo Library

Two of the biggest benefits to using iCloud Photo Library are having one automatically synchronized photo and video library across all of your devices (and the web), and having the option to compress your library so it takes up less room on your devices. You also have the choice to keep your entire photo and video library saved on your device as well as with iCloud.

If you like the idea of your entire photo and video library staying synchronized across all of your devices (including edits) iCloud Photo Library is likely a good fit for you. Keep in mind iCloud Photo Library will use your iCloud storage, so you will likely need to upgrade to at least the 50GB for $0.99/month plan at some point.

For more help getting set up with iCloud Photo Library, check out our walkthrough here.

My Photo Stream

Apple’s My Photo Stream feature uses iCloud to push a limited amount of photos to all of your Apple devices. This feature predates iCloud Photo Library but is still an option as of iOS 10.3 and macOS 10.12. It is more limited in several ways, but it has a few advantages depending on your preferences.

Here are a few of the key features from Apple’s website:

  • Doesn’t count against your iCloud storage.
  • Uploads your last 30 days and up to 1000 photos.
  • Downloads to your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch in a smaller device-optimized resolution. On your Mac or PC, your photos download in full-resolution.
  • Edits you make won’t update across your devices.

The main benefit is that My Photo Stream doesn’t use your iCloud storage, however edits as well as videos aren’t synchronized, and it only pushes up to 1,000 photos.

Read more on the differences between iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream here.

iCloud Photo Sharing

iCloud Photo Sharing is a feature that lets you easily create albums and share with others as well as subscribing to and seeing others’ shared albums. Think of this feature as a private Instagram of sorts. Once others have accepted your invitation to an album everyone can like and comment on the photos and videos.

To check out iCloud Photo Sharing, look for the tab labeled Shared at the bottom of the Photos app with the cloud symbol on iPhone and iPad. On a Mac Shared albums will be on the side bar on the left hand side.

If you don’t see the Shared tab, you may have the feature turned off. Follow these steps to turn it on for iPhone and iPad:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap on your name (if you’re not running iOS 10.3 or later scroll down and tap iCloud)
  3. Tap iCloud and then Photos
  4. Tap the toggle next to iCloud Photo Sharing if it’s not green already

On a Mac turn on iCloud Photo Sharing by:

  1. Opening Photos
  2. Click Photos and then Preferences…
  3. Click the iCloud tab
  4. Check the box next to iCloud Photo Sharing

iCloud Photos to Android

There are a number of ways to move photos and videos to Android if you’re looking to share larger amounts of photos and videos with people who don’t use Apple devices or happen to be making the switch yourself.

One easy solution is to use Google Photos. It’s a free download from the App Store and offers unlimited photo and video storage. You can use Google Photos alongside iCloud Photo Library as a backup as well as sharing with non-Apple users. You can also access all of your photos and videos saved with Google Photos on the web.

Another option if you’ve been using iCloud Photo Library is to use icloud.com → Photos and download your library to a Mac or PC. Then you can plug in an Android or other device to synchronize your content. Check out our how to guide for more ways to get the most out of your Apple devices.

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About the Author

Michael Potuck

Michael is an editor for 9to5Mac. Since joining in 2016 he has written more than 3,000 articles including breaking news, reviews, and detailed comparisons and tutorials.