Apple's iCloud Photo Library service has exited beta, enabling you to browse a photo collections from and any device running OS X Yosemite or iOS 8.

The service is meant to make it easier to share photos and videos, among many other things. Apple first made the beta version of iCloud Photo Library available to everyone months ago via an update to iOS 8, but now that the new Photos app for Mac has also released, the full version of iCloud Photo Library is finally ready to use.

If you're confused about how iCloud Photo Library works, which includes how photos and videos are stored, synced, and managed across all your devices, Pocket-lint has explained everything you need to know below.


READ: Apple iCloud Drive explained: What is it and how does it work?

iCloud Photo Library is an iCloud-based service that automatically saves all your photos and videos to iCloud. It also allows you to access and download all your photos and videos from any iOS device or iCloud Drive on the web, and those photos and videos will be in their original format and resolution.

"iCloud Photo Library helps you make the most of the space available on your iOS device by automatically storing the original high-resolution photos and videos in iCloud and leaving behind the lightweight version that are perfectly sized for each device," Apple has explained on its website.

But that's not all: iCloud Photo Library syncs any changes/edits across all your devices, so you can edit a photo on your iPhone, then switch over to an iPad, and see the changes applied to that photo from the iPad. The same goes for video.

The idea is that iCloud Photo Library will free up storage space on your iOS device, because your photos and videos are saved in the cloud rather than locally on a device, and the service will further streamline how you access and manage your photos and videos from multiple devices.

The service, for instance, organises photos and videos into Moments, Collections, and Years across all your devices. You can also mark favourites, create albums, or drag content into a custom order - no matter which device you're using.


On 8 April 2015, Apple rolled out iOS 8.3 and OS X 10.10.3 to iOS devices and Macs, respectively, and their release officially signaled that iCloud Photo Library was no longer in beta.

Only some people could initially enable iCloud Photo Library on their iOS devices when Apple released iOS 8 in September. The company allowed a random and select group of people to enable and use iCloud Photo Library, because the service did not fully launch when iOS 8 released last autumn; it debuted as iCloud Photo Library Beta.

The company stressed that iCloud Photo Library was a beta service for developers to test and would remain that way well after its initial launch. But Apple didn't even make iCloud Photo Library Beta available to everyone until iOS 8.1. That update released last October, along with support for the service in OS X Yosemite.

Such support meant - as long as iCloud Photo Library was enabled on your iOS device - you could drag-and-drop photos and videos into the iCloud Drive folder on your Mac. At the time, Apple also said a new Photos app for Mac would release in early 2015 and work with iCloud Photo Library. The company kept its promise and released that app on 8 April.

The Photos app for Mac brings new controls for viewing, syncing, and managing photos and videos in your iCloud Photo Library while using a Mac. You can learn more about the new app here.


READ: Mac OS X Yosemite review

Apple's iCloud Photo Library automatically saves your photos in iCloud (after the service is enabled, of course). Unfortunately, you must have available storage space in iCloud, and Apple only doles out 5GB for free.

If you have more than 5GB of photos on your iOS device, but still want to use iCloud Photo Library, you will must buy an iCloud storage plan. You can subscribe to a plan through your iPhone or iPad by launching the Settings app, then tapping iCloud, and selecting Storage. From there, go to Change Storage Plan.

Choose the storage plan you prefer; just make sure to tap Buy in the upper right-hand corner and then sign in with your iCloud account to complete the purchase. You can upgrade or downgrade your plan at any time.

Subscription plans range from free all the way up to $19.99 a month for 1TB of storage:

  • 5GB of storage - Free
  • 20GB of storage - $0.99 per month
  • 200GB of storage - $3.99 per month
  • 500GB of storage - $9.99 per month
  • 1TB of storage - $19.99 per month

Your iCloud storage plan works for iCloud Drive as well, so you won't need to buy an additional plan for that service.


You can enable iCloud Photo Library by tapping Settings, then going to Photos & Camera, and toggling on the option for iCloud Photo Library. After you enable iCloud Photo Library, your photos and videos will be automatically stored in iCloud but won't be duplicated in your iCloud backup.

Your photos and videos also won't begin to upload until after you connect to the internet using Wi-Fi. You can see the status of the upload and can even pause upload for one day under the Photos section of Settings.

Remember that iCloud Photo Library is new and, presumably, still being developed and tested by Apple. You may want to have an extra backup of your data before blindly trusting a new iCloud-based service.

If you want to have iCloud Photo Library start saving space on your device, you must turn on Optimise [device] Storage in Settings. It will automatically manage the size of your library on your iOS device by storing the original, high-resolution photos and videos in iCloud and keeping optimized versions on each of your devices.

As long as you have enough storage, recent photos and videos that you access the most will stay on your device at full resolution. To turn on Optimize [device] Storage on your device, go to Settings, then iCloud, and Photos or Settings. From there, go to Photos & Camera and select Optimize [device] Storage.


Those of you who first started using iCloud Photo Library in October likely noticed your Camera Roll and Photo Stream went missing from the Photos app on your iOS device. Apple nixed those features when it released iOS 8 last autumn, though due to public demand, it brought back some Camera Roll functionality via the iOS 8.1 update.

Review the information below to ensure you know the differences between Camera Roll and Photo Stream.

Prior to iOS 8: Camera Roll & Photo Strem

Way back when, before iOS 8, the Camera Roll (in the Photos app) sat on your iOS device and held all the photos and videos stored locally on your device (i.e., photos and videos you captured with your device, as well as photos and videos you saved to your device from text messages, emails, iCloud Drive on the websites, etc).

Every time you took a photo or video on your iPhone, it saved to your Camera Roll and was visible only on your iPhone (unless you enabled Photo Stream). Your Photo Stream was in the cloud, had to be enabled manually, and synced with all your iOS devices. Photo Stream was the initial groundwork for iCloud Photo Library.

It kept a rolling collection of your photos (no videos) in the Photos app, let you share across devices, and didn't count against cloud storage. Your Photo Stream would only store up to 1,000 images for up to 30 days. So, when enabled, you could snap a photo with an iPhone and then see it in your Photo Stream album on an iPad.

If you wanted to use another device - like an iPad - to permanently save that same photo, you needed to select the image in Photo Stream, then find the Save or Add To options, and choose one. In addition, if you deleted a photo from Photo Stream, it automatically erased the photo from all devices connected to your iCloud account.

Deleting a photo from Photo Stream didn't affect the original copy stored in Camera Roll, though, and deleting a photo from Camera Roll did not remove any copy you might have had in Photo Stream.

Today: Photos app in iOS 8

As we mentioned earlier, those of you who first started using iCloud Photo Library when it launched likely noticed your Camera Roll and Photo Stream were missing from the Photos app on your iOS device. You instead saw new tabs on the bottom of the app called Photos, Shared, and Albums.

The Photos tab is for all of your photos and videos ever captured on or saved to your device, and they're organised into years, collections, and moments, The Shared tab lets you share albums or individual photos/videos with any of your contacts or even family members designated under Family Sharing in Settings.

And finally, the Albums tab has folders for self-created albums, default albums, and something called Recently Added. Recently Added is a combination of both Camera Roll and Photo Stream in that it saves all your local photos and videos for a limited amount of time and syncs them across devices.

Photos and videos will eventually disappear from the Recently Added, but a copy will always be bumped to the new All Photos tab of the Photos app. The All Photos tab replaces the Camera Roll and My Photo Stream and gives you the same compact scroll view, with all your photos organised by the date they were added.

When Apple replaced the Camera Roll and My Photo Stream with All Photos, it introduced a Recently Deleted folder. Any photos and videos deleted from Recently Added go into Recently Deleted. Such a setup prevents you from accidentally deleting local photos. It’s like having a Recycle Bin - only you have 30 days before it's permanently purged.

Just remember the Photos app separates photos and videos based on how they were added to your device and their type. It also organises them by date under the All Photos tab. As for your default albums - for things like panos, videos, deleted photos - they appear automatically under the Albums tab and cannot be removed.

In other words, to view all your photos and videos, you must visit the Photos tab or the Albums tab in Photos.

READ: What is Apple's Family Sharing feature for iOS 8?


iCloud Photo Sharing

Both iCloud Photo Library and iOS 8 includes a feature called iCloud Photo Sharing. It lets you create a shared album and invite select friends to view that album as well as make comments and even add their own shots. You can invite up to 100 people by selecting a contact. To add a photo or video to the album, tap iCloud Photo Sharing via Share options.

Activity View

Another iCloud Photo Library and iOS 8 feature is Activity View. It lets you view updates - such as the latest photos, videos, and comments - to your shared albums, in real time. Other tools include the ability to manage subscribers, contributors, notification settings, and invites. On the Mac, you can use the Photos app to access the Activity View.

Want to know more?

Check out Apple's iCloud Photos Library FAQ page for more details about iCloud Photo Library. You can also visit Apple's Support page about Camera Roll for more information.

READ: Apple iOS 8 review