My understanding (erroneous as I may be told this is) is that iCloud is like a virtual external drive to some extent. Maybe that is my first mistake. But before everyone starts saying to look at other posts, please know I believe I have read all the posts about photo stream, camera roll, and the link that was posted (in one of these answers on this general topic) about iCloud backups, as well as those Q&A's related to freeing up space. I am still confused.

I am reaching storage capacity on my iPhone. I have a lot of photos on my phone because they've always migrated over from phone to phone every year or so. However, I need to free up some space and would like to delete photos from my iPhone (the device I took them on), but am still not sure if I do this, if it will remain on iCloud.

I have an iPad and a Macbook too, and they (the photos and docs) are on there, but with photos I just don't ever want to lose, I want to be sure that if I start deleting off my phone, and my computer gets stolen or dies and my iPad is broken or whatever, that I can still always access all of my photos by just logging in to iCloud from any device.

I (supposedly) have iCloud backing up all of these things. However, If I log into iCloud.com, I do not see my documents and photos. Shouldn't I conceivably be able to log in to iCloud.com from any device (Apple or not - say my work computer) and access my saved documents and photos?

Because I cannot go to iCloud.com (not settings/iCloud - bit iCloud.com) and see these things, I am hesitant to delete photos from my phone, depending on the idea that they are stored in iCloud. The same is true, to a different extent with my documents.

I have purchased extra storage on iCloud w/the idea that these things will always be there. What am I missing.

Also, aside from apps, photos and documents - are there some less obvious things I can delete that will free up space that would not be evident to the less than professionally savvy user?

  • 1
    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – gracey209
    Aug 15, 2015 at 6:34
  • 1
    If you can't log in to iCloud.com and see photos - it might be best to contact Apple Support to get that sorted out first.
    – bmike
    Aug 15, 2015 at 15:01
  • 1
    You were right! They didn't get into what the problem was, but they were able to reset my iCloud account such that now I can see the icons now on iCloud. So, I think I can figure out what to do from here.
    – gracey209
    Aug 15, 2015 at 19:39

4 Answers 4


Your question is probably about 5 ones about how things work, so I'll address the elephant in the room.

You need to decide how you want your photos to be stored.

  • Where do you archive them for long term storage?
  • How many can you afford to lose?
  • When and how will you clean up all the photos that come from dozens of places so that your long term albums don't have hundreds of internet cat meme pictures and screen shots from iOS?

I would recommend sitting down with a nice cup of tea or coffee and a large piece of paper and just list out what devices you want to take pictures from, what the master collection looks like, and how you'll manage things coming in to and out of that master collection.

Once you've done that, you can look at iCloud through a web browser - https://www.icloud.com/#photos and get a good picture of how close that "master collection" is to your ideal collection.

Then look at your Storage Settings - https://www.icloud.com/#settings

enter image description here

If you are running short, pay a little $$ for one month to buy yourself time and space to get everything safely into iCloud.

Then you can decide if you have a computer to hold things and want to make use of the free iCloud photo stream to get all your photos onto that computer or if you want another solution (google has one, dropbox has one, yahoo/flickr has one, many custom services exist for amateurs and pros to store photo libraries online).

Best of luck. The site will be here for you to ask more narrow questions once you have decided how to steer your ship. It's hard for us to advise you on broad plans - but once you make the broad plans - we can help you navigate certain bends in the river or certain customs officials that are prickly to get your on your way to happy photo management.

  • p.s. My plan is iCloud stores my main small library and I do pay for 200 GB of space. I then use Aperture to store all my professional photos and back that up to hard drive (150 GB there for about 100k images). I'm currently seeing if Photos is good enough for me - but I don't trust it, so I'm paying to keep everything in iCloud knowing I might have to download it all and start over if Photos doesn't work out.
    – bmike
    Aug 15, 2015 at 14:59
  • So, I have the same as you (200 GB) on iCloud. I am not running short on iCloud space at all and organizing on my Macbook is done. Rather, I am running short of space on my device (my phone). I am not able to see any of the icons that others (on iCloud.com) can. My question is, how do I know if I delete off my phone it will still be saved in iCloud, if I cannot see what is in iCloud??? I want to be able to pull a photo or doc from any device at any time, from iCloud.com. Apparently I wrote a bad question.:~)
    – gracey209
    Aug 15, 2015 at 18:37
  • I decided to except your answer, since the advice you offered was useful, if not directly answering my query. You did touch on a number of issues I wasn't really looking at at the time, but became relevant and assisted in organization and acquiring general skill in iPhoto . The real answer I guess to the question, which found out after reading one of the links you suggested, is that you really can't delete anything from photo stream without losing it...potentially forever. What iCloud does is make them available from any i-device, but once deleted from the "live" stream... It's gone!
    – gracey209
    Aug 20, 2016 at 20:24
  • Do you want me to leave this open for more answers @gracey209 ? It seems to be getting a lot of me too... I'd vote up your core question if you want to ask that. The bold summary above would be useful to others. Just ping me here or in chat on close/open for this post.
    – bmike
    Aug 20, 2016 at 21:28
  • I'm fine with whatever. I don't care abt score at all
    – gracey209
    Aug 21, 2016 at 18:22

The Photos link on iCloud.com lets you look at the contents of your iCloud Photo Library which is an optional part of the new Photos app. If there are no photos in it, the most likely explanation is that you don't have iCloud Photo Library enabled on any of your devices. It does not give you access to photos stored in iCloud as part of an iOS device backup, photos in iCloud Photo Sharing (previously named Shared Photo Streams), or photos in My Photo Stream.

I'm not an Aperture user but my understanding is that enabling iCloud in it only gives access to My Photo Stream and Shared Photo Streams. I don't believe it enables iCloud as a backup destination for your Aperture libraries.

Photos does a nice job of giving you access to everything in your iCloud Photo Library on your devices without using n unreasonable amount of storage but it's not magic. For example, my iPL has 11,620 photos and 310 videos and uses 43GB on iCloud. However, it only uses 5.3GB on my iPad. That's very workable on a 32GB or larger iOS device but completely impractical on a 16GB device.

If you are using iPL, a delete on any device will delete the photo or video from every device. iPL does not give you the option to only keep a subset of your photos on a particular device. If you want that level of control, you need to look at alternatives like Google Photos or Dropbox. You might want to start with this article: http://thesweetsetup.com/apps/best-photo-management-solution


the question here should be does or can the icloud free up space on your divice, since it seems to give you so much "storage" Short answer NO. What it really does is sync with your device and keeps a copy of your photos, but you still have all the photos on your device as well so still no space on your device,so for freeing up space or device. Don't look to the icloud.


The way I'm seeing this in laymen's terms, is that iCloud is an access point, through which you can get on anywhere,and have all your photos at your finger tips. But it is NOT an external hard drive, that is, it WILL NOT STORE your full size photos. You need one central storage point where you can house all your photos, and then you can delete them off your phone, or wherever, to free up space. You pay for more storage with iCloud because it still take up room to store the little thumbnails that you can see.

  • 1
    This is incorrect. iCloud most certainly does store your full size photos. From this page, you'll read: "iCloud Photo Library automatically stores all of your photos and videos that you add from an iOS or Mac device in their original formats"
    – Charlie74
    Jan 6, 2016 at 2:53
  • Agreed@Charlie74
    – gracey209
    Aug 20, 2016 at 19:50

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .