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This is probably a duplicate, and if so I apologize.

Right now my phones aren't backing up because my free 5 Gigabyte iCloud account is completely full of pictures. I need to upgrade a phone, and that requires a working backup of the old one, so the situation is now critical.

I think I just want to disable iCloud photo storage on both phones. But when I try to turn off "iCloud Photos", I get a prompt saying

Do you want to download a copy of your iCloud Photos to this iPhone?

No, I don't. but I have two choices:

Remove from iPhone

No, I don't want to remove anything from this phone, except the connection that's also uploading everything to iCloud.

Download Photos & Videos

No, I don't want to download anything to this phone. Every picture I've taken on this phone is also downloaded to my Mac for long-term storage.

I tried choosing "Remove from iPhone" anyway, and it gives me a confirmation saying:

898 photos and videos will be removed from this iPhone. These photos and videos will remain in iCloud Photos.

No! No, no, no! That's the opposite of what I want! I want to keep them on the phone and delete them from iCloud! How do I do that?

(Am I reading that message correctly? While turning off the sync-with-iCloud feature, it's really going to delete the copies -- which in my case are the originals -- from the phone?)

I've read this question which seems to match mine, but I think its answer is out of date, as I can't find the dialog it references on my phone.

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    If you have the means it might be easier to upgrade the iCloud account for one month. Otherwise, you need to ensure that all your photos are fully downloaded onto your Mac before you disable iCloud Photo Library on all devices and then delete the photos on iCloud.com.
    – nohillside
    Sep 22, 2022 at 12:03
  • It's basically what the linked answer says, even though the dialogs may be different nowadays.
    – nohillside
    Sep 22, 2022 at 12:04
  • @nohillside But the dialog strongly suggests that the action is going to delete all the photos of my phone also. That's what I'm most worried and uncertain about. (Why would it do that?) Sep 22, 2022 at 12:06
  • Do you use Photos on your Mac to store your pictures, or are they just in your own managed folders? Depending on your answer I may have a couple of workflows, not too dissimilar to nohillside's suggestion Sep 22, 2022 at 12:14
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    Ty. I'll reply later. @nohillside That's worked into my answer. Sep 22, 2022 at 12:42

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Maintaining the Status Quo in a manageable way

I think your options boil down to either buying more space (even a very usable 50GB only costs me 79p a month) for longer term flexibility or managing your photos thru your macOS iCloud Photos Library to reduce your cloud usage.

This can be done by exporting originals as you are currently doing, or by the use of a 3rd party utility such as PowerPhotos to export to a non-iCloud Photos library on your Mac. You can then delete them from the macOS iCloud Photos library and the deletes will propagate up to iCloud. Or as nohillside originally pointed out, they can be deleted through the iCloud Photos website. In both cases, make sure that Recently Deleted is cleared out once you're sure.

And of course, as has just been pointed out, iCloud storage should not be treated as a backup, so a reliable Time Machine backup of your Mac will also be a good idea.

As for the phone restoration issue, a new phone can be restored over a local Bluetooth connection from and old one. See https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT210216

Severing phone and iCloud photos

If you make sure you have all the iCloud photos synced to the phone before switching off Settings | Photos | iCloud Photos, then it will not prompt you re. downloading when you do, and all the photos remain on the phone. Similarly if you do the same in macOS Photos, then the photos remain on the Mac.

What it's actually doing, even though it isn't particularly clear, is asking you how attached you are to the photos on your phone. If you want to keep them, then it knows that low-quality space savers may be present on the phone, and it is ensuring that the originals get downloaded to the phone.. Or if you aren't bothered, it asks permission to get rid completely.

Managing photos in iCloud is completely separate to that above. To remove the photos from iCloud but leave on your phone:

  • On the Mac: Photos | Preferences | iCloud | Download Originals to this Mac (Tick). Monitor this to completion in the Photos app, at the bottom of the Library.

  • On the iPhone: Settings | Photos | Download and Keep Originals (Tick) Monitor this to completion in the Photos app at the bottom of Recents.

  • On the Mac, duplicate the ~/Photos/Photos Library.photoslibrary (or however your iCloud enabled library is named). On an APFS system this will take seconds.

  • Verify the copied library is not iCloud enabled by opening it and checking Photos | Preferences | iCloud states "iCloud features for Photos are only available in the System Photo Library"

  • Run a Time Machine backup to ensure both versions are safe

  • Disable iCloud Photos on iPhone: Settings | Photos | iCloud Photos (Off). All photos will remain on the phone. If all photos are not currently on the phone then that is what causes it to prompt.

  • Then delete the photos through macOS Photos using the iCloud enabled library, or via the website. They will be removed from iCloud, but remain on your phone.

Future photos taken on the phone will not end up in iCloud, so if you want to transfer them to your Mac you will have to import to macOS Photos, or use the Image Capture utility, both with the phone connected via USB.

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  • Thanks, Andy. One clarification: it's iPhone backups I'm trying to reserve iCloud storage space for, not Mac backups. I keep my Mac backed up by completely different means; that's not the issue. Sep 22, 2022 at 15:10
  • Yes, you need both. Manage your iCloud space to allow more room for phone backup. My TM backup comment was just a standard thing for others looking for the similar answer in the future. Sep 22, 2022 at 15:11
  • Right, but my fundamental problem is that I am completely unable to manage my iCloud space. Right now it's full of pictures that I don't want and don't need. But there's no way to delete them without also deleting them off of phones. And there's no way to sever the connection between my phones and iCloud. If I leave that connection open, every picture I ever take will upload to iCloud, reducing the space I want to keep clear for backups. If I sever that connection, it says it's going to delete all the pictures from my phone. I can't win. Sep 22, 2022 at 15:16
  • For now I think I'm going to (1) use Bluetooth to copy data to the new phone (thanks eversomuch for that tip!), and then (2) find time to go to an Apple store and ask them to (a) sever the connection, (b) delete all photos from iCloud, but (c) keep all photos currently on both phones. I wouldn't have thought a+b+c would be so difficult, but apparently it is. Sep 22, 2022 at 15:17
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    Just to reiterate, the reason you can't delete them without deleting them from your phone is because they're not downloaded to your phone. If you have optimize storage enabled, when you disable iCloud Storage it deletes the undownloaded images from your phone.
    – Ezekiel
    Sep 22, 2022 at 15:50

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