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I'm experiencing the infamous "phantom/ghost" photos issue on my iPhone (XS Max; iOS 16). In short, I have deleted all photos on my phone, including from the Recently Deleted album, but my iPhone is still reporting that the Photos app is using 1.1G.

Ultimate questions:

  1. Where are the phantom photos/files if they're not in Media?
  2. If the phantom photos/files are not actually there, does anyone know how iPhone Storage calculates usage for the Photos app?

What I've done:

I've tried the normal tricks of setting the date back, restarting phone, etc. Most recently, I used iExplorer to browse through the Media folder on my iPhone looking for phantom/ghost photos lingering around. I wasn't able to find anything in the normal spots, so I mounted the Media directory on my Mac and measured the size of all files/folders under Media to see where the phantom data are hiding (du -sch *), but I don't see anything that explains the 1.1G of data iOS is reporting in Photos (see image). The largest folder is iTunes_Control at 6.4G. Of course, my understanding is that iTunes_Control is purely limited to the Music app, and it matches what iPhone Storage reports for the Music app. Everything else is only 0.3G.

Really appreciate your help.

Folder sizes under Media

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  • Could I get some feedback on this question? i.e., do I have no responses because it's off-topic, unclear, no one knows? The general issue of phantom photos is very well documented out on the "interwebs", as it were, but I don't see posts out there describing what I'm seeing (or not seeing) here. Mar 23, 2023 at 13:59

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So I risked it and tried messing with some files with iExplorer. It seems the Photos app storage counts both the media files by themselves and its database file Photos.sqlite (and Photos.sqlite-shm and Photos.sqlite-wal, I guess), stored on the PhotoData folder. It seems this file must have become corrupted, because the entries on PhotoData/BackupDatabase went at one point from ~10-20 MB to multiple 1 GB copies.

I deleted the bigger entries in that subfolder (in my case, 20230326, containing numbered folders "0+" with the backups), replaced the one directly on PhotoData with a previous entry, and restarted my phone. Upon reopening the Photos app, it starts out as having no photos, and then they start to appear again (I suppose it was the database file regenerating), then checking iPhone Storage it seems the app went back to an appropiate size. Checking the PhotoData folder again, there's a new, leaner Photos.sqlite, and it seems the one I replaced was renamed to Photos.sqlite.aside (so I'm not sure if a replacement file is needed when deleting the bloated one).

Apologies if there's some parts that aren't clear, I'm not really a programmer.

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  • Hello, @José. Thanks so much for the response! The rub for me is that I don't have the same issue. As shown in my screenshot in the original post, the total size of the entire PhotoData folder (including hidden files) on my iPhone is only 181M. I just checked again (both on the command line and in iExplorer) to be certain. All of the database files you mention are <20M (each). Yet, the Photos app under iPhone Storage still reports >1G. I just can't see how iOS is reporting such high usage. Mar 29, 2023 at 22:56
  • Also worth mentioning that the DCIM folder is basically empty, too (1.8M), as shown above. Mar 29, 2023 at 23:31

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