I've noticed that contact photos on the iPhone seem to appear in one of two modes:

  1. Thumbnail: A small square image shown next to the contact's name or number
  2. Full-Screen: The image takes up the entire display, overlaid by the caller ID and Swipe-to-answer controls

How the phone determines which mode to use isn't terribly clear. This question, for example, dealing with contact syncing, seems to have people experiencing different results depending on whether they set the photo on the phone, synced from Gmail, synced from iCloud, etc.

Does anyone know the canonical rules for when a contact image appears in full-screen or as a thumbnail? Is it related to image size / shape, or only to the source of the image?

  • Can you clarify your question? You mean when answering/making a call, not in the Contacts application, right? Dec 23, 2012 at 16:03
  • Yes, exactly. The photo that appears during an incoming (and I suppose outgoing) call.
    – Dan J
    Dec 23, 2012 at 16:21

2 Answers 2


In my testing1, pictures set on the iPhone itself consistently appear as full screen, and pictures set in Address Book on OS X and synced via iCloud appear as thumbnails. Any photos set elsewhere, but subsequently edited on the iPhone will also appear full screen.

I haven't tested other syncing methods, but from what I've read elsewhere, including the question you linked, I think the syncing method doesn't matter — just whether the photo was set on the device, or on a Mac.

It's hard to say why exactly without any inside information, but I suspect it's one of two reasons:

  • Different teams worked on the syncing and iOS Contacts app (or at least the user facing portions thereof). Some flag gets set somewhere in the data structure when you set a photo in the Contacts app that doesn't get set when a photo is synced over. Just something that got overlooked.

  • Intentionally left out. Since you don't get the opportunity to preview the cropping and alignment on the device screen when setting it, it was decided to make pictures assigned off-device just appear as thumbnails, to avoid any bad cropping or weird aspect ratios.

In any event, if you want consistency, you should set all your contact pictures on the same device — Mac if you want thumbnails, iPhone if you want full-size.

1 I tested on iOS 6.0.1 on an iPhone 4S, and 10.7.5 on my Mac.


While I agree that you are correct that adding photos on a Mac will result in none of your contact photos appearing on your iOS device/s (learned that the hard way), all my contact photos have been added/set up on the exact same iOS device but there is no telling if the photo will come up large or small!

My findings:

  1. If a photo comes up full-screen one time, it will always come up full-screen.

  2. The original source of the photo (internal camera, emailed jpeg, etc.) Appears to be irrelevant in this issue.

    Note: all of my contact photos were accessed from my iOS camera roll using "add photo" (I did not copy and paste).

  3. It does not matter whether you delete the original Photo from the camera roll or not after you have set the contact photo.

  • I have iOS 12 and exactly the opposite behavior. Once the picture is set on iPhone (portrait, full size) first few calls right after that have full-screen caller id picture. If you wait a minute or two the picture is reset to small and never goes back. If you repeat same set of actions and disable all data connections on your iPhone the full screen picture will stay until you enable data connection back and contacts sync up May 22, 2019 at 21:22

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