Don’t Use iCloud for Long-Term Photo Backup

Bill, my friend just returned from Costa Rica on a family vacation. He took lots of photos and videos with his iPhone and captured some amazing shots of local monkeys having breakfast.
It was no surprise that he checked his iPhone’s storage after he returned home and discovered that it was 98% full. He could take a few more photos and be out of storage.

His solution? He said, “I’ll just place them all on iCloud and then delete them from my iPhone.”


Bill’s worst move to free up space is to “back up” on iCloud, then delete the photos from the iPhone. They’ll be deleted from the cloud backup once the photos are uploaded to iCloud.

Did you ever notice the fine print when trying to delete a photograph? “This item will not be saved from iCloud Photos on any of your devices.”

Because of these strange, obscure rules, Apple’s iCloud may not be the best place to go for long-term photo backup. Over several phone calls, Apple’s help desk representatives explained to me that iCloud was intended for backup of all your Apple devices and not just your photo collection. They also suggested that iCloud can be used as a way to have the exact same data on all your Apple devices, including the iPhone.

Apple says it this way: “Automatically upload all your photos and video to iCloud so that you can browse search and share from any device.”

Apple wants the process to work

Think back to the Apple commercial asking us to think differently about backup. Apple does it differently. Apple doesn’t delete images from the phone. Instead, they convert them to low resolution copies and then download the high-resolution originals via iCloud.

Click “optimize” under the Settings section at the top of your screen to change the display from high-low.

Everybody is taking more photos and videos, at higher resolutions, than ever before. The fact is that our phones are outgrowing their storage. Backup strategies are something that all of us should be more aware of. SmugMug, Google, Microsoft and Dropbox all offer different plans that are charged. They don’t require you to delete your cloud photos if they have been deleted from your phone.

You can only store a few photos or videos. There is no free storage. Facebook and Instagram are not allowed to count as they reduce images to a very low resolution and you won’t get the full-resolution version.

How to Back Up Your Photos With iCloud

If he insists that iCloud be used, there are ways to do it, but it will require more effort.

He could first convert all of his iPhone photos to low resolution, upload them, and keep the copies on his iPhone.

Option 2: The workaround.

Upload the images to iCloud. Double the effort by backing them up somewhere else. A small, portable hard drive is the best option. LaCie Rugged drives with 4 terabytes storage cost around $150. This is about $50 less than the Apple 2 TB service.

Once we have backups done twice, verify that all Costa Rica images are present. Next, in the iCloud settings turn off iCloud Backup

This will prevent iCloud from taking a quick sweep of your phone to mirror what it sees.

After Bill has taken a lot more images on his smartphone, he can manually add them to iCloud by turning iCloud Backup back on.

However, this is not the best or most efficient way to backup photos. It is not a long-term solution. Apple will delete all files in its cloud within 180 days of you turning off iCloud backup.

You will lose all of your most recent photos if your iPhone is lost or destroyed.

The Best Way to Back up Photos

A cloud service designed for long-term file storage is a better option to backup your photos. Dropbox and Microsoft cost $9.99 per month for 1 TB storage. Google charges $9.99 for 2TB storage. SmugMug costs $9 per month for unlimited storage. Amazon Prime subscribers receive unlimited backup (but no video) for $139 per year.

I feel more at ease with a simple, no-gimmicks online backup of my photos and at least one hard disk on my desk. One drive on the desk, one offsite and online backup would be better.

In case you were wondering, I have 8 drives at my desk and several more in the closet. I also subscribe to SmugMug and Google One.