Image of Apple's Photo application on iPhone, iPad, and Mac

iCloud Photo Library is a great feature built into Apple’s iOS and macOS operating systems, but it can feel a bit foreign depending on how you have been managing your photos and videos up until now. Follow along for how to set up this feature across your various Apple devices as well as upload photos to iCloud Photo Library.

Two of the biggest benefits to using iCloud Photo Library are having one synchronized photo and video library across all of your devices (and the web), and having the option to compress your library so it takes up less room on your devices.

How to turn on iCloud Photo Library

First, we’ll take a look making sure iCloud Photo Library is turned on and then we’ll look at how it works. Make sure you have a backup of your devices before turning this feature on.

How to turn on iCloud Photo Library on iPhone & iPad

The images below show these steps on an iPhone, however the same steps apply for iPad.

  1. Start with the device that has the most photos and videos (if it’s your Mac skip below for now)
  2. Find and tap on Settings and make sure you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network
  3. Tap your name at the top and then tap on iCloud (if you’re running iOS 10.3 or later you’ll find iCloud a bit below General instead of under your name)
  4. Tap on Photos
  5. Tap on the toggle to the right of iCloud Photo Library to turn it on if it’s not (green) already
  6. Tap on either Optimize iPhone Storage or Download and Keep Originals

Image showing the steps to turn on iCloud Photo Library

If you are running lower on iPhone storage choosing to optimize will compress your iCloud Photo Library by keeping lower resolution images and videos on your device and saving the full-resolution versions on iCloud.

Remember that iCloud Photo Library will use your iCloud Storage, in some cases you may need to upgrade to a plan with more storage.

Depending on the size of your Photos Library it may take multiple hours for the upload process to complete. All of the photos and videos on your iPhone or iPad Camera Roll will be uploaded. You can check the status just above Optimize iPhone Storage section as shown in the image above on the right.

How to turn on iCloud Photo Library on a Mac

Just like mentioned above, make sure to back up your Mac before turning on iCloud Photo Library.

  1. Make sure your Mac is connected to a Wi-Fi network
  2. Launch the Photos application and click on Photos in the top left corner
  3. Click on Preferences…
  4. Click on the iCloud tab
  5. Click on the check box next to iCloud Photo Library
  6. Click on either Download Originals to this Mac or Optimize Mac Storage

Image of macOS showing the Photos application

Once the process has begun it may take several hours for all of your photos and videos to upload to iCloud Photo Library and for the process to complete. You can see check the status just above the Download Originals to this Mac section as shown in the image below.

Image showing the macOS Photos application preferences

If you have turned on iCloud Photo Library on your Mac first, don’t forget to enable it on your iPhone and/or iPad as well.

How to upload photos to iCloud Photo Library

Now that the initial process (the longest part) is taken care of, let’s take a look at iCloud Photo Library in use.

How to upload photos to iCloud Photo Library from a Mac

Once the initial process with iCloud Photo Library is complete, it’s really easy to upload more content from a Mac. It’s as simple as dragging and dropping photos and videos into the Photos application.

Image showing how to drag and drop photos into the Photos application

Like the image above shows, drag and drop photos from your Desktop or from Finder directly into the Photos application.

When iCloud Photo Library is turned on anything you add will shortly show up on and across all of your Apple devices.

Image showing updating status in the Photos application after dragging and dropping two photos into the app

You’ll see the new photos appear and also an upload status at the bottom of the application window as shown above.

Image showing the Photos application in an iPhone and that the uploaded photos have syncronized

To make sure everything is synchronized you can open Photos on an iPhone or iPad. You should see your newly uploaded images shortly, as long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

In the third and fourth images above I’ve selected the new wave photo, tapped the edit button, chosen a new filter and hit Done.

Below you’ll see that my edit has synchronized back to my Mac. Also, two screenshots that I took on my iPhone have also been automatically uploaded to my iCloud Photo Library are seen on my Mac below.

Image showing synchronized photo edits across Apple devices

No matter what source from which you import photos to the Photos application they will be automatically uploaded to iCloud Photo Library when the feature is turned on. Also keep in mind that if you delete a photo from one device, it will be deleted from all devices.

How to upload photos to iCloud Photo Library from iPhone and iPad

Once iCloud Photo Library is turned on, any photos or videos you take or download to your Camera Roll will automatically upload to iCloud Photo Library. Like mentioned above this also includes any screenshots you take.

The image below shows one photo of grass and tress outside and one of my cat that I took with my iPhone. These images were automatically uploaded to iCloud Photo Library and automatically downloaded to my Mac.

Image showing Photos on iPhone and Mac

How to view and upload photos to iCloud Photo Library from icloud․com

  1. Navigate to icloud․com and log in with your Apple ID and password.
  2. Click on Photos.
  3. If this is your first time viewing your Photos on icloud․com it may take some time to prepare your iCloud Photo Library

Image showing after logging in with Apple ID and password

You should now see all of your photos and videos just like on your other Apple devices. There is a timestamp with the last time your photos and videos were updated at the bottom of the browser window.

Image showing iCloud Photo Library on

If you delete a photo or video from Photos on icloud․com it will delete that item from all of your devices.

Image showing delete warning in Photos on

To upload content from any computer with icloud․com to your iCloud Photo Library, click the cloud icon with the up arrow as shown in the image below.

Image showing upload button in Photos on

Next use the Finder window to find and select what you would like to upload. Click Choose when ready.

Image showing how to upload photos to iCloud Photo Library from

How much you are uploading at a time will determine how long it will take to upload to iCloud Photo Library. You can keep an eye on the status in the bottom center of the browser window.

Image showing Photos synchronized across Mac, iPhone, and

Once complete, all of your content should be synchronized across all of your Apple Devices and icloud․com. Keep in mind your devices will need a Wi-Fi connection to synchronize with iCloud Photo Library.

Check out our how to guide for more ways to get the most out of your Apple devices.

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About the Author

Michael Potuck

Michael is an editor for 9to5Mac. Since joining in 2016 he has written more than 3,000 articles including breaking news, reviews, and detailed comparisons and tutorials.