Photo Stream Confusion

I wrote last month about options for photo cloud storage and sharing. What I’m finding amongst Apple product users is confusion about how Photo Stream works. Don’t feel bad, it is confusing, and the way Apple organizes your photos doesn’t help.  There are lots of online discussions about the confusion, or about things not working – or maybe, not working the way someone expects.

Here’s my simple guideline – and I hope I understand how it all works!:

(For the purposes of this write-up, I’m assuming that you have Yosemite on your computer and are using Photos and not iPhoto, but iPhoto should work the same.)

Turn on Photo Sharing (through the iCloud settings) on all your devices and all new photos will be in what Apple calls your “Photo Stream”.  Photo Stream can hold up to 1,000 recent photos. Photo Stream works through iCloud and requires all your devices to be logged in to the same iCloud account.

Let’s assume you have an iPhone and a Macbook.  You take a photo with your iPhone.  On your phone the new photo will appear both in your Photo Stream and your Camera Roll. On your MacBook, because your have Photo Stream on, the photo will appear in your Photo Stream, and by default, in All Photos (more on this later).

Here are three scenarios:

1) If you delete a photo from Photo Stream, either on your iPhone or your MacBook it will be deleted from the Photo Stream of the other device as well.  The photo will not be delete from All Photos on your MacBook or from your iPhone Camera Roll.

2) If you delete a photo from Camera Roll on your iPhone, and it is still in your Photo Stream, if will be deleted from the Camera Roll on your iPhone, and Photo Stream on all your devices.  But, if the photo was already imported into All Photos on another device, or any other album, it will not be deleted from All Photos or that album. Is that clear?

3) If you delete a photo from your MacBook, in any album other than Photo Stream, if will not be deleted from your iPhone, and vice versa.

Think of it this way, any photo that is in an album on any device is permanently stored until you manually delete it. Only Photo Stream is temporary.

This raises a question, how did Photo Stream photos become permanent on your MacBook?  I’ll tell you:  Open Photos.  Click Photos in the menu bar. Select Preferences. Select General. See where Importing is checked.  That means that all photos in Photo Stream will be copied into All Photos on your MacBook (or whatever Apple computer you have).

If you want to have more control over what you save on your computer then uncheck this option.  If you do this, then it is up to you to review your Photo Stream photos periodically and drag the ones you want to save to an album in Photos. This is a good way to force you to triage your photos.

I hope this helps. As an exercise, try deleting a single photo from both Photo Stream and an album on your devices and see what happens on the other devices.  It’s a good way to learn.


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