How to Access Your Entire Photos Library on Any Device

There are a ton of new features in the new Photos app (released as part of the OS X 10.10.3 update). Most notably is the completely new user interface. It’s clean, simpler to use and matches the experience you have while managing and manipulating photos on your iOS device. Another really nice feature is iCloud Photo Library. In short, this feature allows you to store your entire photo library in the cloud, and access those photos from any Apple product, anywhere.

In some cases, this feature is enabled for you automatically. In others, it’s not. This depends on whether you chose to use iCloud Photo Library when you first launched Photos. Either way, there are a few things that I learned after using iCloud Photo Library in Photos that you need to know about.

Before we begin, let’s check to see if you are using iPhoto Library. To do this, launch the Photos app, then go to Photos > Preferences… and click on the “iCloud” button.

In most cases, the “iPhoto Photo Library” box will be unchecked. Before we enable iCloud Photo Library, let's talk about what it will actually mean to you.

As mentioned before, this feature allows you to store your entire Photos library in the cloud, making your photos accessible from any device. If you use multiple photo Photos libraries, you will need to enable/disable this feature for each library, depending on your preference for each library. Once the feature is enabled for a library, it uploads the entire library. There’s no selective-syncing available.

If you just enabled iCloud Photo Library and you have a large library, be prepared for this syncing/uploading process to take a while (days or weeks, depending on the size of your library). You also need to be aware that if enabled, it will likely consume most of your Internet bandwidth. To minimize impact on other services while performing the initial sync/upload, you may want to consider A) using a faster (i.e.: office) Internet connection or B) only allowing the upload to happen at night when you are sleeping.

Fortunately, there is a way to pause syncing/uploading of your library. By going back into Photos > Preferences… and clicking the “iCloud” button, you will see a “Pause for a Day” button.

Obviously, pressing this will pause the upload process for a 24-hour period. After 24 hours, it will automatically resume. If you want to pause for only a few hours, simply press the “Resume” button.

Once your library has uploaded initially, you are ready to access your photos from other devices. Before you can do this, you will need to enable the same iCloud Photo Library on the device. To do this, go to Settings > iCloud. Once there, you will need to enable the “iCloud Photo Library” feature, found at the top.


One thing to note is that when you enable this for the first time, you will be shown the following prompt:


In short, this means that you will no longer need to sync your photos via iTunes (which is a good thing since you will have access to your entire library via iCloud!).

Next, you will have two options that will determine the size and quality of the photos shown on your iOS device. “Optimize iPhone Storage” will only show you images at a resolution that matches your iPhone, while “Download and Keep Originals” will download the full-resolution originals. In most cases, you will want to choose “Optimize iPhone Storage” so that you don’t consume all of your iPhone’s storage.

Once the settings have been adjusted according to your preferences and Photos has had time to sync and upload your library to iCloud, your entire Photos library will now be available on your devices via iCloud. As more photos are added to your library, those photos will automatically be uploaded and shared with your other devices.

One important consideration when using iCloud Photo Library is online storage. Free iCloud accounts come with 5 GB of complimentary storage. For most users, this won't cut it for storing your Photos library. Actually usage will vary, depending on the size of your library. At time of posting this, here are the prices to increase your iCloud storage:

  • 5 GB: Free
  • 20 GB: $0.99/month
  • 200 GB: $3.99/month
  • 500 GB: $9.99/month
  • 1 TB: $19.99/month
Posted on April 23, 2015 and filed under Design, How To, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Mac.