Demystifying the My Photo Stream Feature

by | May 29, 2023 | Cloud Services, Photo Organizing

Did you receive an email from Apple stating that the My Photo Stream is being discontinued in July? If you have and are confused by how My Photo Stream works with your iPhone/iPad and Apple iCloud Photos App you aren’t alone! Don’t panic, let’s take a look to ensure your photos are safe!

First, what is it? The My Photo Stream feature was introduced by Apple before iCloud Photo Library was available. It serves a specific purpose and offers some distinct advantages, even though users receive 5GB of free iCloud storage. My Photo Stream offers a seamless and automatic way to sync your recent photos across multiple Apple devices without using up your iCloud storage. It allows you to quickly access and view your recent photos on all your devices without manually transferring or syncing them.

Temporary Storage: My Photo Stream stores your photos for 30 days or up to 1,000 photos, whichever comes first. This temporary storage is useful when you want to view or download recent photos on your other devices, but you don’t necessarily need to keep them indefinitely. It provides a convenient way to access your most recent photos without taking up permanent iCloud storage space.

Compatibility with Older Devices: My Photo Stream works with older Apple devices that may not support iCloud Photo Library. This ensures that users with older devices can still benefit from automatic photo syncing across their devices without needing to upgrade to a newer device or purchase additional iCloud storage.

Easy Sharing: My Photo Stream also simplifies photo sharing. When you enable My Photo Stream on multiple devices, any new photos you capture or import are automatically shared across those devices, making it easier to share photos with family or friends who use different devices.

So bottom line, the My Photos Stream was not intended for permanent storage of your photos anyway, it was just creating a 30-day/1000 photos access point across your other devices. The photos are stored on the device in which you took the photos or also in iCloud if you are using it. According to Apple as long as you still own the device where the originals are, you will not lose any photos or videos once the My Photo Stream shuts down. If you want to continue using and syncing all your photos across devices, losing the My Photos Stream might eventually cause you some problems and inevitably force you to pay Apple for additional iCloud storage once your free tier is used up. I’m not a fan of paying monthly fees to rent storage space so I use other methods to keep my photos safe. Don’t get me wrong, Apple Photos is a very effective photo service to use and keep your photos organized across the Apple ecosystem and all of your devices, but it also has its limitations. It is a syncing service NOT a backup service! I repeat it is NOT a backup service.

Changes/deletions you make to your photos that are synced across Apple change across all your devices, and sometimes those changes/deletions are accidental and you can’t get them back. Additionally, the fields that you input valuable information such as captions may or may not show up in other photo software. More on that another time…

You may not even have the My Photos Stream activated so let’s check this first.

    1. Go to Settings and click on your name “Apple ID, iCloud, Media & Purchases.”
    2. Next, go to iCloud. Here you can see how much of your 5 GB you are using and what is taking up the space.
    3. Below that go to Photos and click on that.
    4. Here is where you will find various settings depending on what you have enabled. In mine, the My Photo Stream is toggled green or on. I actually don’t even need this on because I don’t access my photos on my phone from my iPad or my other devices. But you may be using it, so this is where you need to understand if losing it is a problem for you. If it’s off, leave it off, check your other devices, and don’t give it another thought. But start thinking about how you are going to back up your photos.

If you have it enabled, let’s take a look at the album “My Photo Stream”. You may not have even known there was an album titled “My Photo Stream.” Listed below are the steps to help you find it.

  1. Open the Photos app on your iPhone and tap on the Albums tab at the bottom menu.
  2. Once you are in albums, you will see the “My Photos Stream album.” Depending on how many albums you have created or are using it might be further down than mine. Take note of the number of photos in this album. It is probably different from the number of photos that you have stored because of the 30-day/1000 photo limit. Look through this album and if there are photos in there that you aren’t entirely sure or confident that you have stored safely either in iCloud or on one of your other devices be sure to save them.
  3. To save your photo, all you need to do is select the photo and either AirDrop it somewhere else (check the options tab to retain the information), or use the Share button >Save Image.
  4. If you took the photos on the device that you are accessing the “My Photos Stream album” with, those photos will be on your device or stored in your iCloud account.

In my case the My Photo Stream wasn’t doing me any favors, so I went back to the settings option as discussed previously and simply just toggled the My Photo Stream off. I of course made sure to have a full backup just in case things go wrong, which often does with technology!

In summary:

iCloud Storage: The My Photo Stream feature doesn’t consume any iCloud storage space, as it doesn’t count towards your storage limit. Therefore, the photos in My Photo Stream don’t occupy any space within your iCloud storage quota.

Photos App: On the other hand, the Photos app on your iPhone stores all the photos and videos present in your device’s local storage. This includes photos synced through My Photo Stream, as well as any other media you’ve saved or downloaded on your iPhone.

Due to these differences, you may notice that the number of photos in My Photo Stream is fewer than in the Photos app, especially if you have a large photo library or manually imported photos into the Photos app (from emails, messages, etc). The Photos app retains all your locally stored photos, while My Photo Stream only stores the most recent 30-day/1,000 photos for a limited time.

While iCloud storage offers a more comprehensive and long-term solution for managing and storing your photos, My Photo Stream provides a lightweight and temporary photo syncing option that can be beneficial in specific scenarios, such as when you want to quickly access recent photos on multiple devices without utilizing iCloud storage space or for compatibility with older devices.

    I’ve noticed a trend over the last few years of cloud services doing away with their free tier of storage and convenience or at least putting time limits on it. Cloud storage costs money and uses valuable resources and most of us are probably over-consuming those resources. Think about all the online services that you have used or have accounts with such as Google, Amazon, Apple, etc, and all the “free” cloud storage you might be using. Companies will continue to streamline these to be more advantageous to their bottom line. A few examples…

    Shutterfly’s recent upset with their customers storing photos on their site:

    In January 2023, we updated our photo storage policy to continue providing unlimited storage to active customers who make a purchase every 18 months. As part of this policy update, any photos stored in a customer’s inactive account would be removed from our servers.

    Google’s Inactive Account Policy:

    An inactive Google Account is an account that has not been used within a 2-year period. Google reserves the right to delete an inactive Google Account and its activity and data if you are inactive across Google for at least two years.

    Less is so much more and a carefully curated photo collection that can preserve your stories well past the changes in technology (which are numerous) will be so much more meaningful. So, to ensure the safety and longevity of your precious memories, it is important to:

    1. Regularly back up your photos to a secure and reliable storage solution, such as an external hard drive or a paid cloud storage service. This will help protect your images against accidental deletions, device failures, and other unforeseen circumstances (terms and services changes).
    2. Stay up-to-date with the changes and policies of the cloud services you use. Keep track of any updates or notifications regarding their storage policies and adjust your photo management strategies accordingly.
    3. Organize and curate your photo collection. Instead of holding onto every single photo, take the time to go through your collection and save only the most meaningful and important images. This will not only result in less stress and anxiety about your photos, but it will give your family a much more meaningful legacy to pass on.

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