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iCloud Photos or My Photo Stream: Which Is Right for You?

iCloud Photos vs. My Photo Stream

Apple offers My Photo Stream AND iCloud Photos on its various devices. Do you need both? If not, which one is best for you?

With My Photo Stream, you can access the recent photos that you take with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch on your Mac and PC as long as you have iCloud set up on all of your devices. Photos (except Live Photos) are uploaded to the cloud and stored for 30 days. 

To save or back up your pics, you have to save them from My Photo Stream to your iOS or Mac device. To view your photos in My Photo Stream, go to Photos > Albums > My Photo Stream (see picture below).

DScreenshot of My Photo Stream
Image Coutesy of Apple

(Note that if you recently created your Apple ID, My Photo Stream might not be available. If My Photo Stream isn’t available, use iCloud Photos to keep your photos and videos in iCloud.)

Speaking of iCloud Photos, it stores every photo and video you take and keeps ‘em up to date on all your devices. Any edits you make are automatically updated everywhere. iCloud Photos lets you share photos and videos. For example, you can create a shared album and invite friends and family to add their photos and video clips.

Screenshot of iCloud photos modal window in Preferences

To enable iCloud Photos on a Mac, go to System Preferences > iCloud. Click Options next to Photos, then select iCloud Photos. (See the image above.)

Unlike My Photo Stream, you’ll need an iCloud storage plan to use iCloud Photos. You get a miserly 5GB for free (really, Apple?) You can choose from a total of 50GB, 200GB, or 2TB for $0.99, $2.99, and $9.99, respectively. You can even share the 200GB and 2TB plans with your family. 

Screenshot of iCloud storge plan purchse option

To upgrade your storage plan, on a Mac:

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, then click iCloud.
  2. Click Manage in the lower-right corner.
  3. Click Change Storage Plan or Buy More Storage.
  4. Choose a plan.
  5. Click Next and enter your Apple ID password.

Once you turn on iCloud Photo Library on your device, any photos you add to My Photo Stream from other devices will appear in the All Photos tab in the Photos app and organized in Moments, Collections, and Years. iCloud Photo Library automatically syncs your photos and videos, while My Photo Stream doesn’t.

On a Mac or PC, your photos are downloaded and stored in full resolution with My Photo Stream. On iOS devices and the Apple TV, they’re saved in a device-optimized resolution designed to save storage space and enable quick downloads.

iCloud Photos stores full-resolution photos on the server and on your Apple gadgets. It supports popular file formats such as JPEG, RAW, PNG, GIF, HEIF, HEVC, MP4, and TIFF. My Photo Stream supports JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and “most” RAW formats. Note that you can’t sync albums and photos from your Mac or PC via iTunes of your iCloud Photos and any existing albums/photos will be removed should you quit using the service.

Do you need both services? I like having both. But if you don’t want to pay for iCloud storage, use My Photo Stream.

If you’re willing to pay for iCloud storage, use iCloud Photos, be sure it’s enabled on all of your iOS and macOS devices using the Photos app, and disengage My Photo Stream. The iCloud Photo Library feature upload of your pics and videos, make them available on all of your devices, sync the changes you make, and sync your albums across your Macs, iPads, iPhones, and Apple TVs.

To (over) simplify things, My Photo Stream is great for folks who don’t take a lot of photos, don’t need to regularly access them across all of their devices, or use another cloud service rather than iCloud. 

iCloud Photos is for those of us who use iCloud, take lots of pictures and want to be able to view all of them across our devices. 

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Contributing Author
Dennis has over 40 years of journalism experience and has written hundreds of articles. For the past 20-plus years, he's been an online journalist, covering mainly Apple Inc. He's written for MacCentral, MacWorld, MacMinute, Macsimum News, Apple Daily Report, and is now contributing editor at Apple World Today.
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  • I submitted a question in August and received no response. There are only 3 questions posted in all the time it has been posted.

    Is anyone there???

    • Sorry I can’t be helpful. Aggrevating ,can you help me? Trying to see my icloud photos.?

  • What an amazing website you made its wonderful and fun and better than a dictionary it’s just I’m not paying any money sorry


  • As a photographer, Photos means I have 1000’s of unedited photos on all devices and it takes up too much space on icloud. So photostream is more practical.

  • This is interesting but I would like to know what is best when you mix IPHOTO and its desire to use the cloud with the above problem. I prefer IPHOTO but I don’t see how the photos will sync and share