Why All of The Photos on Your iPhone Don’t Show up on Your PC or Mac

Damn you Apple and your voodoo magic!

So a friend of my wife asked me why the 13,000 or so photos on her iPhone 5S didn’t all show up when she connected her phone to her computer.  In looking into the problem I actually found I suffered from a similar issue; my phone says that I have 505 photos stored but when I connect it to my PC and try and transfer them over only about 35 photos were showing in the Photos app on my Mac.

After a bit of a search online I found some forum posts that described this actual problem and it turns out there are two seperate issues that can cause this.

1) Your photos need to be stored in “Camera Roll”.

Some versions of the iPhone software allow you to seperate your photos into seperate albums.  It also allows other apps to setup their own folders in which to store photos associated with that app (for example, WhatsApp), and although you can see these photos in the Photos app on your phone they aren’t discovered by your PC or Mac when you connect via a USB cable.

It seems to be hit and miss with some users reporting no issues while others point out that only photos stored in their “Camera Roll” will transfer over to their PC or Mac.

2) Your iPhone is set to use iCloud for photos storage

It turns out that by default the iPhone will seek to store your images in iCloud rather than on the device itself.  Apple claim this is to free up space on the device itself so that more apps, music and videos can be installed, but a cynical person might also suggest that it’s an attempt by Apple to eat in to the free 5GB of storage that they offer to each iCloud user.

Put simply the more photos you upload the less space there is in your 5GB storage area and the more likely Apple are to be able to sell you an extra 45GB for 79p per month, but that’s beside the point.

When this option is turned on Apple inteligently backs up your photos to iCloud whenever you’re on a WiFi connection and then deletes the local copies of the photos leaving only a much smaller and lower resolution thumbnail in its place.  The photos can still be viewed on the phone itself but what you’re actually viewing is a much smaller file in a lower resolution.  If you then select a photo your device will then retrieve a larger and higher resolution version from the iCloud servers.  All of this happens in the background with no user involvement.

To see if your phone has this feature turned on head to the settings menu and then select “Photos”, you should see the following screen:

If “iCloud Photo Library” is turned on and “Optimise iPhone Storage” are both selected, then your device is intelligently uploading your photos and videos to iCloud and then deleting the versions stored on your phone to save on space.

Retrieving your Photos

If you want to hold a local backup of your photos, or want to store them securely and then delete them from iCloud then you can certainly do so.  If you’re a Windows user Apple provide helpful instructions here on how to download the iCloud utility for Windows and then use it to create a local copy of your photos by downloading them from the Internet.  Just make sure to confirm you definitely have a local copy of the photos backed up somewhere before you then delete them from iCloud.

If you’re a Mac user you can use the Photos app built into OS X to do the same thing:

  • Open “Photos”
  • Open the “Preferences” menu from the toolbar
  • Select the “iCloud” tab
  • Turn on “iCloud Photo Library” and select “Download Originals to This Mac”

Your Mac will then download a local copy of all of your iCloud photos directly into the Photos app.  For large libraries this will take some time, and a progress bar at the bottom of the screen in the Photos app will tell you how progress is going.

Removing Photos from iCloud

Once you’ve made a local copy of all of your photos you may wish to delete the originals from Apple’s iCloud servers, particularly anything you may wish others not to see (just ask Jennifer Lawrence).

Doing so is relatively straightforward, though will take time for large libraries.  Simply follow these steps:

  • Go to www.iCloud.com
  • Login with your iCloud registered email address and password
  • Click on the “Photos” icon.
  • All of your iCloud stored photos will then be shown
  • Unfortunately Apple have given no option to select a group of photos by dragging over an area in the viewer.  Instead you have to hold down the left shift key and click each photo individually.
  • Once you’ve highlighted all of the photos you wish to delete, click the trash can in the toolbar at the top of the page
  • Your selected photos have now been deleted from Apple’s iCloud service.

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