How to Turn on Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Sharing

Choose one or the other — or both

A woman holding an iPad
Public Domain / Pixabay

Apple originally debuted Photo Stream as its cloud-based photo-sharing solution. Photo Stream included My Photo Stream, which uploaded all the photos you took on one Apple device to all your other Apple devices with Photo Stream turned on, and Shared photo streams, which allowed you to pick photos to share with a circle of friends and family.

Information in this article applies to iPads running iOS 12 or iOS 11.

Apple dumped Photo Stream for iCloud Photo Library, but it kept the My Photo Stream feature in place for users who wanted an alternative to storing photos on iCloud. Here are the three different photo sharing methods:

  • iCloud Photo Library. The main difference between iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream is where the photos are stored. In My Photo Stream, images are stored on your device and pushed to your other devices, where they are also stored locally. With iCloud Photo Library, photos are uploaded to the cloud and stored there where all the devices can access them at will. This ends up saving a lot of space on individual devices, but there is a drawback: If your device isn't connected to the internet, you can't view the photos.
  • My Photo Stream. This service remained the same during the transition to iCloud Photo Library. When it is turned on, My Photo Stream pushes a copy of all new photos and videos made during the previous 30 days to every device that uses the same Apple ID and has My Photo Stream activated. These images are not automatically saved to iCloud.
  • Shared Albums. This is the same feature as Shared Photo Streams with a new name. Shared Albums allows you to invite a group of friends and family to a shared stream. After the group is created, you can share individual photos and videos with everyone in the group.

    How to Turn on Photo Stream and iCloud Photos

    1. Tap Settings on the iPad Home screen. 

    2. Scroll down the menu located on the left side of the screen and choose Photos. In the screen that opens, you have options to turn on iCloud Photos, My Photo Stream, and Shared Albums.

      The Photos preferences in iPad's Settings app
    3. Move the slider next to iCloud Photos (in iOS 12) or iCloud Photo Library (in iOS 11) to the On/green position to automatically upload and store all your photos and videos in iCloud. You can browse, search, and share the photos from any of your devices that use the same Apple ID, as long as the device has a connection to the internet.

    4. When you turn on iCloud Photos, you have options.

      • Select Optimize iPad Storage to replace the photos and videos that are physically stored on your iPad with small device-sized versions. The full-resolution versions are located in the iCloud Photo Library and can be accessed or downloaded any time you have an internet connection.
      • Select Download and Keep Originals if you prefer to keep the full-size photos currently stored on your iPad on the device (in addition to in the iCloud Photo Library). This options makes your iPad photos accessible on your iPad even without an internet connection, although it affects the amount of storage that is available on the device.
      Turning on iCloud Photos in iPad Settings
    5. Turn on Upload to My Photo Stream when you are using the iCloud Photo Library on your iPad but want to to keep iCloud Photos turned off on ​your other devices. Those devices receive only the photos in your My Photo Stream.

      The Upload to My Photo Stream setting
    6. Turn on My Photo Stream if you do not elect to use the iCloud Photo library and want to place copies of the new photos you took during the previous 30 days on all your Apple devices. This option does not automatically upload them to the iCloud Photo library. This is the option most often chosen by people who do not want their photos stored in the cloud.

      The My Photo Stream option in iPad settings
    7. Turn on Shared Albums to create albums that you share with other people and to subscribe to other people's albums. For example, you may create a shared album with family members. Every time you (or one of your relatives) takes a photo, you have the option to place it in the shared album. When you do, all your relatives receive a notification of its arrival and can view and comment on it.

      Options to set up shared albums