Everything You Need to Know About iPhone Live Photos

How live photos work

Live Photos is an Apple technology that allows a single photo to both be a still image and, when activated, include a few seconds of motion and audio. Imagine an animated GIF with audio, automatically created from your pictures, and you'll have a decent idea of what Live Photos are.

Adult and child posing for a selfie.
Tang Ming Tung/Moment/Getty Images

The feature was introduced in Sept. 2015 along with the iPhone 6S series. Live Photos were one of the flagship features for the 6S since they use the 3D Touchscreen which was also introduced on those devices.

Who Can Use Them?

Live Photos are only available if you have the right combination of hardware and software. In order to use them, you need:

  • iPhone 6S or newer (including the iPhone X and XR), or iPhone SE. 
  • 3D Touch screen (the iPhone SE and iPhone XR do not have a 3D Touch screen, but they support Live Photos playback).
  • iOS 9 or higher.

How Do Live Photos Work?

Live Photos work using a background feature that many iPhone users aren't aware of. When you open the iPhone's Camera app, the app automatically begins taking pictures, even if you don't tap the shutter button. This is to allow the phone to capture photos as quickly as possible. Those photos are automatically deleted if they're not needed without the user ever being aware of them.

When you take a photo with the Live Photos feature enabled, instead of just capturing the photo, the iPhone captures the photo and retains the photos it takes in the background. It then saves photos from before and after you take the photo. By doing this, it's able to stitch all of these photos together into a smooth animation running around 1.5 seconds — that's the Live Photo.

At the same time that it saves photos, the iPhone is also saving audio from that those seconds to add a soundtrack to the Live Photo.

How to Take a Live Photo on iPhone

Taking a Live Photo is very easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Open the Camera app.

  2. At the top center of the screen, find the icon that's three concentric circles. Make sure that it's enabled (it lights up when it is).

  3. Take your photo as you normally would.

How to View a Live Photo

Watching a Live Photo come to life is where the format really gets fun. Seeing a static photo magically transformed with movement and sound feels revolutionary. To view a Live Photo:

  1. Open the Photos app (or, if you've just taken the Live Photo, tap the photo icon in the bottom left corner of the Camera app. If you do this, skip to Step 3).

  2. Select the Live Photo you want to view so it fills the screen.

  3. Press hard on the screen until the Live Photo comes to life.

How to Find Live Photos in the Photos App

Apple didn't originally add a special section to the Photos app for Live Photos, so it was hard to find them when you wanted them. These days, though, it's a snap. Here's how to find Live Photos in your iOS Photos app:

  1. Tap the Photos app to open it.

  2. Tap Albums.

  3. Scroll to the Media Types section and tap Live Photos.

How to Turn Off Live Photos

Decided that you don't want to ever take Live Photos and you want the feature turned off by default? It's actually trickier than it seems. By default, the Camera app turns on Live Photos every time you launch the app, even if you disabled the option the last time you used Camera. Luckily, Apple has provided a way to prevent Camera from always turning on Live Photos. Just follow these steps:

  1. Tap Settings.

  2. Tap Camera.

  3. Tap Preserve Settings.

  4. Move the Live Photo slider to off/white.

  5. Now, go to the Camera app and tap the Live Photo icon to disable it (it won't be lit up). Because you choose to preserve the off setting in the last few steps, Live Photos will now be off by default.

These steps apply to upgrading to a new phone, too. If you don't have the Preserve Settings option enabled, when you upgrade to a new phone, Live Photos will be turned on again by default. Just make sure this setting is on and, when you restore your new phone with your old data, Live Photos will be turned off.

Can You Make a Live Photo a Regular Photo?

You can't transform a standard photo in a Live Photo, but you can take photos that are Live and make them static by following these steps:

  1. Open the Photos app.

  2. Select the Live Photo.

  3. Tap Edit.

  4. Tap the Live Photo icon so that it's not enabled.

  5. Tap Done.

Now, if you press hard on the photo, you won't see any movement. You can always restore a Live Photo that you've edited by following those steps and tapping the icon to highlight it.

How Much Space Do Live Photos Take Up?

We all know that video files take up more space on our phones than still photos. Does that mean you have to worry about Live Photos causing you to run out of storage?

Probably not. According to reports, Live Photos on average only take up about twice as much space as a standard photo; that's a lot less than a video does.

What Else Can You Do With Live Photos?

Once you've got these exciting photos, here are a few things you can do with them:

  • Share: You can share these photos via email, social media, and text message, but remember: you have to have an iPhone 6S or newer in order to see them move
  • Use as Wallpaper: You can set a Live Photo as the wallpaper on your lock screen and home screen. On the home screen the photo is static, but press hard on the lock screen and you'll see it animate. Follow these instructions to change your wallpaper.

To learn how to use Live Photos as wallpapers, which adds animation to your Home and Lock screens, check out How to Use Live Wallpapers on Your iPhone.