iCloud confusion: I found how to delete iPhone photos but not lose them forever

icloud photo sharing
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re an iPhone user, chances are you’ve faced some confusion over iCloud. It’s caused me concern on more than one occasion but I think I might have finally cracked the relationship between the files stored on your phone and those stores on iCloud. I say I think because I'm still a little unsure...

I used to never delete anything from my iPhone 11 Pro out of fear of it being deleted forever. This obviously isn’t a viable solution as phones only have a finite amount of space. Even if you own the 256GB iPhone 13 Pro Max, if you take as many photos and videos as me one day you will eventually run out of space.

These are the best iPhones for photography

It normally happens at the least convenient moment - like at a wedding or when you’re at a concert or as you try and record someone doing something funny. On more than one occasion I have tried to quickly go through my photos and videos, sifting the ones that I will happily lose forever should they be deleted from both my iPhone and iCloud but I’ve now got to the point where I've done that so much, I’m only left with the good stuff.

During lockdown last year I was so bored I decided it was time to get my head around it for good. I always keep iCloud sync on so that if the worst happens and I lose, break or have my phone stolen, I’ll at least have my photos saved because after all, I care about them more than the phone itself. However, if you want to delete photos from your phone but not iCloud, iCloud Photos has to be switched off beforehand.

If you do accidentally delete a bunch of photos and then realize iCloud sharing was still on, they do stay in a deleted folder for 40 days afterward and they can be restored. However, if you don’t realize within the 40 days they disappear for good and (like I’ve done before) getting those precious memories is nearly impossible. Even with the best recovery software, once they’ve been permanently deleted there is little chance you’ll ever see them again. 

One of the things I hate the most about apple products is how hard they’ve made it to simply transfer photos and videos from your iPhone to an external hard drive. At least with phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S22 and the Honor 50 you can just plug it into your computer (I'm using a mac) and then drag and drop files. With an iPhone it seems like you have to go into Photos, select the files you want to export, choose where you want them exported to and then let it do its thing - which can take hours and whenever I try to do it, I get error messages. It's not that it's impossible to transfer files it's just that I can't see my iPhone photos folder appear in finder in the same way I do when I connect my hard drive or SD card. 

I don't think what I want is too demanding - just the ability to be able to safely and secure photos and videos so I know I've got a backup of them on something I can hold - not just in a cloud. For a company that makes such intuitive products, iCloud is not intuitive at all and the worst part is Apple doesn't make it very clear. What's the point in paying for extra iCloud storage if you can't keep files on your iCloud and not on your phone?!

Perhaps I’m just more of a technophobe than I thought (which would be worrying considering I write for a camera magazine) but I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’s had that heart-sinking moment where you’ve realized you’ve deleted photos you shouldn’t have. It’s something I’ve learned from and something I hope I won't do again but truth be told, I’m still a bit confused by iCloud and I don't think I'm the only one. 

Read more:

Best photo apps
Best camera phones
Best cloud storage for photos
Best lenses for iPhone and Android camera phones

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.