Sync only selected photos between devices via iCloud


Q: How can I download only select photos from iCloud to my iPad? I like to take my photos from my iPhone that I then upload to iCloud, but to put them into albums on my iPad. I don’t want to re-download the entire Photo Stream, which it seems to do every time I try to get those newer pictures onto the iPad.

Sync only selected photos between devices via iCloud

– Samantha

A: iCloud Photo Stream is actually designed to sync all of your photos between devices and back to your computer, and in fact only stores up to 1,000 photos that have been taken in the past 30 days.

As long as you’re running iOS 6 or later on both devices, however, you can take advantage of Shared Streams, which basically allows you to create albums in iCloud for sharing between your own devices and even with other iCloud users. This feature can be enabled by going into your Settings app and choosing Photos from the iCloud section—it’s referring to as “Shared Photo Streams” in iOS 6 or “Photo Sharing” in iOS 7.


Sync only selected photos between devices via iCloud

Once enabled, you can create a new Shared Stream simply by selecting Shared from the bottom button bar in the Photos app and then tapping the plus sign in the top left corner.


Sync only selected photos between devices via iCloud

This will prompt you to enter a name for the new stream, which is basically the album name that will appear on your other iOS devices or to any other users you may decide to share it with. Tapping “Next”  will then prompt you to specify users that you wish to share this particular “album” with; the catch here is that although the Shared Streams feature is primarily designed for sharing photos with other iCloud users, it works just as well for sharing photos between your own devices via iCloud—simply tap “Next” here again without adding any other users, and your Photo stream will be stored only in your own iCloud account, automatically shared across all devices that sync with that account and have Shared Streams enabled.


Sync only selected photos between devices via iCloud

You can add photos to a Shared Stream by tapping on the plus icon within the stream itself, or by selecting “iCloud” when sharing photos from anywhere else in the Photos app. Any photos you add here will be synced across all of your devices automatically.

In addition to allowing you to sync only certain photos, Shared Streams actually provide two other advantages over the main Photo Stream. Shared Streams can sync over a cellular data connection, while the main Photo Stream requires Wi-Fi—although this can be disabled by switching off “Photos” under Settings, Cellular. Further, in iOS 7 Apple also added the ability to add videos to a Shared Stream—a feature still sadly unsupported in the main Photo Stream.

Note as well that you do not need to have your main Photo Stream feature enabled to use Shared Stream, although there are advantages to doing so on any devices that you actually take photos on, as this helps to ensure that your photos are backed up to the Photo Stream in full resolution; photos in Shared Streams are automatically resized down to around 3.1 – 3.5 megapixels—reasonably high-resolution enough for viewing on an iPad Retina Display, but probably not what you want to rely on for your actual photo library. The main Photo Stream transfers photos back to your computer in their original resolution, while storing the lower resolution version only on your iOS devices.


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Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.