How to Backup Your Photos and Free Up Storage Space on Your iPhone

Recently, I’ve been asked by four different friends of mine to update their phones to iOS 7. All of them complained that whenever they tried to update it simply “wouldn’t work”. Taking a look at any of these devices and the issue was the same; not enough free storage space to install the update. Coincidence? Not so much. It turns out that all of them had so many photos on their iPhones that their storage space was completely full (iCloud was even bitching about how it could do any more backups because it had run out of space as well).

This got me thinking. Why do all of these people have every photo they’ve ever taken on their iPhone? It turns out that whenever you upgrade from one iPhone to another, your photos are synced with iTunes and end up being re-downloaded to the new phone. Eventually, this starts to add up. What you need is a way to backup your photos so you can delete them off the phone (let’s face it, you do not need every single photo you’ve ever taken on your device’s storage at all times, I don’t care how cute that puppy was from 3 years ago, let him go).

After much ado,  I managed to get them all updated and in the process I thought maybe this procedure could benefit some others out there (this cannot be an isolated incident). Here’s what I ended up doing.

I. Backup, Backup, and Backup Again

The biggest concern for these people was the fear of losing all of these memories during this process so, first and foremost, we have to back them up. Now,  I prefer to back them up in multiple ways just in case, but you can feel free to pick one, two or all of these methods if you choose.

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 5.42.33 PM

  1. Back Up Using iTunes
    1. Plug the device in via USB to your computer and open iTunes (if it doesn’t already open automatically. If you don’t have iTunes, download it here, install it, then open it).
    2. When your device pops up in iTunes (if it doesn’t select View > Show Sidebar and it should now show on the left side of the screen), click on your device.
    3. Tap Backup Now and it will copy your entire device’s info to the computer.

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 5.44.23 PM

  1. Manually Import Photos to Your Computer
    1. Plug the device in via USB to your computer.
    2. If using a Mac, click on Applications > Image Capture. | If using Windows, click on File Explorer > Computer > and right-click the iPhone under there and click Import Photos.
    3. Follow the onscreen prompts to import the photos from Mac or Windows using the appropriate program you just opened. This will save all of the photos to your computer to a folder of your choosing.

Google Plus Backup

3. Google Plus App.

Don’t worry about backing up to Google Plus. Yes, it is a social network (one that probably none of your friends are on unless they are in the tech industry somehow), but the auto backup feature uploads them to Google Plus to a folder that is private that no one can see (unless you subsequently go in and click Share next to a specific photo or group of photos). So no one, but you, will see these photos. Don’t worry the nudes you sent that girl that one time will remain between just you, her, and whoever she showed on her phone.

Another thing to note about Google Plus is that the images will all be backed up for free BUT only at 2048px resolution. To get full size images you need to purchase more storage (using the same email you used for Google Plus) and Google will automatically backup your photos at full size until that amount of storage is full (i.e. 5GB, 10GBs, etc.). If you don’t care about the size (and you shouldn’t really unless you plan to blow them up to the size of a wall and print them out), then don’t bother buying additional storage and just leave it at this like I did.

    1. Open Settings.
    2. Tap on Wifi, turn it on, and connect to WiFi.
    3. Open the App Store on your iPhone.
    4. Search for and install Google Plus from Google, Inc.
    5. Open Google Plus.
    6. Follow the on screen prompts to signup/sign in and when asked if you want to turn on Auto-Backup say Yes. This will give the added benefit of saving all of your photos automatically to Google Plus almost immediately after taking them (videos will be uploaded next time you connect to WiFi).
    7. When prompted if you would like to backup all the photos in your Camera Roll right now, say Yes. This is going to backup all of the photos from your camera roll currently to Google Plus.

4. DropBox / Bitcasa ($9.99/month, Unlimited Storage)

Dropbox is on here simply because it’s pretty likely that you already have an account and, like Google Plus, it has a Auto Backup for your camera roll. Unlike Google Plus though, it isn’t free. It starts at $8.25/month for 100GBs of storage, but it’ll upload the pics at full resolution if that’s terribly important. Here‘s how to upgrade to that before you use it.

Bitcasa is a bit of a new comer to the scene, but thanks to some fancy technology (if you want to know the gist of how the tech works, feel free to ask me on our Facebook page), it allows you to have Unlimited Storage for $10/month (or $100/year). Again, it has Auto Backup features and will upload your photos at full resolution. Here‘s how to get that before you use it.

    1. Simply search for any of the names above in the App Store and Install them.
    2. Open the app.
    3. Follow the prompts to create an account and sign in.
    4. When asked, turn on Auto Backup for photos.
    5. Upload all of your photos to the cloud storage using their app.

II. Delete the Photos from the iPhone

Now that we have all of the photos backed up somewhere (everywhere), we can safely delete them from the device to get some of that precious storage back.

iOS 6 Delete Photos

On iOS 6:

  1. Settings > General > Usage > Photos & Camera.
  2. Swipe across Camera Roll and then tap Delete (this will delete them all and is irreversible so make sure you backed them up above before doing this).

iOS 7 Delete Photos

On iOS 7:

Unfortunately, at the time of writing this, there is no “delete all” in iOS 7. You must select the photos one at a time.

  1. Tap on Photos.
  2. Tap on Albums in the bottom right corner.
  3. Tap Select in the top right corner.
  4. Tap all of the photos you want to delete (this may take a while depending on how many you have).
  5. Tap the trash can in the bottom right corner to delete them all (this will delete them all and is irreversible so make sure you backed them up above before doing this).

Now that all of your camera roll (or whatever you chose to delete) is gone, there’s one other thing to delete; your photo stream.

Basically, the photo stream keeps the last 1000 pictures you’ve taken with your camera and puts them in a shareable feed, which, is a great concept, but unfortunately, it happens to also keep copies of these photos on your phone as well unnecessarily. Let’s turn that off.

iOS 6Delete Photo Stream

On iOS 6:

  1. Settings > iCloud.
  2. Turn off Photo Stream.

iOS 7 Photo Stream

On iOS 7:

  1. Settings > Photos & Camera.
  2. Turn off My Photo Stream.

After that, you should have a LOT more storage space available. Now, let’s make sure we keep it that way…

III. Prevent Photos from Clogging Up Storage Space

If you used Google Plus, Bitcasa, or Dropbox and select Auto-Backup, these apps will automatically backup all of your photos as you take them. This means that if you ever start running out of storage again, just check to make sure the photos are backed up in the app you used and then do Section II again to get rid of them from the phone again (maybe even use the other backup options in Section I just to be safe).

Hope that helped! For more tips, tricks, and other handy stuff for your mobile device, follow me on Twitter / Facebook / Google+ or Subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Check out more How To’s for iPhone here.

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  • Lauren

    Thank you ! This was very informative and helpful.

  • Simon Dyer

    Nearly perfect answer…except Id like to keep the photos on my iPhone that I have ‘favourited’ – ie put in Albums.
    So I backup using Windows import wizard – I dont use Sync because that would delete the copy of any photos Ive deleted from my phone off my PC also.
    But cleaning up space off the iPhone is very tedious.
    Its a pity iOs 7+ is making the problem worse by not allowing delete all.
    Id be happy with a delete all except photos in Albums – any programmers out there?

    • Good suggestion. I usually just use Google+ and find the photo through there if I want to show it to someone (i.e. the reason you keep your favorites on your device) and then they never take up storage space (and I periodically remove the images once every 6 months or whenever storage is getting low).

      I agree, it’s so odd to me that photo management is so terrible on iOS…
      Unfortunately, I don’t think Apple allows developers access to delete images from the camera roll (if anyone wants to correct me on that, please do) so a developer wouldn’t help the issue much :/

  • RFAK

    This was great. One of the best help threads I’ve read. Thanks so much!

  • Estee L

    How to open and View photos shared from Google plus in gmail in continual mode, not one by one

  • Samantha Mills

    Do you know of a way to upload imported pictures to google+ from an ipad. I can get the camera rool photos but not the ones I have imported from and SD card.

    • Do it manually by going to plus.google.com then going to photos and upload them.

      • Louise

        Hi, great tips thanks. But like Samantha I want to back up imported photos to google+, but I don’t see an option in your link to upload any photos manually. Where should I be looking?

        • Login to Google plus at plus.Google.com. then click on Photos on the left then click upload photos at the top.

          • Louise

            Found it!

            Thanks a mil 🙂

  • Sana

    This really helped me. I never even knew about image capture before today!
    thank you so much!

    • You’re very welcome! Happy to have helped!

  • Ted

    Great walk-through. THANKS!!!!