I freely admit that this has probably been asked a million times, but I'm going mad so sorry I'll ask it again.


My situation is drawn in below graph: link to graphviz code enter image description here

  • My wife and I both have an iPhone, filled with years worth of photos in the camera roll, no manual albums.
  • We're also both paying for separate iCloud storage.
  • My wife prefers to have all photos accessible from her iPhone as that's the main place she looks for stuff
  • There's a DSLR gathering dust on the shelf.
  • I have a slow PC laptop with my photo archive on it (last updated in October 2018), backed up to generic cloud storage.


  • I'm constantly out of space on my iPhone and have to keep deleting apps as I take more photos.
  • I have no idea which photos, from which device are stored in the photo archive on the laptop.
  • The photo archive is hard to access as the laptop is slow and rubbish
  • I would like to use the DSLR more, but it's currently too cumbersome to get photos from it onto a place that is easily accessible by iPhones and iPads.
  • We haven't produced a physical album in about 5 years


How can I obtain a single source of truth that:

  1. Contain up to date photos from all our devices
  2. Is easily accessible from mobile devices like an iPhone
  3. Allows for management and backup

Concerns about possible solutions

  • Continuing with the laptop photo archive, with manual downloads from the devices seems like a bad idea.
  • Tying myself into Apple doesn't seem like a good idea
  • Cloud storage seems a bit risky
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for posting this question rooted in a real-life problem! I've taken the liberty to convert your text to (in my opinion) a more readable question. I've also added a graph of how I think your situation looks. If you feel that I've misinterpreted your question, feel free to roll-back the edit. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 17:22

3 Answers 3


I think there are a lot of solutions, but I can't say I know the best one. As you use Apple devices mostly I'll describe the full Apple solution below.

You indicate that this seems like a bad idea. But given that you use Apple devices mainly I think it's the path of least resistance (neglecting cost).

Please note that I don't have mobile Apple devices, nor do I have a (shared or paid) iCloud account, so I might miss some steps or limitations. I've just pulled it together from internet resources. In the comments it became clear that it might not be possible (anymore) to have multiple iCloud accounts. This recent-ish article indicates you can, but I unfortunately cannot test it.

Steps to go full Apple

  1. Get another paid iCloud account. This will serve as a photo-only account shared with your wife. You now have 3 iCloud accounts:
    • iCloud James
    • iCloud wife
    • iCloud photos
  2. Turn off all sync options except photos for the iCloud photos account on all iPhones and iPads. It seems you have to set the iCloud photos as your main account.
  3. Turn on all sync options except photos on the iCloud James and iCloud wife accounts on the respective iPhones. For this you have to add iCloud James and iCloud wife as a "regular" account (like Google, Outlook, etc...).
    • This allows you to keep your mail/contacts/notes/etc... separate from your wife.

Now all i-devices can sync and view each others photos. This answer on Apple.SE describes more or less above solution.

Only portable device left is the DSLR. I'm afraid you'll have to manually transfer those photos from the memory card into the iCloud photos account.

  1. Setup the iCloud photos account on the laptop.
  2. After taking photos with the DSLR copy all photos to the iCloud Photos folder on the laptop
  3. After copied successfully, delete all photos from the memory card. This ensures that you will no longer wonder if files on the card are already synced or not. Files on the card means that they're not synced.
    • Last two steps could be automated with a script, but that's outside of the scope of this answer.
    • This could probably be automated with a raspberry pi and a card reader, circumventing the slow laptop


  • Everytime your wife or you take a picture with your iPhone, it's synced with the iCloud photos account, making that account the single source of truth.
  • All photos are easily accessible via the iOS interface.
  • You probably don't need 3 paid iCloud accounts as you now (presumably) don't need much space on the James and wife iCloud accounts, allowing you to cancel or scale down those accounts.
  • You get rid of the generic cloud storage.


  • It's all Apple. They can raise prices, cancel the service or change it any way they see fit.
  • The DSLR part remains either manual or requires some robust scripts to automagically push memory card contents to iCloud.
  • There's no back-up. If any device on the iCloud photos account deletes all photos by mistake, this mistake will be synced across all devices leading to the loss of all photos.
    • This is inherent to syncing services and can be solved by introducing a real back-up service that takes periodic snapshots of your iCloud photos account. This can e.g. be a combination of your old laptop, some back-up software and a large external drive. See also this previous question regarding backup
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the downvoter care to explain their downvote? Is the solution not possible? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ The linked-to answer at Ask Different is 5 years old. Apple has spent that time unifying and integrating their iCloud features together. That answer is out of date, and iCloud no longer works that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Too bad it doesn't work that way. This link, updated in 2020, also explains how one can use multiple icloud accounts. I don't have an apple device to test, but is that info also outdated? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 21:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm. The link is slightly outdated (all mail/contacts/calendars/notes are unified under "Passwords & Accounts", but under "Add Account", iCloud is an option. I don't have a way to test that, but it looks like I was wrong. It looks like mail/contacts/calendars/notes can be set up under a separate account than the system (including Photos) iCloud account. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 23:24

The solutions depends on your usage and acceptability to pay fees.

If you are a heavy photographer, you'll end up having more than 200 GB of data, so that means you must rely on the 2 TB plan, which is 10€ /$ per month, or 120 per year.

You might consider this is too much. As a consequence, your only option is to have 2 sets : one which is the "source of truth" with all backups, one with is a selection of the things you want to keep with you at anytime.

So that supposes usually you make regularly a selection of what you consider your best pictures and copy them from a set to the other. You can then use Photos & iCloud to have mobile access and share your pictures with friends


Your best bet is a cloud based one. Pros: You and others can get at the pictures from all sorts of devices and locations. It would be browser based which is a good flexible way to go.

Cons: It should take some time to upload. To solve that you could convert cloud versions to smaller upload-able sizes, get an external hard drive that will work on any computer, and archive the masters.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you might improve this answer by considering pros and cons as well as workflow with cloud based storage versus a hard drive. As is, your answer is at first recomending cloud based storage only to reverse and suggest using a hard drive in the end and I am left a bit confused what is it that you actually think works best. \$\endgroup\$
    – J.E
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 10:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, thanks. Hope he reads the answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – JustJohn
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 21:28

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