Photo Library Paradise, for $1.30 a month

Over the past few years, iPods and iPhones have begun to rival high-end cameras for photo quality, letting you take amazing snaps anywhere you go. This is unquestionably awesome — but there is a catch. Treating your phone’s storage as your digital camera card, along with all the other things it’s responsible for, often leaves people frustrated by a lack of space for apps and the dreaded warning message, “Your iCloud storage is full.”

That specific problem is a question for another newsletter, but suffice to say those folks feeling cagey about "the cloud” can manage this problem manually by plugging their device into their home computer. Choosing “delete after import” in Photos makes sure all your shots are safely stored before being wiped from your mobile device, so you can do a fresh backup and free up your clogged iCloud account. 

If this sounds daunting or in my case, simply too annoying to bother with, you might want to consider investing as little as $1.30 a month in Apple’s tailor-made solution to this problem: iCloud Photo Library.

You may be reading this and thinking, I already have my photos syncing to the cloud! When I check the Photos app on my Mac or other devices, I can see a bunch of them right there without plugging anything in. If you’re sure you haven’t enabled iCloud Photo Library, you’re probably looking at your Photo Stream.

iCloud accounts give you 1 GB of storage for free, plus, a special bonus. Apple’s free Photo Stream feature, which is turned on by default for every iPhone, lets you store up to 1000 pictures in the cloud on top of that 1 GB of storage. Each time you take a photo on your phone or import a picture to your Mac, it gets added to Photo Stream and is viewable on all your other iCloud-enabled devices.

The 1000-picture limit is a hard one; the moment you take the 1001st photo, photo number 1 is deleted from the cloud and will exist only in the place it was first taken or copied to. This makes it a great option for keeping a rolling backup while you’re on vacation, or if you’re used to plugging your device back into your Mac periodically and dumping the originals where they can be backed up safely, even as new shots replace the older ones in the Photo Stream.

If you’re like me, however, and your “home” computer is a newer MacBook Pro with storage on the smaller, it might not make sense to keep manually moving your original photos from your phone onto your Mac. I’d only end up having to move them again onto an external drive to make sure my Mac doesn’t get stuffed. 

The solution is to store your “master” photo library in the cloud, letting Apple’s giant server farms handle all the day-to-day snapshots you take on your iPad or iPhone. This storage is pretty cheap for what you get, plus, all the data management is handled for you behind the scenes. Your newest pictures are stored in full resolution on your Mac for easy editing and cataloguing, while older shots are “referenced”. This means the original full-size pictures are deleted from your devices and left on the cloud, which keeps your Mac and iPhone storage much more manageable. Accessing the full-size version of older shots is as easy as scrolling back in your archives and clicking on them to re-download them from the web.

No more plugging your phone into your Mac, no more fiddling with what photos are stored where, and no more “Your iPhone storage is almost full.” For me, that’s worth the pocket change.