iCloud Photo Library stores all your pictures and videos on Apple's servers so they're available to you all the time on all your devices.

If you optimize storage, they can save you a lot of space on your iPhone, iPad, or even your Mac. It will, however, take up storage on your iCloud account. Apple gives 5 GB to everyone for free, but if you've got a Photos library of any size, you'll almost certainly need more. Especially since iCloud Drive, iCloud email, and iCloud backup all pull from the same storage pool. Apple offers additional storage, from 20 GB to 1 TB, on a monthly subscription basis. How much you need will depend on how much you can afford — as online options go, it isn't cheap — and how much you need. Here are your options!

iCloud Storage plans

iCloud, which encompasses iCloud Photo Library, currently includes the following storage plan tiers and option:

  • 5 GB for Free
  • 20 GB for $0.99/month
  • 200 GB for $3.99/month
  • 500 GB for $9.99/month
  • 1 TB for $19.99/month

Why so expensive?

Everything has a price. Sometimes that price is in money, sometimes in time, attention, or data. Your can roll your own picture or video solution if you have the knowledge and time. You can use a free or cheap service that are subsidized by ads next to your pictures or videos, by using your pictures or videos as ads, or by demographic and other data compiled and sold to marketing companies. Money, time, attention, and data are all valuable, it just depends how valuable each one is to you.

Apple doesn't show any ads next to pictures or videos, doesn't use any of your pictures or videos as ads, and doesn't compile any of your data and sell it to others. You give them money, they give you storage. For some, money is scarce so a social network or ad-based free service is a better deal. For others, privacy is valuable so something like iCloud Photo Library is worth the price.

Picking a plan

Before deciding which plan is right for you, you need to consider how much data you really need, and how you're going to use it.

  • Are backups already eating up your existing iCloud storage?
  • Are you using iCloud Drive and are documents also eating up your existing storage?
  • Do you take a lot of photos and videos?
  • Do you have a large, existing photo library you plant on importing? If so, how big is it?
  • Do you use other cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Flckr, etc.? If so, will you archive media there you won't then need to backup to iCloud Photo Library?

Who should stick with the free iCloud storage plan?

If all you have is a single iPhone and you don't take a lot of pictures or video, and don't store a lot of documents in iCloud Drive or attachments in iCloud Mail, or you keep your archive somewhere else and just want to sync and store recent pictures and videos with iCloud Photo Library, you should be able to get away with the free 5 GB tier of storage.

Who should get 20 GB storage plan?

If you have a couple of Apple devices, or if you take a larger amount of photos and videos, or if you want to store a small amount of photos and videos along with a small amount of iCloud Drive files or Mail attachments, or if you use a different service as your primary archive but want more space for recent sync and storage, you should be okay with the 20 GB for $0.99/month storage plan.

Who should get 200GB or 500GB storage plans?

While considerably more expensive than the competition, the 200 GB for $3.99/month or 500 GB for $9.99/month will likely be the sweet spot for most serious iPhone, iPad, and especially Mac owners. Either will let you store a large amount of photos and videos, likely with room to spare, along with iCloud Drive files and Mail attachments, without having to worry about running out of space.

Who should get the 1TB storage plan?

If you need 1 TB of iCloud Storage, you probably know it. Lots of pictures (including RAW) and videos, lots of files, lots of attachments, and lots of space for spikes and growth.

Upgrade or downgrade anytime

If you can't decide between two tiers, go with the lower option. If you find yourself running out of space, no need to worry, you can upgrade anytime from any iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Better to spend less money now and more money later, only if you have to.

The same holds true about having too much space. If you find that happening, you can downgrade your storage plan whenever you'd like as well.