How to keep iCloud Photos from eating your iPhone or iPad's cellular data plan

iCloud Photos
iCloud Photos (Image credit: iMore)

While iCloud Photos is a great feature for viewing your entire library at a glance from any device, it comes at a cost: You need to have an internet connection to truly take advantage of the service's cloud storage.

If you're syncing and uploading your images over Wi-Fi, this isn't a huge deal, but if you tend to look at a lot of images and video over cellular, you may want to take a look at your cellular usage and how to better control it. Here's how to go about it.

How to pause iCloud Photos sync for the day on your iPhone or iPad

  1. Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Go to the Photos tab and make sure you're in All Photos view.
  3. At the bottom of the screen, press Pause next to the Uploading queue.
  4. Confirm by pressing Pause again.

How to pause iCloud Photo sync: Open photos, Tap All Photos view, Press Pause (Image credit: iMore)

To restart sync, you can press Resume; otherwise, your iPhone and iPad will resume syncing at the end of the evening.

How to adjust cellular settings for iCloud Photos on your iPhone or iPad

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Scroll to the Photos option and tap on it.

Adjust cellular settings for Photos: Open settings, tap Photos (Image credit: iMore)
  1. Scroll to the Cellular Data option and select it.

Adjust cellular settings: In Settings Photos, tap Cellular Data (Image credit: iMore)

There are two options for adjusting your cellular data settings regarding the Photos app and iCloud Photos:

  • Cellular Data: This toggle allows you to sync your most recent snaps and video to iCloud Photos via cellular data plan, and download images and video. That said, your iPhone will prefer to upload via Wi-Fi, and will only use cellular if your library hasn't been synced recently over Wi-Fi.
  • Unlimited Updates: This toggle removes the caveat I mentioned above — with this toggle activated, your iPhone will sync over cellular data the same way it would over Wi-Fi.

In general, you shouldn't need to enable anything but Cellular Data to download your older iCloud Photos images over LTE, or to occasionally sync new photos and video. That said, if you're getting an error while trying to download an older image or video, you may want to temporarily turn on Unlimited Updates to properly download it. (Just remember to disable it again after the fact, lest you get a pricey data bill at the end of the month.)

How to quickly kill cellular data for the Photos app on iPhone or iPad

If you don't want to fiddle with the more-granular settings available for iCloud Photos and just want to disable all cellular access for the Photos app, here's how to do it.

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Go to the Cellular option.
  3. Scroll down to the Photos toggle and disable it.

Turn off cellular data for Photos: Open settings, Go to Cellular, Disable Photos (Image credit: iMore)

Let us know below.

More iCloud Photos guides

Should you use it?iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream: What's the difference?Which storage plan should you choose?How to use it on iPhone and iPadHow to use it on your Mac or PCHow to access it on the webHow to view images while offlineHow to use Family Sharing with iCloudHow to free up storage space on your iPhoneHow to transfer photos from your Mac or PCHow to recover deleted images and videoHow to back up iCloud Photo LibraryTroubleshooting iCloud Photo Library

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.