iCloud: Removing Images from Your Photo Stream

| TMO Quick Tip

I’ve been asked a lot lately by clients, friends, and my mailman how to reset the images stored in iCloud’s Photo Stream. Turns out that it’s actually pretty easy to do, but there are a lot of convoluted steps involved. However, if it’s the only way you can get rid of those pictures from the office Halloween party, you might want to take the time to do it, anyway. Here’s how.

As you may know, you can’t remove images from your Photo Stream one by one. You either clear out the whole stream, or your pictures will stay in there until they get bumped out by newer files. So how do you wipe it clean? The first thing you’ll need to do is remove the existing photos from iCloud. To do so, go to the iCloud website and sign in at the pretty little welcome screen.

After you’ve done that, you’ll see the name associated with your iCloud account appear at the upper-right of the window. Click that to access your account options. 

From there, choose the Advanced button, and then select “Reset Photo Stream” on the next page.

That’s it! You’re done! No, wait, you’re not. All of the pictures that you had previously synced still live on your devices. What are you gonna do now? Geez, I’ll tell you, so calm down. We’re going to take those photos off of each device individually.

A caveat: before you begin this process, make sure that the pictures in your Photo Stream are backed up somewhere if you’d like to keep them. They should be on your mobile device’s camera roll if you took them there (where you can import them to iPhoto later if need be) or already imported to iPhoto if you have the appropriate preference turned on (see below). That’s just a message from your friendly neighborhood TMO writer.

So go to iPhoto > Preferences on all of the computers you had synced, and choose the Photo Stream tab. Deselect the “Enable Photo Stream” checkbox and click through the warning that iPhoto will give you about deleting your existing content.

Here’s the kicker, though—if you have the “Automatic Import” box selected there, those photos were added to your iPhoto Library already. So if you want them well and truly gone, you’ll need to go into your library and delete them there, too. (The good part is that having that box selected means you won’t lose the pictures on the stream when you turn it off.)

As the next step in this Sisyphean task, let’s remove the pictures from your iOS devices. Access this in Settings > iCloud > Photo Stream, where you’ll simply toggle the only option off.

It’ll give you a similar warning—“blah blah blah, this’ll delete the photos.” Check your camera rolls beforehand to make sure you have the stuff you want to save, people, as I’m not responsible if something isn’t there. I’m generally not very responsible anyway, so that’s normal.

There! Now we’re done. We’ve removed the pictures from iCloud, from your computers, and from your mobile devices. No one will ever find out about your penchant for dressing your cats up like former presidential candidates. Except for me. You’ll pass them along, won’t you? I promise not to publish them anywhere.

God, I’m such a bad liar.

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What a horrible sounding system.

Melissa Holt

What a horrible sounding system.

I think if they just add the ability to remove photos selectively (rather than it being an all-or-nothing deal), it’ll be fine.

Pat Mahon

The problem is that people are looking upon Photo Stream as a location of some of their photos. But that is not what the service is.

It is simply a conduit used to ferry photos from one device (for instance, the device creating the photos) to another that you choose to have those photos on. i.e. a second iPhone/iPod/iPad/Mac. Once on, say, the Mac, it is then that one decides whether or not to save the photos off to another location. As in, an iPhoto ‘Event’ or simply a system folder. That is where you decide what pictures to keep or discard. The fact that it puts a badly taken photo onto your wife’s iPod touch using the same iCloud account details is entirely down to you. You do not have to have all your pictures taken with your iPhone syncing to your iPad via iCloud’s Photo Stream. This is the reason it will only ‘store’ a set number of photos and even they will expire (from the conduit) after a given time.

How you manage them is entirely down to the individual.

I only wish my entire Twitter stream could see this explanation. I’m growing tired of people just not getting it. In fact I think I’ll link to it.

Melissa Holt

Thanks for the insightful response, Pat. I agree with you on most points, but I do think that Apple could’ve implemented this feature better. I can’t imagine it would be difficult to allow users to remove a single photo from the stream, and I’m having a hard time figuring out why Apple chose not to do so. But that said, I do still like the feature and will use it!


I was told by an Apple support person that “iCloud is still Beta and has a few bugs” - I assume this is one of them along with being unable to change accounts migrated from Mobile Me; push notifications lagging; and WiFi syncing being erratic.

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